A Hannibal Lecter film put together by the man that directed Alien sounds like a promising idea, yet you've got to keep in mind the stage in Ridley Scott's career when he directed Hannibal. He's not the same filmmaker as he was in the late '70s, when he stunned both science-fiction and horror fiends alike with an enduringly frightening masterwork. No, this happens to be an adaptation of Thomas Harris' film sandwiched in between Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, two full-frontal, visually stunning yet somewhat brutal pictures. Hannibal is, as a result, a by-product of his timely influences, offering a take on "Hannibal the Cannibal" that's bloody, sumptuous, yet not the least bit mysterious -- or nearly as gripping as its predecessors.
Of course, you'll notice a big change within the first handful of scenes. Taking Jodie Foster's place is Julianne Moore as Clarice Starling, a now-weathered FBI agent made famous by her relationship with Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). After a botched, highly-publicized assignment that puts her career in jeopardy, she receives a note of comfort from the on-the-run Hannibal Lecter. Through some string pulling -- mostly from Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), a wheelchair-bound and disfigured surviving victim of Lecter's -- Clarice is put back on the case to hunt down the elusive doctor. Old habits die hard, a theme felt by just about every character attached to the case.
Stemming from this letter she receives, Hannibal turns into a two-sided cat-and-mouse film -- one side being the US mainland scramble to find Lecter, the other being Lecter's radar-dodging mischief at his foreign locale. In the mix, we're given a few higher-profile investigative types in the form of Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta), a Justice Department agent who threw Clarice under the bus for her botched case, and Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini), an Italian inspector hot on the trails of a potential victim of Lecter's. Neither of them, frankly, offers much of anything to the film, though they're both integral to the story structure. If it weren't for two make-or-break scenes, one for each, they'd practically be forgettable.
Instead, Hannibal focuses intently on trying to imitate the Clarire-Lecter dynamic renowned in Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs, and it's less than impressive. Though unavoidable for "scheduling" reasons with the Oscar-winning actress, Julianne Moore's replacing of Jodie Foster never sets right. She rustles up a decent enough accent and gives her a sharp-toothed demeanor that almost works, yet her tailored take on Clarice never balances with Anthony Hopkins' Lecter. Hopkins, however, stays vilgilant in preserving the iconic horror character, keeping him intelligent and snarky throughout. Their parlay grows more and more forced as the film progresses, never warming to our curiosity.
Without that chemistry, Hannibal relies on Ridley Scott's directing prowess to give it life. That includes throwing together the cobbled script from Steve Zaillian, John Mathieson's slick photography, and Hans Zimmer's masterfully terse score into something befitting Harris' source material. For the first nearly hour-and-a-half, it masks its flawed chemistry with a steam of kinetic suspense that keeps us off-kilter and somewhat intrigued on what'll unfold next in the manhunt. And, without question, it's impossible to deny exactly how potent Zimmer's score can be when it's carrying us from point to point, especially during simple scenes like a low-brow pursuit of Hannibal Lecter by Inspector Pazzi. The mood created almost sells the experience, at least for the first two-thirds of the film.
Hannibal crumbles into a hodgepodge of well-assembled yet gratuitous and disengaging gore with its third act, an exercise in nerve-singeing garishness that leaves little to the imagination. It's with this last stretch that the Alien-era Scott really could've been handy; Alien works so excruciatingly well primarily because of the unseen terrors lurking in the dark corners of a spaceship, yet Hannibal bears all its blood and guts -- literally -- for the world to see. Though understood that it's a necessity due to the source material's macabre nature, we could've used just a shade more obscurity behind it all. Of course, you've got to give points to director Scott for somehow maintaining an absolute pitch-black sense of humor amid all this bold bloodiness.
I persistently feel the urge to favor the positive qualities in Hannibal, even after it's dissatisfied on quite a few occasions. Scott's bleakly-crafted demeanor paints an artistic portrait out of the grisly narrative, lending itself as an extension of Clarice Starling's association with Lecter that sits the cusp between intrigue and frustration. Each time through, all these misgivings seem like they weaken little bit by little bit, allowing for an experience that's purely enjoyable for the adrenaline spikes and semi-poetic internalizations (and externalizations) from the legendary villain. Though reservations have weakened, Hannibal still leaves me tepid by way of broad-stroked chaos at its end.
Hannibal is currently only available on Blu-ray as part of MGM's Hannibal Lecter Collection
Video and Audio:
Hannibal's 1.85:1 image receives a bit of a facelift via MGM's 1080p MPEG-2 Blu-ray image, though it's not nearly as impressive as the AVC retooling of Manhunter. Scatterings of color (yellow on gloves, reds and yellows here and there) are bright and clean, while details like etching into a phone booth's plexiglass and texture on a gun handle are well-formed. Textures against skin also look good too, especially disturbing on Mason's face. However, some of the film is both a bit grainy and blurry on occasion, as well as looking a bit on the processed side. Skin tones fluctuate on several close-ups on Clarice, even as details against hair and clothing look rather distinguished. Lastly, a few slight instances of edge enhancement can be seen, though it's reserved only to distanced details and only a few starkly contrasted portions. In all, it's not too bad for a MPEG-2 transfer, but nothing stellar.
Fairing just a bit better, Hannibal's rich sound design comes loaded in an English DTS HD Master Audio track that places firm emphasis on Hans Zimmer's score. It's easily the best-sounding element in the track, stretching both to the rear channels and to mid-range / low-range bass levels for an enveloping musical experience. That's important, as the music keeps the mood even when action beats and middling tension don't. Surroudn effects are reserved for a few ambient elements, like crows chirping and the afterthoughts of money being counter and Clarice flailing against a keyboard. Most importantly, dialogue is mostly kept rich and clean without any pitched distortion -- though on one very minor, brief occasion, I could detect a little bit of a high-pitched distortion. Though front heavy, we're working with a very serviceable and clean Master Audio track. French and Spanish Dolby surround tracks are available, along with optional English and Spanish subtitles.
Unlikes Manhunter, there are a few supplements -- sadly, they're Trailers for other MGM flicks, including Untouchables, Silence of the Lambs, and Bulletproof Monk
Hannibal marks an odd cinematic speedbump, as it's both a rare misfire from Ridley Scott and a ho-hum picture featuring Hannibal Lecter. Director Scott makes the most out of it, crafting an atmospheric and tightly-constructed level of suspense for most of the picture; however, Hannibal Lecter is best left in the shadows as a secondary character, instead of a pseudo-lead. The biggest issue comes in its luridly scatterbrained (literally) third act, which really drags down the few successes that Hannibal had accomplished to this point. It's still well worth a Rental, especially on Blu-ray, but it's not a particularly noteworthy picture from anyone involved -- except, of course, composer Hans Zimmer.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site