When Thomas Harris's follow-up to "Silence of the Lambs" was announced, it was obvious that the filmed version would be soon announced. Yet, the pieces didn't fall into place quite as easily as those involved would have hoped. Anthony Hopkins was in, but Jodie Foster was in and out and in, then out again - instead, she chose to direct her own feature and Julianne Moore was brought in. Original "Silence" director Jonathan Demme passed, so producer Dino De Laurentis (who was working on "U-571") went a short distance to the "Gladiator" set, where director Ridley Scott said yes to the film. The screenplay was credited to two of the most highly regarded screenwriters in the business, Steven Zaillian and David Mamet, although apparently, Mamet's work did not end up in the final draft - he received credit due to guild regulations.
Although the final feature met with mixed reactions, it was a suprising success in this era of crackdowns on the "R" rating. Scott's picture is a different creature altogether; a horror film wrapped in grand elegance. Scott brought two "Gladiator" collaborators to the party - cinematographer John Mathieson and editor Petro Scalia, and both do excellent work. The movie is also different in terms of set-up; where Clarice was the main character in "Silence", she becomes a supporting figure here. As Hannibal himself has been let free, the story focuses on him instead. After Clarice (Moore) is demoted (her basement lab looks like Mulder's from "The X-Files", while Moore reminded me of Scully at times during the early scenes) after a botched drug bust, we are launched into the main story.
A previous victim of Lecter who has escaped, Mason Verger (an uncredited Gary Oldman), wants revenge on Lecter. It's Lecter himself though, that invites Clarice back into the game. The original picture had Lecter being simply evil, while here has gotten himself back out into the world - living in Florence, Italy he has become an art curator and occasionally stops off for a coffee. Yet, there's another individual on the hunt already in the neighborhood. An Italian detective named Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) wants the reward for Hannibal's capture, which turns out to be a predictably bad idea. Even though the result of his chase seems rather obvious, I'll give Scott credit for maintaining a respectable amount of tension throughout these scenes.
Also, I'll give Scott credit for a terrific first half. The picture was not exactly what I'd been expecting from it; although there is some definite violence early in the picture, the film maintains a fine level of tension simply from a combination of strong direction and wonderfully gloomy atmosphere (along with some interesting scenery). I had a feeling though, that "Hannibal" would turn into something different and less interesting eventually, and I was unfortunately right.
The scenes where Starling must go up against the FBI and a politican played by Ray Liota are entirely standard fare - speaking previously about "The X-Files", Moore's Clarice feels suprisingly similar to Scully again having to defend Mulder's work on aliens from the higher-ups that don't understand her. The film's second half also becomes darker and less atmospheric as Hannibal pays a visit to Clarice.
The performances are generally excellent. Moore's ability and range are once again remarkable, allowing herself to convincingly become a dark and lonely character - she does everything she can with a character that is less involved this time around. Hopkins is, as usual, an engaging villian who, now unleashed into the world, plans out his crimes, allowing the tension to build as to whether or not he's going to go after his persuers. Less interesting is Ray Liota as a politican who is against Clarice; he's often terrible here, but I will say that he's got little to work with.
Again, the film is technically impressive, with stunning cinematography, amazing production design, great editing and a typically great score from Hans Zimmer. It's too bad that the movie begins to fall apart as the film advances towards a shockingly gross ending.
But, of course, it continues on as "Rush Hour" director Brett Ratner begins his remake of "Red Dragon", the original Lecter outing.
VIDEO: Halfway through watching "Hannibal", I wondered why MGM can't provide this fine an effort for all of their pictures. "Hannibal" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and the picture quality is tremendous. I dare say that I can't remember ever seeing MGM provide a transfer this fine looking for one of their pictures, new or old. Sharpness and detail are nothing short of exceptional and there's also a remarkable level of depth to the image. Mathieson's beautiful cinematography is given full justice here, and the film's stunning production design and locations are allowed to show in all their glory.
Aside from a tiny trace or two of shimmer, the picture seemed to be almost completely free of flaws or even minor concerns. Print flaws are completely absent from the proceedings; I didn't notice a speckle, mark or otherwise throughout the film. A slight amount of grain was visible a few times during the film, but this seemed intentional and added to the look of the movie. Aside from that, there was no pixelation, either.
Colors seemed vibrant and natural, with no instances of smearing or other flaws. Detail in even the darkest of scenes - and there are many throughout the movie - is impressive. This is really a superb effort from MGM and I wish they could do this kind of work more often.
SOUND: MGM has been a studio that presents many of their pictures theatrically in DTS audio, but they have never previously presented a film on DVD with a DTS soundtrack until "Hannibal". The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio, but unfortunately, MGM has not allowed switching between soundtracks with the remote control. The film's audio presentation is a remarkable one, providing a chilling amount of ambient sounds as well as excellent use of the surrounds throughout the picture.
Surrounds are used at an almost constant rate, delivering a terrific amount of ambient sounds. Several scenes have such a fine level of detail that they're remarkably convincing. A scene where Moore walks around a mall looking for Lecter is an especially impressive scene sound-wise. There are a few more intense sequences, such as the gun battle early on, where gunfire comes heavily from the rear speakers. Zimmer's elegant and moody score sounded splendid throughout the movie, getting a fine amount of presence in the proceedings. Dialogue sounded clear and natural - never sounding thin or edgy. A terrific sound mix. The DTS presentation does provide a slightly more seamless surround-sound environment, with a bit more clarity and detail. The differences between the two are minor.
MENUS:: Interesting animated menus based around the opening credits.
EXTRAS:: DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika has again worked with director Ridley Scott to build a marvelous special edition DVD - they also worked together on the "Gladiator" DVD.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Ridley Scott. Scott's previous commentary for "Gladiator" was informative and often fascinating, but he was also joined for that effort by Mathieson and Scalia. Scott himself is a speaker who provides terrific insight and information, but I was a bit curious how he would be able to handle an entire track on his own. As it turns out, I should have had no worries. Scott comes into the commentary remarkably well-prepared to discuss, chatting about the locations, characters, working on the project and obstacles in production and everything down to the locations. There's little in the way of silence and refreshingly, there's little or no discussion of what's going on on-screen. Scott lets us get into his thoughts on filmmaking as occasionally, he discusses what he was thinking and what lead him to go down certain paths with scenes. It's an excellent track, well worth a listen for fans of the film.
Trailers: Also on disc one, there are trailers for the "Silence" DVD and a teaser trailer for John Woo's Winter 2001 MGM picture, "Windtalkers" (unfortunately, the "Windtalkers" trailer is only 2.0 audio).
Breaking The Silence: "Making Of": This terrific 76 minute documentary leads off the second disc of special features. Split into different sections, the documentary breaks the production down into "development", "production", "make-up effects", "music" and "reaction". Especially interesting is the list of names that were possible replacements for Starling; Angelina Jolie, Cate Blanchett, Hillary Swank and I believe Gillian Anderson were mentioned - if Moore wasn't chosen, I'd say that Blanchett was the next closest possibility. Otherwise, the documentary provides an insightful and non-"promotional" look at the twists and turns that had to be taken to bring the picture from the book to the screen. Interviews with intense producer Dino De Laurentis, Ridley Scott, Moore, Hopkins (who seems kind and generous with his time, stopping for pictures with fans on-set) and many others are provided and rather than simply talking about the story, the group shares their feelings about what it was like to be involved in such a major production.
What's interesting about this documentary is that it's not only the usual interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. There's even some footage of the press conference that started off production as well as some interesting footage from other elements of the production. There is some additional discussion of what feelings were about the fact that some main cast and crew from the original movie didn't return here, but the majority of the documentary focuses on the production itself. The only part of the documentary that was not particularly engaging or interesting was "Reaction", which seemed to be weighted a bit heavily towards the positive side of things, although it did provide some cool premiere footage. Otherwise, this is a compelling and informative documentary that is well-produced and well-edited, never seeming slow or dull and only rarely "promotional".
Deleted Scenes: 14 deleted scenes are presented in non-anamorphic (but still quite decent looking) widescreen along with optional commentary by director Ridley Scott. Many of these scenes are quite interesting, but I agree with Scott's comments about why these sequences remained alternate or deleted - some of the scenes that were good simply were taken out because the picture needed to push forward; some were unncessary, such as Hannibal sneaking into Starling's car to lick her steering wheel. An alternate ending is the final deleted scene; Scott discusses that alternate sequence as well as a third possible ending that was discussed but not filmed during on the commentary. The menus for these deleted scenes provide text summaries of what the scene is all about.
Multi-Angle Vignettes: There are three of these features provided for the viewer. The first is of the opening shoot-out sequence. The viewer is allowed to see the sequence through the eye of one of four cameras that were rolling for thes sequence. The angle button on the remote control switches between the perspectives and there's even a fifth option that combines all four. The second option revolves around the title sequence and provides four different versions, accessible from the angle button. Commentary from the title credit designer and the director are available here, as is two different options for the sound mix. Last, but not least, is a multi-angle interview with director Scott, where one angle provides a storyboard-to-scene comparison, the other angle provides just the storyboards and the third provides Scott along with both the storyboards and the comparisons in different windows on the side.
Trailers/TV Spots: The theatrical teaser, theatrical trailer and no less than 19 TV Spots (all in 2.0 audio).
Also: Poster concepts, still gallery, cast/crew bios, production notes and DVD credits.
Final Thoughts: "Hannibal" provides a slightly slow opening and a tense and atmospheric middle, yet it becomes a bit of a mess towards the end. MGM"s DVD provides image quality that is the best effort that I think they've ever produced along with excellent sound and supplemental features. "Hannibal" isn't for everyone, but those who are fans of the movie will surely be pleased with this special edition.