Monday, January 9, 2017



I hate having to give a "fair" mythicity rating to a Hannibal Lecter film directed by Ridley Scott, in contadistinction to giving a "good" rating to the one directed by the vastly inferior talent Jonathan Demme.

One factor in this state of affairs might be that the Thomas Harris novel SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was a very linear novel. Hannibal's contributions to the narrative provide only a side attraction, while the main plot focuses on the pursuit of serial killer "Buffalo Bob" by FBI agent Clarice Starling. The structure of Harris' HANNIBAL is more circular than linear. Hannibal, ten years after his escape from the United States, has taken up residence in Italy, while the agents of a less reputable organization-- rich Mason Verger, one of Lecter's previous victims-- circle about him like predacious hawks, trying to capture him before he can escape. If anything, the novel's structure is closer to that of Scott's own BLADE RUNNER.

However, Scott and his chosen scripters-- one of whom contributed to the film of SILENCE-- chose a much more straightforward course. I can't fault the movie for excising a lot of the novel's subplots and characters to make a more cohesive storyline, given that Scott enjoyed great success when he did the same thing with Philip Dick's novel DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? But though Scott gets across most of the essential plot-points of the novel, his understanding of both the Lecter character and the world he lives in proves mediocre at best.

Scott sacrifices a number of themes that would not have been hard to capture even in a linear mainstream film. For instance, a major theme of the novel deals with the mediocrity of law enforcement. particularly that of Clarice Starling's superiors. Presumably Scott wanted to avoid a lot of the book's talking-head scenes in which various FBI characters admit to one another how they're screwing over Clarice to save their own necks from public scrutiny. But the consequence of these omissions is that only one FBI figure looks particularly corrupt: Clarice's former commander Krendler. Thus, even though Scott goes through the same motions of discussing how Clarice has been victimized by her own people-- a point Lecter often uses to taunt her-- it becomes a matter of "telling" rather than "showing."

Scott does passably well with the scenes in Italy, managing to get across at least some of Harris' learned references to Dante, Christian tradition, et al. And in this case, I approved of his having excised some of the more involved material detailing how a corrupt Italian cop seeks to help Verger trap Lecter rather than delivering him to the FBI. The scene in which Lecter executes the officer-- who is compared to Judas because he's betrayed not Lecter but rather his own profession-- is the strongest sequence in HANNIBAL.

However, the sections with Mason Verger suffer greatly from the excision of his sister Margot, who in the novel proves essential in Verger's downfall. In Margot's place the Scott script builds up one of the novel's characters, a functionary named Cordell, so that he can perform some of the same actions. But Cordell is a flat and uninteresting character, with the result that Verger's vengeance-crusade lacks a sense of epic evil.

Hannibal escapes Verger's men in Italy and returns to America, apparently less interested in taking out Verger than in rekindling his old fascination with Clarice. The novel is much clearer about Lecter's motivations, which appear muddy here, particularly in a scene constructed for the movie purely to build on the Lecter-Clarice relationship. In this scene Lecter taunts Clarice on a cellphone in Union Station and tells her that he's aware Verger's men are around. Then, despite Lecter's uncanny elusiveness, he's captured for no good reason I could see, and taken to Verger's estate to be eaten by killer pigs. Whereas the novel gave good reasons as to why only Clarice can rescue him, the film actually dilutes the sequence by injecting the FBI into it, again, to no good end.

The ending of the Harris novel is and was highly controversial, but I believe that it made sense in the highly ironic world Harris created. The most I can say of Scott's ending is that it's an OK melodramatic flourish, but it lacks the philosophical depth of Harris.

Hopkins is good but hardly brilliant, Julianne Moore makes an excellent replacement for the earlier Jodie Foster, and Gary Oldman delivers a strong vocal performance despite being handicapped by the visual nature of the role and the compromising of his evil nature. I may be somewhat harder than usual on Scott's film because prior to seeing it I found that the novel received a superior treatment in Season 2 of the HANNIBAL teleseries, even though that series substituted the MANHUNTER character of Will Graham in place of Clarice Starling.

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