Hannibal (2001) April 24th, 2023
I’ve just finished reading Hannibal by Thomas Harris. Some chapters were irritatingly short but sufficiently told an intense story culminating in Clarice becoming Hannibal’s cannibal lover. I struggled to imagine fitting all the nuance and character development necessary to make Clarice’s transition from dutiful FBI agent to cannibalistic courtesan digestible in 90 minutes, but I needn’t have worried myself because director Ridley Scott didn’t even try.
I can’t recall seeing a more disappointing adaptation. Hannibal seems like a basic paint by numbers paycheck movie for everyone involved. How else can you explain such dispassionate drivel from a director fresh off the success of Gladiator and the writers of Schindler’s List and Glengarry Glenn Ross? Watching Hannibal after reading the book is like eating a meal made from a picture-only cookbook. Yeah, it looks like a Hannibal movie, but it doesn’t taste right.
For starters Hannibal includes too many direct quote references to the original film. Hannibal doesn’t need to repeat his greatest hits, that’s not what made them great in the first place. Have you seen the trailer of the upcoming film The Flash? It features Michael Keaton returning as Batman but the trailer is almost exclusively nostalgia bait rife with the braindead inclusion of his character’s most memorable line. “You want get nuts?” the 71 year old Batman asks with the vigor of a man his age “Let’s get nuts.” Twenty years earlier Hannibal made the same hack mistakes. If I want to hear Anthony Hopkins say “Goody Goody”, “Ta Ta”, or “F B I” deliberately pausing and punctuating each letter I’ll watch Jonathan Demme’s masterpiece The Silence of the Lambs not this pale regurgitation. That sort of thing doesn’t interest me. And frankly it’s the sort of thing Miggs would say.
It is impossible to replace Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling but that unenviable task fell to Julianne Moore, who I’m sure also enjoyed her paycheck. I have nothing against Julianne Moore’s acting when she’s responsible for creating her own character. She steals the show in Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowski, and Children of Men, but her replication of 1992’s Best Actress in a Leading Role winning performance lands far from perfection and closer to parody.
Unfortunately her character’s transition from page to screen suffers in the script as well. Clarice’s torment by her FBI superiors and eventual conspiratorial ousting has so much more meat on it in the novel than the film. The conspiring of her boss Krendler and Hannibal’s would-be assassin Mason Verger blossoms into a tense and intimidating story. Their influence in Hannibal the movie is reduced to effete predictable archetypes. Krendler’s robust hateful resentment of Starling in the book is diminished to general dickery. The chilling scene where Clarice and Hannibal eat Krendler’s brain while he drools on their dinner table is whittled down to a couple of gross-out effect moments with Moore crying at the horror of it all instead of ascending to Hannibals side as an his monstrous equal. This goes double for Mason who not only loses the opportunity to showcase his cruelty with the the film’s exclusion of his oft-tortured sister Margot, but the horrific origins of the “take the chocolate” gag are almost entirely removed from the script. Without dynamics like these we lose much of the tension between Mason and Hannibal, they’re vendettas take a backseat to Hannibal crushing on Clarice. Their limp onscreen dynamic and the complete lack of Margot cheapened what should’ve been an electrifying climax.
Hannibal want’s to have the cake of including its titular character courting Clarice and eat the cake of her rejecting his advances too. This deviation from the book warps Hannibal’s character from a master manipulator to the ultimate creepy incel, incapable of handling a woman’s firm rejection. By the end of the film Clarice has handcuffed herself to Hannibal as the police surround their hideout. Caught between a rock and the girl he just can’t quit, Hannibal elects to chop off his own hand and escape rather than… ya know… eat her face off her skull. Both Clarice not finding Hannibal attractive and Hannibal not eating the face of anyone standing in his way feel deeply out of character for both.
Hannibal is a movie for the indiscriminate moviegoer. Those who don’t read and only remember movies when late night talk shows quote the most famous lines as cheap punchlines but also aren’t turned off by cannibalism or Italian art history. Hannibal is probably completely off the radar for this perfect audience member. The person Hannibal is made for is too busy eating bugs or planning insurrections to watch a 20 year old CliffsNotes movie.
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