Hannibal vs. Silence of the Lambs

If anyone can make 70s Italian splatter movies mainstream, Hopkins can.

That quintessential horror movie for adults that began nearly ten years ago with Silence of the Lambs has finally produced an heir. By replacing photogenic teen bloodletting with intelligent pathological suspense, Lambs set a new standard. Its sequel,Hannibal, knows that hitting that mark can be murder.

Cannibalized Differences

First, there are big shoes to fill. Lambs showed how simple a formula need be for psychological terror. The fear of Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter was built up in Lambs by smart dialog and setting alone. Though trapped behind an impenetrable glass cell, Dr. Lecter’s mind was free to wander making him a formidable presence. His exchanges with Clarice Starling have entered the popular canon, most notably parodied by Jim Carey in both Dumb and Dumber and Cable Guy.

In Hannibal, the tables are now turned. Dr. Lecter (Anthony Hopkins reprising) finally has that room with a view in Venice. He’s eluded the FBI for a decade now while agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore replacing Jodie Foster) has been relegated to a confining desk job after flubbing a major drug bust.

Their paths may not have crossed again if not for a bizarre industrialist, one Mason Verger (this unbilled actor is so unrecognizable under his makeup you’ll be guessing his identity the whole way through). Serving as the one-upped analog to Lambs‘ Buffalo Bill, Verger is an avaricious ex-pederast and the only victim of Dr. Lecter’s that actually survived, but not without a few scars to prove it. With that voodoo that only Lecter can do, he convinced Verger to make himself a guinea pig for do-it-yourself facial reconstructive surgery. Vengeful, Verger has been staging a personal manhunt and enlists Starling’s superior Paul Krendler (creepy Ray Liotta) to use her to bait Lecter. To be fed slowly to wild pigs is Verger’s idea of retribution for his mutilated mug.

Once again, compared to his fellow players, the good doctor doesn’t seem all that bad. Therein lie the moral dilemma of Lambs which manipulatively forced us to root for Dr. Lecter. It’s not as easy to do in Hannibal, since he fills the antagonist role forthrightly, eviscerating and slashing along his merry way.

Hannibal Ferox

Where Lambs exhibited a level of restraint with its impending sense of doom, Hannibal‘s gore becomes masturbatory. There are scenes, particularly Verger’s flashback and the film’s ending, that are fantastically disgusting. Be forewarned. Yet, if anyone can make 1970s Italian splatter movies seem mainstream, Sir Hopkins can.

Almost as revolting are some blatant product placements. NetZero gets major face time. Even Dean Kamen gets some positive PR (you’ll know what I mean when you see IT).

Even the titles betray a stark difference. “Silence of the Lambs” of course referred to Starling’s deeply rooted psychological fears of her childhood living near a slaughterhouse. “Hannibal” is simply that. There are no revelatory sessions between doctor and patient this time around.

Another shortcoming is the muted relationship between Lecter and Starling. What began in Lambs as a disturbing paternal relationship becomes almost oedipal in Hannibal. Nevertheless, Giancarlo Giannini shines as Rinaldo Pazzi, the Italian police investigator who makes a stab at Verger’s million dollar bounty for Dr. Lecter. Hopkins is obviously enjoying himself as Lecter and Moore does the best she can with a legacy role. A very talented actress in her own right, yet not a moment passed in which I wondered what other dimensions Jodie Foster could have brought to Hannibal‘s rather 2D surface. Foster’s amiable southern charm made Dr. Lecter’s white trash remarks convincing. Moore has only a dash of that twang insomuch that Krendler’s similar jabs at Starling’s upbringing seem out of place.

Come to think of it, just as Hannibal really missed Foster, Lambs‘ predecessor, Michael Mann’s Manhunter, would have been all the more interesting with Hopkins. It’s a shame that the bookends of this trilogy weren’t under the same creative control throughout, if for no other reason than character continuity.

The same can be said of Director Ridley Scott’s earlier (and certainly more effective) thriller Alien. As each new chapter in that series unfolded with more and more unique perspectives, its audience lost more and more interest. On the other hand, sequels that only rehash get panned all the same. As crafty as it was, Hannibal proves that with sequels, either way you go you lose.

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