At the conclusion of Jonathan Demme’s benchmark thriller “”The Silence of the Lambs,”” Dr. Hannibal “”The Cannibal”” Lecter hangs up the phone on Special Agent Clarice Starling to, as he so eloquently put it, have an old friend for dinner. It’s a delicious, open-ended conclusion that invites us to fill in our own blanks, as this vicious killer we’ve just spent two hours digesting walks freely into the sunset, like a post-modern cowboy who’s managed to outwit the law once again. Where would he go? What would he do? Who would he eat? Unfortunately, “”Hannibal”” answers many of those questions, robbing Lecter of some of his mystery in an effort to ring a sequel out of a Hollywood classic.
We learn, though not immediately, that Lecter has established a life for himself in Italy, drawing on his extensive knowledge of classic art to earn status points with the local intelligente. Indeed, Lecter lives a somewhat civilized life amidst the ruins of Florence, undetected (though he brazenly sports no disguise) and quite content.Until Mason Verger (Gary Oldman, unable to act under a pound of makeup), the horribly disfigured sole survivor of a Lecter attack, concocts an elaborate plan to lure the good doctor out of (gasp!) retirement, a plan that involves Lecter’s prized pupil, FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore).””Hannibal”” works from Thomas Harris’ beach read of a novel, but feels incomplete right off the bat, since both Jodie Foster and Demme passed on this second helping replaced by Moore and “”Gladiator”” director Ridley Scott. The changes, and Harris’ book itself, completely alter the story’s focus off of the pressed up heroine (Starling) and onto the shoulders of the vicious killer (Lecter). It’s awkward, as we, the audience, are now asked to relate with a relentlessly cold cannibal, instead of the vulnerable pursuer. Scott’s flashy style and scratchy camera effects also differ from Demme’s assured approach. Starling’s character barely misses a step in the transition between actresses. While I would have preferred Foster for continuity’s sake, Moore makes the most with what’s really a minor supporting role. What prevents “”Hannibal”” from being a great movie is Harris’ material, which felt so half-hearted as a book that the emotion, or lack of it, carries over onto the screen, no matter what Hopkins, Moore and Scott try. For the film’s first quarter, the Italy-based Lecter appears as terrifying as a grandparent vacationing off the coast of Tampa, Florida. Verger’s “”ingenious”” plot to nab Lecter disintegrates in the film’s first lackluster finale, which just sets up a drawn out dance between the cannibal and the agent that’s gruesome, unfulfilling and bound to pick your brain for days. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for the return of Hannibal Lecter. Modern cinema has yet to produce a more sinister villain. But either dream up something for him to do the next time you drag him out of his resting place or leave him be.Grade: CTHE EXTRAS“”Hannibal”” lacks; MGM’s 2-disc “”Hannibal”” DVD does not. The studio’s disc is a classic example of a production that planned for the DVD release back during the planning stages of the film itself. The extensive five-part feature “”Breaking the Silence”” proves that, which begins with the film’s casting scandals (Foster’s in…Foster’s out…Demme’s interested…Demme’s not touching it) to it’s inevitable marketing challenges. One particularly interesting feature documents the film’s bi-coastal industry screenings in NY and LA, following audiences into theaters and actually recording their reactions to various scenes. It actually makes you feel like an insider as you sit comfortably on your couch.Producers Dino and Martha De Laurentiis, Hopkins, Moore and the cast all contribute to the extras via lengthy featurettes, but it’s Scott who pours out his soul to viewers in a number of additional sequences. The director provides a feature-length commentary, breaks down the opening fish market raid into a multi-angle analysis, proctors over almost 10 additional scenes, including an alternate ending that barely differs from the original, and narrates an in-depth look at the art of storyboarding. His above-and-beyond approach to the DVD earns the disc a final grade of…Grade: B+OVERALL EXPERIENCEThomas Harris waited ten years to revisit the atrocious Lecter, and then rushed through an inadequate novel that soften the character and turns him into more of a figurine than a figure to fear. “”Hannibal”” stays loyal to the book until the end, where it makes up some blunders of its own. The film can’t compare to the original “”Lambs,”” but it’s clear Scott never tried to. He struck out and created his own film, which falls flat on its own face. The two-disc DVD, however, is a good buy for the extras. Technically, they dissect the art of moviemaking, even if the movie they study is less than spectacular.Final Grade: C+By Sean O’ConnellSept. 12, 2001