Hannibal On DVD
Don't eat a big meal before watching Hannibal on DVD. Or, if you must, make sure to include some fava beans and a nice Chianti. This dark, disturbing, horrific movie is based on an even darker, more disturbing, more horrific novel. Be thankful, as you feast on this highly anticipated sequel, that much of the book was excised for the screenplay.
Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) is more frightening as a fugitive living in Florence, Italy than as an inmate in an asylum dungeon. This is a different kind of frightening, however. Here, he's always on the verge of lunging out and eating someone's flesh. In The Silence of the Lambs, he used his psychiatric training to insinuate himself into the mind of FBI agent Clarice Starling. That difference makes Hannibal a much more conventional horror film than its predecessor. Unfortunately, it makes the sequel much less interesting, though no less creeps-inducing.
Credit Ridley Scott's direction with keeping Hannibal a tier above a chilling-but-forgettable B-grade horror flick. His distinctive mode of visual storytelling, which relies on lighting and the use of elaborate, sweeping settings, creates a mood that can be described only as one of impending doom. Laid over the proceedings is yet another brilliant and haunting score by Hans Zimmer, who seems to outdo himself with each go-round.
As for the much-debated re-casting of the role of Clarice, Julianne Moore acquits herself quite well, following up on Jodie Foster's Oscar-winning performance. Thrust into a no-win situation, Moore demonstrates the strength and cynicism one would expect from a now-10-year FBI veteran, and adequately holds her own against Hopkins.
MGM delivers Hannibal with the beautiful, theatrical presentation that any Ridley Scott film deserves. The contrast is excellent, the details always clear, and the depth of field extraordinary. I felt as if I was watching this in a darkened cinema. The sound is always clear, with subtle yet effective surround effects in both the DTS and Dolby Digital tracks. There's nothing on the technical side of this disc that will disappoint viewers.
This two-disc set includes several hours' worth of supplementary material. The main documentary, Breaking the Silence, is one of the best such featurettes you're likely to find. Clocking in at 76 minutes, it provides some terrific behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, including a long, fascinating look behind the scenes of the notorious sautéed cerebellum sequence. The documentary also includes a sizable chunk on Zimmer's scoring sessions and an entertaining look at the star-studded LA and New York premieres and post-screening parties.
Then there's a commentary track by director Scott. If you like Hannibal, you'll be glued to Scott's narrative. Having someone of his talent in the room with you as you watch his work is a real treat; I found myself hanging on almost every word. Scott's remarks, broken into chapters, range from adapting the book for film to the casting choices and, of course, the climactic scene mentioned above. There's a lot to say about a film such as this, and Scott leaves no stone unturned.
The director's voice also chimes in over the 14 deleted and extended scenes and a neat interactive piece called Ridleygrams, in which viewers can learn about the storyboard process in the director's words while choosing to view just the boards, comparisons between the boards and finished film, or all of the above plus Scott himself. In a similar vein, you can see a multi-angle breakdown of the fish-market shoot-out near the beginning of the film, or a history of the opening title sequence, from concept to finished film, complete with four different audio tracks. This is the stuff for which DVD was made.
If you're faint of stomach, you might want to avoid Hannibal, especially if you haven't read the book. As for the rest of you . . . you'll eat it up.