Review Date: August 15, 2001
Released by: MGM
Release date: 8/21/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen: 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
In 1992, one movie swept all 5 major categories at the Academy Awards: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture. This was a rare feat, and hadn't happened in nearly 20 years. Even more impressive is that this film was a psychological thriller about the search for a vicious serial killer, the type of film that the Academy usually fails to even nominate, let alone take home the most treasured awards in film. If you haven't quite guessed, that film was Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs, already considered a classic in the modern horror/thriller genre. The Laws of Hollywood dictate that a sequel was inevitable, and sure enough, Ridley Scott's version of Thomas Harris' novel Hannibal was released to theaters in February of 2001. The DVD is now here for home viewing, in an extensive Special Edition. How does the film stand up to it's highly respected predecessor, and how well was this film transferred to the home video experience? Let's take a look!
At the end of The Silence of the Lambs, Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) had escaped from custody, and his confidant Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) had graduated from FBI Training School and was now a FBI Special Agent. Hannibal picks up the story some 10 years later. Dr. Lecter is still at large, but he seems to be faring better than Agent Starling (now played by Julianne Moore), who's still struggling with her FBI career. As the movie opens, she is heading a drug raid (not exactly great work for a 10-year veteran) that ends up going horribly awry. Starling is blamed for the resulting bloodbath and Justice Department official Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta) allows her to take the fall.
Starling is assigned a paper-pushing assignment, namely to find the whereabouts of Dr. Lecter, who's been removed from the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List. Hampering the FBI's investigation is Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), one of Dr. Lecter's victims. Verger's run-in with Dr. Lecter has left him horribly disfigured, but he has the financial clout to fund his own search. Suffice it to say that Verger has no plans of turning Dr. Lecter over to the proper authorities if he does manage to capture the fugitive psychologist.
Verger's large cash offer attracts the attention of Inspector Renaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini), a detective in Florence, Italy. Pazzi begins to suspect that a local man, Dr. Fell, who is applying for the curatorship of the Capponi Library, may be the wanted Dr. Lecter. He begins to work with Verger to uncover the true identity of Dr. Fell, but to do so means revealing his own intentions. Hannibal Lecter is not one to mess with, especially since he's lecturing on the works of Dante, focussing particularly on the execution of the greedy.
So now we have Mason Verger bent on revenge, Inspector Pazzi with an eye for the cash, Agent Staling with a last chance at resurrecting her career, and the easily corruptible Paul Krendler, who's just a bad person all around. The question that comes to mind is the tagline of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Who will survive, and what will be left of them? The answer is on this DVD, and maybe in too much detail for the squeamish viewers...
But does this film live up to the standards set by The Silence of the Lambs? Director Ridley Scott tries to avoid the comparisons (he says as much in the liner notes), but with a film so renowned as Silence, the comparisons are inevitable. Both films (and the film Manhunter, which uses the Lecter character in a smaller role) were based on novels by the reclusive author Thomas Harris. Harris made Hannibal an almost unfilmable novel, perhaps intentionally, as he's always avoided the limelight. Much of the novel takes place in Dr. Lecter's mind, as well as an ending that Jodie Foster found so distasteful (no pun intended) that she refused to reprise her role as Clarice Starling. I question Harris' logic, as he's obviously aware that a film version is going to happen whether he likes it or not. And while his job is not to write directly for the screen, if the story doesn't lend itself to film very well, or turns off the actors who made the characters so memorable, the reception may not be as glowing as the previous work.
Scott actually does an admirable job with re-working the text to make a coherent film. But some of Hannibal's deficiencies are Scott's fault, not the author. One thing that particularly bothered me was the pacing. The Florence/Pazzi story resolves more than two thirds of the way through the film, leaving less than an hour for both the Verger revenge plot, and Starling's meeting Dr. Lecter again for the first time since their deep conversations in Silence of the Lambs. As a result, the Italy sequence is properly built up and resolved, yet the rest of the film seems quite rushed. The climax of Verger's attempts to capture and exact revenge on Dr. Lecter is pitifully short, and if the viewer thinks about it, he will realize that the potential for some fantastic suspense and clever dialogue is sorely missed. We also get short shrift on the final meeting of Agent Starling, Paul Krendler, and Dr. Lecter. While the physical horror of the novel was surprisingly left in, the psychological aspect was almost completely ignored.
This leads to the other missing aspect of the film, and that's the interplay between Starling and Lecter, which is what most likely led to Academy Awards for Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in 1992. To be fair to Ridley Scott, this lack of time together is also in the original text, and he does his best to compensate. We get a few scenes of Clarice listening to some of the original cassette tapes made of her conversations with Dr. Lecter, and there's always photos of Lecter on the wall of her improvised office. But the deep discussions the two used to have are just not there, and their absence is felt.
Finally, Hannibal Lecter, despite being free, seems much less sinister than when he was in custody back in Demme's film. Film viewers have commented on how little Hopkins appeared in Silence of the Lambs, yet still won Best Actor. We do get more of Dr. Lecter, but unfortunately that's not a good thing. Excessive screen time makes him lose his mystery. Again, this can be traced to Harris' novel, but much of Lecter's dialogue from the print version of The Silence of the Lambs was omitted. I think Demme realized that the less we saw Lecter, the more evil he could be. I can't really blame Ridley Scott though, because he had little choice. The name of the film is Hannibal, and it wouldn't make much sense to avoid showing us the title character. Not to mention that film fans have embraced Hopkins' portrayal of the character, and with the average viewer, more is usually better. That may be so, but in my opinion, Hannibal is a far inferior film to The Silence of the Lambs.
Despite all these complaints, Hannibal is still a very good film. In particular, the Italian sequence is excellent. It's well paced, properly built up, beautifully photographed, and results in a very exciting climax. I only wish the rest of the film showed the same imagination and style. Hannibal had the potential to be a great film, but Ridley Scott only delivered a very good one.
Even if the film isn't top notch, the transfer on this DVD sure is. Today, the DVDs are planned literally the same time as the film itself. Directors have an opportunity to see that the home video presentation is as good as the theatrical. I'm happy to say that the Hannibal DVD is of this high quality. Much of the film is bathed in a subdued blue lighting, yet none of the detail is affected. And when the scene shifts to an outdoor setting, the bright colors are quite vibrant. Hannibal is enhanced for 16:9 televisions, yet those of us with 4:3 screens will find the picture just as acceptable, with a minimum of down-conversion artifacts (artifacts are a pet peeve of mine). Absolutely fantastic transfer.
The sound presentation is just as good as the video. For viewers who speak English, there's both a Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtrack. French and Spanish viewers don't get a DTS soundtrack, but they do get the Dolby Digital track. As Hannibal is mostly a dialogue driven film, it's the center channel that will get the most work. But what you do get from that center speaker is unbelievably clear and crisp. I noticed that when Pazzi takes a drag from his cigarette, you could hear the crackling sound as the tobacco ignites. Subtleties like this really make for a great movie experience.
The mains are mostly used for ambient music. But there's three times I noticed that all of the speakers got a real workout. First is in the opening shootout, as the bullets fly all over the place (I'm sure this sounds even better in DTS!). Next is a sequence at an opera in Florence. The disc recreates the feel of the large outdoor opera setting flawlessly. Finally, later in the movie, there's a thundering herd of boars that figure in Verger's revenge plot. Make sure your subwoofer is on for this scene!
In July of this year, at the San Diego Comic-Con International, I attended a seminar given by DVD producers, including Charles de Lauzirika, the producer of this disc. These producers discussed how special edition DVDs are planned while the movie is still in production. In fact, according to David Prior, the Planet of the Apes DVD supplements were almost done before the film was even released. Many of the Hannibal extras were obviously done during production.
The extras on the Hannibal DVD shows that quite a bit of time went into the preparation. First off, on disc 1, we get two additional trailers, for the upcoming Silence of the Lambs Special Edition DVD, and a preview of Windtalkers, to be released theatrically later in 2001. Then there's a full-length audio commentary from director Ridley Scott. This commentary is done in topics, and these topics are selectable from the commentary menu. Of course, one can also run the whole commentary from beginning to end. The time between the topics is usually less than a minute. The commentary itself is rather dry (perhaps to be expected from an English director), but informative. We hear about the difficulties of adapting Harris' novel to film, though I'd like to have heard more about Jodie Foster's declining of the role. Not a riveting commentary, but those that enjoyed the film will definitely want to give it a listen. I did like that he mentioned a similarity in one scene to F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu, something I noticed myself while viewing the film.
Disc 2 is absolutely loaded with supplements. There are the standard production notes and cast & crew biographies, as well as theatrical and television trailers for the film. Next we have a poster gallery, consisting of several designs that weren't used. I actually found I liked some of these posters a little more. Finally, there's an extensive stills gallery, including behind the scenes shots, and make-up effects shots. (However, I did notice that sometimes I could no longer step through the stills, and had to press the "Menu" button to return. I'm not sure if that's a player or disc quirk.)
But now we get to the meat (again, no pun intended) of the supplements. To start, there's a 116-minute documentary called Breaking the Silence. According to DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika, this had to be split into several sections due to legal reasons, though there's a "Play All" function that allows the entire documentary to be viewed at once. Breaking the Silence starts off a bit slow, with interviews with the cast and crew, but it takes off from there. We see a press conference in Florence as the filming began there, several on-set clips, and a fantastic section with the make-up effects men. (Needless to say, this section should be viewed AFTER watching the movie). Next is a segment about the music used, which is fascinating though possibly a little overlong. The documentary concludes with a section called "Reaction" which includes scenes of both the New York and Hollywood premieres, the after-party, and perhaps my favorite, some clips of the premiere audience at some of the more unsettling moments of the film.
35 minutes of deleted scenes are on this supplement disc as well. These scenes are non-anamorphic with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. There's an option to watch these scenes with or without Ridley Scott commentary. I'd like a "Play All" option as well, as stepping through each scene and selecting the "Play" bar got rather tiresome. Most of these deleted scenes are rather superfluous, but three do stand out from the rest. One is the scene where Clarice Starling explores Dr. Lecter's old basement cell. This scene was in the theatrical trailer, and many fans were disappointed with its omission. On this disc we get to see it in its entirety. Second is a little more background on the Pazzi character, most notably a serial killer, Il Mostro, whom he's been tracking. Dr. Lecter even provides some clues, as he's done in the past, to the police so that they can apprehend this monster. But in addition to a "been there done that" effect, it also serves as a sub-plot within a sub-plot, and only clutters the film.
Finally, we see a much-publicized alternate ending that in actuality doesn't differ much from the one used in the film. There was a much different ending planned, and we hear about that in the commentary on this scene, but that ending was never filmed. I'm glad that one never left the drawing board, as it seemed a bit cliched. Nice to hear about it though.
But wait, there's still more. The last supplement to discuss is the alternate angles. For once, the name is apropos to the feature. There are three segments in this supplement. One is called "Ridleygrams", a storyboard-to-final film sequence, where we can see the storyboard, the film, or both as Ridley Scott discusses them. Second is an exploration of the title sequence, with several options ranging from original sketches to the final sequence. And last is a section called "Anatomy of a Shootout". This needs to be seen to be believed. It's a full dissection of the shootout sequence from the film. The viewer has the option of any one of four cameras used in the scene, as well as an option where all 4 camera angles are visible at once. It's like having your own home-editing studio. Fantastic.
The final bit of live action behind-the-scenes footage is a short featurette, and a brief documentary on the creation of the wolf creatures used for the film. The beast creation segment could have been a little longer, but I'm certainly not going to complain here - there's more than SEVEN HOURS of movie, deleted scenes, commentaries, and extras.
But that's still not all; next up are some photo galleries. The ones everyone will want to check out are the photos of Brigitte and Ginger's class project (these were the photos shown during the opening credits). There are production photos of some of the props used as well. Also worth viewing is a set of storyboard sketches for two scenes: The attack on Ginger from the beginning, and the final battle. But you'll have to search the disc to find these…
Whew. There sure is a lot of material on these discs,and almost all of it is useful information. Not only is this a fully loaded special edition, but the sound and video quality are unparalleled. Admittedly, I find the film itself a bit lacking, but MGM has produced an exhaustive look at this sequel to one of the most popular films of the 90s. As a studio, MGM has received some negative comments from film fans, but their treatment of Hannibal is a textbook case of how a DVD should be done. Excellent work.
Movie - B-
Image Quality - A
Sound - A
Supplements - A
- Running Time - 2 hours 11 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- English DTS 5.1
- French Dolby Digital 5.1
- Spanish Dolby Digital
- English, French, and Spanish subtitles
- Feature Length commentary by director Ridley Scott
- Deleted and Alternate scenes with optional director commentary
- Alternate ending with optional director commentary
- Breaking the Silence: 5 making-of featurettes
- Multi Angle featurette on storyboarding
- Anatomy of a Shoot-Out: A 5 angle breakdown of the Fish Market Scene
- Multi Angle exploration of the title sequence
- Gallery featuring trailers, TV spots, stills, and poster concepts
- Production notes and Cast & Crew biographies