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Hannibal Loves Clarice. (Review, contains spoilers!)
Matt - 2/10/01

Well, I saw Hannibal last night, after viewing Silence one last time to get into that cannibalistic spirit. Since the movie had so much fanfare and interest leading up to its cinematic debut, I'd say most of us read at least one or two reviews of the flick even before it came out. The general consensus looked to be that this was a pretty good film, but the bottle definitely didn't capture lightning twice. I guess that's pretty accurate, albeit a little unfair...I certainly didn't come out of the movie feeling gypped on the ticket price, but I don't think I'll be singing its praises in the coming weeks to those interested in what the film's like.

So, here's my review. A bit of warning - contains major spoilers. If you're planning on seeing the movie - you may want to wait on reading this one. Its written with those who've already seen it in mind, and assumes you already know what went on. To reiterate - this review will ruin any shock value the movie could deliver, so last chance to turn back if you're looking to be surprised.

Okay, first and foremost, I think its unfair to judge this movie solely in comparison to the first, for several reasons. Silence is probably one of the most well-crafted movies I've seen, and has had a decade to gather a dedicated fanbase who almost universally agree that it was fantastic. Comparing a lot of good movies to that one would be pretty dooming, but unfortunately its sequel doesn't have that luxury, we obviously immediately compare it to the first, and there's problem number one.

Secondly, when you go back and think about past movies with a ton of hype leading to their debut, a good chunk of them always seem to fall flat. When a movie that hasn't even been released yet gains this much fanfare, you build it up in your head to the point where you're literally setting yourself up for dissapointment. Silence was, more or less, an unexpected treasure that's had years to build its reputation, so already the sequel was up against pretty strong odds from anyone who'd look to critique it.

That being said, I personally felt there were a few problems with the movie. Some of them glaring enough to keep me from really wanting to invest the time to seeing it again. Let's take a look at some of the good/bad aspects, and some of the questions people have wondered about the flick leading up to its arrival..

One of the biggest, if not the biggest, concerns about the flick was whether or not Julianne Moore would stand up as a good Clarice Starling. Alright, the girl's fighting a losing battle here, since she's going up against Jodie Foster's storied role from the previous story which featured her much more prominently than this film did. Was she an overall effective Clarice? I didn't really think so - though that's not Julianne's fault. Moore's role in this movie seemed to take a major backdrop to everything else that was going on. More specifically, the intriguing and 'action' parts of the film usually didn't include Clarice's character. It was hard to connect to whatever Clarice was doing since the cutaways to her took us away from the action scenes. Case in point, for what seems like half the film, Clarice is just sitting in the FBI offices looking over case documents and putting on emotional faces...after awhile, I felt kinda detached from her perspective.

Put it this way - in Silence, I think its pretty fair to say that the movie was a 50/50 split between the Clarice and Hannibal characters. In this movie, I'd say Clarice's 50% is split between herself and at least two other characters, making her seem less important, and thus, not quite as easy to get interested in. Now don't get me wrong - I love Moore, she's been great in every role I've seen her in. Plus, she's freakin hot and is one of the only people I've ever seen who's been able to actually have a birthmark in her eye. But it doesn't matter if its Moore, Foster, or Betty White playing Clarice - despite all the shit that went down near the movie's climax, you couldn't help feeling that she was nowhere near as important to the events as she should've been.

The 'Romanticism,' or whatever you'd like to call it, between her and Hannibal seem far less enthralling that the movie seems to want to suggest. I've heard many things about the book, but I haven't personally read it, so I won't compare her character guideline to that. But personally, I thought that all the stuff regarding her compassion for Hannibal came off more as a twist for the sake of a twist than a reasonably acceptable development.

In the movie's defense - it probably wasn't the greatest idea for me to watch the first film almost directly before watching this one - it made it almost impossible for me not to directly compare this flick to its predecessor, something I'd very much like to avoid. Notwithstanding that, I'm so bias to anything involving Moore that my only real complaint is that we didn't see more of her.

Moving on, here's my biggest complaint about the movie. The sideplot with the silly Italian trying to nail the ransom on Lechter ultimately made the movie seem to drag, a lot. We've seen Clarice, we've seen we know they're gonna have to meet up eventually during the course of the film. That's what we're waiting for. That's, more or less, what we came to see. Because of that, all the stuff between Hannibal and his nervous would-be assailant seems like filler, only its not, because it takes up a good portion of the movie. Regardless of how interesting it all was, everyone I saw the movie with agreed that they were simply waiting for 'that' part to be done with, so we could move on to the real meat. That knocked any chance of getting really sucked into the sideplot out the window, but since it actually took up a big part of the screen time, it felt as though the movie was really dragging through the middle.

On the flipside, now that I've seen the movie, I know what's coming, what to expect, and what not to expect. Taking away the element of surprise on my next viewing would certainly help me better appreciate these scenes, especially since they were all pulled off well, and given the chance, are all pretty good. Anyway, Rinaldo Pazzi's portrayal as Giancarlo was great for what it was. Basically, we have a guy who's flawed by greed, but otherwise moral. I'm by no means the type of person to assess movie analogies, I hate that shit, but seeing the guy get what he deserves in the form of moider! over his personal greed was pretty fitting.

And, on the strictly light side, people getting hung in movies always gets a few bonus points, especially when their guts fly out to the floor below.

Okay, so we've looked at two quasi-cons, now here's a big pro. Gary Oldman's portrayal of Mason Verger was great. Probably my favorite character in the movie, despite a relatively short amount of screen time. This Mason guy was an awesome character - Hannibal's disfigured victim psychotically hell-bent on revenge - the fact that he looked like one of those mutant spider things from Star Trek was just a bonus. Everytime this guy came on the screen, I sat up a little bit more in my chair. Actually, Oldman's role is what kept me the most interest in the ongoing, for pretty simple reasons.

I don't like 'smart' movies, 'preachy' movies, or 'message' movies. I can appreciate 'em if they're pulled off well, but if I want enlightenment, I'll listen to Tony Robbins. If I want to be intellectually challenged, I'll try to figure out the meaning of most car commercials. I see movies to be entertained, not to feel good because I 'got it.' Its for those reasons that I'm not the biggest fan of American Beauty, and why I outright hated American Psycho. I think most of you will agree, a movie that gets your stomach moving will come off a lot better than one that tries to get you to think constantly. And that's why I loved the stuff with Verger so much - there were no questions about it, we knew why he hated Hannibal, we know what his intentions are, and in the lowest forms possible, we want to see how it plays out. How can anyone not get interested in his plans? He wanted to feed Hopkins to a pen full of hungry warthogs with giant fangs. That's entertainment.

Oldman's performance gave us a combination of psychosis and comedic relief that the movie sorely needed. Had there been more of him in the movie, I probably would've liked it a bit more. But since the few scenes we got of his plans kept me hoping for more, I think that's a good notch on the movie's belt. Plus, the way the settled up on that one was a great payoff, in my view an even better payoff than the infamous 'shock' ending everyone's talking about. Really, the insane crippled mutant getting his head crunched open by a flock of poorly trained warthogs. Could you really ask for anything better than that? The fact that Hannibal orchestrated his demise in the way he did was also satisfying, considering the movie's obvious intent to get us at least sentimentally on his side. So kudos to the director on the book-to-movie transition with that whole thing, it was by far my favorite aspect of the entire film.

Alright, now we have to talk about the ending. Unfortunately, I had heard and read about if before seeing the movie, so the shock value was lost on me. But you don't really need to be surprised to be shocked when Ray Liotta starts eating his own brains. I mean, they could've ran, in giant scrolling text, that in the next scene Ray was gonna eat his brains...there's still no way to prepare for it. You don't get to see people eating their own body parts too often, so you snatch it up wherever you can...the admission price is worth it on that alone.

A lot of reviews have been pretty critical of the film's seeming intent to portray Hannibal as a sort of anti-hero. I disagree with that. Hannibal's who you know. You didn't watch Silence wanting Hannibal to 'get his', so why would anyone feel compelled to root for a bunch of cops who you have no prior involvement with? Because of that, playing Ray, the cop, as a villain was a good move, and squeamishly enough, seeing Hannibal lobotomize and cook his thinktank was gratifying on more levels than just the 'holy shit!' factor.

Plus, our audience last night had extra reasons to want to see poor Ray eat his head. Before the movie, we saw some preview of an upcoming flick starring him opposite Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewlitt, delivering at least four awful lines in succession and generally establishing him as the night's main villain before even acknowledging his appearance in Hannibal. He hadn't even shown up in the movie and people wanted Hannibal to eat him. I'm telling you, I bet this new movie with him and Hewlitt doesn't even exist...they filmed the preview to show before Hannibal just to get you to wish death upon him. Masterful.

Of course, he did do some pretty fucked up things in the flick, with nowhere near the level of charm our dear Hannibal has, so seeing him drugged up and scalped was definitely a call for some raucous hooting from the crowd of idiots in the back row of the theater who apparently felt each line in the movie would come off twice as powerful if they inserted their own witty repertoire as loud as they could throughout the film. Makes you wish psychotic cannibal murderers were a commonplace affair, maybe they'd eat the idiots and save us the trouble of grinding our teeth everytime they disobey the cardinal rules of fine theatre!

Finally, we have Hopkins portrayal of Hannibal, the obvious focal point of the flick. I've read some reviews citing the anticlimax of Hannibal being on the loose. Some have said that Hannibal comes off more like a comedy act and intellectual goof than as the guy who got in all our heads ten years ago. Well, hmmm. Tough call there. Basically, I think we've seen that stuff before. We've seen Hannibal talk his way into terror. And remember, we've had a decade to more or less romanticize the character. Seeing him make snide jokes about his intentions was great because, after ten years of thinking of the guy as that cool murderer rather than a psychotic mastermind, this stuff was way more on-the-mark to what we'd expect from him. I think the movie took the years of parody and highlight reels of the Hannibal character into consideration and gave us the adapted version of him...and I kinda liked it.

Of course, Hopkins is great in the role, but saying that is almost redundant, since he's great in all his roles. As far as making him the film's 'hero' goes, well, let's face it, people like Hannibal. Sure, he kills and eats people, but nobody's perfect. And its not like he's eating anyone we particularly care about, its just Ray Liotta. If he was threatening to eat, let's say, Rodney Dangerfield, I could understand the fine line getting blurred a little more. He even stitched up Clarice and bought her hot new clothes that better exposed her cleavage, you'd really have to dig deep to get too annoyed with him.

Now for one of the more important questions. What junk food is the most appropriate to watch during viewing? Of course, unless you didn't mind being spoiled, if you're reading this you already saw the movie, so the point is pretty moot. Then again, some of you probably liked seeing Hannibal feed a little kid leftover brains enough to warrant seeing it again, so I guess this is for you.

Generally, the choices here are split into two divisions, popcorn and nachos. Its an important decision - you really need to pick the right crap to eat. Its essential...if you don't have the right junk food to get you through the boring parts of a movie, you'll spend five minute intervals noticing them way too much. In a perfect world, we'd be able to bring booklights into movie theaters so we could breakaway to tv-themed crossword puzzles during the shitty scenes, but until someone puts Get A Life back on the air again, we ain't living in a perfect world.

Alright, so popcorn versus nachos. The eternal debate. People who stand in line almost always have the intent to get popcorn. Then they see that enigmatic cheese dispenser and start doubting their decisions - don't let this happen to you. With Hannibal, popcorn is the natural choice. First off, you can't be eating nacho cheese during a film that had all these gooey blood shots and people eating brains. Its too gross, eating gooey stuff that you can't see in the dark while people are spilling entrails on the screen isn't one of the world's greatest pleasures. Popcorn, on the other hand, is dry and recognizable. Like a rock, only edible. Plus, you can do my patented soda trick. Here's how it works.

Step One: Fill up your mouth to about half its capacity with crunchy, delicious popcorn. The butter, as always, is optional...but preferred in this scenario. I'll explain why in a second. Now, when you shove it in there, don't bite down on it. For this wonderful trick to work correctly, the popcorn must remain in its natural state.

Step Two: While the popcorn is still in your mouth and intact, take a heaping gulp of soda. The soda will dissolve the popcorn before you even swallow it, giving you the sheer satisfaction of knowing what it must feel like for a fly to eat. The butter is preferred in this exercise because it counteracts with the soda to ultimately aid the dissolving process. The end results are an amazing taste, trust me.

Final Step: Bask in glory knowing that you know the secrets to the full cinematic experience. Share your knowledge with others.

Believe me, I've survived through a lot of bad movies all thanks to this trick. Plus, its great for those self-conscious people who don't like to make crunching noises in the theater. Under this popcorn regime, your snacking is virtually soundless!

As for my thoughts overall on Hannibal, I'd have to say that its the kind of movie you appreciate a lot more after the dust has settled - my 'complaints' are far less now than they were even just last night, and I appreciate it far more after having some time to reflect in my zen room and having been given the opportunity to work in a poorly drawn comic about popcorn because of it.

Despite the assorted black marks I've noted, I'll throw a recommendation for this one. Some weak points in the plot and the occasional 'dragging' feeling is far outweighed by the memorable performances and even more memorable 'shock' scenes. Admittedly, it doesn't take much to make me happy with a flick, but I think there's enough here where most who can dismiss their preconceptions about what it 'should have been' would enjoy it. The only real viable downside was the lack of a conclusion to the building and semi-unknown relationship between Clarice and Hannibal - which of course is one of the more driving reasons to see the movie. Summing it up, the flick replaces mystery and suspense with outright action. Its up to you to decide if that's your cup of tea.

Did I mention that Ray Liotta ate his own brains? C'mon, if you threw that ending onto Can't Hardly Wait, even that would be a great flick. Put the lotion in the fucking basket. Moouah moouah.

- Matt

Last time I saw a movie in the theaters, Magneto ended up having to play board games.