Retrospective BONUS: Hannibal (2013-2015)

Welcome back to a very special bonus entry in the Hannibal Lecter retrospective! In today’s post we’re going to be looking at the three seasons of the the TV series Hannibal! I set a precedent way back with The Planet of the Apes franchise that TV series weren’t on the table when I do retrospectives since they add a ton of extra work hours on top of having to watch, research and review however many movies are in that franchise already and, like I’ve said, I don’t get paid for this so I don’t really feel the need to go to that extra effort. However, binging Hannibal on Netflix was the catalyst that led to me doing this retrospective series in the first place, so it felt appropriate to cover it this time.

Also, for simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to the TV series simply as Hannibal in this article. For the novel or the Ridley Scott film of the same name that we’ve already covered in this retrospective series, I will refer to those as “the novel Hannibal” and Hannibal (2001) respectively as needed.

Here, enjoy some classy promotional art for all three seasons!

PRODUCTION
After Hannibal Rising‘s poor showing at the box office, it was obvious that interest in the character had waned and the franchise went into dormancy. On November 10, 2010, long-time rights-holder of the Hannibal Lecter character Dino de Laurentiis died and the rights passed to his estate and wife, Martha. Meanwhile, Universal had a stake in the character as well, while MGM still retained the rights to the characters in The Silence of the Lambs (specifically Clarice Starling and Buffalo Bill). With de Laurentiis’ death, it seems like the franchise began to make some new moves. Katie O’Connell began developing a Hannibal Lecter TV series at NBC (a television subsidiary of the same corporation that owns Universal) in 2011. Bryan Fuller, who was coming off of creating the critically acclaimed series Pushing Daisies was asked to helm the show and produce a pilot script. However, the script was so good that the show was financed and put into full production of a 13-episode season without requiring a pilot episode. Fuller based the series around the relationship between Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham, while he planned to spend the first two or three seasons on the backstory prior to the novels, before moving into the ground covered by the novels and then ending after one more original season.

Perhaps sensing the excitement growing for Fuller’s take on Hannibal Lecter, only a couple months after Hannibal went into production, Lifetime announced that they were going to produce their own series revolving around Clarice Starling (MGM was producing this series). However, the show never entered full production and was shelved. Fuller had hoped to secure the rights to The Silence of the Lambs characters if they ever reached that point in the show, so it’s probably for the best that it didn’t move forward.

Hugh Dancy was the first actor cast, playing Will Graham. Mads Mikkelsen (probably best known at the time as Le Chiffre in Casino Royale) was cast next as Hannibal Lecter. Rounding out the main cast was Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford. Fishburne was just coming off of a tenure on CSI, where he had replaced Manhunter-lead William Petersen’s character. Several other supporting characters were cast thereafter, including Caroline Dhavernas as Alana Bloom, Hettienne Park as Beverly Katz, Lara Jean Chorostecki as Freddie Lounds, Kacey Rohl as Abigail Hobbs, Raúl Esparza as Frederick Chilton and Gillian Anderson as Bedelia Du Maurier, Hannibal’s therapist. Anderson, you may remember, was one of the actresses on the shortlist to play the recast Clarice Starling in Hannibal (2001), so it was exciting to finally see her get a role in this franchise.

The first season was critically acclaimed and was nominated for several awards, winning (among others) Best Network Television Series and Best Actor on Television at the Saturn Awards in 2014. However, it didn’t do very well in its viewer ratings, likely due to the fact that NBC kept putting it in terrible time slots that kept it from growing an audience. After some apprehension, especially given the show’s considerable budget, NBC reviewed the series for another 13-episode season. For the second season, the supporting cast was expanded by the likes of Cynthia Nixon (of Sex and the City fame) as Kade Prurnell, Katharine Isabelle (the lovely Canadian scream queen of Ginger Snaps fame) as Margot Verger and Michael Pitt as Mason Verger. In addition, Fuller tried to secure freaking David Bowie to play Hannibal’s uncle Robert, but Bowie was unavailable and so the part was scrapped from the story. Unfortunately, similar viewer ratings-issues plagued the second season of Hannibal – the poor ratings and gore meant that they wouldn’t give it a prime time slot, but the time slot that they put it into guaranteed that it wouldn’t foster a wide enough audience. Furthermore, the fact that it was a network TV show ran counter to the series’ insanely violent content and some even speculated that the show would fare better on a cable network where such extreme content was expected. That said, the show’s critical reception was even greater than it had been previously and the show was nominated for even more awards, once again winning Best Network Television Series and Best Actor on Television at the Saturn Awards in 2015, as well as winning Best Supporting Actor on Television this time. This might be why NBC once again renewed the series for a third season.

For the third season of the show, Bryan Fuller dived right into adapting and remixing the books for television. The first half of the season adapts the novel Hannibal, while also mixing in elements from Hannibal Rising. The second half then adapts the events of Red Dragon. Michael Pitt suddenly decided to leave the cast and was replaced by Joe Anderson. Several new supporting cast members were added, including Fortunato Cerlino as Rinaldo Pazzi, Tao Okamoto as Chiyoh (a handmaid of Lady Murasaki), Richard Armatage (Thorin Oakenshield himself!) as Francis Dolarhyde, Rutina Wesley as Reba McClane and Nina Arianda as Molly Graham. However, the ratings still didn’t pick up and even before season three had finished airing, NBC announced that they were cancelling the series. Despite this sad news, the third season was just as acclaimed as ever, being nominated for (and winning) several more awards as fans mourned its cancellation. Since then, there were talks that Amazon or Netflix may pick up the series for renewal, but nothing has materialized…

PLOT SYNOPSIS
In the first season of the show, Will Graham is teaching at the FBI when Jack Crawford convinces him to come back into the field to help lend his talents to the hunt for the serial killer known as the Minnesota Shrike. We discover that Graham has a talent for empathy, being able to look at a crime scene and intuit the killer’s motivations and design. This takes a toll on him mentally though and Crawford asks Hannibal Lecter to monitor Will to ensure that he doesn’t harm himself. During the hunt for the Shrike, Lecter deduces the identity of the killer, Garrett Jacob Hobbs, and warns him that the FBI are coming. When they arrive, Graham is forced to kill Hobbs when he tries to cut his daughter Abigail’s throat. Graham and Lecter begin to care for Abigail while continuing to solve crimes for the FBI. During the course of the season, a serial killer known as the Chesapeake Ripper begins killing again and the hunt for this killer gets underway. At one point, it is believed that a former surgeon and psychiatric patient named Abel Gideon is the Chesapeake Ripper, but it is discovered that this is a delusion implanted by Frederick Chilton in an attempt to gain notoriety. In retribution, Gideon escapes, goes on a murder spree and mutilates Chilton, removing several of his internal organs before he is apprehended by Graham. During this time, Abigail is induced to murder a man who had been harassing her, which Hannibal helps her to cover-up. Graham’s mental state deteriorates more and more as the season progresses and eventually we come to discover that Hannibal has been accelerating this decline, subjecting him to experimental treatments and lying about his diagnoses. However, Graham begins to realize that there is a greater design at work and that several of the recent murders they’ve been tracking have had a pattern to them. Graham has a hallucination and believes that he has killed Abigail, when in reality Hannibal corners her and whisks her away. Graham is arrested for Abigail’s murder, but escapes. Realizing that Hannibal is the Chesapeake Ripper and has been manipulating him all this time, Graham tries to kill him but is shot and put into psychiatric care by Jack Crawford.

In the second season, Kade Prurnell is investigating Jack Crawford for misconduct in allowing Will Graham to have a mental breakdown on his watch. Meanwhile, Hannibal begins taking Graham’s place as an FBI profiler in the field, but uses it as an opportunity to commit more murders. Graham’s case goes to trial, but someone begins murdering the bailiff and the judge in a style similar to the murders Will is accused of, in order to try to save Graham from trial. Fellow FBI agent Beverly Katz begins going to Graham for insight into the murders and decides to investigate Hannibal. This ends in her death as Beverly’s evicerated body is found on display afterwards. Seeking revenge, Graham learns that an orderly at the psychiatric hospital is responsible for the death of the bailiff. The orderly believes that Graham is responsible for the crimes he is accused of and considers himself a big fan. Will uses his devotion to try to get him to kill Hannibal, but the attempt is foiled by Jack Crawford. Soon after, Jack Crawford traces clues from the Chesapeake Ripper and finds a trainee of his who had gone missing years before, Miriam Lass, still alive and held captive by the Ripper. With no evidence held against him, Will Graham is released from custody and attempts to find a way to prove his allegations about Hannibal. However, due to hypnotherapy, Miriam Lass believes that Frederick Chilton is the Chesapeake Ripper and, in a fit of panic, shoots him in the face. He survives, but is arrested for the Ripper’s crimes.

Following this, Graham goes back to work at the FBI and decides to become Hannibal’s patient again, although now Hannibal nudges Graham towards committing murder with him. Hannibal sends one of his former patients to kill Will in retribution for Graham’s earlier attempted murder, but Graham kills and mutilates him, saying that they’re even now and showing that he is willing to play Hannibal’s game now. Shortly thereafter, Freddie Lounds is investigating Will Graham when she is discovered and then her flaming body is found afterwards, presumably murdered by Graham. Meanwhile, Hannibal is trying to get one of his other patients, Margot Verger, to kill her abusive brother, Mason. Instead, she sleeps with Will Graham in order to get pregnant and be able to birth an heir to the Verger family fortune. When Hannibal informs Mason of this, he has his sister’s baby aborted and sterilizes her. Will flies into a rage and is tempted to kill Mason, but instead warns him that Hannibal is playing them all in an attempt to get Verger to kill Hannibal. We then discover that Will has been working with Jack Crawford all along, that Freddie Lounds faked her death to provide cover and that they have secured testimony from Hannibal’s therapist, Bedelia Du Maurier – all they need now is to get concrete evidence of Hannibal attempting to commit murder, since thus far he has only been caught using manipulation. Verger kidnaps Hannibal and attempts to feed him to his pigs. Will hopes that this will be his chance to get evidence, but when he frees Hannibal he gets knocked out by Verger’s men and Hannibal escapes with Mason. He drugs Mason and convinces him to cut off his own face and feed it to Will’s dogs before breaking his neck. Sensing the FBI closing in, Hannibal suggests that it’s time for he and Graham to run away together. They plan to murder Jack Crawford and then run, while Will simultaneously plans with Crawford to use the opportunity to arrest Hannibal. The sting moves forward sooner than planned though, as Prurnell becomes aware of the plan and tries to stop it and Graham warns Lecter in advance. Jack confronts Hannibal and is nearly killed when Alana Bloom arrives and draws Hannibal’s attention away. She is shocked to find Abigail Hobbs upstairs, who then pushes Alana out the window onto the concrete below. Will then arrives and is stabbed and nearly gutted by a wounded and betrayed Hannibal, who then cuts Abigail’s throat. The entire main cast lies bleeding out as the episode ends with Hannibal escaping to Europe with Bedelia Du Maurier.

The third season picks up with Hannibal and Bedelia living together in Italy. Hannibal has assumed the identity of a Dr. Fell and is attempting to become a curator at a local museum, murdering his way up to promotion as Bedelia grows increasingly erratic with his brazenness. We soon discover that Will, Jack and Alana all survived their encounter with Hannibal at the end of the last season and are all hunting down Hannibal with a vengeance (Abigail succumbed to her throat slash and bled out). In Will and Jack’s case, both are following clues which lead them to Italy directly, whereas Alana joins forces with Mason Verger and helps him to put out a bounty to capture Lecter. An Italian detective, Rinaldo Pazzi, is on Hannibal’s trail as well. Will travels to Hannibal’s childhood home and meets Chiyo, a handmaiden of Hannibal’s aunt. For years she has been keeping a man prisoner in the basement for Hannibal, who he claims ate his sister Mischa. She refuses to kill him, believing it better to keep him alive. Will frees the man and Chiyo kills him in self-defense. Realizing that he was kept prisoner all along because Hannibal wanted to test if she was capable of killing him, Chiyo agrees to help Will find Hannibal, but soon doubts his intentions and throws him from a train on the way to Italy. Meanwhile, Pazzi contacts Verger and decides to collect the bounty on Hannibal’s head, but he is killed by Hannibal when he attempts to confront him. Jack and Will close in on the rogue Hannibal, apprehending Bedelia, who attempts to convince them that she has had a mental breakdown and no longer knows her true identity. When Will finally finds Hannibal, he tries to kill him but is shot by Chiyo instead. Will and Jack are then tied up by Hannibal, who attempts to cut open Will’s skull with a saw, but is thwarted when Verger’s men find the group and whisk Will and Hannibal away to his estate. Verger reveals that he plans to eat Hannibal and transplant Will’s face onto his in retribution for his own mutilation. However, Mason’s plan begins to unravel as Alana and Margot begin to make their own plans with Will and Hannibal, arranging for Hannibal to escape and take the blame for Verger’s murder. Hannibal then kills all Verger’s men, frees Will, and secures a sample of Mason’s semen for Margot so that Alana can serve as a surrogate mother, thereby allowing Margot to have a “suitable male heir” who can inherit the family fortune. Their plan complete, Margot and Alana are then able to kill the helpless Mason. Meanwhile, Hannibal takes Will back to his home and they agree to part ways. However, when the FBI arrives, they are shocked when Hannibal surrenders to them so that Graham will always know where to find Hannibal if he needs him.

The second half of the season then time skips three years. Jack Crawford once again recruits Will Graham, who has since married, to help him find the serial killer known as the Tooth Fairy. Graham is reluctant to get sucked back in once more but agrees to help. During the investigation, he finds that he needs to speak with Hannibal once more to get further insight into the case. Sometime later, Hannibal is contacted by the Tooth Fairy (Francis Dolarhyde), who is a big fan of Hannibal’s, and who tells him that he is becoming the “great red dragon” with his killing. Dolarhyde strikes up a relationship with blind co-worker Reba McClane, but when the relationship turns physical his hallucinations tell him that she is to be his next victim. In desperation, he eats the original copy of William Blake’s The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun but is nearly captured by Graham who had gone to view the painting as well. When the voices aren’t silenced, Hannibal suggests to Dolarhyde that he kill Will Graham’s family instead. Dolarhyde agrees and breaks into their home, nearly Molly Graham and her son, but they barely manage to escape the killer and get into FBI custody. Jack Crawford and Alana Bloom realize that Hannibal has been corresponding with Dolarhyde and try to get him to get information on the killer the next time he calls Hannibal, but during their next conversation Lecter warns Dolarhyde that they are being eavesdropped on and their conversation ends. With this avenue cut off, Will and Crawford attempt to draw out Dolarhyde by staging an unflattering interview about him with Frederick Chilton. This works, but instead of going after Graham, Dolarhyde captures Chilton and explains his motives to him before biting off his lips and then immolating Chilton. Chilton miraculously survives and accuses Graham of setting him up intentionally. Knowing that the dragon will come for Reba soon, Dolarhyde reveals his alter ego to her and then stages suicide in order to escape. He uses this opportunity to confront Graham and demands that he be able to see Hannibal. The FBI realizes that the body they have isn’t Dolarhyde and once again tries to figure out a way to draw him out. Graham suggests that they stage Hannibal’s escape in order to accomplish this. However, the attempt is thwarted when Dolarhyde attacks their convoy and Hannibal and Graham escape for real. They flee to a cliff-side house where Hannibal had previously held victims captive and are confronted by Dolarhyde. Dolarhyde severely wounds the pair, but they manage to overpower him and stab him to death. Hannibal and Graham embrace and then fall over the cliff-side together.


REVIEW
There are a lot of things to talk about with Hannibal, so we’ll start with the first thing that really struck me about this series: holy shit it is gory! It’s wild just how much Bryan Fuller was able to get away with for a network TV series, because the level of gore is beyond anything in the movies and even gets close to The Walking Dead levels of violence. Like, we’re talking a totem pole made of dead, dismembered bodies, a pair of bodies whose back skin has been cut off and turned into wings, a guy being given a Glasgow smile, a guy having his tongue pulled through his neck, disembowelling… and that’s just the first season! Subsequent seasons have such highlights as Mason Verger cutting his face off and feeding it to Will’s dogs (something so fucked up that even the notoriously twisted Hannibal (2001) shied away from showing it), a guy’s dismembered body being broken to fit onto the skeleton of a cave bear, and a guy having his lips bit off and body immolated. God forbid they show a nipple though! Seriously though, the only reason I think that they managed to get away with any of this is because they rarely show the act itself, just the aftermath, and a judicious amount of creative lightning. Hannibal really likes to revel in its gore so you should be aware of that going in – it’s not for the squeamish.

The next thing that will really strike you about Hannibal is the production quality and cinematography. Nearly every shot in Hannibal is beautiful, easily outstripping all previous Hannibal Lecter films in terms of pure aesthetic appeal. It’s not just for the sake of style though, the abstract and symbolic imagery is often used as a way to show us a characters’ psychoses. The most obvious example of this is Will Graham’s frequent hallucinations of a pitch-black man with antlers, representing his minds-eye view of the killer who is trying to elude him. Similarly, Francis Dolarhyde’s hallucinations are is also literally portrayed, showing him painfully growing a tail or literally becoming the Great Red Dragon of Blake’s painting as his delusion grips him more and more. While some may decry the lack of subtlety, portraying the characters’ minds in such a direct way on screen is not only effective, but it helps make for some compelling and unforgettable imagery as well.

Of course, we wouldn’t get nearly as much of this on-screen psychosis if Will Graham wasn’t our lead character. Luckily, Hugh Dancy’s portrayal of the character is by far the most interesting one we’ve gotten yet. In previous incarnations of the character, it didn’t feel like there was all that much to his empathetic talent – he was apparently able to get into the mind of a killer to solve their crimes, but ultimately it just felt like he was smart and noticed a little clue which led to the breakthrough to solve the case; empathy had very little to do with it. In Hannibal though, Will Graham’s empathy is practically a super power. We get a cool sequence every time he does it where he looks at the clues at the crime scene and then lives out what happens. Through this you actually get a sense that he’s doing something no one else could do, while simultaneously being able to understand why it would take such a hefty mental toll on him to do so. Will looks like he’s on the verge of a mental breakdown for half the series, even before Hannibal starts actively manipulating and accelerating that breakdown. Manhunter and Red Dragon talked big about how being able to think like a killer was treated like some sort of moral equivalence, but I never understood this argument – isn’t acting it out the issue, rather than being able to conceive of it? Hannibal, however, does a better job of showing that Will Graham is on the verge of going off the deep end and then some. No one knows how far Will will go over the line or where his allegiances lie, not even Will himself, so in the second half of season two you seriously believe that he would start indulging in his murderous side with Hannibal.

I’ve seen many people declare that Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal Lecter is the best portrayal of the character and… well, if we ignored Hannibal (2001) and Red Dragon then Hopkins might be close, but taking those two moustache-twirling portrayals into account I’m inclined to agree. Bryan Fuller and Mads Mikkelsen have described this incarnation of Hannibal as him being a personification of Lucifer, and it’s such a perfect way to describe this character. This version of Hannibal is still the refined, smart, high-class figure we know, but his evil is far more hands-off – he prefers to toy with his victims without them even knowing it, getting into their heads, tempting them, creating chaos when it interests him just to see what will happen. Since most of the characters don’t even realize that Hannibal is a serial killer for half of the series, this just makes him even more sinister and straight-up evil compared to previous incarnations. Hopkins’ Lecter was evil, sure, but they always tried to portray him as a killer with a moral compass. Mikkelsen’s Lecter is just pure evil though, treating everyone around him like playthings and holding their lives in his hands. Perhaps my favourite example is when he presides over Jack Crawford’s wife, Phyllis, as she attempts to commit suicide. After she has gone unconscious, he flips a coin to decide whether to save her life or not. It’s such a cold and emotionless response to such a charged action that it’s truly chilling that he doesn’t care about what he’s doing. Throughout the entire first season, Hannibal breaks Will’s mind, making him believe that he’s gone insane and murdered people, and when Hannibal is found out he only says that he was “curious about what would happen”. Hannibal then holds a lopsided amount of power and influence over Will for the rest of the series, causing Will to have a twisted sort of dependency on Hannibal. It makes for a super toxic relationship, one that is very uncomfortable to watch unfold (which infuriates me that so many people ship them and ignore Hannibal’s wildly abusive behaviour).

Really, most of the characters in Hannibal are portrayed at their best in this franchise, thanks largely due to the writing, the stellar cast and by virtue of being in a TV series which means more time for character growth. Laurence Fishburne is a great Jack Crawford. Fishburne could just coast by on his standard authority figure shtick (a la Mission: Impossible III, CSI, etc), but he imbues Crawford with additional depth and emotion. We actually get to really like and understand the character as we see him grapple with his wife’s imminent death, his guilt over pushing Will Graham to his limits and his sense of doom as he realizes that his close friend Hannibal has been betraying him all this time. I really like Scott Glenn’s portrayal of the character in The Silence of the Lambs, but Fishburne gets a lot more to work with in the show and makes for a much more interesting character. Mason Verger is also a bit more interesting in the show than he is in Hannibal (2001), since the show includes his abusive relationship with his sister, Margot, and expounds on the character’s obsession with eugenics and passing on his seed. He makes for a truly despicable villain, although I found Michael Pitt’s performance in season two far more interesting than Joe Anderson’s in season three. Pitt’s Mason is sinister, eccentric and arrogant, akin to a more expanded-upon version of Gary Oldman’s Mason, whereas Anderson’s Mason comes across more like a full-on angry bad guy the whole time. Perhaps my favourite performance in the entire show though is Raúl Esparza’s Frederick Chilton. Initially he just comes across as he does in the previous films – an arrogant, amoral, greasy asshole who gets what’s coming to him. However, as the show goes on you feel more and more sorry for him, in part due to Raúl Esparza’s fantastic performance. Like, maybe he deserved to get disembowelled for screwing with his patient’s mind, but I felt so sorry for him when Hannibal frames him for murder and then gets him shot in the face (which, we later find out, leaves him disfigured and blinded). As if that wasn’t bad enough, in season three he puts in a hell of a performance when Dolarhyde captures him – the terror that Esparza conveys during this scene makes it perhaps my favourite scene in the entire series. As if that wasn’t enough, he then gets his lips bit off and set on fire, leaving him horribly mutilated – plus it’s implied that Will set him up for this. Goddamn, I kind of just wish that they’d let him die, or at least make him the next season’s villain to let him get some revenge or something. Even smaller roles, like Freddie Lounds, get more depth to them in this show. Whereas previous incarnations just had Lounds as a sleazy, one-note journalist, this incarnation gives her a bit more depth. She’s ultimately concerned about getting the truth out there at all costs, even if it crosses ethical boundaries, which is far more intriguing than “wants money”.

The writing on the show tends to be strong as well, making for really engaging television. While most of the first season starts out as a CSI-style crime-of-the-week format, it really starts to hit its stride when the plot begins to revolve around the twisted relationship between Hannibal and Will Graham. Even these crime-of-the-week style episodes tend to have some great writing and themes that help justify their existence – for example, revelations during an episode revolving around a killer who is afraid of dying of cancer helps Jack Crawford to realize that his wife has cancer as well, while a later episode revolving around a killer who euthanizes victims as a “mercy” ties into Phyllis’ attempted suicide in the face of a drawn-out death. The second season doesn’t just rehash the first season’s formula, rather it turns it on its head and then goes completely in another direction. Season two starts with Will institutionalized and while I expected that it would be more of the same, but with Hannibal taking Will’s role in the FBI, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Season two instead focuses on Will’s (mis)trial before eventually bringing his murderous tutelage and attempt to entrap Hannibal to the forefront, making for some really gripping drama before ending in a Shakespearean-style bloodbath. The finale of season two has to be one of the most intense cliffhangers I’ve ever seen for a show and thank God they got the chance to follow it up or there would have been riots from fans. Season three continues to shake up the status quo, transplanting the series to Italy for several episodes, scattering its cast to the wind and adapting Hannibal and Red Dragon too for good measure. I definitely prefer the slow-building tension of Pazzi’s downfall in Hannibal (2001), but otherwise Hannibal‘s adaptation of the story cuts out a lot of the fat and boils down the story to its core – Hannibal’s on the run in Italy and Mason Verger’s trying to have him killed. It’s also rather interesting that they adapted this story out of continuity with the novel timeline, but that’s fine by me, I don’t understand why Mason Verger would wait decades to get his revenge on Hannibal Lecter anyway.

As for the Red Dragon half of season three… holy crap, it is the best (although not the most faithful) adaptation of the novel we’ve gotten by far. Richard Armitage is incredible as Francis Dolarhyde, effectively demonstrating this character’s overwhelming menace and making him a legitimately scary antagonist. He’s still sympathetic, like Ralph Fiennes’ rendition, but comes across as far more dangerous. His love interest, Rutina Welsey’s Reba McClane, is also really solid. While I don’t think she makes quite as much of an impression as Emily Watson’s adorably horny take on the character, Rutina is still fantastic in the role and is a big reason why we feel as much sympathy for Dolarhyde as we do. Dolarhyde and McClane dominate a good chunk of season three, but of course Will and Hannibal both get their own unique twists on the story, given that this is both an adaptation and a pseudo-sequel at the same time. In Manhunter (especially) and Red Dragon, Will is very much a family man at heart. Here, Will’s marriage is clearly an escape for him, a way to ignore his trauma, murderous temptations and his fascination with Hannibal Lecter. Meanwhile, Hannibal’s role gets beefed up, naturally. However, it is far better integrated into the plot than it was in Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon. Here, one can understand why Dolarhyde would be fanboying over Hannibal and, given all we know on this take of Lecter, we can understand why he would be toying with the killer and trying to drive Will over the edge. This all culminates in a totally original conclusion where Hannibal is used to draw out Dolarhyde, which results in he and Will escaping together and taking down Dolarhyde together. While a part of me wishes that they could have just stuck with the book’s ending, since this is a semi-sequel as well as an adaptation it makes sense that they would have to make the ending a bit more momentous, and in that regard they succeed.

As much as I like basically everything on this show, there are some aspects of the writing that bother me. First of all, maybe it’s due to the nature of being a TV serial, but the plot can get really ridiculous and contrived at times. Like, in the first season alone you’ve got like a dozen serial killers all operating in the vicinity of Baltimore at once? I get that it’s a TV show about cops and serial killers and therefore you need some killers for them to hunt, but the sheer volume of them that happen to be in each others’ circles just becomes silly upon reflection as the show goes on. There’s also the fact that Will straight-up admits to hiring a guy to get Hannibal killed, but then a couple episodes later he’s released from custody because they can’t find any evidence that he was involved in a different set of murders. Like… can’t they just keep him imprisoned for the attempted murder they know he committed? Or how about when Will dismembers and displays a body in public, ostensibly to maintain his cover as a burgeoning killer with Hannibal? You’re telling me that the FBI are okay with this, that they can just ignore that kind of action? Or how about Hannibal sawing Will’s head open, which gets interrupted by Verger’s men and then immediately forgotten and forgiven? As the series goes on, all these little things just add up and make nearly every single character on the show seem terrible at their jobs.

My other issue with the writing is that the female characters are almost entirely shafted by the show. Dr. Alana Bloom is by far the worst victim of this. In season one she is effectively Will’s love interest, guardian angel and moral compass, but doesn’t get a lot to do. In the second season, she then shifts to being Hannibal’s love interest, in part because she’s so distressed about what happened to Will, until she gets pushed out a window and left for dead. In season three she just goes off the rails, joining Mason Verger for revenge against Hannibal before falling in love with Margot Verger with zero set-up, then presiding over the institution that Hannibal is being kept in before just petering out of the story. For one of the headline characters on the show, the writers clearly have no idea what to do with Alana Bloom, just forcing her into where ever the plot can use her at any given time. It’s so bad that I effectively excised her role from my plot synopsis – she’s that inconsequential to the plot that she could be cut entirely. I also felt like Margot Verger wasn’t nearly as compelling as she should have been. She’s introduced as an abuse victim and then very suddenly becomes a love interest for Will, blatantly using him to get herself pregnant. When Mason finds out, she gets subjected to one of the most awful sequences in the show, where Mason has her child aborted and womb removed to prevent her from being able to conceive another. It’s fucking awful and while Margot does ultimately get her revenge, she spends the rest of season two and half of season three just operating as Mason’s lackey while she occasionally plots how to defeat him. She’s got some potentially strong material to work with but I feel like the show just doesn’t pay Margot her due in order to make it land. Beverly Katz also gets shafted in the second season. I really liked her character, easily being the most interesting member of the FBI support team and forming a close friendship with Will. However, she is captured and killed by Hannibal early in the second season… and then is basically forgotten after that. As Will’s complicated relationship with Hannibal deepens throughout the second and third season, it’s like the fact that he murdered her, mutilated her body, and then put it on display is completely forgotten and forgiven. Bedelia Du Maurier also gets screwed by the end of the third season. Her character is electrifying, managing to stay toe-to-toe with Hannibal in the first couple seasons, but by the third she has become increasingly erratic from their time spent together, to the point that she loses her mind and literally serves herself up to Hannibal. It’s an unfortunate fate for a character who had been so cunning and insightful up to that point. And what of Abigail Hobbs? She’s a major player in the first season, becoming Hannibal and Will’s surrogate daughter, but she gets whisked away by Hannibal and disappears for nearly the entirety of the second season, as everyone believes she is dead. Then, when she does show up, she’s lost her mind and is quickly killed by Hannibal in a jealous rage… like, why even bother to bring her back if you’re just going to kill her again for real? It’s such a shitty fate for another legitimately interesting character. These aren’t even all of the examples of treating female characters as afterthoughts in the show, just the most prominent, but they irk me all the same.

Nitpicks aside, Hannibal makes for great television. Everyone is giving it their all and they managed to put out a fantastic series that never really got the success it was due. I’d like to see what Bryan Fuller and company could have done with The Silence of the Lambs and onward, but if the series never gets picked up again, I can say confidently that it ended on a high note.

8/10

AFTERTHOUGHTS
So where does the franchise go from here? Unlike some retrospectives I’ve done, the path seems pretty clear in this case. For one thing, CBS has finally announced that they’re moving forward with Clarice, which is supposed to follow Clarice Starling a year after the events of The Silence of the Lambs play out. Given that MGM only owns the rights to that story and not Hannibal Lecter, I don’t really understand how they’re going to make it enticing for audiences, but Clarice Starling is a compelling enough character that I’m not willing to write it off yet. As for Hannibal, rumours of a fourth season have been persisting since even before the show’s cancellation. In fact, during the writing of this retrospectives series, more news came out that an announcement regarding the fourth season could be imminent. With the sudden surge in popularity that the series has found since coming to Netflix, the audience is finally there and I wouldn’t be surprised if we finally know the future of the series soon. Unfortunately, with Clarice underway, that makes an adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs incredibly unlikely. That’s the small screen covered, but what about the big screen? Bryan Fuller has expressed interest in making a film about this rendition of Hannibal Lecter and I would think it unlikely that we’ll see any other take on the character for quite some time, given how much Mads Mikkelsen’s rendition has captured the popular consciousness. With Thomas Harris having apparently moved on from the character (his most recent novel was 2019’s Cari Mora, a completely original tale divorced from Hannibal Lecter), it’s unlikely that we’ll be getting any more books to be adapted any time soon, meaning that the rights holders might finally have to start getting creative.

This is how I’d rank the series from worst to best:
1) The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – 9/10
2) Hannibal (2013-2015) – 8/10
3) Hannibal (2001) – 6.5/10 (again, I know a lot of people think this movie sucks, but give it another chance and just go with the campiness)
4) Manhunter (1986) – 6/10 (come at me, nerds)
5) Red Dragon (2002) – 6/10
6) Hannibal Rising (2007) – 4.5/10

Thanks for going through another retrospectives series with me. I always enjoy writing these things, even if the time commitment they require makes them difficult to put out more than once or twice a year. I can’t be certain when I will come out with a new blog post, but be sure to follow me on Twitter where I will keep you updated. ‘Til next time, bon appetit!

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Retrospective: Hannibal Rising (2007)

Welcome back to the Hannibal Lecter retrospective! In today’s entry we’re going to be looking back at 2007’s Hannibal Rising, the Anthony Hopkins-less prequel which goes back to Lecter’s origins. Could the film succeed without the star which had propelled it for the past 15 years? Read on to find out…

I’m “meh” on this poster. The eye makes for a nice callback to the much better The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal posters and the samurai mask is a clever way to play with series iconography, but there isn’t enough here to get me particularly excited. The mere presence of Hannibal Lecter would have to be enough for you to swoon for this to be truly effective.

PRODUCTION
Even prior to the release of Red Dragon, the producers were giving thought on how best to continue their franchise. During interviews to promote Red Dragon, Anthony Hopkins revealed that he had written his own screenplay for a sequel to Hannibal which would have wrapped up the series with Clarice shooting Lecter, but it was never picked up. The future of the franchise was uncertain for many years with the producers going quiet about their plans. Behind the scenes though, Dino de Laurentiis was eager to move forward with a prequel detailing Hannibal’s origins. He met with Thomas Harris and threatened to make a prequel without Harris’ involvement unless Harris would come up with a story in a timely manner. It is almost certain then that the notoriously slow Thomas Harris rushed out his next novel, Hannibal Rising, in record time to retain creative control, while also writing the accompanying screenplay for the movie adaptation. I was able to find shockingly little information about this film’s production history online, even less than Red Dragon, and this seems to be partially by design – the movie was kept a secret until only a few months before release. It seems that this was done in order to use the release of the novel as a springboard to generate hype for the film and prolong the book’s own popularity by extension. Even then, very little details were known about the film ahead of time – various incorrect rumours less than 5 months before the film’s release touted that the title would be Young Hannibal: Behind the Mask (perhaps changed because of Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon?), that Anthony Hopkins would narrate the film, and that its final act would detail the time between Lecter’s arrival in America and his capture by Will Graham.

Hannibal Rising would be directed by British director Peter Webber. While not a well-known director, he was coming off of a huge critical success with his debut film Girl With a Pearl Earring and so was an interesting choice. The role of a young Hannibal Lecter would go to French actor Gaspard Ulliel, while the supporting cast would be filled out by Gong Li and such prestigious character actors as Rhys Ifans and Dominic West. After the smaller box office take by Red Dragon, the budget was also scaled back from $78 million to just $50 million.

The first trailer wouldn’t drop until mid-December 2006, just a month after the novel’s release, with the movie itself set to release less than two months later. Universal passed on distribution of the film this time around and instead it was picked up by The Weinstein Company, hoping to score themselves a hit. It wasn’t to be though because critical response to Hannibal Rising was scathing and the film opened to a modest box office take which quickly tapered off, bringing in on $82.2 million at the end of its worldwide gross… but honestly anything that makes Harvey Weinstein unhappy is a win for me.

PLOT SYNOPSIS
The film opens in 1944 with an eight-year-old Hannibal Lecter having to flee his family’s castle with his parents and little sister Mischa to avoid clashes between the Germans and Soviet Union. They retreat to a secluded cabin, but the war makes its way to the cabin and the parents are both killed during a skirmish. Hannibal and Mischa hide in the cabin until a group of five Axis deserters, led by the vicious Vladis Grutas, take shelter in the cabin. Low on food, the men decide to kill and eat Mischa in order to survive.

The film then moves forward eight years, with Hannibal back in Lecter Castle, which has been converted into an orphanage. Hannibal is still traumatized by his sister’s deaths and lashes out violently at everyone around him until he escapes to Paris. Here he finds his newly-windowed aunt, Lady Murasaki. She teaches Hannibal about the culture of the samurai. Hannibal takes one of her family swords and uses it to kill a local butcher who had insulted Lady Murasaki and who was a well-known Nazi collaborator during the war. A French detective named Pascal Popil, who hunts down war criminals, suspects Hannibal of the killing but is unable to pin the crime on him definitively.

Soon after, Hannibal enters medical school, when he finally resolves to hunt down the men who killed his sister. He is unable to recall their names, but when he witnesses a criminal being injected with sodium thiopental he steals some for himself to remember the details of what happened in the cabin. When he does so, he remembers that a bag containing the killers’ dog tags was left behind in the cabin when a bomber destroyed the building, which caused the deserters to flee and allowed Hannibal himself to avoid being eaten. Armed with this knowledge, he returns to Lithuania and finds the dog tags. However, one of the killers sees Lecter enter the country and follows him here, but Hannibal overpowers him and ties him to a tree. He tortures the man to find out where his compatriots are and then kills him when he finds out that one of the men, Kolnas, is in Paris and has been meeting with Grutas there.

Lecter goes with Lady Murasaki to a restaurant owned by Kolnas and slips Kolnas’ dog tag to his daughter as a warning. Kolnas meets with Grutas and the other deserters to warn them about Hannibal. Grutas sends one of the deserters to kill Hannibal, but Lecter is waiting for him and drowns him in his laboratory. Hannibal attacks Grutas in his home shortly thereafter, but his bodyguards break in and save him before Hannibal can get the killing blow, forcing him to escape. In retribution, Grutas kidnaps Lady Murasaki and calls Lecter to draw him out before taking her to his houseboat. Hannibal goes to Kolnas’ restaurant to find Murasaki and finds Kolnas there. He gets Kolnas to tell him where Grutas’ houseboat is before killing Kolnas. Hannibal makes his way aboard and kills everyone to get to Grutas. Before killing him, Grutas reveals that the final deserter is hiding out in Canada and tells Hannibal that he too consumed his sister. This infuriates Hannibal and he carves up Grutas in brutal fashion before escaping the boat and blowing it up to fake his death. He then heads to Canada and kills the last deserter.

REVIEW
Hannibal Rising reminds me of Leatherface, in that it’s a prequel that nobody asked for, turns the series’ main psycho into a teen heartthrob, and which puts in way more effort than you would expect from a straight-forward origin story. I imagine that this is because Thomas Harris wrote the plot for this film instead of de Laurentiis handing it off to someone else. You can tell that Harris was legitimately trying to tell a fresh story and tread new ground with this character, rather than just make a bunch of references to things that will define the character in later movies (for contrast, see Solo: A Star Wars Story). In the “Making Of” documentary, Peter Webber himself acknowledges that they were trying to reinvent the franchise and I have to give them some acknowledgement for making an actual effort… unfortunately, Hannibal Rising is a mess that squanders this admirable attempt at ambition.

While the story of Hannibal Rising is a fairly standard revenge plot and it demystifies Lecter as a character, there’s nothing inherently with it that would make for a fundamentally flawed film. Instead, it’s the way that the story is told that cripples this film. One issue is that there are various disparate plot threads which never come together in a satisfying manner. Take the fact that a big deal is made of Hannibal Lecter, Lady Murasaki and Inspector Popil all having lost their families in the war. This feels like it’s ripe for a thematic payoff, but it doesn’t actually matter in the end that all of these people share a common thread, it’s just something they mention from time to time. For that matter, Popil is supposed to be one of the main characters but he could easily be cut from the film and there’d be no difference made. It feels like he was added because there has to be an obligatory inspector character in a Hannibal Lecter movie, but he’s so useless – he immediately knows that Hannibal is a murderer but does nothing about it, provides absolutely no barrier to Hannibal achieving his goals and then shrugs his shoulders and assumes Hannibal’s dead at the end of the movie. Or what about the fact that the movie shows the bad guys burning photos of Hannibal’s family for warmth? Oh no, they’re symbolically tearing away the last connections he has to his family before they take Mischa away from him too! But no, like 15 minutes later we find out that Lady Murasaki has a bunch of photos of his family so it’s another missed opportunity to tell a deeper story. There’s so many little missed opportunities like these and when you think back on the film afterwards it makes the experience feel deflating.

There’s also the first hour of the film, which is overstuffed to the point that it gets rushed through in order to get to the generic revenge plot. The first 20 minutes deal with Hannibal’s childhood and rush through his parents’ death (a Russian tank shows up in the middle of an open clearing and then within seconds a squad of Stukas pass by and kill the parents) before the bad guys show up. Then we get the revelation that Hannibal’s been kept in an orphanage which used to be his parents’ castle and is bullied by everyone there, especially a cruel overseer. That doesn’t really matter though because less than 5 minutes later he’s already escaped the orphanage and makes his way to Paris. Then we get Hannibal training in the traditions of the samurai, which gets boiled down to one training montage before he’s out murdering dudes, heads off to medical school and decides that he wants to kill some Nazis. This break-neck pace means that characters have to be cartoonishly stereotypical. Need Hannibal to kill the butcher and make it feel justified? Quick, make him a two-dimensional racist, misogynist, Vichy asshole who’s just begging to get sliced up! Need to make us feel bad about Hannibal going on a murder spree? Quick, make one of the deserters a father! On a related note, it’s implied that Hannibal is so traumatized by his sister’s death that he won’t speak, but then he kills the butcher and is suddenly chatty as all hell with everyone. I believe that we’re supposed to infer that confronting his trauma is therapeutic for him, but him going from silent to chatty happens so suddenly and unceremoniously in the film that I can’t tell if we’re just missing story beats or if having him be silent that long was a mistake. Perhaps the best analogy to describe the first half of this movie is that it feels like one of those crappy musician biopics where they just string together a bunch of important sequences from the person’s life, but then don’t bother to make them build upon one another to make a satisfying story. I feel like this half of the film has some of the most interesting ideas, but the rushed nature means that we don’t get to enjoy it before we’ve gone and moved onto something else.

The rushed first half of the movie might get a pass if the second half made up for it, but unfortunately the bulk of this movie is just a dull revenge story that tries to turn Hannibal Lecter into a more violent cross between Batman and James Bond (oh hey, Batman Begins and Casino Royale came out a couple years before this movie, imagine that). If there is a theme in this movie it is “revenge makes you a monster”, but that is such bog-standard, well-worn ground for this kind of story. I know that some people considered Hannibal an anti-hero in The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, but he was still murdering people there whose worst act was that they were either in his way or kind of rude. In Hannibal Rising they have to make the people he kills unrepentant, cartoonish monsters. I’ve already covered Hannibal’s first kill, the butcher, and how much of an asshole he is, but the film even has Inspector Popil straight-up tell us that it’s basically fine that Hannibal murdered him. As for the deserters, not only did they all kill and eat Hannibal’s sister, but they’re also Nazi war criminals for good measure. Grutas is even worse, also being a sex trafficker and attempted rapist on top of everything else. With bad guys this shitty, it’s hard to care when the film pulls a “ahh but Hannibal enjoys killing people, he’s also a monster!”-style “twist” near the end. Sure, Hannibal’s a bad guy too but everyone he kills in this movie deserves what they get and then some. If they had only eaten Hannibal’s sister and nothing else then that might have put in some level of ambiguity, between being faced with a desperate survival situation and the revelation that Hannibal also partook of the soup made from Mischa’s body. However, considering everything else these guys did, it’s hard to feel bad for any of them as he tortures them all to death.

As for Hannibal himself, he’s… fine, I guess. Gaspard Ulliel had impossibly big shoes to fill and I don’t think that he quite managed to do it, although I feel like this is more down to the material rather than any failing on his part. Due to how strung together the plot feels at times, Hannibal’s character varies wildly. At times he feels like a spoiled brat (such as, funnily enough, when he’s at the orphanage in his family’s former castle, it feels like he’s just mad that it’s not his anymore), at times he feels playfully evil (think Ramsay Bolton), other times he’s just a rage-filled psycho, and sometimes he’s just vampiric. I also find it kind of funny that the whole samurai angle means that you can accuse him of being a cultural appropriator and a weeb as well.

Fuckin’ nerrrrd!

Meanwhile, Lady Murasaki is another missed opportunity. Early on it seems like she’s going to be the one who turns Hannibal into the man we know, training him in the samurai arts to kill and giving him a code of honour to guide his morals. It even seems like this was the filmmakers intent, as in the making of documentary they state that she is supposed to be Hannibal’s Aristotle, imparting her dark side upon the young man. However, this gets largely set-aside in the second half of the film as she suddenly gets cold feet about murdering the rest of the deserters when she finds out one of them has kids. Even worse, she gets turned into a goddamn damsel in distress in the final act, with Grutas constantly trying to rape her when she’s in captivity. Oh… and then there’s the weird romance between her and Hannibal which comes out of nowhere. Honestly, I had been thinking “damn, Hannibal and Murasaki are hot, pretty close in age and get along together, they’d probably make a good couple if they weren’t related through marriage”, but then I was caught completely off guard when the makeout session started. It’s not even the first time I’ve seen this movie, but I had completely forgotten that that happened.

Anyway, I can definitely tell that my thoughts on Hannibal Rising are jumbled, but that’s reflective of this movie’s messy plot. While watching it I kept thinking that it was messy, but fine, but the more that I thought about it afterwards the less I liked it. I do feel like they put in a lot more effort to try to make the movie good than I would have expected, but the execution just isn’t there. I can’t imagine anyone seriously wanting to know how Hannibal Lecter became a monster and, despite some strong talent and decent direction, Hannibal Rising just doesn’t justify the telling of this story.

4.5/10

…but the feast is not over yet. Be sure to tune in again soon for a very special bonus Retrospective finale to this series!

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Retrospective: Red Dragon (2002)

Welcome back to the Hannibal Lecter retrospective! In today’s post we’ll be looking at 2002’s prequel/remake/cash-in, Red Dragon! After the negative reception of Hannibal, would a more back-to-basics prequel be able to reel in audiences? Read on to find out…

I’m not sure if you could make a more boring poster than this. Oh look, it’s Hannibal Lecter! You all love him, right? We’ll make sure he takes up 60% of the poster!

PRODUCTION
Frustratingly enough, there’s no production history about this movie on Wikipedia or the Hannibal Lecter wiki and I couldn’t find a making of featurette with any worthwhile information so I had to get creative and look up production information from way back in 2001 and 2002. Even before the release of Hannibal, Dino and Martha de Laurentiis announced that they were going to remake Red Dragon, emphasizing that Lecter’s role in the story would be expanded and there were rumours that Ridley Scott would be back to direct it. Manhunter‘s critical reevaluation had surged by this point, with even more popularity coming its way with the premiere of CSI and there was some discontent at the idea of remaking the film less than 20 years later. However, given the more than 10 year gap between the publication of The Silence of the Lambs and Manhunter, it was obvious that no new Hannibal Lecter material was going to be produced any time soon so they needed to cash in somehow.

Hannibal‘s tepid response had soured many critics on the prospect of another outing though, with some saying that he had become a joke and moved into the realm of camp. Perhaps because of this, Ridley Scott didn’t return for Red Dragon and the project pivoted in a more serious direction, more akin to The Silence of the Lambs‘ tone. As if to confirm this direction, Ted Tally returned to write the script after skipping Hannibal due to his objections to the novel’s story. It was even rumoured that Jodie Foster may make a cameo appearance, despite the fact that Red Dragon was supposed to take place ten years prior to The Silence of the Lambs and everyone involved had noticeably aged in the interim (an obvious issue which the de Laurentiis brushed off casually). An issue which may have scuppered this idea was that MGM still held the rights to characters exclusive to The Silence of the Lambs, while Red Dragon was exclusively being distributed by Universal.

By the fall of 2001, human garbage pile Brett Ratner (of Rush Hour fame) had signed on to direct the film and a plethora of talent flocked to Tally’s script, including Edward Norton as Will Graham, Emily Watson as Reba McClane, Harvey Keitel as Jack Crawford and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Freddie Lounds. Hopkins, of course, would return as Hannibal Lecter, having secured himself an $8 million payday plus 7.5% of the film’s profits for a role that is essentially an extended cameo. That just left the role of Francis Dolarhyde in the air. While Sean Penn was in early talks to play the role, Ratner wanted Ralph Fiennes, known at the time for dramatic roles in The English Patient and The End of the Affair, as well as being the antagonist in Schindler’s List. In December of 2001, Fiennes won the role and started a hardcore workout regimen to try to get himself into shape – Dolarhyde was supposed to be an intimidating bodybuilder-type and Fiennes (who describes his body shape as “slight”) had only a month until shooting began to bulk up, especially because he is completely nude for several of his scenes.

Ladies and gentlemen, you get to see Ralph Fiennes’ great red dragon in this movie.

Also worth noting was the return of Manhunter cinematographer Dante Spinotti, who Ratner wanted so badly that he delayed production of the film in order to wait for Spinotti’s schedule to open up. While some people questioned by Spinotti would try to shoot the exact same story again, he clarified that he felt like Ted Tally’s script changed the feel of the movie; it was more faithful to the book and had a more realistic, grounded style. Faithfulness to the book also extended to the shooting, with Ratner filming on location in the book’s environs as much as possible. Production designer Kristi Zea, who had worked on The Silence of the Lambs, was also brought back to try to give Red Dragon a similar feel.

The film released on October 4, 2001 and, while it did fairly well and received mostly positive reviews, it ended up grossing only $209.1 million, a little more than half the numbers Hannibal raked in. It seemed like Lecter fatigue had well and truly set in…

PLOT SYNOPSIS
…I’m actually at a bit of a loss trying to figure out how I’m going to do this, because the overarching plot of Red Dragon is nearly identical to Manhunter. I’ve done remakes on the Retrospectives series, sure, but they always had big deviations and were distinctly different. Red Dragon doesn’t do that – it has its own distinct tone and style, but that doesn’t come across in a plot synopsis when 95% of the plot beats are the same. I was tempted to just copy + paste my plot synopsis from that film and then insert a couple sentences to show where this movie deviates, but that’s literally wasting my readers’ time. So, I’m just going to summarize the differences between this movie and Manhunter:

  • The movie opens with Hannibal Lecter at the opera and it is heavily implied that he kills the flute player for being bad at his job and then serves him to the orchestra’s board of directors. Shortly thereafter, he meets with Will Graham to discuss a case that Graham is stumped on. During their conversation, Will suddenly realizes that Hannibal Lecter fits the profile he’s been working on and Lecter ambushes him, nearly getting him. Before Lecter can land the killing blow though, Will stabs him with three arrows and then shoots him repeatedly, incapacitating the doctor and arresting him. Over the opening credits, it is revealed that Will has a psychological breakdown and retires.
  •  The film then plays out largely the same for a long time. The main differences are that Will meets Hannibal now because he thinks best when he’s able to bounce ideas off of the doctor and many of the revelations that he comes to himself in Manhunter now come after visiting Lecter for clues. In addition, Dolarhyde appears earlier in this film, meaning that his romance with Reba is given more time to breathe.
  • The next big deviation is that Dolarhyde hears voices telling him to kill Reba after they have sex. Dolarhyde tries to defy them, even threatening to commit suicide in order to save her, but he is unable to silence them. In a desperate attempt to save her, he goes to the Brooklyn Museum and eats William Blake’s original painting of The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun, hoping that this will break its control over him.
  • From there, the film plays out the same until the ending of Manhunter. Instead of taking Dolarhyde down in a shootout at his home, Dolarhyde can’t bring himself to kill Reba. Instead, he burns his house down and then stages a fake suicide, substituting co-worker Ralph Mandy’s body for his own as Reba escapes to the police. Some time later, Will Graham has returned to his family when he receives a call from Jack Crawford warning him that Dolarhyde is still on the loose. He finds Dolarhyde with Will’s son and a shootout ensues in which Will and Dolarhyde are shot several times each. Will’s wife, Molly, takes his gun and gets the final shot in on the killer, ending the reign of terror of the Red Dragon once and for all.

REVIEW
Red Dragon feels like a back-to-basics effort, trying to appease the fans after the backlash Hannibal received by making something that was safe and familiar. While the plot structure is a bit different than The Silence of the Lambs, you can see that the filmmakers were trying to harken back to it. These callbacks are met with mixed results, but the most obvious and important example of this is how Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter’s relationship has been changed in Red Dragon. In Manhunter, Will visits Lecter once in order to get back into the mindset he needs to hunt the Red Dragon. In Red Dragon, Lecter and Will are effectively a dysfunctional team, with Will bouncing ideas off of Lecter and Lecter pushing Will in the right direction. I was actually surprised at how well this change works in the opening scene, it makes the relationship between Will and Lecter more interesting, helps lay out why Will is so hesitant to return to the FBI and goes a long way to justifying why Will would keep going back to Lecter several times (and therefore give Hopkins more screentime). That said, eventually it starts to get insane that Will would keep talking to Lecter. Like, are you telling me that Will would continue to see Lecter after the bastard tried to have his family killed in retribution for Will capturing him!? I get that another family could die if you don’t catch the Red Dragon soon, but continuing to bring someone who is openly antagonistic to you into the investigation just seems counter-intuitive. There’s also the issue that this change in their relationship makes Red Dragon‘s Will Graham seem less competent than he was in Manhunter, where Graham had to figure out everything on his own. Will Graham didn’t really come across as someone with a sick mind in Manhunter, but in Red Dragon it comes across even weaker since Hannibal ends up doing all the profiling and Will just puts the pieces together.

On the shittier end of the Silence callbacks is the constant, in-your-face references to The Silence of the Lambs. I’ve mentioned this in the past, but I hate this kind of hamfisted nostalgia that exists for no other reason than for you to go “Oh hey I remember that!” The entire sequence where Will meets the imprisoned Lecter for the first time is a perfect example, it rips off the opening of The Silence of the Lambs entirely nearly shot-for-shot. Oh look, it’s Dr. Chilton, remember how much you hate him? Oh hey, it’s the same dungeon where Lecter is kept, remember that? This is, of course, undermined by the fact that everyone is noticeably a decade older than they were in the previous film and no amount of half-assed makeup and hair-dye can disguise that fact. Even worse, while I was impressed at how well they justified expanding Lecter’s role early on, the more the film drags on the more contrived, disruptive and tiring it gets. The further in the film gets, the less relevant to the plot Lecter is and his constant shoehorning in gets infuriating. Like, after it’s discovered that Hannibal sent Dolarhyde Will’s family address, we get a short scene where Chilton takes away all of Hannibals books… did we really need this scene? It literally feels like a DVD deleted scene, especially because Will visits Hannibal later and we’d get this same information anyway. And then, during one of the climactic moments of the film when Dolarhyde sneaks into the museum to eat the Blake painting, we keep cutting back to Hannibal eating a meal… why!? It literally just disrupts the tension of the scene. Probably worst of all though is that as the film is ending Dr. Chilton says that a female FBI agent is going to meet Hannibal… hey, you like The Silence of the Lambs, don’t you? You know who that female agent is! It’s things that you like, therefore you like this too! It doesn’t close this story, it doesn’t add anything to this movie, it just panders to what we’re familiar with.

As I’ve alluded to already, Hopkins’ Hannibal is just tiring in this film. It’s obvious that they’ve tried to tone him down after the backlash Hannibal received, but Hopkins is still hamming it up, it’s just more restrained than it was in the past… which, honestly, is a shame. If audiences don’t find your serial killer scary anymore, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle without a complete overhaul and Red Dragon doesn’t go far enough in that direction. Hopkins just doesn’t seem to have as much energy as he used to and the fact that the movie wants to shove him in our face constantly doesn’t do him any favours. As for Will Graham, Edward Norton is just fine. He portrays Will’s concerns as a family man more compellingly than William Peterson did in my opinion, but in basically every other way he’s not as strong of a protagonist (which is in part because, again, Lecter steals most of his thunder and makes him look less competent). Will Graham is just not a very compelling character for me in Red Dragon or Manhunter, he’s just your archetypal hero cop. Most of the supporting cast seem to phone in their roles as well. Harvey Keitel’s Jack Crawford is literally the exact performance you would expect from “Harvey Keitel as a boss cop”. Philip Seymour Hoffman is also just giving as baseline a performance as you could imagine an actor of his caliber to give, although in his case it works really well for Freddie Lounds, makes the character feel less cartoonishly sleazy and more interested in money to the point that he’ll do anything without remorse.

Luckily for Red Dragon, Ralph Fiennes’ Francis Dolarhyde and Emily Watson’s Reba McClane are easily the two best performances in the film and form its emotional core. I know that Tom Noonan’s performance in Manhunter has lots of fans for how imposing and weird he is, but in my opinion Fiennes makes for a much more interesting antagonist. For one thing, he is finally revealed only 40 minutes in instead of a full hour, meaning that we get significantly more time to develop his relationship with Reba. Furthermore, we get a much greater sense of Dolarhyde’s psychosis and how it creates conflict inside of him as his relationship with Reba deepens. The relationship itself is tragic, aided greatly by Emily Watson’s adorable performance as Reba. Her performance as Reba is super horny, with her trying to get Mr. D out of his awkward shell so she can get some of that Mr. D. The fact that she’s unaware of Dolarhyde’s psychopathy makes for a storyline that’s far more compelling than Will Graham’s A-plot and you’re left wondering if the Red Dragon can be defeated by love. That said, the very Psycho-esque voice-over from Dolarhyde’s grandmother which dominates his on-screen introduction is a very hamfisted way to get across his backstory. I understand that they had to get this across somehow in order for Will Graham’s taunting of the villain to work in the finale, but there had to have been a more elegant way to do so. Also, unlike Manhunter, we understand Dolarhyde’s psychology far better in Red Dragon but we don’t get a sense of why exactly he is killing families. In Manhunter it was because he wanted to possess what he couldn’t have because he was an incel loser. In Red Dragon he kills entire families because… he wants witnesses to his transformation into the Great Red Dragon? Because the voice tells him to? It’s weird that we get much more information about who Dolarhyde is but somehow understand why he kills less than we did in the comparatively sparse Manhunter.

I know that Red Dragon has a lot of fans, especially compared to Hannibal, but I personally just find it uninteresting. Whereas Hannibal went off in its own direction and wasn’t trying to be safe, Red Dragon seems terrified to try anything new. It takes a solid, well-liked story and then filters it through the lens of The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en, making for a very indistinct, also-ran kind of film. Manhunter is, overall, a more interesting film, but I do really like how Dolarhyde and Reba are handled by this film and prefer the ending of Red Dragon, so it’s a bit of a wash for me. The overall storyline is very solid and so it’s hard to really screw that up (even if you’re Brett Ratner; I find it hilarious that his Wikipedia page even goes out of its way to say that his movies suck), so Red Dragon is enjoyable even if it feels like it could have been conveyed better.

6/10

Be sure to tune in again soon as we take a look at the next entry in the franchise, Hannibal Rising!

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Retrospective: Hannibal (2001)

Welcome back to the Hannibal Lecter retrospective! In today’s post we’ll be looking at the follow-up to the iconic The Silence of the Lambs, 2001’s Hannibal! As you may be aware, this film has a… reputation to say the least. Could it live up to its predecessor’s legacy? Read on to find out…

I goddamn love this poster. I remember as a kid seeing this in a movie theatre and having my imagination filled with possibilities about what this movie could be about. It’s so grimy and creepy, leaving much to the viewer to intuit for themselves and hinting that this is going to be a darker film than its predecessor. It’s also nice that it does its own thing while hinting at The Silence of the Lambs‘ iconic poster design.

PRODUCTION
Even before The Silence of the Lambs was published, Thomas Harris began conceptualizing a sequel where Hannibal was loose in the streets of Europe. However, after the surprise success of the film adaptation, demand for a sequel hit a fever pitch, especially from the owner of the film rights to Hannibal Lecter, producer Dino de Laurentiis. De Laurentiis regretted lending the rights to the character for free for The Silence of the Lambs, but planned on capitalizing on the newfound popularity of the character. He wasn’t the only one looking to make bank though and there was soon a mad scramble to get in on the follow-up (better strap in because the production of this movie was fascinating and a good example of why I include production history in these retrospectives in the first place).

First of all Orion Pictures, which had produced The Silence of the Lambs, had been having financial issues for years and filed for bankruptcy in 1991, even before they could celebrate The Silence of the Lambs‘ history-making Oscar run. This would ultimately result in the studio becoming a subsidiary of MGM, selling all their rights to them in the process, including the rights to the character of Clarice Starling. However, Universal studios chairman Tom Pollock tried to convince de Laurentiis to make the sequel with them instead, with de Laurentiis alleging that they were strong arming him by putting other pictures they were partnered on on the line. This would ultimately be taken to court and when it was settled it was agreed that Universal and MGM would co-distribute the forthcoming sequel.

Of course, this all still up in the air because, despite coming to an agreement, Harris was still working on his follow-up and it would be years before it would be complete. This was back during an era when studios would actually wait for a novelist to write a sequel instead of just forging ahead on their own, as demonstrated with The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Director Jonathan Demme, Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster and screenwriter Ted Tally were all interested in returning for a sequel, with it being rumoured that Hopkins and Foster would each receive a cool $15 million to reprise their Oscar-winning roles. Finally, in 1999, the next novel in the series was published, titled Hannibal. The novel was met with mixed reception, with the main complaints revolving around its twisted violence and the ending, which sees Clarice Starling being drugged by Hannibal, engaging in cannibalism and then running off together in love.

When the details of the story came out, key members of the original film began to drop out. Ted Tally was disappointed with the novel and declined to write the script. Jonathan Demme passed on directing, citing his distaste over how violent it was and his disappointment about how Clarice Starling was handled (reportedly, upon hearing this, de Laurentiis said “when the Pope-a die, we create a new Pope-a. Good luck to Jonathan Demme. Good-bye.”). Jodie Foster’s refusal to return as Clarice Starling was particularly contentious, with her putting out several excuses talking around why she wasn’t reprising her role in the film, from concerns about the story quality, to Demme not returning, to financial concerns (according to de Laurentiis, Foster’s agent demanded $20 million and 15% of the gross, which he says caused him to reject her outright). Based on what was said at the time and since, I’d be willing to bet that the main issue was that Foster didn’t like how Clarice Starling was being portrayed in Hannibal, with a secondary concern being and that de Laurentiis was going to lowball her pay. Luckily for de Laurentiis, Hopkins was viewed as the crux of the entire project and agreed to return as Hannibal Lecter, otherwise the film probably would have never been made.

With nearly all of the key figures involved in The Silence of the Lambs gone, work began on hiring the new production team. Ridley Scott was approached during the filming of Gladiator and agreed to take over the director’s chair. This was exciting news since, while he has gained a reputation for being inconsistent in the last decade, his filmography consisted of landmark film after landmark film at the time (and later in the same year of Hannibal‘s release he would put out one of the greatest and most influential modern war movies, Black Hawk Down). The script was written by David Mamet (who wrote, among other things, The Untouchables and Wag the Dog), but this draft was then rewritten by Schindler’s List screenwriter Steven Zaillian after a grueling brainstorming session between Zaillian and Scott to change the ending of the novel for the adaptation.

As for who would play Clarice Starling, several high-profile actresses were considered, including Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie, Gillian Anderson (remember this one, it’ll be important in the future), Hilary Swank, Ashley Judd and Helen Hunt. However, Hopkins suggested to de Laurentiis that Retrospectives veteran Julianne Moore be considered for the role, as he had worked with her a few years earlier and thought that she would be great for the role. While I can’t confirm whether Hopkins’ endorsement ultimately won her the part (Ridley Scott also said that she was his top choice), Julianne Moore was chosen to play Clarice… and I’ll bet that de Laurentiis was happy about this because she was paid a reported $3 million!!! This legitimately infuriates me. Like I said earlier, Foster and Hopkins were both expected to collect around $15 million for their roles in this movie (I couldn’t find an exact number, but it is believed that Hopkins was paid more than $10 million for this film), which reflects the fact that both characters and their performers are crucial to the film’s success. The fact that de Laurentiis was just so flippant about casting Foster aside is more blindingly obvious proof of the Hollywood wage gap. Won’t take a pay cut, little lady? That’s all right, we’ll replace you with one of the other actresses starving for a meaty female role. Also consider the fact that Foster was considered expendable whereas Hopkins exiting the project would tank the entire production. I do get that Hopkins’ Lecter was the main draw for audiences and so I wouldn’t say that he doesn’t deserve a decent payday, but Clarice Starling was the real main character of The Silence of the Lambs and the beating, emotional heart which made it all work and that should be reflected. Also consider that Julianne Moore herself is getting lowballed at $3 million – she was coming off of such box office and critical successes as The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Boogie Nights (which she would get a Best Supporting Actress nomination for), The Big Lebowski and Magnolia, and you’re telling me that she was worth less than a third of what her male co-star was getting (and that’s assuming that conservative $10 million number is correct)? Bull-fucking-shit.

For the other major roles, motherfuckin’ Christopher Reeve was offered the role of Mason Verger, but turned the role down when he actually read the script and realized that they were asking him to play a psychotic, disfigured, wheelchair-bound pedophile. The role went to their next choice, Gary Oldman. Ray Liotta was cast to play Paul Krendler, a Justice Department official who had previously appeared in The Silence of the Lambs played by Ron Vawter, but Vawter had died in 1994 and so had to be recast. Giancarlo Giannini (probably most famous internationally for playing Mathis in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace) was cast as the shady detective Rinaldo Pazzi. Also noteworthy is the fact that the only other actor to reprise his role from The Silence of the Lambs was Frankie Faison as the asylum orderly Barney. Faison had also played a different, minor role in Manhunter, making him the only actor to stay a consistent part of the franchise thus far.

Filming lasted 16 weeks, with the production going on location in Florence and various locales across the US, which is probably part of the reason that the budget ended up going over $80 million, which is high for a hard R-rated film of this nature. Luckily for all the film’s financial backers, Hannibal opened February 9, 2001 to a $58 million opening weekend, the third largest debut ever at the time, and would gross $351.6 million. However, the critical and audience reception of the film was lukewarm and many people felt that it didn’t live up to the legacy of The Silence of the Lambs.

PLOT SYNOPSIS
Ten years after the events of the previous film, Hannibal Lecter is still on the loose and is one of the FBI’s most wanted. Clarice Starling is leading a drug bust which goes awry when one of her agents disobeys an order to stand down. As a result, several people are killed and a PR nightmare ensues, with Starling taking the blame. After pulling some strings with corrupt Justice Department official Paul Krendler, Mason Verger (a grievously wounded survivor of Lecter) has Clarice Starling assigned to hunt down Lecter, believing that Lecter has a special relationship with her and that her involvement will draw him out into the open. This seems to work because shortly after being reassigned, Clarice finds a letter from Hannibal. After performing an analysis on the letter, it is discovered that it contains trace elements of a skin cream that is only legally available in certain parts of the world. Clarice requests police departments around the world to send security footage from potential shops, including in Florence. The chief inspector Rinaldo Pazzi, who has been investigating the disappearance of a library curator, recognizes someone in one of these security tapes, a man who he had interviewed about the disappearance named Dr. Fell. Putting two and two together, Pazzi investigates the FBI’s database and realizes that Dr. Fell is actually Hannibal Lecter. He soon discovers that someone has put a $3 million bounty on Lecter’s head and tries to collect it. He is told that he will require a fingerprint to positively ID Lecter before he can be apprehended. Pazzi recruits a pickpocket to get the fingerprint and, while he is successful, the pickpocket is stabbed to death by Lecter in the process. Despite this incident, Pazzi ignores ominous warnings from Lecter and a plea from Clarice to stand down and sends the fingerprint off for confirmation. He discovers that the bounty has been issued by Mason Verger and, despite being told that his own men will apprehend Lecter, Pazzi chooses to joins Verger’s crew to apprehend the serial killer. However, when he attempts to draw Lecter out into an ambush, Lecter ties up the inspector and then disembowels and hangs him from the balcony of the Palazzo Vecchio in retribution. He then murders one of Verger’s men in retribution before slipping away.

Frustrated that Hannibal slipped from his grasp, Verger bribes Paul Krendler again to put Clarice Starling in harm’s way. Verger fabricates a letter which makes it seem like Starling is aiding Lecter’s continued freedom, causing her to be suspended from the FBI. Hearing about this, Lecter calls Clarice and lures her out for a confrontation. However, Verger’s men are following her and apprehend Lecter. Clarice witnesses this and tries to get the police to inspect Verger’s estate, but they aren’t able to find anything incriminating. Clarice then decides to go on her own, finding Lecter tied up and about to be fed to Verger’s pack of carnivorous pigs. Clarice frees Lecter and kills two thugs but is shot and wounded herself. Lecter rescues her as the pigs break in and devour two of the guards after ignoring Hannibal. Lecter then convinces Verger’s physician to drop his boss into the pig pen, saying that he can blame Lecter. The physician complies and Verger is eaten alive.

Clarice wakes up sometime later at Krendler’s lakehouse, heavily drugged. She calls the police and then makes her way downstairs, where she finds Lecter preparing dinner with an even more heavily-drugged Krendler. Lecter reveals that he has sawed open the top of Krendler’s head, which he removes to expose his brain. Lecter cuts out a piece of the still-living Krendler’s brain and then sautés it and feeds it to him. Clarice then tries to stab Lecter, but he locks her ponytail in a fridge door and holds her down as she handcuffs him to her. With the police almost upon them, Lecter takes a cleaver and threatens to cut her hand off if she doesn’t release him. When she refuses to budge, he brings the cleaver down and she screams. Shortly thereafter the police find Clarice and it is implied that Hannibal chose to cut his own hand off to escape. He is seen in the ending on a plane, arm bandaged, sharing cooked brains with a child curious about his meal.

REVIEW
I think that the thing that I appreciate the most about Hannibal is that it aims to be very different from its predecessor. Too often sequels, especially sequels to a pop culture icon, end up just repeating the same bits, returning to a formula and become self-referential. The Hannibal Lecter franchise was ripe for this – hell, The Silence of the Lambs itself nearly falls into this trap since it could basically be boiled down to “Hannibal Lecter helps solve another murder case”. Hannibal is a different sort of beast though, by necessity. With Lecter on the run and ten years having passed, it would be very difficult to just do the same thing again without it feeling contrived. As a result, we get to see all sorts of fresh ideas play out. We get to spend the film’s entire second act in beautiful Florence, a breath of fresh air compared to all the comparatively boring American vistas that make up this series’ settings. We get to see a psychopath actively wanting revenge on Lecter, putting our main characters directly in danger. We get to see Lecter living out among the people and outsmarting everyone who tries to catch him. There’s some give-and-take to this approach, as the film is certainly slower and the tension is less consistent, but I do appreciate the attempt to inject fresh ideas into the formula.

There is so much to love in Hannibal. First off, the acting is great across the board. While Lecter doesn’t have quite the same spark that he did in The Silence of the Lambs, in part because he spends most of his screen time separated from Clarice, Hopkins seems to be having the time of his life and he’s always enjoyable to watch. As for Julianne Moore, she brings her own take of Clarice Starling to the film, one that is more experienced and disillusioned with the bureaucracy of the FBI. She’s much more defiant, she doesn’t take any shit from people who are still talking down to her. I’d have to say that Jodie Foster’s take was far more compelling, but Moore brings her own spin on the material that she’s given. The two best performances in the film have to be Gary Oldman’s Mason Verger and Giancarlo Giannini’s Rinaldo Pazzi. Starting with Verger, Oldman plays him like a rich, polite old man, despite the fact that his character is a self-professed pedophile who’s obsessed with the idea of torturing and killing the man who ruined his life. He’s so sinister and darkly funny at times, making for a more than worthy opponent to Lecter. I also love his obsession with feeding Hannibal alive to a pack of man-eating pigs, since that means that we get one of the most brutal and amazing set-pieces in the film which culminates in Verger’s own ironic death by pigs (a change which was made for the movie, thank God). I have to give a particular shout-out here to makeup artist Greg Cannom, whose prosthetics work makes Gary Oldman unrecognizable and so disturbing to look at. As for Rinaldo Pazzi, his story plays out over the course of the film’s second act and is easily the most compelling part of the film. It’s fascinating to watch Pazzi go from a disinterested cop to a man just barely holding onto his composure, blinded by greed to the obvious dangers he’s walking into.

Ridley Scott’s direction is also fairly solid throughout the film. I feel like Jonathan Demme’s direction favoured the characters more, but Scott brings his own take to the material. As one would expect of him, the production design is spot on (particularly aided by the fact that much of it was shot on location in some gorgeous locales) and the visuals are all top-notch. There are some moments when I feel like he has trouble keeping the audience oriented though, particularly during the chaotic opening shootout sequence (which looks cool at least, there’s so much blown up debris and sparks from ricocheting bullets) and when Hannibal draws out Clarice into a crowded station. I’m not sure if these issues come down to direction or editing, but they are two notable examples of when Hannibal‘s direction stumbles.

With all that said, let’s get to Hannibal‘s crippling flaw – the script. Damn near every aspect of this movie is firing on all cylinders and if not for the inconsistent quality of the script this could have been a very worthy successor to The Silence of the Lambs. We’ll start with what I think is the most damning flaw in the film, the treatment of Clarice Starling. Clarice is the film’s focus in the first thirty minutes: she’s devastated for having to shoot a woman holding a baby during the botched drug bust, she gets suspended unjustly, is reassigned to Lecter’s case and then starts following clues. Cool, that means she should find a clue to lead her to Lecter in time for the second act, right? Nooooope… for whatever reason, Clarice doesn’t do anything in the second act – aside from a few short and unimportant scenes, she effectively disappears for a whole fifty freaking minutes. The only things of note that she does in the third act is fail to find Hannibal when he’s right behind her, go rogue to rescue him and then basically lets Hannibal get away again. She’s a far-cry from the Clarice of The Silence of the Lambs who is the film’s emotional core and the one who’s driving the plot forward, here Clarice takes a back seat right as the plot is getting underway and gets pushed around where the story demands she go. The film also brings back hints of the sexism that Clarice faced back in The Silence of the Lambs, but it’s done to much lesser effect. Instead of being objectified and belittled by men in all areas of her life, the only person being sexist to her is her boss, Paul Krendler, who’s just a total sleaze. There’s a shot of him staring up Clarice’s legs and at one point he gets caught staring at a drawing of Clarice’s breasts that Hannibal sent her. We later discover that he’s doing this because Clarice wouldn’t have an affair with him, so he’s been making her career hell because he’s an abusive piece of shit. It’s nice at least that they acknowledge that this sort of power abuse happens, but it makes it feel like this is just the sort of thing that bad people like Krendler do instead of being a systemic issue that women routinely have to deal with. It’s such a shame that Clarice was done so dirty by this film, even with the ending being changed to be less controversial. With some more deviation from the book to make her a more active character she could have been at least on-par with Hannibal Lecter once again.

While I have complained that the second act totally shafts Clarice Starling, effectively excising her from the story for fifty minutes, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this was by far the best part of the movie. After a half hour of build-up we finally get to see Hannibal on the loose in Florence, working his way up into a curator’s position at a museum. Watching Pazzi come to the slow realization that Dr. Fell is Hannibal Lector and then trying to collect the bounty on him is fascinating. The film is at its absolute most tense and exciting during these sequences, since we know that Pazzi is no match for Lecter and we’re left waiting on the edge of our seat to see what the good doctor is going to do to this would-be hunter. And, like any good story, just when you think that Lecter is going to pounce, he relents until the tension has hit an absolute peak. This all culminates in the brilliant “bowels in or bowels out?” sequence, one of the most memorable in the entire film. And then… it just kind of ends on an inconsequential note. Hannibal escapes his pursuers and nothing comes of it. It’s ridiculous how much the air gets sucked out of the room once the second act is over. The only consequence is that Verger sees video footage of the killing where Hannibal waves, which he takes to mean that he’s waving to Clarice Starling… but, like, Verger already knew that she was Hannibal’s weak point from the very start of the movie. Hell, he already put pressure on her to lure Hannibal out once, having to do it again after this is just redundant and doesn’t flow with the story as it has been told up to this point. And to make matters worse, having Hannibal escape was pointless too because he gets captured like ten minutes later anyway. There were only really two ways to move the movie out of Florence and back to the States in a way that makes sense and doesn’t render the entire second act pointless: either have Hannibal get captured in Florence by Verger’s men after killing Pazzi, or have Hannibal realize that Verger’s onto him and that his only course of action now is to actively take on Verger (for example, think of how The Bourne Ultimatum brings Jason Bourne back to the US).

While I have my issues with how the first two acts play out, I still quite like the movie up to this point. However, the third act is a total mess. First of all, the sequence where Hannibal phones Clarice and lures her out to union station while he stalks her (complete with him brushing her hair when he goes past on a carousel) is just so silly and out of place. You’re telling me that Clarice isn’t hearing the musicians playing just beside Hannibal and trying to use that to pinpoint his location? She’s not hearing him speaking right behind her as he touches her hair? Then Hannibal gets captured by Verger’s men – I had thought that he was using Clarice to lure them out so he could pick them off one-by-one, but no, it seems like he was just a dumb-dumb all of a sudden so they could get ahold of him. Clarice just happens to see this too, so she calls the police who investigate Verger’s mansion and then leave again. You’re telling me that they’re just going to take his word that there’s no captured serial killers on my property, no sir-ee-bob!? They don’t leave any sort of surveillance, just in case he’s having him held elsewhere? Apparently not, because how else are we going to make Clarice decide to go rogue and break into the mansion to save Hannibal’s ass? I kinda love this sequence because it does result in several people being eaten to death by pigs, but feels very rushed in order to resolve the Verger plot and then get us into the finale… and hoo boy, what a finale it is. I’ve never been able to take the ending sequence of this movie seriously, which sees a drugged up Clarice watching as Hannibal peels Krendler’s skull open and feeds him parts of his own brain. It’s just too funny to be horrifying, in part because of Ray Liotta’s drugged-up acting and in part because the whole premise of feeding someone his own brain is just pure schlock comedy. Then, after that’s done, we get Clarice and Hannibal’s final confrontation, which ends with him chopping his own hand off to escape rather than harming Clarice. It’s an interesting moment, but it leaves us with no resolution for Clarice’s storyline. It’s definitely better than the book’s ending, but it’s still unsatisfying. This third act (which plays out over the last thirty minutes of the film) really sours me on Hannibal. After the first two acts move at a slow and measured pace, it suddenly feels like they had to cram too much story into the last thirty minutes and everything suffers as a result.

On a related note, this film could have been improved with some better editing and writing. The first couple acts are slow, but they could have been tightened up with more judicial cuts and better scripting. Like, did we really need two sequences where Verger realizes that Clarice is Hannibal’s weakness, where men are sent to capture Hannibal, and where Clarice gets dicked over by Krendler unjustly? There’s also moments that I don’t even understand why they made it into the film. There’s a sequence where we see Lecter scoping out Krendler’s apartment and then breaking into a hospital to steal medical tools so that he can later cut open Krendler’s head. Did we really need to spend several minutes belabouring this detail? I mean… in a post-Cinema Sins world some dickhead would probably nitpick “Oh where did Hannibal get these tools? Why did he know where Krendler lived?”, but we don’t really need to be shown this. Despite being roughly the same run time as The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal feels much flabbier and could have done with another pass on the script to tighten things up. Like I’ve said, there are elements about this movie and the story that I really like (such as the fantastic opening title sequence), but they’re bogged down with too much excess.

I’m well aware than Hannibal has a bad reputation, that it’s considered responsible for killing a lot of peoples’ interest in Hannibal Lecter with its pivot into campy, dark humour. However, I’ve always had a soft spot for it in my heart, just due to how much it deviates from the established formula and how sick and twisted it can be. That said, upon rewatching it my enthusiasm for the film has definitely dulled somewhat. There are still plenty of parts that I enjoy, but I have a hard time looking past how unsatisfying the last act is and how badly they treated Clarice Starling. Still, there’s enough here that I like that I can’t call it a complete disaster but I am disappointed that Hannibal didn’t live up to the potential it had.

6.5/10

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Retrospective: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Welcome back to the Hannibal Lecter retrospective! In today’s post we’ll be going over The Big One, The Silence of the Lambs. I mentioned in my review of Manhunter that that film felt dated, in part because it came before this landmark follow-up. Does Silence hold up better? Read on to find out…

I love this poster. It doesn’t give you any information about the film itself, it only gives you the title, a chilling mood and some symbolism to go off of, leaving your imagination to fill in the blanks. Also, if you look closely enough, you can see that the Death’s-head Moth’s skull has been replaced with a photograph of naked women arranged in the shape of a skull by Salvador Dali, further hinting at the film’s themes.

PRODUCTION
Sometime after completing Red Dragon, Thomas Harris began work on his next novel, which he decided would revolve around a strong female character. While not initially conceived as a sequel to Red Dragon, Harris’ female lead was almost instantly drawn to Lecter and the story developed out from there. The Silence of the Lambs was published in 1988 and was another success for Harris, winning him accolades and once again drawing the attentions of Hollywood. In 1987, prior to the novel’s release, prestige production company Orion Pictures (which were coming off a string of Best Picture winners, Dances With Wolves, Platoon and Amadeus) and Gene Hackman secured the rights to adapt the novel, despite Harris’ disappointment with Manhunter. However, they also had to negotiate to Dino De Laurentiis to get the rights to use the name “Hannibal Lector”, since he still owned these (which makes the fact that they spelled it “Lecktor” in Manhunter even more baffling). Disillusioned due to Manhunter‘s failures, De Laurentiis lent the rights to Orion and Hackman for free. Perhaps due to Manhunter‘s underwhelming reception, The Silence of the Lambs would be produced as its own stand-alone film, with references to the events of Manhunter/Red Dragon which were present in the book being omitted. Hackman was initially set to direct and star in the film, but halfway through the first draft of the script he dropped out and the studio had to step in to finance the film and find a replacement director. The job went to Roger Corman alum Jonathan Demme.

Jodie Foster had expressed great interest in the role of Clarice Starling, but was initially turned down by Demme, who approached Michelle Pfeiffer, Meg Ryan and Laura Dern instead. However, when these choices didn’t work out, Foster secured the role. For Hannibal Lecter, Demme originally considered casting Sean Connery, but he turned the role down (a pattern for Connery, who might be the most comically stupid actor in Hollywood for turning down projects he doesn’t understand). The role instead went to Anthony Hopkins. The role of Buffalo Bill went to Ted Levine, who was largely unknown at the time, having played mostly bit parts up until that point.

The FBI cooperated with the production, providing consultation with the actors and even allowing the crew to film at the FBI Academy in Quantico. Hopkins drew inspiration for his iteration of Lecter from studying criminal case files, visiting prisons and presiding during several court cases. Meanwhile, Ted Levine focused on Buffalo Bill’s queerness, visiting gay and trans bars and taking as much inspiration from David Bowie as he did from murderers like Ed Gein and Gary Heidnik. This led to the book and the film receiving criticism and protests from feminist, gay and trans activists over the portrayal of Buffalo Bill, who was viewed as demonizing gay and trans people, a reputation which still sours appraisal of the film to this day. In spite of the controversy, The Silence of the Lambs proved to be wildly successful, grossing $272.2 million on a $19 million budget and winning a number of accolades including sweeping the “big five” at the Oscars (Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and Adapted Screenplay), only the third film in history to do so.

PLOT SYNOPSIS
Clarice Starling, a student at the FBI Academy, is recruited by Jack Crawford to interview the imprisoned Hannibal Lecter – outwardly, to try to profile his behaviour, but secretly because they suspect that he may have insight on a serial killer who has been kidnapping, murdering and skinning women. Hannibal finds Clarice intriguing, but tires of her questioning. However, when a fellow prisoner flings his semen at Clarice, Hannibal decides that he will give her a lead. This leads Clarice to an abandoned storage locker, where she discovers the severed head of one of Hannibal’s former patients, a man named Benjamin Raspail. Lecter reveals that he believes that Buffalo Bill murdered Raspail many years prior and that he will help to try to catch Bill if they will move him to a more accommodating institution.

While this is occurring, Bill kidnaps his latest victim, who happens to be the daughter of the state senator. Knowing that time is short for this latest victim, Jack and Clarice craft a deal with Lecter for his cooperation, with him demanding insight into Clarice’s childhood before he will accept the deal. However, it is soon discovered that Clarice betrayed his trust as the deal was entirely falsified. A new deal is made between the institution’s overseer Dr. Chilton and Lecter, which is agreed upon with the senator herself. However, Clarice realizes that the information Lecter gave her was misleading and confronts him at a holding cell in a Tennessee courthouse for more information. After providing more details about her childhood, including a traumatic event where she tried to save the spring lambs from being slaughtered, Lecter tells Clarice that everything she needs to know to solve the case is included in the case files. Clarice is escorted out of the building and soon after Lecter escapes by killing his two guards and then cutting one of their faces off, disguising himself as an injured officer as the paramedics rush him out of the crime scene.

Meanwhile, Clarice studies the case file in greater detail and realizes that Buffalo Bill must have known his first victim, which gives her a new lead to start from. After tracking down this lead she realizes that Bill is skinning the women because he’s using them to make a woman suit. Clarice begins tracking down acquaintances of the first victim and comes across Buffalo Bill himself. Quickly realizing that he is the killer, she confronts him and discovers that the senator’s daughter is still alive, trapped inside a well. After a tense chase, Clarice shoots Bill to death and the case is closed. Later, at her FBI graduation ceremony, Clarice receives a phone call from Lecter to congratulate her before he tells her that he’s “having an old friend for dinner” and hangs up, stalking an anxious Dr. Chilton into a crowd…

REVIEW
I’ve grown a lot in the decade since I last saw The Silence of the Lambs and watching it again has given me a newfound appreciation for just how overtly feminist this movie is. (What’s that, we’re talking about feminism on IC2S? Shocker!) Like, if this film came out today, completely unaltered, you’d have chuds whining about how it’s unrealistic, agenda-pushing propaganda. Conversely, it feels very timely for its release year of 1991, when films were still grappling with the idea of women having careers. The film isn’t even subtle about it, within the first couple minutes we get a shot of Clarice walking into an elevator at the FBI Academy surrounded by men who are all nearly twice her height and size, visually symbolizing her upward struggle. We also see several instances of Clarice being hit on and objectified by the men around her when she’s just trying to do her job – when she meets Dr. Chilton, when she tries to do research on the Death’s-head moth and when she is doing her morning jog and all the male recruits check her out after she passes. Oh, and that’s not even mentioning the fucking sexual assault prisoner Miggs subjects her to and the sexually explicit taunts Hannibal directs her way. Clarice always brushes these encounters off, but it’s obvious that they all make her uncomfortable at the very least and undermine her attempts to be taken seriously as an FBI agent on the basis of nothing more than her sex. This theme is woven throughout the film’s narrative, as Buffalo Bill is also exclusively preying on women, making their lives even more difficult and dangerous. Similarly, it is later discovered that Bill is, himself, trying to become a woman while Clarice is trying to shed the prejudice that comes with her gender (I’ve seen some critics say that she wishes she was a man, but I personally don’t get this sense, she just wishes that men wouldn’t objectify her). Clarice even delivers a haunting line near the middle of the film which is straight-up a declaration of the film’s message: “If he sees her as a person and not just an object, it’s harder to tear her up.” Clarice knows the feeling of being objectified by men constantly, but she is determined to achieve her goals in spite of these prejudices and prove that everyone is underestimating her capabilities. All the problems I had with Will Graham in Manhunter? They don’t apply here. Clarice is a fantastic emotional core to the film and she’s played wonderfully by Jodie Foster, who plays up Clarice’s strength, determination and desperation flawlessly. My only slight criticism about her character would be that Clarice’s goals stem, in part, from the well-worn female protagonist daddy issues trope (her father was her hero, a cop who died when she was young). This isn’t a major issue, but it might have been nice if the character’s motivation was just a tad bit more original.

If Clarice is the emotional core of the film, then Hannibal Lecter is the spellbinding agent of chaos, the true antagonist of the piece. Hopkins’ portrayal is truly electrifying. Whereas Cox played the character as a smug dickhead, Hopkins instead aims instead for a more theatrical portrayal, an irresistible mixture of charming and dangerous. His introduction has to be one of the greatest in film history, with Jack Crawford and Dr. Chilton both hyping up just how overwhelmingly dangerous he is to mind and body alike for nearly five straight minutes before we get to meet him. Lecter himself seems to follow a pattern with his playthings – he starts out charming, asking questions politely, reeling the subject in to make them interested. Then he says something shocking or repulsive just to see how the person reacts. In Clarice’s case, she stands her ground and even goes along with Lecter, in the senator’s case she becomes insulted and leaves him. However, Lecter then reels them back in again with a promise of something that they want. In Clarice’s case, he dangles the promise of helping her solve the Buffalo Bill case, making her career and some clues on Bill’s whereabouts, while in the senator’s case he provides details on Bill’s appearance. It’s a pattern that always sees Lecter in control, even though he’s in shackles for nearly the entire film. In spite of this, he does display moments of sympathy and honour, such as when he first agrees to help Clarice after she is sexually assaulted by Miggs. In retaliation, Hannibal convinces Miggs to kill himself in retribution, even though it results in him having all of his privileges stripped away. One particular detail that I found fascinating is Hannibal’s eyes. He spends the entire movie staring like a predator, fixated intently on the things that he wants. Initially we only really see him with Clarice, so it’s not particularly notable when he spends all their time together staring at her. However, later when he is being transported to meet with the senator, he spends most of his time staring forward, blankly… that is, until he sees something he wants, a pen which he plans to use in an escape attempt. Whenever this pen is on screen, Hannibal’s eyes dart to it and he stares with intensity at it. It’s a detail which makes his interactions with Clarice even more interesting. Like the other men in the film, Hannibal is fixated on Clarice’s body but there seems to be more to it than just simple lust. Clarice and Hannibal play off each other with fantastic chemistry, making for two phenomenal leads to the film.

Rounding out the main cast is Ted Levine’s Buffalo Bill and… well, this is where the only substantial complaints I have about this film lie. Before I get into this analysis though, I just want to make it clear that I’m going to refer to Buffalo Bill as a man here, mainly because the film tells us that he isn’t transgender and that it seems to be the actual intent that he is not (as opposed to, say, Ace Ventura which portrays a trans woman but then acts like she’s a man). I definitely feel like there are issues here, but based on what we’re given I feel like this is the reading we’re supposed to come away with. Anyway, with that said, the portrayal of Buffalo Bill is fucking problematic. On its surface, the idea of having a character kill women because he wants to become one is ripe for reading as transphobic. I’m actually kind of impressed that Thomas Harris was aware of this and tried to go to great pains to avoid this interpretation, working a couple scenes into the novel of characters explaining that Bill is not a trans person, but rather has so much self loathing that he wants to become someone as far away from himself as possible. The film struggles even more with this, only including one scene where Hannibal states that Buffalo Bill isn’t really a trans person, which isn’t exactly the most reliable source. That said, considering that Harris was aware that this was an issue, it prompts two questions:

  1. If you know that this character is going to read as problematic, why are you bothering to include the problematic parts?
  2. If you’re insisting on going forward with it, why not get consultations from trans figures to ensure that you make it as respectful as possible?

Harris may have at tried to cut off any potential criticisms, but it didn’t seem to work because the popular perception became that Buffalo Bill was a villainous trans character and the explanations were forgotten. It also doesn’t help that the film tries to leave Bill’s queerness ambiguous, but Ted Levine plays the character so stereotypically gay (he’s got a goddamn bichon frise named Precious for Christsakes) and we’re clearly meant to find his “otherness” to be a monstrous aspect of the character. Levine is quoted saying “I think [Bill] at one point thought that he might be a rock star in the mode of a David Bowie, those guys who were really masculine but feminine at the same time”, denoting that we’re meant to be disturbed by Bill’s androgyny. The infamous “tucking” scene is also indicative of this (and, notably, was improvised by Levine), only really existing to make us think how strange and fucked up queer people are. I feel like the film might have gotten away with its explanations that Bill wasn’t really trans and avoided backlash from the LGBTQ community, but the tucking scene and the unambiguous queer coding push it way too far, especially at a time when positive queer representation was in a noticeable dearth. Buffalo Bill’s entrance a half hour into the film is truly chilling, with him preying on his victim’s sympathy to lure her into his clutches, it’s just too bad that he turns into an offensive stereotype from there. Luckily, his screentime is fairly limited, but it’s unfortunate that his portrayal is a permanent black stain on this film.

While the characters are the beating heart of The Silence of the Lambs, they’re greatly aided by a top-tier screenplay and direction. The films story is tense, exciting and lean, giving the audience the clues to solve the mystery on their own while not wasting a moment of screentime. Aiding this is Jonathan Demme’s expert direction, which allows the actors to get the most out of their performances. I noticed that Demme frames his characters in closeups and extreme closeups constantly throughout the film, giving us more insight into the characters’ unspoken emotions during all of the tense exchanges of dialogue. It’s a simple technique, but it’s utilized masterfully throughout the film to convey more than is said and helps to get around some of the issues translating a book to screen. There are all sorts of great moments utilizing these closeups, most notably during any scene with Hannibal and Clarice, but I was particularly impressed during the scene where Clarice inspects the body of one of Bill’s victims. The body itself isn’t shown, except in bits and pieces, and the focus is instead on Clarice’s face as she records the details. A lesser film may have revelled in the chance for some squeamish gore, but The Silence of the Lambs places the focus squarely on Clarice and all of the emotions that she clearly has just roiling beyond the surface, since this is what’s truly important in this scene. Demme also pulls out some truly thrilling sequences, such as Lecter’s grand escape (I can still remember the first time I saw it, piecing together what happened as I watched and being amazed when the big reveal was made) and the voyeuristic and claustrophobic night vision sequence at the end of the film. All-in-all, it’s little wonder that the film swept the Oscars, because nearly everything here is top notch.

I’ve always regarded The Silence of the Lambs highly, but I was curious to see how it would hold up nearly a decade after I last saw it and with a more critical eye directed towards the film’s representation issues. While I have to say that I’m disappointed by the problematic LGBTQ representation, if you’re able to look past this issue, everything else about the film is engrossing. I was also particularly impressed by the film’s feminist themes, which I hadn’t appreciated in previous viewings of the film. There really isn’t much more to say, The Silence of the Lambs is still a great, if flawed, film and definitely my favourite movie in the franchise.

9/10

Be sure to tune in again soon when we look at the next entry in the franchise, Hannibal!

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Retrospective: Manhunter (1986)

If you follow me on Twitter then you may have heard recently that I have been devouring the three seasons of Hannibal which had come to Netflix back in June. I had watched the first season back when it first aired but hadn’t had a chance to see the other two so I was more than happy to take any excuse to get caught up. However, when the last episode ended I still hadn’t gotten my fill – I needed more before my hunger would be sated. So I decided that I wanted to give Manhunter a shot, a film which I had a DVD copy of for nearly a decade but which had never actually gotten around to seeing. From there, although it wasn’t my original intention, the idea of doing a retrospective on the Hannibal Lector films emerged.

Before we get into the meat of this series though, I do want to note that I haven’t blogged in quite a while and explain why. In simple terms:

  1. I have a busy work and family life and so what free time I have I have been dedicating to other pursuits, such as other writing projects which I hope to turn into novels one day.
  2. On a related note, this blog really doesn’t bring in a lot of traffic. I’m excited if I get, like, a couple hundred views on a post within a month. The most popular posts have views in the hundreds or thousands, but those are usually for obscure movie reviews that don’t have a lot of traffic elsewhere or show up high on Google Image searches. Newer posts don’t tend to do all that well, which is discouraging and so putting effort into other projects seems like a better use of time.
  3. I like writing these retrospective series (and things like them), but they take a lot of time to write and research for something I don’t get any sort of return on other than my own satisfaction. Like, for the slasher showdown back in October, I spent a solid month of evenings watching the entire Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises and half of the Friday the 13th franchise, in addition to writing up short reviews of all the films… that’s like 24 movies that I was blitzing through for a project which ended up getting subpar views and basically no reaction. I mean, I enjoyed it regardless and I wanted to see all these movies anyway, but you can see why it would be discouraging and make me prioritize projects elsewhere.

Anyway, that’s more or less why I haven’t blogged lately. I still check in here frequently, have been working on some future posts and have like a dozen drafts for other potential posts, but this is the one that finally made it out there. Considering that, like I said, I don’t really have a regular audience here I doubt anyone particularly cares, but I want to get it out there regardless. So let’s get into Manhunter then, shall we?

That is… a poster. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it in particular, but it doesn’t get me excited or interested in this movie.


PRODUCTION
Before we get to the beginnings of what would become known as the “Hannibal Lector franchise”, we need to take a quick look at the series’ creator, authour Thomas Harris. Harris started his writing career as a reporter, including covering police and crime subjects which would influence his later works. His first novel was 1975’s Black Sunday, a political thriller about terrorists attempting to bomb the Super Bowl, which was adapted into a film in 1977. The movie was directed by John Frankenheimer and starred Robert Shaw, Bruce Dern and Marthe Keller and was a critical success. Interestingly, the studio had expected Black Sunday to be as successful as Jaws, so when it didn’t meet these lofty expectations it was seen as a disappointment. Regardless, the fact that his first novel was so met with such success meant that Harris’ writing career was poised to reach new heights.

His second novel came about in 1981 with the publication of Red Dragon, a police procedural and crime novel which Harris wrote after studying FBI techniques and serial killer profiling. Perhaps due to Harris’ previous success in Hollywood, Red Dragon was picked up by producer Dino De Laurentiis for a film adaptation, a role which he would hold on every subsequent Hannibal Lector film except, oddly enough, The Silence of the Lambs. David Lynch was originally requested to direct the film, but turned it down as he thought that the script was excessively “violent” and “degenerate”. The job instead went to Michael Mann. Mann was still very early into his career at this point, but was already becoming well known for his stylish crime dramas, being an executive producer on Miami Vice at the time. Mann worked on the script for three freaking years in pre-production, conducting research with the FBI and and with imprisoned murderer Dennis Wayne Wallace in order to ensure that the film would be authentic.

To play the leading role of Will Graham, big stars such as Richard Gere, Mel Gibson and Paul Newman were considered, but Michael Mann ended up selecting William Petersen for the part. Petersen would perhaps become best known for producing and starring in the original CSI, which was itself influenced and inspired by Manhunter. The antagonist, Francis Dollarhyde (changed from Dolarhyde in the novel, inexplicably), was played by Tom Noonan. Unlike his co-stars, Noonan decided not to research serial killers for his role and took more of a method acting approach during filming, isolating himself from cast and crew to make himself more of an outsider. Of course, the role of Hannibal Lecktor (again, changed from Lector in this film for seemingly no reason) went to Retrospectives veteran Brian Cox, who based his role on serial killer Peter Manuel. Rounding out the main cast was Joan Allen playing Reba McClane, only the second feature film role in her career. The film also features freaking Stephen Lang in a supporting role as sleazy journalist Freddie Lounds, as well as Kim Greist as Will’s wife, Molly.

In addition to the inexplicable changes to the way that certain characters’ names were spelled, the title of the film was also changed from Red Dragon to Manhunter. However, unlike those changes, this one’s cause and reasoning are quite well documented. Nearly everyone involved hated the title change, but Dino De Laurentiis demanded it after a film of his, Year of the Dragon, bombed at the box office during the production of Manhunter. He also reportedly claimed that people would mistakenly believe that Red Dragon was a kung-fu movie and therefore a different title was necessary to prevent confusion.

Despite having three years to work on the script, when filming commenced on Manhunter it was reportedly plagued with issues of time constraints. For example, the finale was filmed so late into production that the special effects crew had already left and Mann whoever was left were forced to improvise whatever means they could to pull off the big shootout. Mann also recounted how he decided during filming that he didn’t like the shots of a dragon tattoo on Dollarhyde’s chest and so all existing footage had to be hastily reshot. The reshoots weren’t able to recapture the same feel as the original footage due to these constraints. The production also weren’t able to secure a filming permit from United Airlines, so they ended up just taking a flight from Chicago to Florida and filming anyway, much to the surprise of the crew and passengers.

Manhunter was released in theatres on 15 August 1986 and was, on its release, a commercial and critical disappointment. It only managed to gross a little over half of its $15 million budget and was met with mixed reception from critics. It wouldn’t be until after the release of The Silence of the Lambs that Manhunter would get a critical reappraisal and be regarded in much higher standing. It now enjoys a cult status and many critics praise it effusively, some even saying that it’s the best Hannibal Lecter film…

PLOT SYNOPSIS
Former FBI profiler Will Graham is brought back into the fold to help catch a serial killer dubbed “The Tooth Fairy”, a sadistic madman responsible for butchering two seemingly unconnected families during the full moon. With a month until next lunar cycle, Graham searches for any leads he can find, starting with visiting imprisoned criminal Hannibal Lecktor to get insight into the killer’s motivations. Lecktor agrees to offer his insight and then uses subterfuge to discover Will’s home address. It is discovered that Lecktor and the Tooth Fairy have been communicating with each other in code via the National Tattler, a tabloid newspaper. The FBI first attempts to intercept these communications and then instead decide to intentionally defame the Tooth Fairy in order to draw him out. This doesn’t work as intended and instead the Tooth Fairy kidnaps the authour of the article, Freddy Lounds. He raves about the great work he is undertaking and that his name is the “Red Dragon”, before he straps Lounds into a wheelchair and then immolates him.

Demoralized by this failure, things get even worse when it is discovered that Lecktor’s coded message to the Tooth Fairy includes Graham’s family’s home address and instructions to have them murdered. The family is moved to a safehouse as the clock ticks down to the next murder.

Meanwhile, we get to meet Francis Dollarhyde, the Red Dragon in his everyday life. He meets with a blind co-worker, Reba McClane, who shows interest to the shy, insecure man and the two hit it off. However, when he mistakenly believes that Reba is seeing someone else, he goes into a rage, kidnapping Reba and murdering one of his co-workers. As this is happening, Will realizes that the crime scene evidence suggests that the killer had access to the victims’ home movies, as his knowledge of the victims’ residences couldn’t have been from casing them himself. This leads them to Dollarhyde, who is found preparing to murder Reba in a fit of rage. Will confronts him and a shootout ensues, ending with Will shooting Dollarhyde and ending his rampage once and for all.

REVIEW
I found Manhunter to be a particularly interesting film to watch in this day and age. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to watch this movie with fresh eyes, because so much has changed since it was released. First of all, The Silence of the Lambs itself came out only 5 years later, redefining how we would interpret this movie, reshaping how we interact with serial killer stories and stylizing the entire landscape of police procedurals and crime drama. Then came shows like CSI which brought forensics and the details of the investigation of murder to the public conscious. Not only that, but then there was the true crime boom of the past decade and how that has affected how we view and consume these kinds of stories, for better or worse. Going back to Manhunter after all of these cognitive shifts make the film feel almost simple. I also found it interesting to learn during research that changing the title from Red Dragon to Manhunter was a producer-mandated change, because it really captures the differences in this adaptation. Modern serial killer stories tend to place a lot of emphasis on the actions and motivations of the killer (including subsequent adaptations of Red Dragon), but Manhunter‘s focus is primarily on Will Graham, his investigation into the murders and the toll that it is taking on him. Dollarhyde himself doesn’t even show up until nearly an hour into the film and much of his motivation is left unexplored (again, this is especially noticeable compared to subsequent adaptations of this story, as nearly everything about the titular “Red Dragon” is omitted). The film also doesn’t linger on the lurid details of the crime scenes, the violence is after-the-fact, necessary extensions of the professional and clinical investigations. You can see this difference even in the marketing of this film – the original poster is focused on Will Graham investigating, whereas nearly every home video cover places the emphasis squarely on Dollarhyde and changes to font from the cartoony, colourful, rounded font to much more sinister-looking fonts. Like I said, it’s interesting to go back to Manhunter and see what a serial killer movie looks like with decades of evolution in the genre stripped away.

Similarly, during my research I found that the film’s stylized cinematography was particularly noted and praised by critics. In fact, upon its release, it was actually criticized for being too stylish, as if this film was goddamn 300 or something. So what is this stylishness that has the critics so in a flutter? Well… that’s a good question. In my initial viewing I didn’t notice any particularly noteworthy stylistic excess, so when I saw all this praise it made me wonder if I had not paid close enough attention, or perhaps the copy I saw was defective or something? From what I can gather, the style that’s being praised so much is that certain scenes are colour coded to allow the audience to know what to feel (eg, family scenes are awash in an unearthly blue, Dollarhyde’s scenes are tinged green, etc). I did notice these examples, but they aren’t really prevalent throughout the film so I’m still kind of left scratching my head about why they’re so notable to film critics. Again, this is also coming from a modern day lens – digital colour grading has been prevalent in Hollywood for nearly two decades now, leaving films far more over-saturated and colourful than they were able to be in the 80s, which takes away what may have been a unique charm at the time. Subsequent films in the genre, such as Seven, have also set a dark, desaturated style for serial killer films which continues to this day, which makes Manhunter‘s style feel unremarkable compared to these conventional expectations. As I said at the outset, I wish I could see this film with fresh eyes, because seeing it in 2020 makes the film feel quite dated, even if this is because it has influenced its own imitators.

Speaking of expectations, the soundtrack is another unavoidable source of dissonance. Mann fills the movie with 80s synth pop, which makes it sound more like Top Gun than the dark and serious tone a modern audience would expect from a serial killer movie. Again, this isn’t necessarily bad but it does make the film feel very dated.

In general, the direction in Manhunter is great, as one would expect of Michael Mann. Check out the scene when Will meets Dr. Lecktor for the first time for a prime example. I’m particularly impressed by the way Mann frames the shot, utilizing the cell bars for internal framing and to show the literal divide between these two characters. I noticed that these kinds of internal framing are used throughout the film and help to suggest insight into the characters rather than just telling us outright. That said, as good as the direction is, I can’t help but feel like the filming was rushed. I noted some instances of this in the production section, but I do feel like this carries over into the film in noticeable ways. The finale in particular is shot in a strange way, like Mann and company were so short on time that they mounted a bunch of cameras around Dollarhyde’s cabin and then filmed the shootout in such a way to reduce the amount of times they’d have to reset the scene. The editing is so weird too, featuring some really bad looking, low frame rate slow motion and making really jarring cuts over and over again. This would suggest that it was done for stylistic reasons, like they wanted it to be dissonant for the viewer, but in my opinion it just looks bad and robs the ending of any serious impact it may have strived for. There’s also a moment early in the film where a tree branch catches on the camera, obscuring the frame for several seconds and… why? Why did this make it into the film? Did they not have another take of this scene that was better? I honestly don’t know and while it’s definitely nitpicky and doesn’t affect my view of the film that much, it’s details like these that make me feel like the direction gets held back by some of the rougher aspects of the finished film.

I will note though that I watched the Director’s Cut of the film which had some weird issues. I don’t know if it’s just the version that I watched or what, but all the added footage was literally upscaled VHS footage and it’s patently obvious. Like, you’ll be watching the film in crisp HD and then all of a sudden it just turns to blurry VHS-quality footage, like someone was playing a Youtube video on 360p. This was strange to say the least, but I would advise either seeking out the Restored Director’s Cut (which sources these additional scenes from the original footage like they should have in the first place) or the theatrical cut, since I’d say that the additional footage doesn’t change the movie significantly (or, y’know, the Shout Factory Blu-ray which has both).

For a comparison, here’s additional footage and original footage side-by-side so you can see just how bad the difference is.

As for the characters and acting, everyone puts in solid performances. I was a little taken aback that the characters aren’t presented as flashy or larger than life as they are in later Hannibal Lector films, feeling like much more grounded human beings than heroes and villains. William Petersen plays Will Graham as a very straight-laced cop, someone who really struggles with his work, not because of a crippling character flaw but because he’s submerging himself in a world of murder, dredging up past trauma, knowing that peoples’ lives depend on him if he doesn’t succeed. While Petersen plays the character very well, I unfortunately find Will Graham to just be not a particularly compelling protagonist. One of the main reasons for this is because instead of focusing on the mental trauma this case is putting on Will, the film decides to just go for the cliched shorthand and make the real problem be that he misses his family. The film really tries to hammer home that the worst part about all of this situation is that Will has to be away from his family for nearly an entire month, dedicating several scenes to make sure we know. While the film does do some groundwork to show that this work is taking a toll on him, I didn’t get the sense that it was leaving him unhinged, making him make tough choices, or that he was in any way blurring the lines between good and evil – dude’s trying to stop a killer from killing people using the legal process, it’s hard to find much fault in that.

Tom Noonan’s Dollarhyde is also an interesting take on the character, especially compared to other incarnations. From what I understand, there are several deviations from the book which omit most scenes of Dollarhyde’s psychosis that he believes he is becoming the Great Red Dragon from William Blake’s paintings. The movie instead leaves most of his motives ambiguous, leaving us only with Will Graham suggesting that it was abuse as a child which caused Dollarhyde to develop into a murderer and that he kills ideal families because he wishes he could have one. Aside from that, we’re left to interpret for ourselves Dollarhyde’s motives based on how he is portrayed… and, man, the fact that I watched this movie through a 2020 lens strikes again because Dollarhyde is portrayed as a goddamn incel. Like, I’m not even exaggerating – he’s a socially isolated weirdo, he has a cleft palate which causes him to believe that he’s ugly and unlovable, he kills families because he doesn’t think he can ever have one, the mere suggestion that he may be homosexual throws him into a murderous rage, etc. Hell, his entire worldview gets turned upside down by the fact that Reba has sex with him and he even goes on his final rampage because the misogynist dumbass thinks that she cucked him. In this film, Dollarhyde being an incel seems to have more bearing on his actions than any sort of mental illness, which is another detail that I think is particularly interesting in retrospect. In fact, the de-emphasis of mental struggles for both Graham and Dollarhyde might show how mental illness just wasn’t openly acknowledged at the time this film came out.

Of course, I can’t ignore Brian Cox’s portrayal of Hannibal Lecktor. Like most characters in the film, he feels far more grounded and less theatrical, but is still the most dramatic role in the film despite his limited screentime rendering him essentially a plot device (not that I can argue about that, he serves his role in the plot as intended and doesn’t overshadow it). For this first portrayal of the character, Cox portrays him as a smug, amoral asshole. He openly taunts Will, talks to him like he’s the superior one (despite being locked in a prison cell) and tries to get Will’s family killed out of revenge, all while acting like he and Will are old acquaintances. It’s very distinct compared to future portrayals of the character, feeling more like what a real serial killer.

While there is a lot to enjoy in Manhunter, it just didn’t resonate with me nearly as much as I had expected it to. Like I said at the outset, this movie has been on my radar for at least a decade (if not more) and I’ve heard plenty of praise for it, but it just didn’t come together for me. I think this largely comes down to me not caring all that much about Will Graham as a character. Trying to explore exactly why I wasn’t particularly fond of the film is what drove me to do this retrospective series in the first place as it led me to all of these realizations about how the serial killer genre has changed since Manhunter came out. In that regard it is an intriguing relic of its time and, considering its cult status, it may resonate with you more than it did for me, especially if you find yourself caring about Will Graham and his family troubles. However, for my own part I thought that Manhunter was just “fine”.

6/10

Be sure to tune in again soon when we look at the next film in this franchise, The Silence of the Lambs!

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