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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 7/25/02

Special Edition - 2001 (2001) - MGM/Universal (MGM)

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Hannibal: Special Edition Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A/A-

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A/A

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
131 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:02:25 in chapter 17), audio commentary with director Ridley Scott, Silence of the Lambs DVD trailer, Windtalkers teaser trailer, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (32 chapters), languages: English (DTS 5.1 & DD 5.1), French and Spanish (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Materials
NR, full frame and letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), Breaking the Silence: The Making of Hannibal documentary, 3 multi-angle vignettes (Anatomy of a Shoot-Out, Ridleygrams and Title Design), 14 deleted and alternate scenes (with optional commentary by Ridley Scott), Marketing Gallery (includes the teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, 19 TV spots, poster concepts and still photos), cast and crew bios, production notes, Flash Frames Easter egg, animated film-themed menu screens with sound

Often, when a movie is based on a well-known novel, film critics will spend a great deal of space in their reviews discussing whether or not the picture is a faithful adaptation. This can be kind of interesting from a purely academic perspective, but in the long run, it's completely irrelevant. What works in a novel doesn't necessarily work in a movie. Sure, you can stay true to a good book and make a good movie (as in The Silence of the Lambs) and you can deviate from a good book and make a bad movie (as in David Lynch's Dune). But you can also deviate from a good book and still make a good movie, like Ridley Scott did with Blade Runner. You can take a bad book and turn it into a good movie, like Steven Spielberg did with Jaws. Or you can keep everything simple and just turn a bad book into a bad movie, like Ridley Scott did with Hannibal.

Hannibal is the ten-years-later follow-up to Jonathan Demme's Oscar-winning The Silence of the Lambs. Julianne Moore takes over for Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, now a full-fledged FBI agent who, as the movie opens, finds herself taking the flak for an arrest that went horribly wrong. She escapes punishment thanks to the machinations of Mason Verger, who wants her re-assigned to the Hannibal Lecter case. Verger is the only one of Lecter's original victims to survive, though his face is now nothing more than a hideous mask of scar tissue. Verger's plan is to use Starling as bait to draw Lecter out of hiding. Once Lecter is located, Verger will capture him and feed him to a specially trained herd of man-eating pigs.

OK, so clearly we're not in the same genre as Silence of the Lambs here. You can call Hannibal a black comedy, a dark romance or a horror movie, but you can hardly call it a psychological thriller. There isn't a single moment in Hannibal that generates an iota of the tension found throughout Silence of the Lambs (or Michael Mann's Manhunter, for that matter). Lecter is no longer a believable threat. Anthony Hopkins seems content to play him as sort of a gourmet Freddy Krueger, tossing off silken witticisms and demonstrating his fine taste in music, art and perfumes. The movie has lost all handles on the character by the time an attack dog cowers in fear at Lecter's mere presence. The movie's pace is off, too. A huge chunk in the middle of the film is taken up by Italian cop Giancarlo Giannini's growing suspicion that he tracked down Hannibal Lecter. Of course, we already know what he's going to discover, so there's no suspense in the sequence at all. And by the time we get Lecter and Verger face to scarred face, it's as if the filmmakers have lost faith or interest in the man-eating pigs idea. We're rushed through these scenes as quickly as possible, denying the audience a really interesting confrontation between the completely twisted Verger and his old tormentor.

For all its flaws, Hannibal is still worth at least half a look. For starters, Gary Oldman seems to be having a grand old time under all that makeup as the demented Mason Verger. Oldman is always worth watching and his performance here certainly ranks among his most eccentric, if not his most richly layered. Also, Scott and crew should be commended for not shying away from the more violent aspects of the story. Hannibal is a lot more graphic than its predecessor. Of course, this doesn't make it a better movie, but if you're going to lessen the intensity, you'd better provide something to compensate for it. The gore is surprising, over the top and realistic enough to make you squirm, but treated lightly enough to make you laugh. Just add a couple of injured eyeballs and replace Hans Zimmer's score with a pounding rock soundtrack by Goblin and this could have been Ridley Scott's homage to Lucio Fulci.

The main reason to watch this movie, particularly on DVD, is the gorgeous cinematography by John Mathieson. This is a beautiful looking movie and MGM's anamorphic transfer of it to disc more than does it justice. There were virtually no flaws in this picture, apart from a very slight shimmer to a couple of shots. Otherwise, it looks fantastic. The colors are rich, deep and rock solid, with almost no noticeable bleeding. Scott and Mathieson make good use of light and shadow, and the transfer highlights this perfectly, keeping the blacks nicely detailed. I'm not a great fan of the stroboscopic effect Scott's become so enamored with in action scenes lately (see the opening shoot-out here, the huge battle in Gladiator and pretty much all of Black Hawk Down), but even that looks solid on this disc. As for the sound quality, MGM provides dual DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio options of equal brilliance. Both of these tracks are outstanding, not just in scenes with active and obvious surround sound but throughout. I could detect no difference between DTS and Dolby Digital. If I had any complaints about the sound, I'd think this was indicative of a weak DTS track, but here I think it's just a particularly full-bodied Dolby Digital mix.

MGM pulled out all the stops supplements-wise, with extras for this two-disc release produced by Charles de Lauzirika (Gladiator, Speed: Five-Star). The first disc contains the movie and a full-length audio commentary by Ridley Scott. Scott's comments are fairly interesting, though he does seem to run out of steam after the first hour and doesn't get back on track for about 20 minutes or so. The centerpiece of the second disc is Breaking the Silence, a 76-minute "making of" documentary that is viewable either as a full-length feature or as five individual featurettes. The documentary is surprisingly in-depth, though perhaps not as candid as one would like. However, at least the attempt is made to discuss Hannibal's tumultuous development, including the non-participation of Jodie Foster and Jonathan Demme, Hopkins' startling announcement that he was retiring from acting and the decidedly mixed reaction everyone had to Thomas Harris' novel. Unfortunately, I still had plenty of unanswered questions at the end of these features. Like what exactly did credited co-screenwriter David Mamet do when it seems that Scott, Hopkins and everybody else consider Steven Zaillian to be the sole writer of the script? And what about the deviations from Harris' novel, particularly the controversial ending? Either the commentary or the documentary would have been the place to address these subjects.

Disc Two also contains a trio of multiple-angle features. One breaks down the opening shoot-out scene, allowing you to toggle between the four simultaneously running cameras. This feature is like a miniature film school, as each angle also gives you technical information (like what lens and camera mount was being used) - very interesting stuff for film buffs. The second multi-angle feature compares the storyboards drawn by Ridley Scott himself to the final footage, while the third analyzes Nick Livesey's title sequence with an optional commentary by Livesey. Other bonuses on the disc include a whopping 14 deleted and alternate scenes (with optional commentary by Scott), the teaser trailer (which only uses footage from Silence of the Lambs), the full theatrical trailer, 19 TV spots (so it wasn't my imagination... there really WAS a new commercial for this film on every time I turned on the TV), a gallery of still photos, cast and crew biographies and production notes taken from the original press kit. By far my favorite feature was the gallery of poster concepts, displaying a huge variety of unused ad campaigns for the movie, some of which were quite beautiful. There is also a nifty little Easter egg hidden in documentary sub-menu - a video montage of countless "flash frames" trimmed from the dailies, set to original music.

Hannibal is an odd film - a gore-drenched exploitation movie with a veneer of elegance and sophistication. I don't know anyone who was really satisfied by it but it made a fortune nonetheless - enough to justify filming Red Dragon one more time with Hopkins playing a younger, still imprisoned Lecter (personally, I'm hoping that the next movie in the saga will be Hannibal! The Musical, but that's just me). Whether or not you like the movie, it's hard not to be impressed by MGM's DVD. This is a bona fide special edition, with extras examining virtually every aspect of the film, all the while presenting the feature in absolutely pristine condition. It's kind of a shame that the worst thing about this DVD is the movie itself.

Adam Jahnke
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