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MGM Studios DVD presents
Hannibal (2001)

Paul: What's the main course?
Hannibal: Ah, you should never ask. It spoils the surprise.

- Ray Liotta, Anthony Hopkins

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: August 21, 2001

Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore
Other Stars: Gary Oldman, Giancarlo Giannini, Ray Liotta, Frankie Faison
Director: Ridley Scott

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: R for strong, gruesome violence, some nudity, and language
Run Time: 02h:11m:20s
Release Date: August 21, 2001
UPC: 027616865403
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

It took 10 years for author Thomas Harris to write a follow-up to the monstrously popular The Silence of the Lambs, the filmed version of which became one of the few films in history to win the "top five" Academy Awards®: Best Picture, Actor (Hopkins), Actress (Jodie Foster), Director (Jonathan Demme), and Screenplay (Ted Tally). The book had a lot to live up to. SOTL was a thrilling read, and the Hannibal Lecter character, the charismatic psychopath who features largely into the psychological strengths of the book, had become near-iconic. Upon its release, the printed version of Hannibal received wildly mixed reviews, as readers struggled with the over-the-top storyline and an ending that many felt betrayed the characters. Some went so far as to say Harris, bitter over the success of Demme's version of Silence of the Lambs, went out of his way to write a novel that was unfilmable.

Much controversy and scrutiny surrounded the inevitable efforts to transform Hannibal into something palatable for mainstream audiences. Hopkins was back as Hannibal the Cannibal. Demme and Foster passed; they were quickly replaced by Ridley Scott and Julianne Moore. David Mamet wrote a reportedly disastrous draft of the screenplay, but Oscar®-winner Steve Zaillian was brought in to correct things. All seemed to be going well, with the brilliantly visual Scott working with the same team that made Gladiator such a hit. Yes, things were going well. Until, that is, the film opened.

Yes, despite the outstanding box-office tally, the long-awaited unveiling of the sequel to one of the best films of the 1990s was seen as somewhat of a disappointment, as critics and audiences responded to the film much the same way they'd responded to the novel. Some liked it, many hated it, but nearly everyone agreed: this was no Silence of the Lambs.

I was likewise underwhelmed. My initial viewing left me impressed with Scott's always entrancing visual style, but feeling the story was a bit hollow. I had the same problems I had with the book. Despite another excellent performance from Hopkins, these just didn't feel like the characters I'd grown accustomed to. Months later, however, I am able to put some perspective on things, away from the media hype and high expectations, and appreciate Hannibal for what it is, rather than attack it for what it isn't.

What it isn't, is a psychological thriller (but that would have been treading old ground anyway). Instead, we have a disturbing romance, a gothic tale of unrequited love. Seven years after the events in Silence Clarice Starling (Moore) is a changed woman. She is no longer the idealist, ambitious agent she was. She has become mired in the politics of the F.B.I. Her career looks like it is over when she is set up as the scapegoat for a disastrous drug raid, and she is given the menial task of investigating new leads in the Hannibal Lecter case, leads provided by a disfigured former victim of Lecter's, Mason Verger (Oldman). Meanwhile, Hannibal, living in luxury in Italy, catches wind of Starling's troubles and decides to "come out of retirement and return to public life." He plans a return to the states, unaware that he is walking into a trap set by the scheming Verger.

A large portion of the storyline is set in Italy, and while it is beautiful to look at and quite entertaining to watch, this first half of the film exists mostly as a preamble. It is when Lecter travels to America that the true heart of the story is revealed. Hannibal has a sort of twisted love for Clarice. Of course, he knows that she would rather put him back behind bars, but he still comes, still sends her perfume and buys her a dress. The oddly comic Verger subplot exists only to augment this storyline. Hannibal is, unexpectedly, a man in love. Viewed in this vein, things play better. The absurd comic tone doesn't seem so out of place. And the much-discussed ending becomes not a disappointment, but rather, a bittersweet denouement.

As I said, Ridley Scott again works his magic on screen, and Hannibal is probably one of the best-looking films of the year. He captures the romance of Florence without sacrificing a sense of underlying menace, and the strong elements of gore (all very technically impressive) are recognized for their inherent comic elements. Even though I still have some problems with the script (wild boars?), I can't fault Zaillianˇthose problems can be accounted to Harris himself. Zaillian does deserve praise for some elegant dialogue and a streamlined story that is, at least, never boring.

Anthony Hopkins returns to the role of Lecter with obvious relish, and it is a joy to see him step into those shoes again. Oddly, having the character on the loose seems to have lessened somewhat his menace, but at least it has provided ample opportunity for him to display his rather whimsical sense of humor. Julianne Moore does a good job of replacing Foster, and I feel she didn't get the respect she deserved. Maybe she doesn't leave the impression that Foster did, but that's because this isn't Starling's movie. Finally, Gary Oldman does his enjoyable comic-villain shtick to perfection, even under pounds of disfiguring makeup. His Verger is perhaps the most memorable character in the film.

As I write, this is my 100th review as a contributor to digitallyOBSESSED. In an odd way, Hannibal is a fitting film for this milestone. An event I looked forward to for quite some time, and yet, when it arrives, it is, invariably, a bit of a letdown. After all, it's just another movie. But I still like it.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This is a beautiful, near flawless transfer. The film is very dark overall, and the image benefits from excellent shadow detail and deep, rich blacks. The colors look rich and saturated, with no obvious bleeding or blooming. There is no obvious edge-enhancement, and artifacting is minimal. I noticed a bit of shimmer in one scene (a rather busy shot of a cityscape), but nothing major. Nice work from the much abused MGM.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Spanish, Frenchno

Audio Transfer Review: MGM has gone all out with the audio as well, including both DTS and DD 5.1 mixes. To be honest, both sound excellent to me, and there is little difference in quality between the two. Both feature an enveloping mix with aggressive use of the surrounds. All five channels open contribute to each and every scene. The quieter scenes are perhaps less flashy, but they creatively utilize discreet panning and directional effects to keep things moving. The several action scenes come off especially well (I'm thinking here of the fish market gun battle and the boar scene). These scenes offer a lot of aggressive surround use and some cool panning effects. Needless to say, the dialogue is also well represented, as it the wonderfully eerie score from Hans Zimmer.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring John Woo's Windtalkers, The Silence of the Lambs
19 TV Spots/Teasers
13 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Ridley Scott
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Three multi-angle presentations: Anatomy of a Shootout, Title Design, and Ridleygrams
  2. Photo gallery
  3. Poster concepts gallery
Extras Review: DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika, who also worked on the DVD for Gladiator, has once again provided a surprisingly in-depth 2-disc set for a Ridley Scott film. The content is refreshingly non-promotional, which is certainly not the norm for recent releases, which usually suffer from the "HBO First Look" syndrome. Instead of the fluff, we have a nice package of revealing featurettes and a plethora of storyboards and multi-angle presentations.

Commentaries are my favorite extra, and time and again, Ridley Scott has kept them interesting. Likewise, his track here is well worth a listen. I am amazed at how much information he seems to cram in, all the while sounding very relaxed and very British. He discusses the story transition from a rather unwieldy 600-page novel into 2-hour film; the clashing themes of romance and horror; and the much discussed stomach-churning finale. He also shares some production stories here and there. Like many Criterion releases, the commentary track features extensive chaptering. A nice touch. Also included on the first disc are trailers from Silence of the Lambs and Windtalkers, coming from John Woo in late 2001.

The bulk of the extras inhabit disc two. Scott's comments also play (as an option) over a set of 13 deleted scenes and an alternate ending, with a total running time of 35 minutes. Some of the scenes are just brief snippets, cut to trim the running time, but there are a few extensive subplots that were deleted. I found all of the deleted scenes to be very interesting, especially an alternate version of the letter Hannibal sends to Clarice. The scenes are presented in finished form, with picture quality almost as good as that of the main feature.

The 76-minute documentary Breaking the Silence (ah, the pun, truly a lost art) can be viewed two ways: as a complete whole, or as five featurettes, each running between 15 and 20 minutes. While this was done solely for legal reasons (if a featurette runs less than 30 minutes, the studio doesn't have to pay the actors again), it is actually quite nice, as you can skip easily to the areas that most interest you. Development runs around 16 minutes, and it looks at the production as a whole, from the script, to the casting, to location scouting. Fans wanting the inside scoop on the departure of Silence director Jonathan Demme and Jodie Foster won't want to miss this section. Production is mostly a 20-minute discussion of the ins and outs and the difficulties of shooting. This section benefits from a lot of on-set footage and features comments from Moore and Hopkins. Special Make-Up Effects runs 14 minutes and is a look into the complex make-up effects created for the film, including the grotesque Mason Verger appliqu╚s and the "Ray Liotta Special." Music was the only section I found to be a bit dull. Composer Hans Zimmer discusses his working process a bit, but mostly, this segment is just footage of him mixing the score, sans commentary. I think this information could have been better relayed in a music-only track. Finally, Reactions is an amusing bit that follows the production crew and the actors to the different premiers around the country. Look for cameos from your favorite stars here! At one point, the camera films audience reactions to the film's climax, as they occur in-theater. Quite funny.

I'm not usually one to reveal the location of Easter Eggs, but the documentary screen contains one that is just too cool to miss. If you highlight the "Music" featurette and then press left on the remote, you will see two little arrows light up. Press enter and sit back and enjoy a really nifty musical montage. This is the perfect material for a hidden feature. Not essential viewing, but something that will be appriciated by those who take the time to locate it.

Three multi-angle featurettes provide more production information. Anatomy of a Shootout looks at the complex preparation that went into the gritty gun battle that opens the film. The multiple angles can either be viewed individually, or directly compared, with all four running on one screen. Title Design shows the progression of the title sequence from idea to completed form. This section features commentary from designer Nick Livesey. Finally, Ridleygrams is a look at Scott's extensive storyboard work for the film. His comments run over the presentation. This section also offers the choice between toggling and a direct comparison.

The more run of the mill extras round out the disc. The marketing gallery includes two trailers and 19 TV spots, as well as a still gallery featuring production photos. I especially liked the poster concepts gallery, perhaps because I really hate the final art. There were a few designs unjustly passed over. Cast and crew bios and some nice production notes mark the end to this 2-disc set.

Extras Grade: A+


Final Comments

Hannibal does not initially compare well to its Oscar®ˇwinning predecessor, but examined on its own merits, it fares better. It isn't so much a thriller as it is a gothic romance, and Ridley Scott has captured the proceedings with a perfect macabre wit. MGM's DVD easily stands with any other release this year considered "best in class" in terms of overall quality.


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