Hannibal Lecter was first let loose on the public in Thomas Harris’ 1981 novel Red Dragon. A murderous serial killer, a psychiatrist, an evil, yet, intellectual sophisticated charming man the who’s character has captivated readers and film goers for nearly thirty years . Although Anthony Hopkins was the second actor to portray the cannibal, his Hannibal was chosen by the American Film Institute a the number one movie villain and won  him many prestigious awards.
I’ve put together a collection of my thoughts and comments on all the films to date that have followed Hannibal escapades.
Sit back, eat your liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti, and take a trip through the world’s most prolific fictional serial killer.
Manhunter (1986)
In Silence of the Lambs, just like Manhunter’s plot (also based on a Thomas Harris novel) an FBI agent seeks help from the notorious serial killer Hannibal Lector to capture a psychopathic killer holding a girl captive.
Michael Mann’s Manhunter (based on Harris’ Red Dragon) is sadly a victim of it’s time, Mann’s ‘Miami Vice’ look aside, lack of socks, blue lighting and intrusive score etc. Manhunter oozes atmosphere. Will Graham is played by William Petersen who is a FBI specialist that must track down a serial killer, assisted by incarcerated Dr. Hannibal Lecktor.
Brian Cox’s Dr. Hannibal Lecktor is incomparable to Hopkins Award winning interpretation of Lecter/Lecktor as Cox plays the killer nonchalant and smart, his normality is what makes him menacing in this version.
William Petersen gives a fine telling performance, for example in the scene where he flees from the killers cell, it’s his reaction that show the intensity and power of Lecktor. Dennis Farina is on usual top form as Jack Crawford who’d later be portrayed by Scott Glenn and Harvey Keitel. Stephen Lang (of recent Avatar fame) is memorable as the hypocritical reporter and Tom Noonan’s rendition of Francis Dollarhyde is quite chilling with his voice, demeanour and stator.
The majority of Manhunter is filmed on location, adding a distinctive atmospheric and realistic feel. Regardless of the film suffering from some poor sound and editing Mann’s sleek direction is first-rate and although dated, a product of it’s time it is still an attention-grabbing and an entertaining thriller. New comers ought to watch this gem if only to draw comparisons to Red Dragon (2002).
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Director Jonathan Demme’s 1991 award winner was a smash hit that almost catapulted Hopkins into typecast hell. Ted Tally screenplay is excellent and the dialogue superb, however, surprisingly both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins picked up best actor roles for their melodramatic performances.
Nevertheless, Hopkins commands every scene he’s in but really isn’t that creepy. Inexplicably Ted Levine was not nominated for his role as Jame ‘Buffalo Bill’ Gumb, which is simply psychotic and chilling. Scott Glenn given an understated performance and the supporting cast are familiar faces which includes Anthony Heald as Dr. Frederick Chilton and Charles Napier. There’s even walk-ons by Roger Corman, George A. Romero and singer Chris Isaak!
Demme won best picture for this solid thriller, the scenes lighting and sets are fantastic, including Lectors cell, temporary holding and Bill’s House. The locations are distinct and some credit must go to Tak Fujimoto’s photography for this. The final reel is amazing thanks to Craig McKay’s slick editing coupled with tension of Howard Shore score.
To Silence’s credit it sets the foundation for Hannibal and Red Dragon. It is indeed a solid crime yarn but is overrated and lacks the sophistication of it’s sequel and prequel.
Hannibal  (2001)
Ridley Scott oddly took the job to direct this perfectly crafted sequel to the Oscar award winning Silence of the Lambs. After being located in Florence, Hannibal returns to America and attempts to make contact with disgraced Agent Clarice Starling.
While not following Harris novel to the letter and omitting a main character, Scott directs an atmospheric follow up. With David Mamet’s meaty, intellectual screenplay there’s plenty to like about Hannibal. There are terrific performance’s nobility by Giancarlo Giannini in a subtle and memorable take on Insp. Renaldo Pazzi. Unrecognisable, Gary Oldman is astounding as Mason Verger, the heavy disfigured paedophile and Ray Liotta replaces Lamb’s Ron Vawter and is on form as a sleazy F.B.I Agent, Paul Krendle.
Nurse Barney returns in a larger role, and of course Anthony Hopkins is back in his iconic role as Hannibal Lecter. Hopkins is given more to do and is out of his confinement (much to the announce of some film critics). Although possibly striped of some mystic, Hannibal is far more dangerous and interesting here, mingling with the general public and stalking his prey. They only thing I feel is distracting is the casting of Julianne Moore as Starling, and that is only from a continuity point of view as she delivers a gifted performance.
Blade Runner’s director Scott makes every shot interesting and this coupled with John Mathieson cinematography is first-rate, particularly in the Florence set ups, and US exteriors. Veteran musician Hans Zimmer’s score is mystical and heightening all that is taking place on screen.
Overlooked, misunderstood and fantastic film, that is a wonderful experience to watch.
Red Dragon (2002)
Comedy director Bret Rattner gives us Red Dragon. Ex-FBI agent Will Graham is assigned to help track down a serial killer; with the aid of the notorious criminal genius Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter who he imprisoned.
Based on Thomas Harris novel inevitable comparisons between Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986) are unavoidable due to the same source material- in essence it is a remake.
It is big budget event including an expensive supporting cast Emily Watson, Ralph Fiennes and Philip Seymour Hoffman to name a few. The usual provoking Edward Norton sadly gives a monotone performance as Will Graham and those who are familiar with Manhunter will be disappointed. Memorable Anthony Heald reprises his role as Dr. Frederick Chilton and Frankie Faisonis is once again Barney Matthews. Anthony Hopkins is back as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, set before Lamb’s and Ridley Scott’s Hannibal it’s an odd casting choice if only from an aesthetic point of view. becasuse of his age. Also as in the casting of Julianne Moore in Hannibal, Harvey Keitel as Jack Crawford is peculiar from a link point of view as Scott Glenn was just as good. So there really was no need to have cast Hopkins as Lecter as continuity isn’t an issue here.
Danny Elfman’s score is surprisingly mediocre and uninspiring. Dante Spinotti’s cinematography is noteworthy and every scene looks great with some fantastic lighting especially when there’s a big set piece. Rattner’s film over all is fine looking, well constructed and is as well polished as most of the actors. Nevertheless, despite a great cast ensemble and a budget, Red Dragon lacks the on ominous edge of it predecessors.
To it’s credit it is worth watching if only for the opening scene and the joy of seeing Hopkins(albeit older)lurking in his (Silence of the Lambs) cell.
Hannibal Rising (2007)
Based on Thomas Harris’ intriguing novel, Hannibal Rising is an unnecessary prequel.
Where Brain Cox portrayal was forgotten, Hopkins made the character of Hannibal the Cannibal Lector his own topping the lists of fictional villains. The casting director and filmmaker’s fail to remember or ignored the publics love for Hopkins portrayal and overlooked that inevitable comparisons were going to be drawn. This hampers Gaspard Ulliel version of Hannibal Lecter from the outset.
As a stand lone film it is interesting watching a young Hannibal during World War II plotting revenge on those responsible for his sister’s death. However, Thomas Harris’ screenplay is clunky. With a slow build up to the first kill Peter Webber direction is acceptable but the film suffers from a low budget feel in places.
Brit actors Rhys Ifans, Richard Brake and the talented Kevin McKidd give notable performances. Sadly the whole film rests on Gaspard Ulliel and his Lecter and because of his mannerisms, accent and expression not emulating Hopkins it is difficult to connect with him.
Should a younger Hopkins had been mimicked, this could have spawned squeals. However, the producers tried to start with a clean slate but fall short as they set Ulliel has an impossible task of creating a young Hannibal rising that’s so detached from Hopkins. And while the character was still fresh in the views mind from Red Dragon (2002) Ulliel is just not exceptional enough to make that break.
A disappointing entry to a successful franchise that is entertaining as a standalone film.
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