Kino Lorber, 2019. Region A.
Feature: 131 mins. Aspect ratio 1.85:1.
Back in 1991, Jonathan Demme’s film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs swept the Academy Awards, becoming the rare genre piece to take Best Picture, in addition to bagging Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and best adapted screenplay. The movie also raked in a pile of money, grossing $130M in the U.S. alone on a $19M budget. Dino De Laurentiis, who held the rights to the Hannibal Lecter character after producing Manhunter (1985), found himself sitting on a hot property and in a great position when an inevitable sequel began to be considered.
Author Thomas Harris’ follow-up novel Hannibal was probably not exactly what studio executives were hoping for. The book is a lurid and bizarre affair with an odd, divisive ending that has Starling and Lecter becoming lovers. It’s a long and confounding sequel and a hard book to adapt well to cinematic form, a task that David Mamet and Steven Zaillian handled admirably for the inevitable cinematic adaptation helmed by Ridley Scott in 2001.
Scott’s film of Hannibal opens with a tense setpiece that shows Clarice Starling (now played by Julianne Moore, replacing Jodie Foster from the previous film) leading a stakeout in a fish market to take down HIV-infected drug lord Evelda. The sequence effectively introduces Starling as a straight arrow, street-level officer, though why she is taking down drug lords and not working for Jack Crawford in the Behavioral Science Unit is left unexplained. Starling becomes the scapegoat for several deaths, which begins the descent of the character in the story.
Under layers of bizarre and grotesque makeup designed by Greg Cannom, Gary Oldman (who was uncredited in the original theatrical release) plays Mason Verger, the only victim of Hannibal Lecter to survive. Verger invites the disgraced Starling to his mansion because he has information on Lecter’s whereabouts. Starling follows a trail to Barney (Frankie Faison), the orderly at the psychiatric hospital that held Lecter. Barney has been selling Lecter memorabilia for profit and he gives Starling cassette tape recordings of conversations with the psychopathic doctor.
For the second act the main focus of the film shifts to Florence, Italy, where Lecter is posing as art expert Dr. Fell, who is being considered for the position of curator at an art museum. Chief Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Gianinni) is investigating the disappearance of the academic who previously held the position. He discovers Fell’s true face and contacts Verger’s people to claim a substantial reward for information that can lead to Lecter’s capture. Verger has a particularly nasty fate awaiting Lecter, one that involves a herd of horrid and very hungry pigs. A more gruesome fate awaits Justice Department slimeball Krendler (Ray Liotta), in a climactic scene that surprisingly renders to cinematic life a moment from the novel that would seem to be unfilmable. You have to give props to the film; showing something so fucked up in a major Hollywood production is a ballsy move.
The recipient of very mixed reviews upon release, Ridley Scott’s Hannibal has aged surprisingly well. Though it’s not one of his science fiction films, Hannibal is almost as richly designed and textured as Scott’s Alien or Blade Runner. Sequences in the U.S. have a cool, institutional blue colour, while the Florence passages frequently have a rich amber hue. Lecter’s rooms in the the 15th-century house Palazzo Capponi, densely layered with fabrics, books, marble busts, and antiquarian objects d’art, resemble genetic designer J.F. Sebastian’s rooms at the Bradbury building in Blade Runner’s dystopian Los Angeles. If nothing else, Ridley Scott is a striking visual stylist and Hannibal makes grand guignol pop effervescently off the screen. The historical architecture of the buildings and streets of Florence imbrue the films with a textured Gothic atmosphere. The film takes on the air of a giallo film, with scenes of detective work integrating with classical design, bustling European streets, and a psychotic killer hiding in plain sight.
In an art lecture, Lecter notes that in the Medieval mind, hanging is linked with avarice. How appropriate then that Lecter murders Pazzi by hanging him from a window of the Palazzo Vecchio, disemboweled, like his ancestor. When Lecter clasps a chloroform-soaked handkerchief over Pazzi’s face to subdue him before his murder, their shadows fall on a projected slide of the ancestor’s death as depicted in a Medieval painting. Earlier in his art lecture, Lecter shows his audience the earliest known depiction of the crucifixion, carved on a bone lid. In another Medieval art allusion, when Lecter is captured by Verger’s men and taken to be devoured by the pigs, the psychopath is shown in a crucifixion-like pose, silhouetted in black against a stark white light. Visual symbolic layers like this add to the experience of the film and take it in a very different direction from Jonathan Demme’s claustrophobic psycho thriller/police procedural.
Hannibal is also in part a pitch-black love story. In talking about an aria based on Dante’s poetry with Pazzi and his wife after the performance of an opera, Lecter asks “Would she see through the bars of his plight, and ache for him?” Here Lecter could be referring to his encounter with Clarice while he was imprisoned in his cell. Thankfully the screenplay actually improves upon the discombobulating and implausible final moments of the book (apparently Thomas Harris was very open to the film version going in a different direction for the climax).
Though very dissimilar to Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal is a visually sumptuous slice of grand guignol, and goes places very few mainstream, big budget films dare to tread. Revisiting this film was a treat, especially in Kino Lorber’s striking new version.
Kino Lorber’s 4K transfer, a restoration supervised by the cinematographer John Mathieson, results in an astonishingly vibrant picture. The blacks are deeper than just about any transfer I’ve seen and the picture has so much fractal detail combined with fine film grain that it looks almost three-dimensional. This transfer is a showcase for how good 4K can look on disc.
(The special features are on the blu ray disc included in the package, and not the 4K disc.)
Audio commentary by Ridley Scott — Scott always delivers a richly detailed commentary, and here is no exception. He fires off snippets on everything from character motivations to production design.
Breaking the Silence: The Making of Hannibal (75 mins.) – A documentary on the creation of the film, from conception through to production. It features interviews with all the main actors and creators. Well worth watching.
Anatomy of a Shootout (47 min.) – A visual breakdown of the fish market shootout, showing the original multi-camera footage. This feature cycles through different takes from different cameras, and then shows the footage from four cameras simultaneously on a single screen. Though it’s of some interest, without any narration to tie it together this feature is fairly disposable.
Ridleygrams (9 mins.) – A selection of Ridley Scott’s storyboards for Hannibal, interspersed with commentary by the director. An interesting exploration of the visual design of the story for the film.
An Exploration of the Film’s Opening Title Design (7 mins.) – This short feature contains: the main titles presented in their entirety; the cut that was originally proposed as a teaser trailer; the notebook for the sequence by designer Nick Livesey with audio commentary by Ridley Scott; and footage of Nick Livesey looking for pigeons in Florence for the title sequence. Fairly inconsequential as an extra, but of some interest.
Deleted and alternate scenes (33 mins.) – Some of the unused scenes are quite intriguing, including one with Starling revisiting Lecter’s old cell. These scenes are also available to view with a commentary by Ridley Scott.
Alternate ending (6 mins.) – The ending not used is actually almost identical to the one they did use.
The disc also includes a selection of trailers for the film.
This is the first 4K disc by a non-major label and it’s a knockout. For any genre film fans sitting on the fence with 4K, trust me, it’s worth the investment to see transfers that look this close to a pristine film print. Labels like Kino Lorber must be encouraged to bring movies to 4K disc that may be neglected by the major studios. Their Hannibal 4K disc has to be part of any serious cinephile’s collection. I hope against hope that this will not be Kino’s last foray into 4K; they’re the heroes we film fanatics both need and deserve right now.