Hannibal (2001)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Ray Liotta, Giancarlo Giannini
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted and Alternate Scenes, Five Featurettes

"Hannibal, " both the Thomas Harris novel and Ridley Scott’s film adaptation, returns everyone’s favorite corprophagist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, to the public eye. A decade ago, "Silence of the Lambs" beat the odds in adapting Harris’ intricate novel into a thoughtful movie. Not only did we get the definitive Lecter in Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster brought the right amount of rationality and humanity to novice FBI agent Clarice Starling. While not thought of in the strict sense, "Silence" also became the first (and so far only) horror movie to sweep the major honors at the Academy Awards, copping golden statuettes for Hopkins as Best Actor, Foster as Best Actress, Jonathan Demme for Best Director, Ted Tally for his screenplay and Best Picture. (To find the last actor to win for a "horror" role, try 1932 with Fredric March winning for "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.")

In Ridley Scott’s gorgeous looking film, "Hannibal" finds a semi-retired Dr. Lecter settled in Florence, Italy. He assumes the identity of one "Dr. Fell," a Dante scholar vying for a curator position at the local museum. The good doctor also happens to be under the investigative eye of Detective Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini). The narrative, not content with the threat of Pazzi uncovering Lecter’s disguise (which really isn’t a disguise at all; I can’t believe the events from the earlier book weren’t a news sensation all over the world), also places Lecter under the global search lights of mysterious billionaire Mason Verger (Gary Oldman, uncredited and unrecognizable), sole survivor of Lecter’s pathology and bent on exacting vengeance. With a face transformed into a fleshy jigsaw puzzle, Verger fritters away his considerable inheritance on Hannibal memorabilia (the film starts with Verger purchasing a pivotal prop from the first film) and stuffs money in the pockets of those who might bring Hannibal to justice… and him.

Ten years P.S. (post "Silence") finds Clarice a full-fledged FBI agent. After a botched shootout at a DC fish market leaves the department with egg on its face, Clarice endures good ol’ boy politics and gets "demoted" to tracking down fresh leads on her favorite nightmare. Another thorn in Clarice’s side is Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta), Justice Department honcho and Verger lackey. With a distressed Clarice dangled as bait, Verger hopes to flush out Lecter. What Verger, Pazzi and Krendler do not know is what Clarice is all too aware of: when Dr. Hannibal Lecter is the prey, the hunters become the hunted.

I just could not find a comfortable spot to be in with this movie. One problem is how the film treats Hannibal Lecter himself. In "Silence," we could never get an accurate read on the guy. Remember when he offered a towel to the rain-soaked Clarice through the mechanical drawer of his cell? Didn’t everyone gasp when Clarice reached into the drawer, afraid even for a moment that Lecter might pull it back and snap off her hand? It’s interesting to remember that Hopkins’ screen time in "Silence" is less than half of the film, but his presence practically infiltrates every scene. With "Hannibal," he gets the lion’s share of screen time, but his horror is diluted as a result. What does not help matters is that either through Thomas’ novel or the screenplay by Steve Zaillian and David Mamet, Lecter dispenses witty retorts while gutting those who "deserve" his wrath. (Clarice at one point tells how Lecter killed an orchestra member to "improve the symphony’s sound.")

The only reason we don’t feel moral revulsion at Lecter is because we happen to agree with his targets. Does Verger’s physical ugliness make him easier to digest as a villain than Lecter strolling through the piazza in stylish fedora and flowing cape? Hogwash! In "Silence" the audience knows he represents what the poet Blake termed "organized experience:" someone so aware of the horrors around him that he becomes one. "Hannibal" is probably the most elegant looking slasher movie ever made. Without the moral center than defined "Silence," Lecter is now a monster without cathartic resolution, as "audience-friendly" as Freddy Krueger or Chucky. (Need more proof that Hopkins-as-Hannibal is now a franchise? Plans are underway to remake "Red Dragon," Lecter’s first appearance in print… with Hopkins reprising the role. In 1986, Michael Mann adapted the novel as "Manhunter," with Scottish actor Brian Cox donning Lecter’s T-shirt and slicked coiff.)

MGM Home Entertainment has produced an impressive two-disc set, offering <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 and <$DTS,DTS> 5.1 audio (this is MGM’s first DTS DVD title and, judging from the results, hopefully not the last), another captivating Ridley Scott commentary, deleted scenes including the "alternate" ending, trailers, behind the scenes glimpses and a section taking advantage of the format’s ability to "multi angle." In design and execution, right down to the packaging, "Hannibal" on DVD mirrors "Gladiator" on DVD.

As with every Ridley Scott film, the visuals are key and how the movie looks on video is just as important as the movie’s look. The 1.85 <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer could not be better. Whether John Mathieson’s cinematography focuses on the ancient opulence of Florence or the artificiality of an American mall, the image simply bursts with detail. Reds figure prominently in the film (this is a shock?) but the color palette never reaches beyond a slightly muted quality. While not exactly Hammer quality, the crimson and other hues never bleed (no pun intended) and fleshtones look natural, if not slightly "translucent" in certain scenes with Clarice (especially during the infamous "dinner" scene). Deep, pure blacks and superb detail delineation even give life to the many nighttime and darkly lit scenes. (Check out the outdoor evening opera in Chapter 17, "La Vita Nuova" for full appreciation of the disc’s richly textured transfer.) Mastered from immaculate source materials and exhibiting no digital or compression artifacts, the picture is never less that compelling, even if the emotional content frequently distracts.

I love it when DVDs offer both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks on the same disc. For those eternally trapped in the argument between the two formats, this practice offers the easiest way to quell the debate: through direct comparison. In "Hannibal’s" case, it’s a toss-up. Both the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks offer a very aggressive aural experience. The entire soundfield teems with both punchy sound effects and subtle ambience. I can’t recall any moment during the presentation when all five speakers weren’t engaged. The LFE channel gets a strong workout during the shootout sequence and Chapter 27, the "Main Attraction." Hans Zimmer’s score, sometimes atonal, sometimes filled with heavenly choirs, finds full expression amidst the numerous screams and sanguinary slurps. Comparing the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks, I found no real differences. I give the DTS track a slight edge in resolving low-level sounds (the Florence scenes seem a tad more vital in DTS), but that’s only because I was "looking" for differences. In Dolby Digital, the bullet whirs in the shootout scene carry the same chill as the DTS interpretation. Either way, the sound in any flavor is a knockout and I applaud MGM for giving consumers the ultimate aural flexibility. French and Spanish language 5.1 tracks are also available.

The last element on Disc One besides the feature itself is the running commentary by director Ridley Scott. Normally I’m not a fan of director commentaries on contemporary films, primarily because the comments usually demonstrate a lack of "distance" from the material. I found myself eating those words while listening to Scott’s commentary on "Gladiator." "Hannibal’s" commentary benefits from the same comprehensive insights. Perhaps it’s because I’m a fan of Scott’s, but when he explains the debate of including a scene or how to balance what reads well versus what works on film, he sounds authoritative instead of pedantic. The disc also gives the option of directly accessing Scott’s comments via chapter stops.

The second disc houses the bulk of supplemental materials. Clocking in at a lengthy hour and a quarter, "Breaking the Silence: The Making of ‘Hannibal’" is a thorough examination on the making of the film. Like the commentary, the documentary also offers chapter stops for the five different sections: "Development," "Production," "Special Make-Up Effects," "Music" and "Reaction." All the major players chime in: Hopkins, Moore, Liotta, producers Dino and Martha De Laurentiis, director Scott, as well as prominent technical talent. What I found wonderfully refreshing is that the documentary does not shy away from the controversy surrounding Jonathan Demme and Jodie Foster declining their involvement in the sequel. (Most times, the DVD documentaries are nothing more than video press releases.) Hopkins expresses his thoughts regarding his self-announced, then self-retracted "retirement" and Dino talks at length about how he wooed Ridley on the set of "Gladiator." Generous behind the scenes footage capture the breadth of this massive production, as well as focus on the special effects (fans of the "dinner scene" will not be disappointed). Only towards the end does the proceedings get a little syrupy with the mutual praise, but overall the doc dissects with reasonable precision.

Fourteen deleted and alternate scenes clock in at over 35 minutes. Presented in <$PS,widescreen>, the snippets are chapter marked. When highlighted, a screen shot appears along with a brief description of the scene, some explanation of its significance along with a running time. They literally run the length of the narrative, the first example a variation of the opening and the last an "alternate ending" (which actually works better than the one in the film). If desired, a brief commentary by Scott accompanies each scene, explaining how and why they were excised. Like so many deleted scene sections in other DVDs, after a couple the reasons why they didn’t make the cut are plainly obvious: usually pacing or redundancy. In the case of "Coveting Clarice" with Lecter licking the steering wheel of Starling’s car, less is definitely more.

The kick for me was the "Multi-Angle Vignettes." Under the headings "Anatomy of a Shoot Out," "Ridleygrams" and "Title Design," viewers can examine the various film and art elements used in creating certain scenes. With "Anatomy," the disc gives four different camera angles on the scene, as well as a fifth option giving all angles in a quad screen. In "Ridleygrams," the juxtaposition is between Scott’s storyboards (which he drew himself according to the production notes), the scene as it appears in the film as Scott’s ruminations on both. Again, one can focus solely on the drawings with Scott’s audio, a drawing-to-film comparison and Scott on camera talking about both, all in the same frame. With "Title Design," you can opt for the opening credits as they appear in the film, an alternate version of the titles, and raw video of the pigeons needed for the credits. Audio wise, take your pick between the final theatrical soundtrack, "original teaser mix," and commentary by Scott and title designer Nick Livesay. Whew! Trust me, the feature is way cool.

Two theatrical trailers, presented in non-<$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> in 2.0 stereo, nineteen (!) TV spots, a gallery of poster art and stills comprise the "Marketing Gallery" section. Watching the posters, it’s interesting to see just how they took bits and pieces from different concepts to arrive at the final artwork. (On the subject of trailers, for some reason they put the trailers for "Silence of the Lambs" and "Windtalkers" on Disc One.) Production notes and cast/crew filmographies round out the considerable extras.

Back in the laserdisc days, I frequently found myself buying questionable titles just because they "looked and sounded great." I vowed with the change of formats I would break that ridiculous habit. While "Hannibal" may look and sound great on DVD, this meal is best nibbled with a grain of salt.