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Sunday, October 11, 2009

HANNIBAL LECTER COLLECTION (Blu-Ray) -- DVD review by porfle

(Blu-Ray comments by Ian Friedman)

With 20th-Century Fox And MGM Home Entertainment's release of the 3-disc boxed set HANNIBAL LECTER COLLECTION on Blu-Ray, it might be fun to look back on these three films and relive those wonderful memories of fava beans, skin lotion, bite marks, and brains. Mmm...brains.

Michael Mann started it all back in 1986 with MANHUNTER, the movie that introduced suave, sophisticated, and thoroughly evil Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Will Graham (William Petersen in an excellent performance) is a talented profiler who can get into the minds of the serial killers he's seeking out, but at the price of his own sanity. Retired after an attack by Lecter that almost killed him, Graham is lured back into the game when a maniac known as "The Tooth Fairy" starts murdering entire families. Graham visits Lecter in his cell for advice, and to see if the sight of his old adversary will reawaken his suppressed instincts.

A bonafide cult film, MANHUNTER's biggest fans will tell you that it's superior to THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, while its detractors dismiss it as day-glo 80s cheese on the order of "Miami Vice." I'm not sure which Lecter film is best but I find this one to be first-rate in every respect. Tom Noonan's "Tooth Fairy" is an imposing figure whose calm, deliberate actions and quiet demeanor make him even scarier. In a thoughtful, soulful performance, Petersen makes for a highly sympathetic hero who's appalled by the thoughts and feelings in which he must immerse himself in order to think like a killer. The rest of the cast--Dennis Farina, Kim Griest, Stephen Lang, Joan Allen--are fine as well.

The highlight of the film, of course, is Brian Cox as Lecter. Caged in a stark white cell and stripped of anything that might conceivably be used as a weapon, this version of the famous character is cold, calculating, always wary and observant of the slightest detail, yet dulled and weary of a confinement which prevents him from interacting with the world in his own unique way. In this environment, his pretensions of sanity and normalcy are irrelevant, so he's very blunt and straightforward with Graham. The effect is chilling, with Lecter coming off as a creature of great cunning and intellect but absolutely dead inside, and we dread the thought of this thing ever walking free again.

The only good thing about the 2002 remake, RED DRAGON, is that it manages to make MANHUNTER look even better in comparison. A key scene shared by both films offers a good comparison--Lecter is allowed the privacy of a phone call to his lawyer, but instead manages to call a literary agent and get Graham's home address from the secretary. Brian Cox turns the scene into one of the film's high points, coolly finessing himself an outside line with a foil gum wrapper and then feigning an unctuous joviality with the secretary until she comes through with the address. Once procured, Lecter drops the fascade, pops the gum into his mouth, and returns to his coldly unsettling self. Anthony Hopkins, in the remake, performs almost the exact same scene but is too intent on being creepy to make it fun. Several other scenes that are key emotional high points in MANHUNTER--the hidden fingerprint, the sleeping tiger, the videotape discovery, etc.--are either glossed over or botched in RED DRAGON, as are most of the main characterizations.

With 1991's THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Anthony Hopkins burst onto the horror film scene with a Hannibal Lecter whose rich theatricality and giddy delight in his own unfathomable evil captured the imaginations of filmgoers, including many in the mainstream, like few such characters before or since. Approaching his dark, Gothic lair in the bowels of a castle-like hospital for the criminally insane where he lurks like some medieval gargoyle, we share the trepidation of the young FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) who has been sent to consult with Lecter regarding another serial killer on the loose (known as "Buffalo Bill" due to his penchant for skinning his victims).

Hopkins plays Lecter to the hilt, relishing each perverse aspect of the character just as Lecter enjoyed feasting upon the organs of those he killed--sometimes with "fava beans and a nice Chianti...fthfthfthfth!" His version of the silken-voiced psycho, unlike that of Cox, is a creation that would fit comfortably in any rogue's gallery of horror film icons. One of the pleasures of this film is watching him toy with the callow Starling (excellently portrayed by Foster) on a purely emotional and intellectual level in which she has no defense, then growing to admire her courage, convictions, and strength of will.

Also unlike the Lecter of MANHUNTER, we get to see this monster at his full power once he's broken free in a terrifying sequence that is beautifully-directed by Jonathan Demme. When Lecter's brilliant escape plan goes into motion, it's a thrill to watch Hopkins turn into one of the most cunning and terrifying killers the screen has ever known. Compared to his mad-dog antics, the film's wrap-up of the Buffalo Bill story is almost anti-climactic, although Demme does stage a nailbiting finale with Starling taking on the killer by herself in his pitch-dark cellar of death. Still, Bill delivers a line to one of his captives that has since become one of the most oft-heard quotes in recent film history: "It puts the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again." And his naked dance will become seared in your memory whether you like it or not.

With a level of excellence that garnered it Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, and Best Director, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS remains one of the finest and most popular horror films ever made.

Not so well-received, unfortunately, was the inevitable follow-up, HANNIBAL (2001). The unenviable task of trying to match the financial and artistic success of SILENCE fell to director Ridley Scott, whose ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER were already regarded as classics. Here, he is working not only with a lesser script but with a new leading lady, Julianne Moore, replacing the absent Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling. With the Lecter character now free and unrestrained, Anthony Hopkins has a field day developing him into an even more sinister, sardonic, self-satisfied, and almost supernatural force of evil who savors every sensual nuance of his heinous actions.

Moore does what she can with the Starling role as her character suffers a major setback and is unjustly suspended from duty. Lecter, returning from a sabbatical in Rome in which he was forced to disembowel a detective (Giancarlo Giannini) who was on his trail, takes an active interest in the life of the only person on earth for whom he has any affection. This puts them both at odds with a horribly-disfigured billionaire named Mason Verger (a fascinating Gary Oldman), a former victim of Lecter who has concocted a revenge scheme which involves man-eating pigs. Ray Liotta, in full slimeball mode, plays rival FBI agent Paul Krendler, whose ill treatment of Clarice will put him on Lecter's bad side in a big way.

Lacking the new-car smell and scintillating story of SILENCE, Ridley Scott compensates by turning HANNIBAL into an elegant yet balls-out horror epic loaded with shock value and gore. Scott pulls no punches with the graphic violence and boldly risks alienating audience members expecting more of the same but finding themselves in the middle of a big-budget H. G. Lewis flick. There must've been a few walkouts by fans of the previous film when the Italian detective's entrails splashed onto the pavement or the ravenous pigs started feasting on screaming humans in loving closeup.

But (warning--this paragraph contains spoilers) Scott saves the most memorably jaw-dropping image for the finale, as Lecter hosts a dinner party for Starling and Krendler in which the entree just happens to be Krendler's brain. Our gracious and urbane anti-hero deftly slices around the top of the drugged Krendler's skull and pops it off, then begins to feed him sizzling morsels of his own sauteed gray matter hot off the wok as Starling, along with most of the audience, gapes in mortal revulsion.

A final encounter between Lecter and Starling defines their relationship unequivocably and ends the movie on a suitably morbid note. While admittedly inferior to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, I find HANNIBAL to be an outstanding horror film in its own right and above-average on every level. The Lecter character is taken farther than ever before and explored in lots of fun ways, yet still avoids the cartoonishness into which he finally sinks in RED DRAGON. For me, Ridley Scott's uncompromising foray into the horror genre is a success.

Aspect ratio for this 3-disc set is 2.35:1 for disc one and 1.85:1 for discs two and three. Audio is English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio and French 5.1 Dolby Surround and Mono, dubbed and subtitled in English, French, and Spanish. No bonus features.

Picture quality is great, with vivid and properly balanced colors. There is no sign of any digital encoding errors. The detail is also excellent. One thing about SILENCE OF THE LAMBS--the detail displayed by the film is generally pretty good (as you can tell by the sharpness of the title credits), but the picture is a little soft and smeary. I can't be sure, but I seem to recall the film having a hazy look to begin with.

If you're already a fan of these films, the HANNIBAL LECTER COLLECTION is a good way to add them all to your Blu-Ray collection. And if you haven't seen them yet, then here's your big chance to get Hannibalized.

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