Hannibal -- with guts this time

Posted: Feb 12, 2001 12:00 AM
The best thing about seeing the movie "Hannibal" at a screening is that you don't have to sit in a theater filled with 8- and 12-year-olds whose idiot parents took them to this R-rated blood-and-guts fest. Say this for "Hannibal." It is a well-made movie. The acting is top drawer. The characters are compelling. Visually, the film is seductive. As a bonus, the movie ending is not the revolting ending of the 1999 book by Thomas Harris -- it's a somewhat different revolting ending. But -- thanks for the small favor -- at least it's less revolting. Less revolting means that it depicts vivisection of live human beings. Since it didn't earn an X-rating, and since so many parents take their young children to R-rated films, America can thank "Hannibal" for teaching its young that cutting up people can be a camp prank. In its precursor, "The Silence of the Lambs," FBI agent Clarice Starling held the center of the movie. Her quest for justice prevailed. "Hannibal" moves the focus from the cop to the cannibal, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and celebrates his life as fugitive/bon vivant. "There is a grace to his life now," a promotional brochure explains. "An elegance which suits him nicely." If you saute body parts with truffles, that makes you a model of good taste. (Figure it's no coincidence that producer Dino De Laurentiis and author Thomas Harris, who are so besotted with Lecter, are about the same age as their villain, and have a similar desire to show off their tastes.) Indeed, some characters argue that Gentleman Lecter mauls only people who are not sufficiently polite. Or because they're not nice people. It's a subtle suggestion that tells viewers that the violence is permissible because Lecter never would knife people who don't deep down deserve it. Worst of all, "Hannibal" represents another racheting up of film violence. In "Silence of the Lambs," many of the more grotesque acts of violence were not shown on camera. The sequel, on the other hand, shows mutilations close up. If "Hannibal" is a big hit, and it probably will be, the public should expect knock-offs with even more evisceration serving as entertainment. No doubt the film will garner Oscar nominations. What a shame there is no award for actors, writers and directors who turn down lucrative contracts because they don't want to be part of the increased crudity creeping into their art. "The Silence of the Lambs" screenwriter Ted Tally, director Jonathan Demme and actress Jodie Foster turned down offers to work on the bloody sequel. They should get an Oscar for turning down "Hannibal." Even people involved in making the film are trying to distance themselves from what they've wrought. Actress Julianne Moore, who plays Starling in the sequel, anguishes publicly about how she talked to her therapist about the violence in the movie. Co-producer Martha De Laurentiis told Entertainment Weekly that, as a parent, she would not take her 12-year-old to see it. That's nice. Her daughter won't be tainted. See, that's supposed to absolve them. They feel bad about the movie. So don't hold them responsible. Actor Gary Oldman plays Mason Verger, a sexual sicko who has become a born-again Christian. (You know that Verger is really bad, not because he is a pedophile, but because he coo's about Jesus and redemption. In this movie, being devout is the worst offense.) Verger, who survived a Lecter mutilation, explains that Lecter's goal was always about "degradation." Ditto the movie.