Hey folks, Fat Ass here with a review by Spyder of the Steven Zaillian pass at HANNIBAL. Now, most likely the script has changed a bit since this draft, probably a few nips and tucks, but personally... I really dug this draft, as did Moriarty. Here ya go...
I noticed you’ve been reporting a bit about the latest rumblings concerning a certain well-known cannibalistic doctor, but I could not recall having seen a review of the screenplay for the adaptation of his latest series of exploits, the self-titled "Hannibal." It has occurred to me that now may be an opportune time to share a rather unusual experience I’ve had here while tiptoeing through the web strands.
A short time ago, whilst tidying up the web, I came across a peculiar package. It was neatly wrapped in brown paper and tied off with string. (Odd, I thought, since the Fed Ex man usually delivers lovely blue, white, and orange packages.) Upon closer inspection, I found attached a small linen card, written in a distinctive copperplate and smelling faintly of ambergris.
Submitted for your perusal. Do be kind, my voluminous life is complex to
interpret. We can only hope the task is in capable hands.
Ever a fly in the ointment,
Hannibal Lecter, MD
Though frightened at the prospect of having been recently visited by the good doctor, I could not contain my curiosity. I began to delicately unwrap the parcel. Imagine my surprise when inside I found a copy of the "Hannibal" screenplay. Having read Mr. Harris’ accounts of the doctor’s recent encounter with Special Agent Starling, I eagerly devoured the script. On second thought… perhaps a different choice of words might be more appropriate.
The draft presented to me was dated in February of this year, written by Steven Zaillian. Overall, considering the expectations and demands, I would have to say Mr. Zaillian did an admirable job. I do feel the script is lacking some of the "oomph" the book provided, and that this loss is due to the restrictions placed on the screenwriter given the nature of this particular project (and those involved with it). In all fairness to the good doctor, I will do my best to refrain from spoiling any surprises he may have in store.
For those who haven’t read the story, "Hannibal" is the follow up to "Silence of the Lambs." The story picks up seven years after the events depicted in the first movie, when we re-join Special Agent Clarice Starling during a drug-bust that goes horribly wrong. Those consequences catapult her into the national spotlight, catching the attention of Dr. Hannibal Lecter who has sought refuge in Florence, Italy. It also introduces Mason Verger, one of the few Lecter victims who have lived to tell the tale (if you can call his current state of existence "living.") Verger has designs to exact revenge upon the good doctor for the damage done years before, when Verger was one of his ill-fated patients. Of course, those designs inevitably bring Clarice and Hannibal face to face once more. Those of you who have read the book know what happens next. Those of you who have not should read the exploits for yourselves; some things are better experienced than told.
Obviously, cinema is a different medium than a novel. There are different requirements, and the screenwriter does not have the luxury of several hundred pages upon which to expound upon internal though processes, and all the subtle nuances the author may summon to their aid.
Clearly, these differences influence the adaptation in this case as well. Further still, given that the last time these two characters shared the screen they garnered both critical and box-office success, the pressures are on to deliver more of the same. The problem is "Silence of the Lambs" was the story of Clarice Starling and her coming of age in the male-dominated world of the FBI. "Hannibal," is not surprisingly, the story of Hannibal Lecter. After supporting roles in other Harris novels, we finally, literally, get into the head of a madman whose exploits have become the stuff of nightmares and our collective conscious. (Personally, I can’t even hear the word "Chianti" without either snickering or shuddering) This time around, the novel has Starling in a downward spiral, exploring the consequences of early stardom and the resentment it can create in inferior minds.
There are a few things done well. Zaillian captures the essence of the entire Florence section of the story, including Inspector Pazzi and his wife. We truly get a sense of what a world Lecter has found for himself there, and what genius is at work in that enigmatic mind of his. Lecter comes across clearly throughout the entire story. Starling is serviced well. Her voice during the moments of duress is exactly what you would expect it to be. Nurse Barney (from the asylum where Clarice interviewed Lecter in "Silence of the Lambs") is present during the course of the story, providing an interesting commentary on the world after Lecter’s escape from the Tennessee police, and its effects on popular culture. Zaillian also manages to keep the spirit of the supporting characters in place (a gypsy Pazzi employs, Justice Dept. scuzz Paul Krendler, etc.).
I found myself missing some of the things they left out, though. Not all of them; there are some details that really don’t add much to the plot (things like the little known fact that Dr. Lecter did, at one point, have six fingers on one hand – a la "The Princess Bride"). Those you don’t miss. The pieces I found lacking were some that provided greater depth to some of the characters; namely Lecter and Verger.
Verger, though a victim of Lecter’s, is no angel by any means. There are aspects of his personality that are hinted at in the screenplay, and you know he’s not a nice person, but he’s never really cast in entirely the sinister light he is in the novel. I believe part this stems from the omission of his sister from the movie. I understand why she’s not there, she’s not pivotal to the plot. However, there are aspects of their relationship that make his own evil, and the consequences of it, so much richer in the book. When reading the script, I can’t honestly say I had an objective approach to Verger; I knew he was a rat bastard from reading the book. I don’t think I fairly evaluated how well he comes across on the strength of the screenplay alone. You know he’s bad… I just think he ought to be a little bit more evil.
The other things I felt were missing were some of the insights into the mind of Hannibal himself. In the novel you learn a bit more about how someone as intelligent and well learned as Dr. Lecter might become the monster he is (no offense, good doctor, just a reflection of public sentiment). There is more history to the doctor than what we’ve seen or read before, and I think it would be useful to know some of these things about our title character. Not that we’d forgive him for eating people, but we would at least have some empathy for what horrors he must confront in his own mind.
In the novel, there is also this wonderful device that Dr. Lecter uses to remember things, every thing, called the Palace of the Mind. It’s a mnemonic device which uses a house of your own creation, and the various possible rooms inside of it, as a metaphor through which one files away and accesses information. When reading it in the book, it just came across as such a remarkable, memorable (no pun intended) visual moment. I believe it’s out of the screenplay because the events are played out in a slightly different order (trust me, it will make sense once you see the movie). However, I think we’d all appreciate a glimpse into the mind of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. After all, that’s why we’d buy tickets to see the movie. Given that the film is rumored to be budgeted at around $85 million (if I read correctly) I think they could afford to work it in.
Now, by this point all of you who read the book are thinking, "Come on, come on, what about the ending?" All good things to those who wait.
It should come as no surprise by now that the ending of the book was something other than what many people anticipated. I found it to be an intriguing solution to the relationship between Lecter and Starling. However, I knew when reading it that there must be some changes for the adaptation, especially if Ms. Fosters continued involvement was desired. I devised my own solutions, and in some ways, Mr. Zaillian took a similar approach. Even though Ms. Foster has declined the good doctor’s invitation, I imagine the Starling in the screenplay will remain the same as it is currently for the sake of giving the audience a Starling closer to the one they saw in "Silence Of The Lambs."
I don’t want to blow what the ending is. I know, that ‘s terrible after dragging this out so long, but I am very interested to see what people’s unspoiled reaction is to how this works out. Especially those who haven’t read the novel "Hannibal" but did see "Silence of the Lambs." Suffice to say, the ending in the screenplay is different than what’s in the book. It’s set up well, though some may think part of it a little obvious.
The best part of it is like a good "Tales From The Crypt" story: everyone who really deserves it does get it in the end. (Of course, deserving is in the eye of the beholder)
And so, Harry, it is time for me to find a way to tighten security here on this web of mine. Although I’m flattered the good doctor saw fit to bestow this morsel, err… gift, upon me, I would rather he not return to reclaim it.
Hiding the Chianti,