(Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, et al / Blu ray / R / (2001) 2011 / MGM)
Overview: Anthony Hopkins returns to the role of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the sophisticated killer who comes out of hiding to draw FBI agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) into a high-stakes battle that will test her strength, cunning and loyalty.
Blu ray Verdict: Taken chronologically, Hannibal Lecter started out as a brilliant schemer in Red Dragon, refined his - ahem - tastes in Silence of the Lambs, and if the last installment is any measure, became a traditional slasher in Hannibal.
Hannibal (Anthony Hopkins) has always been the more gentlemanly of two evils. Whether it was The Tooth Fairy in Red Dragon or Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, Lecter seemed pleasant and refined in comparison to the more brutal serial killers. This is what makes an anti-hero so much fun; he's bad, but he's not as bad as the bad guy. The even-worse villain in Hannibal is Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), a wealthy child molester whom Hannibal convinced (through judicious application of mind-altering drugs) to cut off his own face. A crippled, revolting shell of a man, Verger seethes with an unholy vengeance and, thanks to his immense wealth, crafts a far-fetched plan to get revenge.
And this is where the problems with Hannibal begin. Although it's clear Verger was bad - and presumably, in the Levels of Evil, we can assume molestation of children is worse than cannibalism of adults - but he simply doesn't have the physical presence of the other serial killers to justify Hannibal's own villainy. Verger is more disgusting than vile, and the shock of the character wears off after a while. Verger's schemes border on cartoon-character levels with his plans to have Hannibal's face eaten by specially bred wild boars. Yes, that's right - Hannibal's up against a cripple and his army of killer pigs.
The first third of the film is a cat-and-mouse game between Chief Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) and Hannibal in Florence, Italy. This is the Hannibal we know - crawling inside his victim's heads, using their secret shame as a weapon against them, and giving morally flawed human beings their comeuppance for being so gauche. Pazzi's ending is never in doubt, but the increasingly high stakes between the two men makes for thrilling drama.
Then we're back to Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore). You'll recall that Clarice was a woman trying to make it in a man's world in Silence of the Lambs. Forget all that - here, Starling as embodied by Moore is a delicious peach, to be ogled by the camera as it slow pans not once but twice over her body. Since Hannibal and Starling meet only at the end of the film, director Ridley Scott uses this technique as a substitute for Hannibal's amorous intentions. It's no surprise Foster turned the role down.
The last third of Hannibal features Starling, the ridiculously corrupt Justice Department officer Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta, who looks the part), and everybody's favorite cannibal at a dinner for two. The dinner scene only manages to be disgusting because there's not a shred of sympathy for Krendler, unlike Pazzi who had a gorgeous wife and so much to lose. By the conclusion Hannibal is in full slasher mode, complete with the ability to silence dogs at a glance, terrorize gun-wielding victims into inaction with just a knife, and otherwise pop-up and disappear as needed for him to abduct his victims. In short, Hannibal goes from being a three-dimensional character to a one-dimensional killer. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.