Saturday, September 22, 2007


RUNTIME: 121 min.

Having had rushed through the book, two and one-half hours it was, I didn’t even bother to buy it; rather, I, laden with guilt, ran through the pages, sometimes taking twenty of them at a time, in the bookstore itself. I had never liked the idea, Hannibal (novel) was awful, and this was just the curious cat self of mine that wanted to know the story. Once done, and I vanished into thin air, my guilt stopping me to go into the store for another one month.
And here I was, standing in the line at the ticket counter, my two selves fighting. I remembered all those Michael Bay films; I remembered all those hundred rupee bills that went out of my pocket for voluntary torture; I remembered Batman and Robin and the hundred rupee bills that went out of my dad’s pocket. And I wondered- How much worse can it get? And with that quite little air of self-assurance, head held high, I walked in.
And believe me, it isn’t that bad. Yes it is terrible, in fact, Thomas Harris has actually accomplished the impossible by coming up with a script that is even more ridiculous than the novel (whatever I read), one that is completely and utterly confused whether it is narrating a book or a story. The acting is campy beyond camp; the dialogues are walking the tightrope between cheesy and mawkish sentimentality – there’re actually dialogues like “Memories are like knives, they hurt”, whoa I exclaimed and found myself in splits – the story moves without any sense of narrative logic or focus, I found myself with that embarrassing what the hell is happening look quite a few times. Still, it is a good film, an embarrassingly good film with some laughs to be had. And somewhere there, among this serviceable unintended laugh-riot, is a nice little psychopathic version of Charles Bronsonesque Death Wish vengeance story. Go for the morning show, fifty bucks, and you won’t regret it one wee bit. Believe me, it is boring enough that you might even catch a comfy little nap and not miss too much of the plot points.
For those fortunate enough not to have read the book, our dear Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Gaspard Ulliel, A Very Long Engagement) was born somewhere in Lithuania. He had a dear sister named Mischa and they were rendered parentless by a series of events during the German retreat in the face of Soviet invasion in 1944. A group of men from the Waffen-SS, six in number, hide inside the Lecter Castle, hunger-stricken. And when the situation worsens, they eat Mischa. Cut to eight years later, and our dear Dr. Lecter, now a teenager, is living in an orphanage with just flashes of his horrific past. Jason Bourne? Nah, he is way smarter. He has been supposedly rendered mute by his experiences. Wow. Who came up with that brilliant idea? Mute, huh? After killing a guard who taunts him, he escapes to his aunt’s place, one Lady Murasaki (Gong Li, Memoirs of a Geisha), widowed by the Hiroshima bombing we learn. He is introduced to his other set of influences – ancestor worshipping, martial arts, flower arrangement. Another hilariously comical situation arises when a local butcher makes a rather vulgar pass on Ms. Murasaki and he ends up being killed by our dear Dr. Lecter. He places the severed head as an offering too. Another brilliant touch. He then, somehow, gets into a medicine school as its youngest ever student and after injecting himself with Sodium Thiopental, finally remembers everything. Boy, that was so easy. Why didn’t Jason Bourne try that, I wonder? And then, he gets after them all, revenge driving him, vendetta, kill ‘em all being the motto. Take from them everything. And then start the major share of the laughs. The acting gets, wow, real hammy. Gaspard Ulliel moves his head, from side to side, and tries to imitate Sir Hopkins. He also boasts of a hilariously stupid smirk. Believe me, it is funny to watch how someone can be so self-seriously ridiculous.
I saw him in that wonderful Jean-Pierre Jeunet picture A Very Long Engagement as Audrey Tautou’s lover and never, even in my widest imaginations, thought that he could be this bad. The lad is trying, and he is good, and he is hampered by an awful script and some pretty unimaginative slavishly-faithful-to-the-script direction, but there are instances where he alone does the trick. Everyone else chips in for bouts of laughter; Gong Li manages to put a straight face but even she is betrayed by the script.
The editing is a major worry. Sequences crash into each other shredding flow-logic to pieces. One moment Lecter is in medical school, another moment he is painting in his home, another moment he is in Ms. Murasaki’s house. I was wondering whether his paintings are at Ms. Murasaki’s place. Everything here has just one aim – jump from one plot point to another. Post-production, all they must have done is created a flowchart and done the cuts along those lines. No care for the dynamics of a scene, no care for the feelings of characters, no care for character development. One aim, cut for flowchart.
Note: I don’t want to talk about the direction for I can’t comprehend this level of decadence from a man who made that charming film Girl with a Pearl Earring.
I wonder, what made Harris title the book Hannibal Rising. Hey, this isn’t exactly Superman we’re talking about. One might argue, putting the Rising is in another psychopathic touch to that psychopathic world of Lecter and Harris’ novels. I don’t think so, and I don’t think so they even thought far for there is no conviction in this by-the-numbers tale. In their minds, not now but long ago in 1999 everything changed and Dr. Lecter metamorphosed into just another run-of-the-mill strange character, whose motivations aren’t his own but what would cater to the luridness that Sir Hopkins made them taste in The Silence of the Lambs. Nothing here is conviction, it is just cashing in. The script is awful. Every attempt they make to create the aura of a monster fails, falls flat on its face. Inspector Popil remarks-“He is a monster.” And it feels so hollow. The man before us is neither monstrous nor horrific, but funny he is, a degenerate who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes. I wonder, how would He is a jester sound? Pretty funny to my ears and better than that Popil line. Hannibal Lecter of the first two Harris’ novels was a man who controlled his own mind; now he has turned into a character that is pretty common, a man controlled by the brain. And then, the awful plot-twist at the end. Out of place, it comes across as sadistic for all the wrong reasons, reasons that have to do with the writer feeling compelled to come up with something ludicrous to shock the audiences rather than the needs of the story and the character. And yeah, there is also a nice little sequence where the law of probability goes for a toss and the bullet zeroes onto a blade as thick as a six-inch ruler. I guess, in Harris mind, Lecter is a hero, a man who is favored by the gods too. On second thoughts, nah, nobody thought that far, not even for a moment. Hannibal, sadly, is neither Batman nor The Joker on the morality spectrum. He is somewhere in between, just like you, me and everyone else. And that is a shame. Somewhere buried in that script are the barest bones of a film that could have been a great tale for a new superhero, a vigilante, a start-of-the-year action picture that could have gone onto have some cult following and multiple DVD releases. But that is at least a dozen re-writes away. This Hannibal you see, believe me, he isn’t remotely that cold man from Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs. He is some stupid pseudo-intellectual dude, frustrated by his past and out to get revenge.

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