Red Dragon: Light but No Heat
Matt Huntington

Watching the new Hannibal Lecter film Red Dragon is like eating a Hot Pocket. The outside is smooth and crispy and inviting. The inside is hot and steamy with cheese, broccoli or even chicken; all the most delicious ingredients. It makes perfect sense and should be a terrific meal. But quickly you gobble down the whole thing without thinking, and you're left unsatisfied and wanting more.

Red Dragon is the third of the Hannibal Lecter films based on the Thomas Harris novels and is a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. Silence was Harris' most fully realized story, fueled by compelling characters, driven by taut plotting and sprinkled with strategic uses of psychology and criminology to give insights into the motivations of each character. The film version was excellent as well. The screenplay by Ted Tally distilled the best essences from the novel, and the directing of Jonathan Demme elicited Oscar-winning performances from Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. Clarice's descent into Lecter's dungeon cell, where he strips her of her department store scents and twenty-dollar shoes before leading her into her deepest emotional recesses, shadowed with the death of her father and the loss of her childhood, is classic cinema.

Hannibal, on the other hand, was not such a good book. With Lecter on the loose and Clarice a star agent at the end of Silence, Harris had the opportunity to take the series to new heights and depths. Instead, he chose to limit his characters, disgracing Starling as she leads her fellow FBI agents into a bloody, botched sting operation and by isolating Lecter as a curator in a small Florentine museum. Their paths are forced to intertwine as the story devolves into one of bitter revenge, interspersed with scenes of malicious gore that would make even the most dedicated carnivore squirm. Ridley Scott's film, like many of his others, played up the blood and guts. In its final 20 minutes alone, ferocious mutated pigs devour the wheelchair-bound Mason Verger, who once cut off his own face and fed it to his dog at Lecter's behest, and Clarice's lobotomized FBI boss eats his own brain, prepared tableside by Lecter. Rumor has it that Clarice's passivity - in the book, she too eats the brain -- drove Jodie Foster from reprising the Clarice Starling role, and the story, in both the book and film versions, does seem unfaithful to the characters. Ridley Scott, in his continuing obsession with strong female leads amid horrifying gore (cf. Alien), portrays a blunt, hardened Starling from the opening scene, erasing the vulnerability that made her twisted journey in Silence so compelling. Hannibal's lines, under Scott's directions, sound like half-comedic one-liners.

So, with Red Dragon at the plate, the Hannibal-the-Cannibal franchise is batting .500.

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Image: William Blake,
The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun
Brooklyn Museum

November 2002

jay's head
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