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''Hannibal'' shouldn't be made without Jodie Foster

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”Hannibal” shouldn’t be made without Jodie Foster

It’s a new millennium, Hollywood, and here’s your resolution: Exercise a little restraint! And I know just where you can start: The proposed (and somewhat faltering) sequel to ”The Silence of the Lambs.” Even though Jodie Foster won’t return (she’s going to direct Claire Danes in the circus romance ”Flora Plum”), Universal is still entertaining the option of plowing ahead without Clarice Starling and recasting a new female lead character.

Even before Foster pulled out, the idea of a ”Silence” sequel wasn’t very smart. After all, a better-than-the-first scenario like ”Godfather II” is the exception — and is not likely to happen with any movie anytime soon. And Thomas Harris’ ”Hannibal” is not the same type of airtight suspense thriller its predecessor was; instead it’s chockful of wild weirdness (flesh-eating pigs!) and ghoulish gross-outs (Starling eats brains!). No doubt a movie based on ”Hannibal” would be drastically altered — mainstream-lined, really. That leaves Harris purists alienated, and god only knows what will happen to poor Dr. Lecter in the hands of studio script surgeons.

Still, I’m sure moviegoers would have been willing to give the revised ”Hannibal” a go — provided that all the principal players were in place. Because really, ”Silence” wouldn’t have been a horror classic without Foster as Clarice Starling. Lecter is a terrifying character, and Hopkins’ unblinking (literally) performance as the man-eater was indeed very creepy. But a sequel that doesn’t have Foster’s subtle nuances to balance out Hopkins’ occasional tendency to chew the scenery (Yes, I’ve seen ”Remains of the Day.” Have you seen ”Instinct”?), well, it could turn out to be something really scary. Internet fans have suggested solving this problem by plugging the so-subtle-she’s-practically-somnambulant Scully (a.k.a. Gillian Anderson) into the lead, but if I want to watch Anderson lack facial expressions in the face of unnatural phenomenon, I’ll tune in Sunday nights at 9 p.m.

Cate Blanchett, the actress who’s reportedly on Universal’s short list, is incredibly talented, but that doesn’t help moviegoers who want to see Lecter reunited with Starling, not some other agent — no matter how well she’s portrayed. The sad truth is, without Jodie Foster, there is no movie. That’s where restraint comes in, Hollywood. Rather than destroying the integrity of ”Silence” by linking it to a compromised attempt at a sequel, just leave it alone. Producer Dino De Laurentiis has reportedly offered to pay back the $10 million Universal has already spent on ”Hannibal.” The studio should take it. Dr. Lecter and Clarice can live on in print, but making this sequel would be the equivalent of a contract killing.

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