The film is faithful to the book's grim violence

By Daniel Fierman
Updated February 09, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
Julianne Moore, Anthony Hopkins
Credit: Hannibal: Lorenzo Aguis

This is an excerpt from Entertainment Weekly’s Feb. 9 cover story. See the magazine for the complete exclusive of our ”Hannibal” set visit.

In a church in the London neighborhood of Hampstead, director Ridley Scott huffs on another Montecristo. Outside, the morning sky is smeared gray and spitting rain. Inside, a full orchestra awaits its cue, candy colored light filtering through stained glass windows. Footage from ”Hannibal” plays on a monitor in the control room of this house of worship turned recording studio, the same flashback scene again and again. A not yet disfigured Mason Verger (Gary Oldman) leads Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter into his apartment.

He straps on a tan leather S&M mask with vertical iron ribbing. Lecter snaps what appears to be an amyl nitrate popper beneath Verger’s nose and his patient writhes in ecstasy. Verger’s foot kicks loose and shatters a mirror. Lecter leans down to pick up a shard. Verger, now unmasked, accepts the glass and takes it to his face, gouging deep and hard; red black blood seeps out, and gristle drops to the floor. Lecter smiles, picks up a slimy chunk, and gingerly feeds it to Verger’s dog.

But the truly profane part is left to composer Hans Zimmer. On his cue, the orchestra strikes up the jaunty strains of ”The Blue Danube.” The sound folks think this is hilarious, but Zimmer and Scott are dead serious — it’s going in the movie. ”We should have set it to the Hannibal rap,” chortles Scott, lowering his voice into something that resembles John Major channeling Biggie Smalls. ”You know. ‘Hannibal! Face eater! Cop killah! Muthaf—ah!”’

This sort of gallows grimness abounds in ”Hannibal,” which, it turns out, is surprisingly faithful to Thomas Harris’ book. While the film drops several elements of the novel, including most of Clarice Starling’s home life and a secondary character — Verger’s ambisexual, nut cracking sister — who could have been a lightning rod for those who found objectionable gay stereotypes in ”Silence,” the high points are still there. (However, Oldman cracks, ”If she had been in the script, that’s the part I would have gone after. I mean, ‘Haven’t you got anyone to play that dyke?’ Wait. Can I say dyke?” His manager tells him no. ”Why?” Oldman asks. ”It’s considered offensive” is the reply.)

Hannibal (Movie - 2001)

  • Movie
  • R
  • 131 minutes
  • Ridley Scott