Hannibal finally emerged ten years to the day after The Silence of the Lambs was released. As is the case when there is a classic to measure up to, responses to Hannibal were mixed. There were the usual moronic critical knee-jerk responses, latching onto the grisliness of the ending attacking a film like for being grisly is like condemning The Sound of Music (1965) for being saccharine or Gone with the Wind (1939) for being romantic, it comes with the territory. Many others leapt on the problems that the structure of the book forced on the film the sidelining of Clarice Starling for a better part of the story and offering glib Maybe Ridley Scott signed on for the trip to Florence-type reviews. Audience response was mixed, although not enough to stop Hannibal from earning the third highest ever box-office opening weekend and the highest ever for an R-rated film at that time.
Whatever the case, there is one unequivocal fact about Hannibal it is a film that lives or dies depending on whether it succeeds in being a sequel to The Silence of the Lambs. (Although this reviewers opinion may be somewhat different to most as I found The Silence of the Lambs to be overrated. See above link for comments). Certainly, as an adaptation of its source novel, Hannibal works surprisingly well. Indeed, of all Thomas Harriss novels adapted to the screen, this one treats the source material with the greatest degree of respect. The script comes from two high-power screenwriters Steven Zaillian, writer of Awakenings (1990), Schindlers List (1993), Gangs of New York (2002), American Gangster (2007) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) and director of Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993), A Civil Action (1998) and All the Kings Men (2006), and playwright David Mamet, author of the likes of The Untouchables (1987), Hoffa (1992) and Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) and director/writer of films like House of Games (1987), The Spanish Prisoner (1997), The Winslow Boy (1999) and State and Main (2000). Mamet and Zaillian cut and tighten the book, sometimes reordering events, but mostly leave it intact. The scenes with the Evelda Drumgo drug sting, the encounter with Barney and the Pazzi hanging are all there exactly as they were conceived on the page, almost word for word. There have been some notable excisions though such as the elimination of the entire character of Vergers lesbian sister Margot, presumably for fear of treading across the same PC line that had The Silence of the Lambs condemned as offering homophobic stereotypes.
The most controversial of the changes is the ending. In the book, Thomas Harris had Lecter hypnotising Clarice and they feasting on Krendlers brain together before becoming lovers and departing on an international romance. It was a decidedly dark ending that had fans puzzled and dubious Thomas Harris was logically playing off the underlying sexual tension that existed between the two characters. Whether it should have been is the big question. And in truth it is too complex an ending to work on film if it can puzzle and confuse on the page then in a more simplified arena like film it would have unquestionably left audiences on a downer. To the films credit, the new ending that has been created works well. Mamet and Zaillian retain the essence of the banquet but leave Clarice as an unwilling observer rather than a hypnotised participant, while briefly teasing with but eventually leaving the sexual tension hanging. There is the addition of a more upbeat ending that leaves Lecter still on the loose. The film goes out on a witty scene where Mamet and Zaillian have deftly transplanted and altered somewhat an earlier funny throwaway scene from the book with Lecter encountering a boy on a plane.
Dino De Laurentiis has hired Ridley Scott as director. Originally a commercials director, Ridley Scott is an extraordinary visual stylist, although is sometimes weak when it comes to story. Scott has made three exceptional genre films Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982), both of which fall into many peoples list of top science-fiction films, and the underrated adult fairtytale Legend (1985). Since this triptych, Ridley Scotts career has dawdled through visually slick but often superficial films such as Someone to Watch Over Me (1987), Black Rain (1989), 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), White Squall (1996), G.I. Jane (1996) and Black Hawk Down (2001), with occasional standouts like the great anarchist feminist fantasy Thelma and Louise (1991). Scott had a big hit the year before Hannibal with the runaway box-office phenomenon of Gladiator (2000). He would subsequently go onto make the likes of Matchstick Men (2003), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), A Good Year (2006), American Gangster (2007), Body of Lies (2008), Robin Hood (2010), the Alien prequel Prometheus (2012), The Counselor (2013), Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) and The Martian (2015). Hannibal is a mixed effort. Whatever snide comments people make about Scott signing on for the trip to Florence, he certainly makes ravishing pictographic use of its locations, as well as of the rainy Vermont countryside. On the other hand, Hannibal never truly grips. Scott never has you on the edge of the seat or rattles you with full-on shock sequences the way he did in Alien (the exception being the banquet climax, which has a genuine ick factor that stirs up the audience).
Part of the problem with Hannibal is Thomas Harris himself. Hannibal was an absorbing book because Harris is incapable of not writing a compulsively gripping story. However, out of Thomas Harriss four published novels to that point, Hannibal was also the weakest. The dramatic flaws of the book tend to be manifest to a greater degree up on the screen namely that the two characters from the first story are kept apart for about two-thirds of the story with Clarice almost entirely dropping out of the picture until about halfway through. The Silence of the Lambs had the guaranteed compulsiveness of the story of a woman entering into the lair of a criminal genius who, even though imprisoned in a cell, wound the entire game around him like a spider would a fly. Hannibal rarely finds that same compulsiveness. Steve Zaillian and David Mamet are not unaware of this failing and tighten a few of the scenes in compensation notably placing the focus in the Florentine scenes on the tension between Pazzi and Lecter as he tries to obtain fingerprint evidence. They also invent a sequence of events over the book with Lecter entering Clarices home and leading her on a trail through the DC railway station. Although these scenes intermittently create a sense of cat and mouse suspense, the film never holds you in a dark thrall the way one expected it should have. What Hannibal feels like is a competent run through of the book. Crucially though, it never grabs you with a hold in the back of the head and never lets go the way that Thomas Harriss books do, the way that Ridley Scotts Alien did.
Hannibal was a considerable success at the box-office. Capitalising on this, Dino de Laurentiis then cannily went back and remade Manhunter with Anthony Hopkins as the superior Red Dragon (2002) and followed this with the Hannibal Lecter origin story Hannibal Rising (2007). The Hannibal Lecter saga was further elaborated in the excellent tv series Hannibal (2013-5) starring Mads Mikkelsen in the title role, which reintroduced the character of Mason Verger (played by Michael Pitt) along with his sister Margot (Katharine Isabelle) during its second season and restaged a number of elements from the book Hannibal posing as an Italian academic, the character of Inspector Pazzi (Fortunato Cerlino) and his death, the bounty offered by Verger, Lecter joined by a hypnotised female companion during its third season, albeit in slightly different ways.
The climactic dinner was parodied in Scary Movie 2 (2001).
Ridley Scott has also produced the erotic horror anthology series for cable tv The Hunger (1997), the psycho black comedy Clay Pigeons (1998), the historic Tristan + Isolde (2006), the tv mini-series remake of The Andromeda Strain (2008), the heart transplant horror film Tell-Tale (2009), the tv mini-series remake of Coma (2012), the tv mini-series Labyrinth (2012) about the quest for the Holy Grail, the horror film Stoker (2013), Child 44 (2015) about the hunt for a serial killer in Stalinist Russia and the videogame-adapted web-series Halo Nightfall (2014).