20 February 2001
I just wanted you know for a couple of years now I have been a fan of all of the critics on your aboutfilm website and have always made a point of reading your reviews of currently released films. I find all of you to be intelligent, insightful and honest in your approach to film criticism. And I've always applauded your site's stated tenet that a film must be judged based upon its own merits. That is why I am genuinely baffled by the apparent retreat from this premise when it comes to Hannibal. I am particularly surprised by your lukewarm response to this film inasmuch as we share a love for Scott's Blade Runner, a movie I understand you consider a seminal film.
As you may be aware, when Blade Runner was originally released it was both a critical and artistic failure. At the time, however, I considered it a masterwork of extraordinary vision and unusual depth. It was truly, for me, one of the more memorable experiences in my 35 years of going to the cinema. It's hard to explain how gratifying it has been that some twenty years later the critical consensus seems to have shifted 180 degrees.
And now, history seems to be repeating itself. Hannibal has been almost universally panned by critics. But unlike Blade Runner, it appears headed for box office success. And, once again, I find myself in the minority in my opinion that Scott has created a masterpiece. In fact, I believe that Hannibal will ultimately be acknowleged as important to the horror genre as Blade Runner has becomes to science fiction. But as I say this I realize that to pigeonhole these films is simply unfair inasmuch as they have managed to transcend their respective labels and say something universal about the human condition.
Unfortunately, the AboutFilmers, of whom I have the utmost respect, seem to have fallen suit with most of the reviewers. This I can accept. What I can't understand is the lack of any attempt to search for a deeper meaning to the film. That is, I have not seen any analysis of this film on it's own terms. Why is this?
It's as if you and your colleagues don't want to recognize that the director may have intended to imbue his undeniably beautiful imagery with an underlying or implicit meaning. I believe the word is subtext. A term I know AboutFilmers are intimately familiar with. Yet ya'll seem to be either incapable (which I know is untrue) or unwilling to address the concept when it comes to this film. And the preoccupation with the book upon which it is based, and the film which proceeds it, is simply unfair. In my view it owes nothing to the former and only the most basic aspects of plot and character to the latter. I have stated that I see the film as Ridley Scott's attempt at a modern parable of classical archetypes. Very much operatic in both style and content. A daring, ambitious exercise by Scott to elevate the vocabulary of the horror genre to a new level.
Contrary to what Dana suggests, it's not some glossy, low-brow foray into the sub-genre of the splatter-filled exploitation flick, but rather a movie that borrows from the grotesque caricatures which are the hallmark of "comedy" as depicted in both gothic art and literature. It's an epic poem in the vernacular of film, with Scott's tongue planted firmly in cheek. The images are indeed repugnant, but are true to their origins and have a meaning rooted in classical archetypes far beyond the literal or exploitive.
I will refrain from going through the film scene by scene as you and your colleagues are so adept at doing. It's not a cop-out. Quite frankly, I do not have the time, talent or knowledge to express my critical ideas in a coherent or persuasive form. It should be understood, however, that I am not suggesting that my interpretation is the correct or definitive analysis of Scott's film. And, obviously, one has the right to disagree, or to even conclude that his ambitious experiment was a dismal failure. But why not, at least, give him the credit for trying something different?
Having said this, I must acknowledge your laudable exercise in editorial judgment of juxtaposing your tepid review with Dana's rather scalding denunciation of the film. But, in my opinion, I feel that neither one gives the filmmaker his due.
21 February 2001
Hey there! Thanks for reading my review so thoughtfully. Because I am sensitive to the inherent subjectivity of the exercise, I always try to be honest about my biases and clear about the reasons for my opinions, so that readers can get something out of my review even if they don't agree with it.
A distinction that I tried hard to draw was that I was criticizing Hannibal not because it failed to live up to, or was different from, The Silence of the Lambs but because it was dishonest to its predecessor. In other words, I didn't care that it wasn't as good as Lambs, I cared that the script betrayed Lambs. If that makes any sense. In making that criticism, I don't think I'm failing to judge Hannibal on its own merits, because as a sequel, it is not extricable from its predecessor. It is set in a pre-established universe, with characters we already know. It is not a stand-alone film... not really. You said that a film should be judged based on its own goals, as I have said many times. Well, being a worthy sequel is one of Hannibal's goals, is it not?
I don't think I failed to think about the deeper significance of what I saw; it's that I didn't see much. I tried, perhaps not hard enough, to talk about how and why Hannibal paints in broader strokes. Again, that in itself is not a bad thing necessarily. I do not dislike movies that use Jungian archetypes as a frame of reference (I loved Titanic, for example, and who didn't love the Star Wars trilogy?)it's just that I didn't see very much that resonated in that way in Hannibal. Unlike Dana, I came away entertained, but I didn't come away feeling that I'd seen anything particularly profound, or that even made very much sense when I went back over it in my head. In fact, I would argue that Silence of the Lambs played around with archetypes more effectively, twisting and turning them on their head, than did Hannibal which was a bit more conventional. The one exception, as I indicated in my review without much accompanying analysis, is the cat and mouse between Hannibal and Pazzi. I liked how Pazzi's ancestor's fate was introduced; I liked how his own fate mirrored it, and I liked the way Scott shot it all. What I didn't like is that this Hannibal bore little resemblance to the Hannibal of Lambs. If they're going to change Hannibal so much, then why call him Hannibal? Why make this a sequel? Why not rework it as an entirely separate film? That's what felt exploitative, to me, although I would not go as far as Dana in dismissing the whole film as trash.
Please also note that I think Scott's direction was just fine, and often very stylish, apart from a couple choices that I already discussed in my review. He made choices that suited the material well... I just had problems with the material itself.
Anyway, I really do appreciate your generous comments about the work we've done on AboutFilm, and I hope you continue to take pleasure in visiting us--even if you don't always agree. Believe me, I know from much personal experience how hard it can be sometimes when people criticize something you really loved! Keep saying what you think on the boards!
21 February 2001
Even if, and "if" is a mighty big word here, Scott crafted a "modern parable of classical archetypes" the next questions are: what is the parable? And to what end is it used? The Green Mile was loaded with Christian symbolism and allegorical references--but it sucked rocks all the same. A film has to use its subtext to illuminate its themes. What are the themes of Hannibal? What does the film tell us about ourselves or the world we live in? Is the film a devastating map of the human soul, a canvas of modern amorality, etc? How are the archetypes employed to support these ideas? Is their presentation profoundly original? I don't have the answers to any of these questions. I don't think there ARE answers to these questions. If it's my failing as a critic, enlighten me. You don't have to do a scene-by-scene analysis, but your thesis as it stands is indefensible because it has no content.
February 21, 2001
Thanks for your thoughtful response. Perhaps I'm reading more into the film than what is there. Who knows. Anyway, I will certainly continue to visit your site and benefit from your insight and knowledge.
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