Anthony Hopkins prepares to violate Julianne Moore's personal space.

2001, MGM
All Rights Reserved

I always anticipate an engrossing cinematic experience when a new Ridley Scott movie is released. Who wouldn't expect anything less than a spectacular film from the man who brought us the sci-fi horror of "Alien," the gritty, post-apocalyptic film noir "Blade Runner," and the recent sword and sandal epic, "Gladiator"? Besides the greatness that is Ridley Scott, a sequel to "Silence of the Lambs" (which was a sequel to "Manhunter") has been on every film geek's top 10 most-anticipated list for almost a decade now. Movie fans have been waiting for the fateful day that Dr. Lecter and Agent Starling would once again join forces and keep us on the edge of our seat with their bizarre, yet compelling onscreen relationship.

"Hannibal" (IMDb listing) takes place 10 years after "Silence of the Lambs." Agent Starling (Julianne Moore) is a cold, stoic, version of her idealistic self of 10 years ago. She has given up any hope of having a husband and family. Her life is her job. Period. The few scenes we see of Clarice at home exude a sense of abject loneliness. Not even a house pet is detectable in the background. This peculiar aspect of Starling's character is probably intentional, yet it leaves the character looking one-dimensional.

Agent Starling has hit upon bad times. A well-orchestrated FBI bust, which was headed by Starling, degenerated into a dangerous public shootout, which endangered civilians, as well as placing an infant in the line of fire. Starling takes the fall for the bloody shootout, and her downward spiral into emotional turmoil is documented in scenes of our once headstrong federal agent working in an X-files-esque, dimly-lit basement office, distraught and disillusioned. Making her life even more miserable is the presence of Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta), the chauvinistic justice department scumbag who doesn't hide his jealousy and lust for Starling.

Enter Mason Verger. Verger (an uncredited and unrecognizable Gary Oldman) is a hideously deformed multi-millionaire with a grudge against Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). You see, Verger was a patient of Hannibal's who was undergoing psychiatric treatment for being a sex offender. Unfortunately for Verger, Hannibal's "treatment" involved drugging him and forcing him to slice off bits of his own face, so he could feed them to his dogs. Years later, Verger's mind reflects the horrible ugliness of his appearance. The madman plots to capture Hannibal and feed him to a pack of man-eating boars(!). Verger makes a connection with Hannibal's fascination with Agent Starling, and pulls strings to have her back on the case to capture Dr. Lecter. Starling doesn't realize she's a pawn.

Meanwhile, Dr. Lecter is living a comfortable life as a wealthy museum curator in Italy. After 10 years of freedom, Lecter seems at ease with the bustle of the city around him, yet he is always aware of his surroundings, and is mindful to wipe his fingerprints off of every piece of restaurant utensil and wineglass. Little does Hannibal realize that a cash-strapped Italian cop, Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini), recognizes him and attempts to cash in on the $3 million reward offered by Verger. As Hannibal is stalked by Italian thugs and a corrupt policeman, the audience finally gets to see what kind of damage Dr. Lecter can do outside of a prison cell.

"Hannibal" is visually beautiful, as can be expected from the brilliant direction of Scott. However, the story itself dwells too much on supporting characters and their plot to capture Hannibal. We don't care about these people, we came to see Starling and Hannibal. Starling has been relegated to supporting character status, as Hopkin's Hannibal, while wonderfully evil, could not save me from being bored from time to time.

Boredom is tossed aside during the graphic finale. I'm amazed such a gruesome ending could make it into a mainstream movie. It makes you wonder what the MPAA is really thinking when they unleashed this cut of the film upon the unsuspecting masses. Sex is evil and inappropriate and must be censored to no end, yet graphic cannibalism with some laughs thrown in ? now that's family entertainment! Without going into a diatribe against the inconsistencies of the MPAA, it is generally known that the controversial ending was changed from the book — but not enough to stave off the gasps of disbelief and the groans of disgust at the shocking ending, and equally creepy epilogue.

"Hannibal" drags too much for it to be a great film. There's too much emphasis on crooked law enforcement on both sides of the globe, and not enough Clarice Starling, who is just as important as Hannibal Lecter. The acting is decent, with Anthony Hopkins turning in the performance we've craved. Ray Liotta is great as Krendler. Julianne Moore, unfortunately, is forgettable as Agent Starling. The ending, while probably the most shocking 10 minutes in multiplex history, is not entirely effective, for we just don't care as much for the characters as we would have liked to. Sorry Ridley, but pardon me while I stifle a yawn.

Filmfodder Grade: C