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Monday, 5 February, 2001, 15:06 GMT
Hannibal the cannibal returns
By New York entertainment correspondent Tom Brook
One of the most eagerly awaited sequels in recent times, Hannibal, the follow-up to the chilling Oscar-winning thriller The Silence of The Lambs, will be launched on Monday at a high-profile New York premiere.
Sir Anthony Hopkins returns as the menacing flesh-eating Dr Hannibal Lecter, a career-defining role that terrorised his fans and earned him an Academy Award in 1992.
Hopkins is one of the few remnants from the original film.
Hannibal also has a new director, Ridley Scott, who takes over from Jonathan Demme, the filmmaker who brought The Silence of The Lambs to the big screen.
Getting this sequel into production was a long, arduous process.
Sir Anthony admits he thought it might never happen after Jonathan Demme and Jodie Foster dropped out.
The loss of Foster could have been the end of the sequel. Sir Anthony said then: "Maybe it won't be done, but there was no talk of me trying to talk her back into it.
He has now told the BBC: "I'm glad that we did it, I am very pleased with the movie, I think it's good."
Whether the sequel is more suspenseful than the original is debatable, but there is no doubt that it is more grisly.
Hannibal, like The Silence of The Lambs, is based on a best-seller by Thomas Harris. The film follows the book fairly closely until the end.
Coming up with a viable screenplay took time. Film director and playwright David Mamet worked on one draft, but the final product was crafted by Schindler's List screenwriter Steven Zaillian in close collaboration with Thomas Harris and Ridley Scott.
The sequel begins 10 years after the original, with Dr Hannibal Lecter in Florence in Italy posing as an art expert.
He gets brought back into action by the machinations of Mason Verger, his hideously disfigured sixth victim, played by a totally unrecognisable Gary Oldman.
Hopkins thinks putting Lecter in a Florentine setting helps.
"Florence is a place of such beauty and such horrifying bloodshed through the centuries, and all that great art coming out of it, it's quite a combination," he said.
Julianne Moore does not have such good material to work with as Jodie Foster did, but she is strong as FBI Agent Clarice Starling.
Foster was initially in negotiations to reprise the Starling role but she abandoned the sequel following reports that she was unhappy with the book and its violence.
For Moore it was not an easy act to follow, but the actress seems unperturbed.
"There's not a lot you can do about it, I think she was absolutely magnificent in the role and she set a very high standard," she said. "You just have to apply yourself and do the best you can do."
Hannibal is beautifully shot and Ridley Scott has given this $80m picture a very lavish look.
Sir Anthony reportedly got paid $10m and a further $9m was spent on buying the rights to the book, so considerably less was left for production.
At moments when it should be terrifying, it seems oddly humorous.
The writing and structure in the original was extremely taut, and what made the suspense so effective was the sense that Clarice Starling was being violated by the evil and insulting mind games of the evil Lecter.
Although Lecter plays with Starling's mind in the sequel, Moore, through no fault of her own, portrays a woman who seems far less vulnerable.
As a result, Lecter's psychotic actions seem less disturbing and unnerving for the audience.
But what Hannibal may lack in suspense is more than made up for with an abundance of gruesome images.
In the US there is currently a heightened concern of movie violence and some of the scenes in Hannibal may well provoke outrage.
Gary Oldman says he does not have much patience with critics bothered by violence: "It's Hannibal, he's a cannibal, he does nasty things and he eats people."
Initial reaction from US reviewers has been mixed.
Time magazine declared "this superior sequel has romance in its dark heart," but Newsweek's film critic found Hannibal "strikingly devoid of suspense."
The original film made $273m worldwide, netted five Oscars and is widely regarded as a brilliant thriller.
The sequel has generated a lot of hype and the initial box office is expected to be strong when the film opens this week in US cinemas.
Hannibal has a must-see cachet, and it is expected to be critic-proof, at least in the early stages of its release.
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