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Friday, 9 February, 2001, 11:33 GMT
Guess who's coming to dinner?
Sir Anthony Hopkins
Sir Anthony Hopkins reprises everyone's favourite cannibal
The BBC's Neil Smith reviews Hannibal, the much-anticipated sequel to The Silence of the Lambs.

Few screen villains have accrued such a cult following as Hannibal Lecter, aka Hannibal the Cannibal, the psychopathic, flesh-eating genius so memorably brought to life by Sir Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs.

And few sequels have been as eagerly awaited as Hannibal, which catches up with the serial killer and plucky FBI agent Clarice Starling 10 years after their terrifying first encounter.

A lot has changed. Both director Jonathan Demme and actress Jodie Foster turned down the chance to participate, saying that Thomas Harris's novel was far too gruesome to be filmed.

Julianne Moore as Clarice suffers from a poorly-written part
Gladiator director Ridley Scott had no such qualms, however, judging by the blood and gore that fills his follow-up from its action-packed opening to its outrageous and repulsive climax.

Reprimand

Unfolding on two continents, Hannibal finds escaped murderer Lecter (Hopkins) living under an assumed name in Florence. But it doesn't take long for local police chief Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) to figure out his true identity.

In the States, Clarice (now played by Julianne Moore) has been reprimanded for her role in a fatal shoot-out.

But she gets an opportunity to win back her spurs when disfigured millionaire Mason Verger (an uncredited Gary Oldman, unrecognisable beneath a ton of make-up) reveals information that may lead to Lecter's recapture.

Verger, Hannibal's only surviving victim, has plans for the good doctor - namely, to have him eaten alive by the pack of wild pigs he's rearing on his estate.

Torn between her duty and her strange affinity with Lecter, Clarice sets out to locate her nemesis before he himself becomes lunch.

Starting out as a conventional cop thriller, Scott's movie takes an abrupt left turn in the Italian scenes, which depict Hopkins' flamboyant madman as an indestructible, Bond-style hero who dispatches his opponents with ludicrous ease.

Jacobean

Later, though, he's more like UK celebrity chef Ainsley Harriott, treating Clarice to a grisly home-cooked dinner that will have audiences wishing they'd resisted the lure of the popcorn stand.

Curiously, Hannibal shares many elements with Hopkins' last film Titus, in which he played a bloodthirsty Roman general who bakes his enemies in a pie.

Indeed, much of the violence has a Grand Guignol quality which wouldn't look out of place in a Jacobean tragedy.

It's a sign that scriptwriters Steven Zaillian and David Mamet were striving to create a sequel very different from its predecessor.

Unfortunately, it's also inferior.

Despite Hopkins' fruity theatrics, Dr Lecter emerges as a cartoon figure whose exploits incite more hilarity than horror.

Moore's Clarice, meanwhile, is largely peripheral to the action.

If you liked The Silence of the Lambs, you'll no doubt be keen to see Hannibal. But don't be too surprised if you end up rooting for the pigs.

Hannibal is released in the US on 9 February and in the UK on 16 February.

See also:

08 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Hannibal sparks censorship row
05 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Hannibal the cannibal returns
09 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Third Hannibal film planned
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