Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hannibal (Ridley Scott, 2001)

Inspired by the Film Criticism Blogathon:

Days of swine and grossness

Noel Vera

(Fragment of a rejected draft for Ridley Scott's Hannibal)


A fully grown BABE enters large wooden arena with his fellow boars. In the center of the arena is a forklift; tied to this forklift is a large man in a hockey mask.

BABE: Are you my mom?

MAN: No little pig. My name is Dr. Lecter. Why do you ask?

BABE: Never saw my mom so when I meet someone I ask. Otherwise I suppose I should go ahead and eat your toes.

LECT: You are welcome little pig but allow me to satisfy my curiosity: do you miss your mother?

BABE: O yes sir.

LECT: I too suffered loss when young, the death of my beloved sister. That story is told in the latest novel about me, not in this film version which seems to lack heart. Do you like heart little pig?

BABE: Yes sir! Especially when it's still beating.

LECT: So do I little pig so do I.

BABE: If you don't mind sir I'll start on your big toe now

LECT: But I do mind little pig. Not that I disapprove of your snacking; you are after all trained to eat human flesh, and as we are already shared childhood confidences I have no objection to sharing my toes with you. I am however disappointed in my current situation.

BABE: You mean being tied up? Why is that sir? Are you a bad man?

LECT: Very bad little pig. I am what you might call a man without hypocrisy; I treat the world exactly as it would treat me, kill or be killed, without regard for sentiments that might compel me otherwise. 

BABE: But isn't that what I do? If someone tries to hurt me I hurt him.

LECT: There's a difference. You do what you do in innocence, without guilt or remorse. Even feeding on my feet would be understandable, since you were no doubt starved beforehand and would like to rip my leg off at the knee.

BABE: Oh yes sir may I?

LECT: You speak so avidly because you speak with your whole heart. We do similar things, but certain sentiments are supposed to hold me back such as 'justice' or 'morality.' I don't heed these sentiments and so am considered insane.

But that was then; things have changed. There were three novels written about me by Mr. Thomas Harris, and in the first one, Red Dragon, he called me a monster.

BABE: Weren't you mad when he did that?

LECT: He did a fine job of portraying me, despite the insult; he amused me. In the second novel, The Silence of the Lambs--lovely title, don't you think?--even gave me a more interesting diversion, a young woman by the name of Clarice. You should meet her little pig; you would get along well.

BABE: Does she like heart too?

LECT: She won't admit it but I'm sure she can be persuaded. She has your innocence little pig, your idealism and freshness. She wanted to catch a killer, and I decided to help her. Mr. Harris in turn liked that about me; it touched something in him that I was capable of such kindness, and his attitude towards me softened considerably. Of course while everyone worried about Starling's killer I managed to escape--Mr. Harris probably felt pleased I showed such initiative, dismayed that I showed such independence.

BABE: But see you're caught again!

LECT: That's because we are near the climax of Mr. Harris' third novel Hannibal, named after yours truly thanks to the success of the second novel.

Hannibal was the end result of Harris' evolving attitude towards me. Where in the second he felt ambivalence in the third he shows definite sympathy. It helps that the morality of a serial killer doesn't seem so bad, compared to the corruption and stupidity of institutions Mr. Harris once respected--the police, the FBI, the U.S. Government as a whole. Hannibal's real story is Harris' growing disenchantment with society; it's both his declaration of independence from the rest of the human race and his oath of fealty towards m, ah sensibilities, for want of a better word. Quite a disturbing book in its implications when you think about it, at times cartoonishly written and not entirely persuasive. My nemesis for example, Mr. Mason Verger, is more grotesque than evocative, a horrorshow scarecrow rather than the greater evil to oppose my already great evil. Mr. Harris also hoped to make me more appealing to readers by 'explaining' me through the death of my sister. I had their sympathy all along of course--didn't need the help. But Mr. Harris didn't want me to just be the protagonist; he wanted me to be the romantic lead.

BABE: You mean with Clarice?

LECT: Yes little pig very good: with Clarice indeed. I hope I can introduce you to her, she'll be along any moment now to rescue me.

BABE: You still haven't said why you're so disappointed. Or should I ask? I'm really starving.

LECT: Appreciate your forbearance. In the first novel I was the inspiration for the killer named Dolarhyde; in the second I was the imprisoned monster who begins to show signs of compassion. The more known of me the more I shrink in stature, the more human I become to readers. It is a transaction of sorts, awe traded for affection. I suppose ambivalence would be the most natural reaction I can have towards this change. Still hungry little pig? You are drooling heavily now.

BABE: Yes sir very much. Couldn't I just nibble on a toenail?

LECT: Not much longer now. All three novels were made into motion pictures. Red Dragon was adapted by Mr. Michael Mann into Manhunter, a rather cold film with a nevertheless interesting visual texture. But Silence was the real success, commercially and critically winning a collection of what are known as "Oscar" statuettes.

BABE: Are Oscars good to eat?

LECT: You need a lot of ketchup.

Part of the success of Silence may be due to its director. Mr. Jonathan Demme is a fascinating man, full of empathy and compassion for the characters in his films.

BABE: He likes heart too?

LECT: Very much. Please step back little pig your sniffing tickles my toes. Thank you. At the same time, Mr. Demme told the more gruesome aspects of my story--my violent and bloody escape, for example--with real relish. You see, little pig, he tends to empathize with all his characters, good or bad; he must have been disturbed to find himself empathizing with me. 

More he has been accused of homophobia, which shocked him; he had carefully established what Harris also stated in his novel--that the killer Buffalo Bill was not a real transsexual. But the power of the word on the printed page is nothing compared to the power of the image on the silver screen: people saw a man trying to become a woman by killing other women; some equated transsexuals with serial killers. Demme was dismayed with the end result--the outcry and the audience reaction--that he presumably refused to direct the third film.

BABE: Who did it then?

LECT: Shan't tell you if you don't step back a little further. Thank you. Mr. Ridley Scott directed, with the help of producer Dino de Laurentiis.

BABE: Does Mr. Scott like heart?

LECT: Don't think he has one. Ridley Scott is a gifted hack, able to pour his considerable visual skills on both gold and garbage alike. He was the unfortunate choice to do Hannibal, unfortunate because he doesn't seem to have or seems to have lost the ability to tell a story with clarity and coherence. He begins the film for example with a fish-market shootout where you couldn't tell who was doing what to whom, what was happening or why--very confusing the way it was shot and put together. I dislike confusion little pig; I dislike it intensely.

More, you miss Mr. Demme's way with characters, his knack of using a telling detail or line of dialogue to reveal a person. Take my dear Barney, for example: in Silence, he has a brief scene in the hospital where he explains the rules when entering my cell to Starling, gives her a warm smile and tells her: "you'll do just fine." Later I thanked him for the services he's done for me, and Mr. Demme treats the quiet little moment as the culmination of years of acquaintance and respect--he is in those few seconds in Silence a richer, warmer human being than he is in the many minutes he enjoys in Hannibal. Then there are my face-to-face interviews with Starling, which have an intimacy missing in Hannibal--Demme photographed us full on, in giant close-up, to catch every nuance and shift of emotion; Scott has us talking through cellular phones with a merry-go-around whirling behind, as if he felt that what we were saying wasn't interesting enough. Demme’s focus in short is on the human face; Scott’s seems to be on the merry-go-round.

Scott likes to pose his characters against beautiful landscapes and setting suns, substituting visual drama for the missing narrative drama. He is careless about action sequences, unable to build much suspense (Mr. Demme does a better job creating tension with his flowing camerawork and elegant, unhurried editing). Scott ultimately is a shallow director who loves surfaces; any profundity in his work comes from the script, and the script of this film comes from a novel that does not represent Mr. Harris at his best.

That is it in a nutshell, little pig. I am perhaps not too unhappy with the my growing fame…but I am unhappy about Mr. Harris' inability to maintain the level of writing in his third novel, and extremely unhappy about this slipshod vulgar insulting little film they have made of the novel, all for the sake of money. Hence my distress.

BABE: But that's awful! Terrible! Those swine!

LECT: Aren't they, little pig? "Free-range rubes," I like to call them. Free for the picking--only I'm incapable of doing any picking at the moment.

BABE: Let me help you.

LECT: Certainly. But how little pig?

BABE: I don't know. I can bite their toes off.

LECT: If you go back into the pen from which you came you'll see to the left side the latch that keeps the door closed. Take a stick in your mouth and lift the latch. Go right, take the first stairs you see, and you'll be in the arena's upper seating. Ridley Scott should be the rube in the red shirt to the left of the camera, Dino de Laurentiis the rube in the yellow jacket behind Scott.

BABE: Gotcha.

LECT: Have you ever heard of Dante Alighieri? He wrote a long poem, part of which was called Inferno, where various sinners were punished, their punishments formulated according to the nature of their crimes.

BABE: Gosh, really?

LECT: Don't kill those two, little pig; it's important to me that they remain alive. De Laurentiis deserves to live for producing La Strada, Nights of Cabiria, Mandingo, Flash Gordon, and Danger: Diabolik. Scott deserves to live for the lovely images of Florence, and for the blackly amusing way he staged the climactic dinner--the single best scene in the picture. His life should also be spared in the hope, foolish perhaps, that he will someday gain the courage to do at least one more film of consequence. 
Will you do this for me, little pig?

BABE: It'll be my pleasure. Should I bring you back some toes?

LECT: Thank you, but I'm not that hungry at the moment. Bon appetit.

(With thanks to my evil twin brother  for the initial idea).

(First published in Businessworld, 3/2/01)


EdiTrixiaGomez said...

Between Hannibal and Red Dragon, which I saw magkasunod when I was making bantay my father in the hospital two months ago (8-in-1-DVD kasi eh:)), the one with ralph fiennes is the one i remember more distinctly.

Noel Vera said...

It's easier to follow, warmer and more empathic, that's true. But there's something to the earlier version, medyo cold, chilly, that I liked very much. And I think Mann has an eye; Ratner not so much.

EdiTrixiaGomez said...

you remember mike de leon's 'hindi nahahati ang langit'? can you give me a very short description of the plot?

Anonymous said...

I don't remember how I managed to make you think of Babe and Hannibal. Please recount how that happened.
Evil Twin Brother

Noel Vera said...


Hindi Nahahati ang Langit featured Dina Bonnevie as if I remember right Boyet's half sister; when the father dies he has to take care of her. She resists his attempts to control her, goes to (if I again remember right) Edu Manzano as a form of escape. An attraction grows between Boyet and his half sister.

Something like that. Unfortunately, I haven't seen it in three years. But it has lovely scenes--the crystal swan, Edu's car accident, so on and so forth. A favorite of Mike, by the way, even over Sister Stella L., which he doesn't consider really his.


You emailed me (or was it telephoned?) once that you thought the movie could have been better if that was Babe that walked in to eat Hannibal. I took it from there.

EdiTrixiaGomez said...

Salamat, noel.

Nick said...

Hey Noel.
Re. "Hindi Nahahati ang Langit", do you remember that scene where the camera changed orientation such that the actors shifted position on the screen? Did Mike de Leon explain that? Was that a mistake or was that intentional? (But then, Ozu's "Tokyo Story" was full of scenes with changes in orientation.)
Did Mike de Leon also explain why he made such a melodramatic material from the comics?

Noel Vera said...

Nick, it's been years, I'm afraid not. As for the melodrama, he had much darker material in mind at first but had to lighten it--either Charo Santos talked him into making it less dark, or he decided against it. It was the same with Kakabakaba Ka Ba?--he originally had darker material.

As for melodramatic source, I never found out; presumably what's good enough for Gerry de Leon and Lino Brocka's good enough for him, but I wouldn't know the real reason.

Ironically, it's Mike's greatest hit, and years after he was asked to do another komiks story.