Thomas Harris: Hannibal

Thomas Harris: Hannibal

It's fascinating to read Hannibal, Thomas Harris' belated sequel to his 1988 sensation The Silence Of The Lambs, with the knowledge that Harris intended the novel, his fourth, to be filmed. After all, the Oscar-winning team behind the 1991 film version of Silence—director Jonathan Demme and co-stars Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins—were among the first, along with Harris' publisher, to receive finished copies of Hannibal. It's doubly fascinating, however, to consider that Harris actually believed his dark freak show of a novel to be at all filmable. The book begins several years after Silence: Brilliant serial killer Hannibal Lecter is still at large, while FBI agent Clarice Starling has become a minor star in the Bureau. Yet an assignment that disastrously ends in bloodshed leaves Starling a scapegoat whose politicized plight prompts Lecter to renew contact with her, and the FBI to likewise renew its efforts to capture the elusive cannibal. The FBI faces fierce competition, however, from the demented Mason Verger, a wealthy, almost literally faceless early victim of Lecter obsessed with capturing his former tormentor and feeding him to a herd of pigs specially bred and starved to heighten their voracity. Yes, pigs. But a botched kidnapping attempt in Italy sets Lecter on a bloody rampage, and a corrupt FBI agent in cahoots with Verger realizes that the only way to lure Lecter into the open is to use Starling as bait. Then, after a silly start and a tedious center, the book gets weird, and ultimately ludicrous. There must be an explanation as to why, after 11 years, Harris has returned with this curdled curiosity. Maybe, in an effort to re-appropriate his creations from Demme's film, Harris devised Hannibal as a surreal black comedy intended to deflate his own homespun myth. How else to explain the silly Verger character, who seems a parody of eccentric, sadistic villains? More likely: Harris is coasting on the indelible memory of Hopkins' and Foster's haunting portrayals of Lecter and Starling—and dangling the tantalizing promise of a potential reprise—in hopes that their implied presence and chemistry will somehow make his twisted plot turns and Grand Guignol gore more acceptable. That's not terribly likely, however. Hannibal is simply a ridiculous, crackpot work of frustrating inadequacy, poorly paced as a thriller and too over-the-top to work as a horror novel. It's just the kind of thing Lecter, a truly modern monster put to waste in Hannibal, would consider crude and distasteful.

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