Red Dragon - are the knives out for Hannibal?

Preview by Jack Foley

US REACTION... The wait is over for critics in America and Hannibal's third outing in the persona of Anthony Hopkins has left them clearly divided - either gushing with praise, sitting on the fence, or deciding that Red Dragon has nothing new to offer and, hence, very little going for it.

So we shall begin with the positives (preferring, where possible, to look on the bright side of life at all times!). Among the most glowing was Variety (traditionally fairly harsh on movies), which said that 'Brett Ratner's faithful, immaculately appointed new telling of the inescapably creepy tale will be an intense, unnerving experience'.

Following along in the same vein was E! Online, which awarded it a B+, and stated that 'this one should satisfy even the hungriest of Hannibal fans', while the Seattle Times referred to is as 'a meticulous, handsomely filmed and thoroughly bloody version of the book'.

Still on a positive note, People said it is 'deliciously scary', while the Hollywood Reporter opined that 'the dry wit from Harris' dialogue, preserved in Ted Tally's screen adaptation, gives the film the edgy humor'.

The Chicago Tribune, meanwhile, had itself in a conundrum for a very different reason, concluding that 'the movie is so well made on every level, in fact, that it's a little frustrating', while the Chicago Sun Times' reviewer was content to merely say that, 'to my surprise, [Ratner] does a sure, stylish job', before awarding it three and a half out of four stars.

Of a more mixed nature, however, were the likes of Entertainment Weekly, which awarded it a B-, and wrote that 'director Brett Ratner (a long way from ''Rush Hour'') can't seem to find a fresh recipe to make his own'.

BBC Films, which gets credited on American website Movies.com with a verdict on its round-up of opinion, said that 'Hannibal Lecter gourmets may feel a long-digested movie is repeating on them, but if this really is your first time, savour the taste', while the Los Angeles Times felt that it 'excels at unnerving viewers but seems subdued, saving its energy solely for Hannibal the Cannibal'.

Newsweek was also unsure, declaring that 'the fact that it now feels like a franchise is dispiriting: the thrills seem awfully familiar', while TV Guide felt that 'this workmanlike version of Harris' 1981 novel never approaches the seductive spookiness of Manhunter'.

FilmCritic.com, meanwhile, was a little more generous, awarding it three and a half out of five stars, and saying that it 'may not be high art … but it's got a good amount of thrills fueled by some impressive performances'.

But on a negative note, Red Dragon did take some fairly heavy knocks. Leading the way was the New York Times, which asked: 'Can something really gory put you to sleep?' And then answered: "Red Dragon" says yes.'

While Reel Views went a step further by concluding that 'there's no atmosphere. No tension. Flat performances'.

Salon warned that 'even Hannibal Lecter devotees may lose patience with this picture's grandiose, self-serious ponderousness', while Slant Magazine awarded it a single star (out of four) and wrote: "The pitch meeting must have gone something like this: "Has anyone here seen Manhunter? Good. Neither has the rest of America. Total art-house bullshit. …"

And Village Voice concludes this round-up by saying that Red Dragon 'lurks in the shadow of The Silence of the Lambs as if it were the earlier film's spin-off sitcom'.

We at Indielondon, however, (and that's both Jack Foley and Simon Bell), are fans of the film.

THE ORIGINS OF THE PREVIEW... SET another place at the dinner table this autumn, for one of cinema's most celebrated cannibals is making yet another return... yes Hannibal Lecter is back for a third slice of gory mayhem; this time set 12 years before the events of Silence of the Lambs.

Red Dragon has already been turned into a movie by Michael Mann, in Manhunter (starring CSI's William Petersen), but producer Dino De Laurentiis wanted to complete the trilogy with Hopkins present and claims that this is the definitive version of the Thomas Harris novel.

Whether this is true remains to be seen; although if it comes anywhere close to the excellence of both Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, then we are in for a real treat.

Certainly, the credentials are in place. Red Dragon is being directed by Brett Ratner, of Rush Hour/Family Man fame, but its cast is one to drool over. Aside from Hopkins, the movie features Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel, Mary-Louise Parker and Philip Seymour Hoffman and is said to include all the original Silence sets and designs.

The story centres on yet another serial killer, Dolarhyde (or The Tooth Fairy, played by Fiennes), who murders families whenever there is a full moon. Out to catch him is Norton's Will Graham who must pick the brains of the incarcerated Lecter to help him with the hunt.

Laurentiis is confident that all the components are in place to complete the Lecter story (although there remains talk of a fourth film, which would conclude the serial killer's relationship with Clarice Starling).

The 83-year-old producer says that he has been asked on many occasions about the history of Lecter (where he came from, etc) and Red Dragon provides most, if not all, of the answers. He is also gushing about the script (written by Ted Tally, an Oscar-winner for Silence), which he maintains helped to persuade Hopkins to return to the role, as well as luring the likes of Norton and Keitel.

Ratner is also purring, adding that several big names (such as Nicolas Cage and Sean Penn) were interested in playing the role of Lecter's latest nemesis, Dolarhyde, but eventually settled for Fiennes (much less of an A-list player in the States), who subsequently had to endure six hours of make-up to play the tattooed killer.

Co-star Norton has also got into the role of Will Graham, insisting that his relationship with Lecter contains a lot of mutual loathing and mutual respect, while Hopkin maintains that he has the role of Lecter down cold and was more than happy to step back into the killer's shoes (and cell!).

Red Dragon opens in America on October 4 and has been scheduled for an October release in London. The hype begins now...

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Click here for a feature on the allure of Hannibal Lecter...

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