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October 5, 2002

PreCog Film Snark: Red Dragon

Posted by Mike on October 5, 2002 6:29 PM

Red Dragon is about more than just being an excuse to make another sucky followup to Silence of the Lambs.

I can't imagine any "highly anticipated" movie I want to see less than Red Dragon.

Alison's more optimistic, and she rightly points to a pretty good cast (Harvey Keitel and Ed Norton among others) as an indication there could be hope, but the awful Hannibal had a "pretty good cast," too, and it was awful... undredeemably awful... "why am I still sitting here?" awful.


Walk into a book store, preferably a chain like Borders, Barnes and Noble, or Walden (best example because Walden is usually the most space-constrained). Walk over to the science fiction section. Take a long look. There are some near-guarantees I can offer: there will be a complete shelf of Star Wars titles. There will be a comparably large collection of Star Trek titles. In the rest of the collection you'll find a few desultory nods to "the classics," an obligatory smattering of the stunningly awful stuff that gets used as mortar in the collection, and you'll find the section's reason to be: the Epic Saga Told Over Nine Trilogies.

It's not for me to judge or snob over the publishing industry's recognition of consumer preference: people like to come back to worlds where they're comfortable. But there are two problems with tapping that vein:

  • If a series doesn't spark your interest, all 30 volumes of it are taking up space that could be put to better use by other authors.
  • The industry will destroy a property to milk it to its fullest.

Witness Dune, a classic SF series that was in trouble by the time Frank Herbert died, only to be trampled by his son and a collaborator the industry was rewarding for his journeyman hackwork on Star Wars books.

This mentality fueled Hannibal: if we dug the exploits of supah-killah Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, imagine how much we'd love it if he were turned loose without having to worry about competing serial killers or a pesky cage to limit his range of motion! The character went from a person to a fully-articulated action figure with movable joints and an accessory pack: barrel chest, bulging pecs, and three plastic scalpels, a knife, and a cute little lunch kit with real pieces of plastic sushi! The film could be excused on two grounds, though: it couldn't realistically not be made by any studio that cared about money, and the novel on which it was based couldn't realistically have not been written by an author with an eye on early retirement. Its motives were crowd-pleasin' repetition, and it earned no more contempt than Rocky II from me.

On the other hand, Red Dragon is abusive if only because, as the Village Voice notes, it was made to revise the Hopkins-less Manhunter out of the picture, offering little more than a sort of Franklin Mint completedness for all the collectors out there. That the studio was willing to do this frightens me, because there's no more "Lecter" source material from Thomas Harris to use once this movie has run its course. That leaves us contemplating Hannibal Lecter morphing from an overexposed property into a genuine James Bond-style franchise, perhaps recruited by the CIA to go gnaw off the faces of the leaders of rogue nations or parachuted into Colombia to sup on the livers of drug lords and corrupt judges.

Sam says I throw the baby out with the bathwater too often, so I'll confess that a dis of Red Dragon on any grounds other than my aversion to franchise-milking is premature. I haven't seen it, have the feeling I will in the next 96 hours with matinee prices being the compromise in the whole deal, and I'll come back with a real, if brief, rundown when I do.

Additional Early Reviews:

  • James Berardinelli (**/****)
  • Village Voice
  • FilmCritic (who says the novel Red Dragon was "the first book in the Hannibal Lecter series," which is vaguely akin to saying The Hobbit was the first book in the "Gollum series")
  • MRQE's complete list, which will no doubt swell to 200 entries, mostly fawning, mostly from Iowa and Nebraska.
  • LA Times -- Leads with the auto-discounting sentence "Must be a law of nature: Making a bad movie with Dr. Lecter in it is just not possible." Maybe on Bizarro-Earth, buddy... the rest of us remember Hannibal