Mmm, bloody potato chips.

So I got “Hannibal Rising” out of the library Saturday, expecting it to be a fine, sucky read in the model of “Hannibal.” (If you don’t understand how something can be fine and sucky, get outta here. It’s the same impulse that makes me want to call my friend Ron whenever the commercial for “Freedom Writers” airs, and say, we are so there.)

Twelve hours later, I closed the book, having read it more or less straight through. I didn’t stay up until 3, because nothing can keep me up until 3 anymore, at least not when I have the option of going to bed at 11. It didn’t suck. Too much. I was astonished.

In this opinion, I noted that I have very little company. The Amazon reviewers are savaging it, as are most professionals; Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times is fairly kind. But I don’t care who knows it: I kinda liked it.

“Hannibal” was such a shock to the system, taking the imprisoned monster of “Silence of the Lambs” and turning him loose in the world, where he promptly reveals himself as, well, a big ol’ fairy. People always speak of the ending, where he makes Clarice Starling his love slave and they live happily ever after in Buenos Aires. They say, “That was so out of character for her, I felt robbed.” Out of character for her? What about him? He’s arranging flowers and fussing over his table settings like Mr. Gay from Gaytown, population you!

Doubt me? Ahem:

Early in the morning the doctor laid his table carefully for three, studying it from different angles with the tip of his finger beside his nose, changed candlesticks twice and went from his damask place mats to a gathered tablecloth to reduce to more manageable size the oval dining table.

I could have bought this guy as merely a serious table-setter, but the changing-candlesticks-twice part was, how you say, the tell. Not to mention the finger beside his nose.

The rest of the book was larded with ridiculous details, all of which were rich fodder for Martin Amis’ takedown of the book in Talk magazine when it came out. I can’t find a copy online, but trust me when I say that after reading it, I thought Harris wouldn’t dare write about Hannibal again. A character is described as having “a rank smell, like sausage from an animal improperly gelded.” (You know, that smell.) There’s a lot of foofraw about the proper reduction of a stock, the outfitting of a picnic basket from Hammacher Schlemmer, and most absurd of all, the really creepy villain who makes martinis from the tears of weeping poor children. How would you order that in a bar?

A lot of that stuff is in “Hannibal Rising,” but either I’m more used to it or it just isn’t dwelt on so much, and doesn’t get in the way. There’s some flower-arranging, but it’s Japanese, hence not quite so twee. The plot I’m not so crazy about — it’s Hannibal’s origin story, and progresses in such a cinematic fashion that you immediately say, “Why, it’s almost as if this book was written simultaneously with the screenplay,” and then you realize, yes, yes it was. Seriously, the climax is so end-of-the-second-act you can practically hear the director shouting, “cut!” There’s even a big explosion, from which some actor will no doubt be harmlessly flung, arms and legs windmilling.

Maybe I didn’t like this book as much as I thought.

Or it might be that it simply benefited from low expectations. Whatever. I enjoyed the trip through eastern Europe it took me on, before we relocated to France and Hannibal’s training in flower arranging begins anew. Maybe what I liked best is, it showed me people like me, and like most readers, who actually like this character. I always thought it was amusing that Harris gave Lecter all the great lines, the most withering put-downs, the best taste, the highest IQ, and then turns around every third page and reminds us that he’s a MONSTAH, dammit, which makes you feel bad for ever wanting to have dinner with him (at a restaurant). Because this was pre-monstrous Hannibal, you don’t feel so guilty about it.

I see from the casting that “Hannibal Rising,” the released-in-February (kiss of death) movie, will feature two of my favorite HBO series actors — Kevin McKidd (Lucius Vorenus in “Rome”) and Dominic West (Jimmy McNulty in “The Wire”), the former as a bad guy, the latter as a French police inspector. It’s going to be accent-a-palooza, I can just see it now. Maybe I should call Ron. I think we have a bad-movie date coming.

Posted at 2:12 am in Movies, Popculch |

13 responses to “Mmm, bloody potato chips.”

  1. brian stouder said on January 8, 2007 at 9:44 am

    “Hannibal�? was such a shock to the system, taking the imprisoned monster of “Silence of the Lambs�? and turning him loose in the world, where he promptly reveals himself as, well, a big ol’ fairy

    OK – I will confess my ignorance (at least in this case!) and ask – really?

    I remember seeing Silence of the Lambs many years ago (and not being terribly impressed) and I even think I recall that the movie drew some criticism for its highly uncomplimentary depiction of the flesh collecting, dungeon inhabiting transvestite.

    But the reason I ask is because otherwise, Clarise Starling is just as gay, for being attracted to such an effeminate man, eh?

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  2. nancy said on January 8, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Lecter is not a homosexual, but he is a swish, if that makes any sense. The movie “Hannibal” pulled its punches on the seduction of Clarice, but in the book he starts his domination of her with the help of drugs and hypnosis, but by the end she’s living with him of her own free will, going to the opera with him, etc. It was just ridiculous.

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  3. LA mary said on January 8, 2007 at 11:55 am

    When we see the “Freedom Writers” commercial we make up more dialogue. I think between the twelve year old, the sixteen year old and myself, we have done the entire movie in our living room, and feel no need to see it.

    Bad movie dialogue actually had become a staple in the house. It started with the movie “Enough” with Jennifer Lopez. Her character’s ex-husband had taken her daughter while Jennifer was not at home. Ex-hubby calls, and won’t say where they are. He puts the child on the phone, and she says, “The monkeys are funny. Giraffes have long necks.” From this Jennifer figures out they’re at the zoo. Now that’s great writing.

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  4. brian stouder said on January 8, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    Mary – my lovely wife suckered me into watching The Lake House with Keneau Reeves (spelling?) and Sandra Bullock.

    The title of the movie (for some reason) made me think it would be a comedy – ala The Fokkers (et al) – when she proposed putting it into the dvd. I only realized my error as the cast appeared…

    In the movie, the two lead actors trade notes back and forth across two years in time; that is – one is in 2004 and the other is in 2006, and they exchange ‘real-time’ correspondance through the mailbox at the lakehouse.

    The movie devolves from poorly written to SAPPY (and still poorly written, at that!). If you allow your brain to pose even ONE logical question (as opposed to floating along on the oceans of sappy sentimentalism and emotion), then the whole movie collapses in upon itself.

    It is a continuous continuity error….but I DID score a few points for the Marital Capital Account – so it wasn’t a total loss

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  5. John said on January 8, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    My Netflix didn’t arrive Saturday so I watched “Inherit the Wind” (1960 version) on Sunday afternoon. Great performances all around. Well, Gene Kelly may not have been at his top, but then again, he wasn’t singing and dancing. I watched the 1999 TV version of this several years ago (George C. Scott and Jack Lemmon), but haven’t seen the original in many years.

    I was very disappointed in “Hannibal” (the book) and didn’t bother with the movie. I re-read “Red Dragon” over Christmas and it’s still a good read (fifth or sixth time through).

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  6. LA mary said on January 8, 2007 at 7:11 pm

    Fine, sucky reads are ok. I think the autobiography of Maureen O’Hara is more sucky than fine, but has some remarkable tidbits in it. Most movie star autobiographies are like that, and are just the thing for bad weather weekends or bad colds. One of my favorite sort of trashy reads is “Blood and Money” by Thomas Thompson.
    Another interesting thing about good reads: a lot of people re-read the same books. For me it’s “The Moviegoer” by Walker Percy and “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy. I’ve met a half dozen people who love those books and re-read them.

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  7. joodyb said on January 8, 2007 at 8:38 pm

    Dominic West as a French police inspector? What, is he attempting the Julia Roberts record for most accents you probably shouldn’t have? What do i know, mebbe he’s french. i ‘member him as a Yank also in 28 days.

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  8. joodyb said on January 8, 2007 at 8:40 pm

    mary – your household sounds like mine. no one will watch movies w/us anymore.

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  9. nancy said on January 8, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    Actually, “Enough” was on TNT a few nights ago, and I forced myself to watch some of it. (It was the night Alan went to the ER, and I was waiting up for him.) It was even worse than I’d heard. I turned it off before the martial-arts stuff started, after the evil husband had managed to track all her friend’s credit-card purchases, break into the hotel room where J-Lo is staying, overhear her conversation and then call her FROM THE CLOSET without her realizing he’s actually in the room with her. I’m like, “J-Lo! Check the closet!”

    When Ron and I used to bad-movie date, we saw a trailer for a stinkeroo called “8 Seconds,” featuring Luke Perry as a bull rider trying to make his own name in the rodeo — basically, “Top Gun” with buckin’. Ron starts making up more dialogue on the spot (“Yer daddy could ride them bulls…”), and essentially tells the story of the movie from the trailer. Weeks later I checked, and he was right pretty much down the line.

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  10. LA mary said on January 9, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    For some reason that “Yer daddy could ride them bulls..” line reminded me of a line in the Simpsons. Liam Neeson was playing a Catholic priest. I think there was a flashback to his childhood, with Liam doing his abusive Irish father’s voice saying, “You never could take a punch, just like your mother.”

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  11. joodyb said on January 9, 2007 at 6:35 pm

    Ha! i remember that Simpsons!
    “Enough” would make a GREAT drinking game.
    Speaking of ‘Top Gun,’ it was on this weekend and i got drawn into watching it (i never saw it!) because of a post on Salon last fall i think about how it is the gayest movie ever. and they’re right! i’ll find that link … hilarious.

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  12. LA mary said on January 9, 2007 at 8:22 pm

    I have always said that Tom Cruise strikes me as a gay man acting like a straight man acting. I sense I’m not alone in this perception.

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  13. nancy said on January 9, 2007 at 9:42 pm

    The people I saw “Top Gun” with all remarked on how homoerotic it was the minute the houselights came up. So I was simultaneously amused and bugged to read, years later, Quentin Tarantino’s monologue on the subject from “Sleep With Me.” (The bugged part comes from my inevitable, “Why didn’t I write this first?” impulse. Because that monologue is, basically, what we all said that night.)

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