There was so much hype and so many expectations raised before the launch of Ridley Scott’s Hannibal movie back in 2001, that at the time, it probably couldn’t have failed to disappoint. I don’t remember enjoying it greatly back then, but I watched it again last night, and I have to say, I got much more out of it, this time around.
The ghoulish Dr. Lecter has temporarily reinvented himself as Renaissance historian Dr. Fell, and is living in quiet disguise in Florence. Clarice Starling, now a decade on into her FBI career (and morphed from Jodie Foster into the excellent Julianne Moore) is once again put on his trail. But she’s not alone in this; Mason Verger, a fabulously wealthy creep who’d been disfigured during a previous run in with Lecter, is also tracking him down and plotting his revenge. When Clarice is publically disgraced, Lecter (who sniffs out weakness from a distance like sharks smell blood) comes back to America to taunt her, where he’s trapped in Verger’s dastardly web.
The thing that struck me with yesterday’s re-viewing of the film is that it is sumptuously shot, with imposing locations that are beautifully lit. It’s pure Ridley Scott. With complex locations from Florence, to D.C to Richmond, Virginia, producer Martha De Laurentiis is on record saying that with almost a hundred locations, it was a
“constant pain of moving and dressing sets. But the locations were beautiful. Who could complain about being allowed to shoot in Palazzo Vecchio in Florence? Or President James Madison’s farm in Montpelier or the amazing Biltmore Estate in Asheville?”
Certainly, Firenze hasn’t looked so beautiful – nor indeed so chaotic or deadly – since the stabbing scene in A Room with a View. But the other standout location is the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. In reality it’s 16300 square metres of the largest private home in North America. Set on 32 square kilometres of farm and parkland it was built by George Washington Vanderbilt between 1888 and 1895 to replicate the great chateaux of the Loire valley. The Biltmore Estate was (astoundingly) built as a summer house for occasional use. It was of course chosen by Scott to represent the immense wealth of the hideous Mason Verger.
The question remains though, whether Mason is indeed a worse fiend than a previous cinematic resident of Biltmore: the odious Ritchie Rich.