Monday, February 4, 2008

Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Hannibal Rising

My first experience with these stories was a marathon of the first three movies (all but Hannibal Rising). My initial reaction was "Very well made, but extremely disturbing." I suppose that's the point. Who wouldn't be unnerved by a cannibalistic genius with the psychological skill to talk a person into swallowing their own tongue (reference to "Miggs", Hannibal's neighbor in the maximum-security wing of the psychiatric hospital in which the villain was incarcerated)?

These movies may have their share of horror-film-type gore and disgustingness, but they immensely well-produced psychological thrillers. Sir Anthony Hopkins displayed sheer genius in the way portrayed infinitely creepy and unnerving villain that is Hannibal Lecter.

It wasn't until sometime in the 2006-2007 school year that I discovered the movies were based on novels. Sorry Mom, sorry Dad, I haven't inherited your credit-watching proclivities. Thus, being intrigued by the movies, I made mention that I would like to read the books. Keelia was good enough to give the three existing novels to me as Christmas gifts. At roughly the same time, Thomas Harris published the fourth Hannibal Lecter installment Hannibal Rising. Which also when to the big screen right away. Again, a very well-made and thoroughly creepy movie.

I have read all four of the novels now. The last one I finished sometime last fall. As such, I may have some details mixed around, but I can give the general idea here.

First of all, the books are better than the movies by a long shot. Harris does an incredible job of recreating the sense of the unnatural in the stories. By unnatural I mean the uneasiness and discomfort that emanates from Lecter even when he is within the confines of his cell. His use of diction and style create a feeling of eeriness that almost never lets down in any of the novels.

One element that contributes more than anything to the novels' higher quality is Harris' way of telling the story. While the movies--with the exception of Hannibal Rising--concentrate on the struggle of the detective and his or her hunt for the villain (Will Graham's hunt for the "Red Dragon" and Clarice Starling's hunt for "Buffalo Bill" and Dr. Lecter), the books have large sections that delve into the intricacy of Lecter's thoughts and plans and the unfathomable darkness that is the Doctor's mind. Harris creates an imagery that puts the reader in the mind of a man who is impervious to psychoanalysis.

I would have to say Hannibal is the best of the novels--and movies, actually--for one main reason: it focuses more on Lecter than the rest, except for Hannibal Rising.Red Dragon is the story of the hunt for a serial killer that is challenging to the point that FBI agent Will Graham must seek the assistance of a brilliant psychiatrist and Graham's trophy capture: Dr. Lecter, of course. The Silence of the Lambs is the story of agent-in-training Clarice Starling's hunt for "Buffalo Bill", a serial killer that is skinning his female victims for a woman suit. Hannibal, on the other hand is the story of Starling's race to recapture Lecter, who escaped at the end of The Silence of the Lambs, before the deranged millionaire that is the only "Hannibal the Cannibal" victim that the Doctor left alive can get his revenge.

Harris does an impeccable job of adding the minutest of details to his works. The stories are incredibly intricate and interwoven. This makes for a fascinating read and a much more intense connection between the audience and the story than most stories I have ever read. If you can stomach some of the unnerving details, then the novels are definitely worth a read. There is violence, language, and sexual content in each of the novels, but Harris includes it with such skill that all adds to the overall feel of the story that makes the novels such great psychological thrillers.

Alter Bridge

Most likely all of us--with the possible exception of Mom and Dad--have heard of the band named Creed. They are probably one of the most recognizable band names of the current generation. Dad, you may remember hearing them when I had one of their CDs in Lola and remarking that you liked them. You also said that they would be better if they cut loose with some good instrumentals. Well, I have the answer.

Alter Bridge formed a few years ago and consists of the instrumentalists of Creed with a new singer. Scott Stapp, lead singer of Creed, has a reputation for being a jerk and was the force behind stifling the talent of his band-mates (most notably Mark Tremonti, one heckuva lead guitarist). In June of 2004, Creed announced they were disbanding. The three instrumentalists wasted no time in recruiting guitarist/vocalist Myles Kennedy and by that fall they released their debut album One Day Remains.

Alter Bridge maintains much of the same sound of Creed, but with all the powerful instrumental work that Creed lacked. Heavier percussion, more impressive (and lengthier!) instrumentals, and much-needed guitar solos make for music that has everything Creed lacked. This band is one I would recommend to pretty much anyone. It's that good.


Mack and Dad may remember me making mention of this band before. This Australian trio names amongst its top influences Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The White Stripes, Jimi Hendrix, and Electric Mayhem (that's right, the Muppet rock band, though I'm not sure they were being entirely serious). Indeed, the influence these bands have had on Wolfmother is evident in much of their work. The first time I heard their song "Woman" on the radio, I thought for sure it was Led Zeppelin. At the same time "Joker and the Thief" sounds very much like The White Stripes. Throughout it all, however, once one is familiar with Wolfmother, their sound is distinct enough that it is very difficult to mistake them for anyone else.

Their lyrics, likewise, reflect Wolfmother's influences. "Woman"'s lyrics sound very much like lyrics Led Zep would have written. "Dimension" reflects the work of Deep Purple. Many of their songs have the sort of psychadelic sort of qualities that Jimi Hendrix regularly used. The subject however, is not so overtly drug-related as some Hendrix' songs and more about women and some rather fantastical stories.

Dad and Mack, I highly recommend Wolfmother. Brian, You would probably like portions of their work. These guys are really good.

Sweeney Todd

I don't normally enjoy musicals. Neither am I particularly fond of slasher films. However, Tim Burton's blend of the two is surprisingly enjoyable. With an engaging story, effective use of comic relief, and just the right amount of Pythonesque exaggeration added to the throat-cutting scenes to make the blood tolerable, Sweeney Todd was a very pleasant surprise.

I think part of what sets this story apart from most films about deranged serial killers is that it focuses on the plight of killer rather than that of the victim. Instead of having a film in which a victim is chased around by a mysterious villain, or a detective is tracking down said mysterious victim, we see predator struggling to lure his primary target into a situation where he can finally get his revenge. When he finally does so, the play ends it a near-apocalypse much like Hamlet does.

The movie is typical of Tim Burton's work in that it is a bit strange and quite dark. As such, it is difficult to label it according to any typical dramatic definitions. It is not comedy, tragedy, romance, and certainly not epic, but it is very entertaining. I would recommend to anyone old enough to handle the mature thematic elements of the story.