Published Dec 01, 2002There are two, possibly three questions that everyone at least slightly familiar with the Hannibal Lecter trilogy will be asking with the release of Red Dragon. Is Red Dragon a better movie than the too over-the-top Hannibal? Yes. Is it better than The Silence of the Lambs? No. Was it necessary to basically remake the original in the series (Manhunter)? Probably not, but they did it anyway. If Hannibal proved that you can have way too much of a good thing (the good thing being Anthony Hopkins as Lecter) than Red Dragon seeks to reuse the "less is more" formula that initially made Hopkins' terrifying take on Hannibal Lecter a part of pop culture history, but it also comes dangerously close to self-parody and merely imitating its superior parent.
While Red Dragon is a fairly careful adaptation of the book and addresses some of the pacing problems that plagued Manhunter, not to mention that it looks superior and has an awesomely creepy score, courtesy of Danny Elfman, retooling the first edition as the third simply cannot have the same impact now after two previous movies that it might have had. The main problem is that we know all of Lecter's tricks at this point; he's no longer as disturbing nor as terrifying as he once was, and while Hopkins plays him with his usually verve and style, he arguably has the least amount of material to work with here than in the other two films. Second, besides the difference in investigators (one male, one female, one an experienced, emotionally scarred veteran, the other a fresh-faced, vulnerable rookie) Red Dragon shares far too many similarities to Lambs in terms of plot, making it not only derivative of its predecessor, but also of its predecessor's imitators, of which there have been many. And, the fact that the Lecter character, as a supporting character, is stronger than the main antagonists of both Lambs (Buffalo Bill) and Red Dragon (the Tooth Fairy/Red Dragon) is another flaw both movies share.
Red Dragon does have some heavy-hitters at bat for it, as both Edward Norton (Will Graham) and Ralph Fiennes (the Red Dragon) are strong, as are Hopkins, Harvey Keitel and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who steals all the scenes he has as an amoral tabloid reporter. However, as good as these actors are, considering their pedigree and that of screenwriter Ted Tally (who wrote the screenplay for Lambs) it begs the question: why isn't this a better movie? In the end, Red Dragon is a dumbed-down, toned-down, less gory and less interesting version of The Silence of the Lambs. But it's still better than Hannibal.