William Blake Is Rolling Over In His Grave: A Review of Red Dragon
by Rusty W. Spell

I don't know why I'm getting so worked up about it. I know that movie-makers put movies out to make money, to cash in, "sell out," etc. etc. etc. That's all fine, and I usually appreciate empty commercialism, if I know that that's what it is. I appreciate hype. Scooby-Doo? Sure. Tomb Raider? Great. I don't care how bad they are, because I know that's what they're meant to be, and the excessive advertizing surrounding them is warranted and fine, and I'll go see them and enjoy them for all they're worth or not worth.

I guess I thought Red Dragon would be different. I expected a fleshing out of Hannibal Lector's character (like Hannibal did, whether sucessfully or not), a backstory that elaborated on and enhanced the other movies (the purpose of a good prequel), all those things. The signs were there that it wouldn't be: Brett Ratner directing (who was fine for a fun movie like Rush Hour, but maybe not for something so "important"), remaking Manhunter just so Hopkins could be in it (which was fine with me, since Michael Mann films make my stomach hurt), the too-much-of-a-good-thing cast (as if they were thinking, "With all these people, who can resist?" and indeed I couldn't, especially since they were exceptional actors, not only big name actors). But I'm an idiot, and I'm gullible, and I played right into their hands. It would have been fine if I expected nothing much, but I expected something, and I'm usually not fooled like that. Dagnabit.

So what's wrong with it? Mostly, we've seen it before: and I don't just mean Manhunter, but both Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. The good thing about Hannibal was that it wasn't a true sequel (because how could it be?), but a new vision by a different director and a totally new story which just happened to have the same characters. Red Dragon, on the other hand, picked up scenery, settings, actors, dialogue, and everything else directly from the first two movies (oh, and Manhunter too) as if we needed to see them one more time in one big blob. Examples: Ed Norton walking down the prison hall to reveal Hopkins, only this time lying down instead of standing (as if that small, boring, change would make it forgiveable). Then the "cheap cologne" exchange, the "psychological probing," everything we saw Hopkins do with Jody Foster before, except less interesting. Or the plot, a serial killer on the loose and an FBI agent asking Lector for help, ending with a trick ending before a final one-on-one confrontation. I could have sworn I saw the movie before the entire time I was watching it. The "nudge nudge" jokes to the audience (like the one right before the credits, about Clarice Starling) didn't help either.

What else? Where Lamb's serial killer seemed to have some sort of real reason for the killing (not that murderers in real life have complex riddle-like reasons, but that's the premise of the movie, so that's what I'm expecting), I must have missed the reason in Red Dragon. As far as I can make out, the "Tooth Fairy" seems to think he's killing people at the request of a William Blake watercolor, but also that he's becoming that water color character? I assume it was just supposed to be mumbo-jumbo crazy person stuff, but silly me thought it should make some sense. We're not as an audience much allowed to play detective either, since the "clues" Lector is giving Ed Norton don't ever play out, like the one where Norton is trying to figure out how the Tooth Fairy chooses his women. Because they're attractive? Something about their breasts (many shots of their breasts suggested this, but maybe that was just some free sex). Write me if it made sense to you.

But where there are all those unanswered questions, the answered questions are simply too simple for any intelligent person to buy, and the way they're presented is downright insulting. Like the flashback of the grandmother yelling at the killer during childhood because he wet the bed (how typical is that?), or the "internal struggle" the killer was having not wanting to kill the blind girl because he luuuvs her (ridiculously arguing with the Red Dragon, a la The Green Goblin), and the worst offender when Ed Norton says, "I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. He wasn't born a monster. He was made that way through years of abuse." My groans were louder than the cell phones on that one.

Of course, I always said they should just write a new story which details how Agent Crawford caught Lector in the first place (the prologue in the movie of their final confrontation was one of the best parts). It would make for a suspensful, tense movie (what this franchise should be most interested in), mainly because we will always know what the two characters don't know (that Lector is the killer, and that Crawford is on to him) and also -- of course -- because Hopkins as Hannibal is the major selling point anyway, so why not center on him (but in a more traditional killer way, instead of a love story like Hannibal). Instead, we get a grab-bag of everything we've seen before and a pretty darn pointless movie, but one which got my five bucks, so I guess the point was made after all.

Copyright 5 Oct 2002 We Like Media.
You may email Rusty W. Spell.