The Hannibal Lecter Anthology
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Red Dragon (2002)
Hannibal Rising (2007)
The first two movies that I want to compare here are Manhunter and Red Dragon. Reason being these two movies were based on the same 1981 book by Thomas Harris. The most obvious starting point for me is who was a better Hannibal Lecter. Brian Cox or Anthony Hopkins? Well, I think the answer is pretty obvious here. Brian Cox wasn't bad but I guess he wasn't the sort of person I envisioned Hannibal Lecter to be. Anthony Hopkins gave a far more sinister and far darker performance that really highlighted the underlying blend of complete insanity and genius underneath the surface of the Hannibal Lecter Character. Now for the Will Gram character. Edward Norton or William Peterson? If Manhunter had the combination of Anthony Hopkins and William Peterson then I'm sure it would have been a lot better. For Manhunter, there's some very strange things about it. The ending to Manhunter is completely different from Red Dragon despite being based on the same book. It's just odd. The second strange thing is that the director's cut of the movie is more violent than the theatrical version of the movie. Maybe the director became a devout Christian after making the movie? Wikipedia yields no clear answers so we'll leave that one up to speculation. This is also the movie that basically spawned Manhunter the TV series, better known as CSI. There was a particular scene with the tabloid reporter in a wheelchair, on fire that was in both movies. I didn't think Red Dragon had the sort of "scare the everloving crap out of you" effect that Manhunter did. You didn't see the wheel chair until it was rolling straight towards the camera. Overall while Red Dragon had the larger budget and Anthony Hopkins, Manhunter was the better movie.
Next comes the second movie and by far the best known of the bunch, The Silence of the Lambs. Really, this is the meat and potatoes of the franchise. The one movie that everybody saw. The $130 million it made at the box office reflects this. It was the debut of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter and it really was his best performance of the group of movies in the franchise that he was in. Jodie Foster had a role in this movie as an FBI trainee by the name of Clarice Starling. We have a new antagonist in this movie played by Ted Levine that goes by the name of "Buffalo Bill". He's really the best "villain" of the bunch in the Hannibal Lecter movies aside from the man himself. Every aspect of the character is well rounded and makes for a great side story throughout the movie. Every peace of this movie really falls into place. Manhunter had its perks but there was some characters that just didn't fit together as nicely as they did in The Silence of the Lambs.
Onwards to the 2001 sequel directed by none other than Ridley Scott. This one unfortunately is one of the sequels that suffers more than the rest. Agent Starling is still in this movie but they weren't able to sign on Jodie Foster again for whatever reason. Julianne Moore is Starling this time which really felt like drawing the short straw in terms of recreating the character. Fortunately while that did leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth and begged the question "What happened?" Moore was more than able to take on the character. This sequel also takes a long time to get anywhere. You have to survive through the first 10 minutes to get any of the really good stuff. As always Hannibal Lecter riddles off intelligent sarcasm throughout the whole movie brilliantly delivered by Anthony Hopkins. This movie focused more on the Hannibal Lecter character than any of the previous sequels or even the sequel that came after, Red Dragon. It's certainly not the worst in the world.
Since we already went through Red Dragon, I'll skip right to the last movie. This one was certainly a difficult sell. The most common complaint that I'd seen about it was the lack of Anthony Hopkins. This was a prequel so how the hell would it have worked? Stage makeup can only do so much. I genuinely believe that if Gaspard Ulliel had been older he'd have been up there with Anthony Hopkins. This one is sort of an extension of Hannibal further explaining the character of Hannibal Lecter. This one reaches all the way back to World War II while Lecter was still a child. Some people hated this movie and some people loved it mostly because of being spoon fed the story and not having it left up to imagination. If anything they should be angry at the author of the book. It was his doing that made it a prequel. There's some nitpicking to do such as Lecter's eyes in this movie are brown but blue in the other movies and the obvious different in build between Hopkins and Ulliel. But that's just what it is. Nitpicking. The cinematography is brilliant just as it was in Hannibal. There's a few parts in the movie where it lags but it picks up not too long after.
If I were to pick a sequence to watch these movies, it would be this: Ignore Red Dragon. Watch Manhunter, then Silence of the Lambs, then Hannibal and Hannibal Rising sequentially. It just makes more sense that way. Overall it's an enjoyable series and I recommend watching it in the order I described.