Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Of Cannibals And Kings

Some things last too long, others don’t last long enough.

I’ve been an admirer of Thomas Harris’s since I read Red Dragon and The Silence Of The Lambs. In fact, I remember being surprised when I heard they were making a film out of Lambs. I enjoyed the results but didn’t think it was as good as the book. But when have you seen a movie you thought was as good as the book? To fit a novel into the shoebox of a film, you have to shave off too many shadings, cut off too many limbs.

Unfortunately, Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter caught the public’s imagination and an encore became inevitable, not to mention the fact that it virtually guaranteed truckloads of cash for everyone involved. Years later, Harris finally produced Hannibal, a book that stunned some readers with an unsettling denouement that featured Dr. Lecter and Clarice Starling going off into the sunset together. If you wanted to, and I did, the book could almost be read as Harris’s attempt to reclaim Lecter from the screen. He’d provided the sequel everyone was desperate for, but in the process created something that would be too difficult for Hollywood, if not Dr. Lecter, to digest.

But Tinseltown is more resilient than that. Even with the admitted difficulty of not being able to convince Jodie Foster to reprise her role (she felt Hannibal was untrue to the character of Clarice), Julianne Moore took on the role and the ending was changed. Whole hunks of the book were ignored or altered with the result being a film that was remarkably unrepresentative of its source material.

Now, even though I knew Harris had a hand in the alterations on Hannibal the movie, I felt very sure that this would be the end of the Lecter series. There’d been 3 books, 2 films (3 if you counted the Red Dragon adaptation Manhunter) and there was nowhere for it to go. Hannibal had provided a satisfying conclusion to the story and I thought that Harris would surely want to move on to something else and not become the George Lucas of the serial killer set. Another Red Dragon film appeared, with Hopkins once again playing Lecter, to make movie fans happy and keep the wheelbarrows of cash rolling in.

So I’m genuinely surprised that Harris has not only returned to the well with Behind The Mask (due out in late October), but written the screenplay for it as well. Even more surprising is the fact that the plot was suggested to him by the film’s producers, who I imagine are loathe to give up this man-eating cash cow.

Those of you familiar with Hannibal know that there’s a flashback sequence regarding Lecter’s sister (which pays big dividends in the book’s conclusion, if not the film’s) that suggests a motivation for his behavior. In fact, I remember reading online reviews from readers who preferred having Lecter remain a mystery and complaining that this explanation reduced his effectiveness as a character. Be that as it may, it is this early portion of the Doctor’s life that is the jumping off point for Behind The Mask.

It’s hard not to think that all of this activity has less to do with artistic necessity than it does with financial gain.

Is there that much left to say about everybody’s favorite cannibal? Have we left some weekend jaunt or trip to the drugstore unexplored? Somehow I thought Harris had more integrity than this.

On the other end of the scale, we have the news that TV’s King Of The Hill has been cancelled.

The network claims that “no final decision has been made”, etc., but the smart money says it’s history and that its 10th season (which starts this Sunday) will be its last and that, in fact, it may be a very short season at that.

KOTH was one of those rare things, a quiet, unassuming show that consistently delivered week after week and only improved as it went along. Over the years I’ve spoken to friends who I figured would be predisposed to like it and instead heard them say that they “didn’t get it,” it was too slow, not funny, or not enough like The Simpsons.

I could never understand this. To me this series about Texas propane salesman Hank Hill and his family and friends was always an unappreciated gem. Even during those weeks when The Simpsons would be going through one of their bad patches (you know what I’m talking about), KOTH would always deliver huge belly laughs without fail, jokes that would sneak up on you and, before you knew it, you were in hysterics.

There was one speech, in fact, delivered by conspiracy theorist/exterminator Dale Gribble in last season’s finale that rates as one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on television. Hank prevents him from speaking his mind throughout the entire episode until the end and when Dale is finally unleashed, the result is glorious and worth every bit of the wait.

Not to mention the fact that in Bobby Hill, it had one of the greatest comic characters of any TV show. Bobby’s lines would seem to come completely out of the blue with a cockeyed logic that was guaranteed to drive his father nuts, his love of fruit pies equaled only by his devotion to prop comedy. And the list of great characters is almost endless: neighbors like sad-sack Bill Dauterive and the incoherent Boomhauer, the overachieving Souphanousinphones next door, Hank’s sleazy boss Buck Strickland, his niece Luanne, creator of the “Manger Babies”, and everyone’s favorite, his dad Cotton Hill who got his “shins shot off in WWII!” And it just goes on.

It was never a flashy show but it hit you hard when you weren’t looking. Frankly, I’m not prepared to say goodbye to them. And what are we going to get in exchange, another bunch of Family Guys and American Dads ?

They’re not funny, I tell ya whut. They’re the polar opposite of KOTH’s gentle, character-based humor. And maybe that’s the problem. It simply wasn’t like anything else on television, which had to confuse television executives, who aspire to a higher degree of cannibalism than Dr. Lecter could ever hope to achieve.

Hey, FOX!

Don’t make me come down there and kick your ass!


Anonymous Dale said...

It's a conspiracy Hank! Those folks at Fox just want you to rattle your cage.

YUP! It was good run- 10 years!
No more propane and propane accessories...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005 4:28:00 PM  
Blogger Count Screwloose said...

That network ain't right!


Wednesday, September 14, 2005 9:16:00 PM  
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Thursday, September 15, 2005 8:36:00 AM  
Blogger Count Screwloose said...

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Thursday, September 15, 2005 12:18:00 PM  
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Thursday, September 15, 2005 4:03:00 PM  
Blogger Count Screwloose said...

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Thursday, September 15, 2005 6:44:00 PM  

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