To mark the 40th anniversary of author Thomas Harris’ invention of Hannibal Lecter and the 30th anniversary of “The Silence of the Lambs” – the only horror film to win Best Picture – we’re looking back at the four books and five films of the Hannibal Lecter series over nine Frightening Fridays. Finishing it up is the fifth film, “Hannibal Rising” (2007):
Although he didn’t know it at the time, Douglas Preston’s nonfiction book “Dinosaurs in the Attic: An Excursion into the American Museum of Natural History” (1986) plays as a collection of research notes and ideas for his later career as a novelist. That wouldn’t begin for another eight years, with “Jennie,” the seeds of which are found here in chapter 11’s recounting of Meshie Mungkut, the first example of a chimpanzee raised as a human.
The creation stories of the three biggest DC heroes all have a notable amount of injustice behind them. “Superman’s” Siegel and Shuster and “Batman’s” Bill Finger were denied credit for decades. But the story behind “Wonder Woman” – where there has never been debate that William Moulton Marston created her – is the weirdest, as chronicled in the biopic “Professor Marston & the Wonder Women” (2017).
John Hughes’ wholly original works tended to be better than his sequels, remakes and adaptations, and the last two films of his screenwriting career sharply illustrate this. (He also has two story-only credits remaining on his resume, which I’ll get to next week.) “Reach the Rock” (1998) is his best late-career screenplay, and it’s not surprising to learn he wrote it about a decade before it got made. “Just Visiting” (2001), an Americanized version of a French hit, is among his worst late-career screenplays. It’s fair to say that Hughes was more invested in his original work, so it’s a shame there’s not much of that in the back half of his career.
To mark the 40th anniversary of author Thomas Harris’ invention of Hannibal Lecter and the 30th anniversary of “The Silence of the Lambs” – the only horror film to win Best Picture – we’re looking back at the four books and five films of the Hannibal Lecter series over nine Frightening Fridays. Next up is the “Hannibal Rising” novel (2006):
We think of Douglas Preston as a best-selling thriller novelist, but his roots are in journalism, and he is still a practicing journalist. His earliest 1980s-’90s books are nonfiction explorations of the American Museum of Natural History, the desert Southwest and paleontology. More recently he chronicled his team’s discovery of an ancient Central American city in 2017’s “The Lost City of the Monkey God.” In between came “The Monster of Florence” (2008), in which he and co-writer Mario Spezi – Italian newspapers’ leading expert on the titular killer – get far more involved in the story than they would’ve liked.
Superheroes Decoded,” a two-episode History Channel documentary from 2017, isn’t what I thought it would be. But it turns out to something good: The definitive analysis of the history of superheroes and how they bob and weave with American history over the past century. Adults will learn a little something – even if a lot of it is a fun refresher — and brainy younger viewers should be enthralled too. Its only major problem is that if you’ve just watched PBS’ “Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle” (2013), the first episode will be redundant – although it does go deeper.
Batman & Bill” (2017, Hulu) is about the fight to correct one of the great injustices of early comic book history – the omission of “Batman” co-creator Bill Finger’s name alongside Bob Kane’s. The documentary weaves from tragedy to fun to hopelessness to delight, avoiding that grim feeling found in most chronicles of injustice, while also contrasting the sweat-shop work process of the 1940s comic industry against this new age when writers are known and celebrated.
The Oscars are expanding the 2020 movie year by two months in order for more films to get released and compete for statuettes. That’s a smart move, but on Dec. 31, I’m happy to make my year-end list and say good riddance to this year of the pandemic and all it wrought – including the push-back of many films to 2021 and the beginning of the end of cinemas. But we’re not tossing out the movies with the year itself, because enough good ones took the financial risk of coming straight to our home theaters. These were my 10 favorites:
Douglas Preston starts his fiction-writing career with a novel that’s almost unrecognizably his own, when viewed from the lens of a quarter-century of imaginative sci-fi collaborations with Lincoln Child. “Jennie” (1994) is unlike anything else on his resume. It’s deeply researched and concerned with hard scientific facts and discoveries – similar to his nonfiction works in that way – yet it is a work of fiction written in an unusual but effective style. Preston is the off-page “interviewer” and “researcher,” but we get the story of the titular chimpanzee raised as a human straight from the interviewees’ responses, journals and lab notes.