|Hannibal Rising (2007)
Starring: Gaspard Ulliel,
Gong Li, Rhys Ifans, Kevin McKidd
Director: Peter Webber
Apparently, revenge is a dish best served raw. Or so that’s what author Thomas Harris would like to make us believe in this prequel to his popular series of novels chronicling the life of Hannibal Lecter. Unfortunately, there’s nothing particularly interesting about coming to understand a villain, especially when it cheapens his very legacy by forcing the audience to sympathize with him. Only in Hollywood can you find such a blatant excuse for making an extra buck, and while the film would have made a much better thriller without the baggage of Lecter onboard, we’re instead forced to watch as a classic horror icon is transformed into a ruthless anti-hero seeking revenge against who else but the Nazis. Shame on you, Thomas Harris, and the pimpmobile you rode in on.
After a lengthy opening sequence that explains just how Hannibal lost his family in the war (his parents to a Nazi attack and his sister as a tasty meal for a group of unsavory soldiers), the story fast-forwards eight years to find the teenage Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel) living as an orphan in his family’s castle. Determined to track down his last surviving relative, Hannibal’s journey leads him to France where he meets his recently-deceased uncle’s beautiful wife, Lady Murasaki Shikibu (Gong Li), and learns all about Japanese art and fine dining. He even manages to snag a scholarship to a prestigious medical school, but poor Hannibal can’t stop thinking about the unfortunate death of his family, and so, armed with a thirst for vengeance, he begins to track down the men that killed his sister, one at a time.
If this sounds a little too much like a revenge flick, it’s because it is. The story has absolutely nothing to do with the serial killer that we all know and love, except for the fact that it spends nearly two hours explaining why it is that he’s resorted to cannibalism. The results are gruesome, but they’re also incredibly dull, and the fact that director Peter Webber inundates the bloated script with blurry flashback after blurry flashback only further proves just how little material he has to work with. Furthermore, there’s nothing particularly suspenseful about the film, and while many people will probably go into “Hannibal Rising” expecting a horror movie, they’ll likely come out feeling like they’ve just sat through a WWII drama about war crimes.
Entrusting the role of the adolescent cannibal-in-training to the young (and mostly unproven) French actor may seem like a big risk on the studio’s part, but Ulliel has done a commendable job of creating a sympathetic Hannibal. The young man oozes the same polished confidence that made Anthony Hopkins’ seasoned psychopath such a frightening presence (even when locked away), and though comparing the two performances would be an insult to Hopkins, it’s worth noting that Ulliel isn’t a complete disappointment. Of course, this hardly makes “Hannibal Rising” any less embarrassing to watch, and while fans of the series will no doubt flock to theaters to catch the latest installment, don’t be surprised to discover that it doesn’t taste quite as good the fourth time around.
Just as the latest film in the Hannibal Lecter saga was a unnecessary disappointment, so is the unrated DVD release. The audio commentary features both director Peter Webber and producer Martha De Laurentis (obviously recorded at different times) as they discuss making the movie, while “Hannibal Lecter: The Origin of Evil” is little more than a glossy EPK. Also included is a handful of deleted scenes and a short featurette on production designer Allan Starski, neither of which prove very interesting.