Hannibal Rising is in a bit of a tricky situation. Most people are content with the background we already know about Hannibal Lecter, the popular on-screen psychopath. Others, however, really want to know more about his past. How did he become this monster? What was his first kill like? They want to know all that stuff. Before the movie was even put to film, it has an uphill battle to face with such a divided fan base. So, is it all worth it?
The origins of the serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Gaspard Ulliel) are traced back to the brutal murder of his younger sister Mischa during WWII. Horribly scarred from that event, he eventually finds his way through Europe, landing at the home of his Uncle’s beautiful widow, Lady Murasaki (Gong Li). When he goes to medical university in France, Murasaki offers to help him get revenge on the men who killed his sister. This quest will ignite an insatiable lust within a serial killer who was not born, but made. Along the way, as he further embraces his murderous dark side, his finds himself at odds with local law enforcement.
This movie was a bit of a mixed bag for me. There were times when I was equally engaged in this movie and also a bit bored. I have to admit it was also a bit odd to watch some else besides Anthony Hopkins play a role he made his own so perfectly back in 1991 with Silence of the Lambs (and again in two sequels). Having never seen Manhunter, Hopkins is the only “Lecter” I was exposed to. Going into the movie, I tried so hard to knock that preconceived notion out of my head so I could actually judge the film on its’ own merits. In the end, I’d have to judge this the weakest of the “Hannibal” movies, but not a bad movie, per se.
It’s a good back story for the character, fashioned by the man who created him decades ago. Sure, many will find it sort of insulting that there’s a build to this, that his “Cannibal” persona was created. I can see why, too. It’s chilling to imagine a man who wasn’t created this way, but born. A man of pure evil who sees what he does as a sort-of twisted service to humanity. The “he preferred to eat the rude” comment from Hannibal comes to mind as an oddly fitting depiction of Lecter. While his back story does not fly in the face of that, it does provide a back story as to why he’d prefer to eat the rude, or anyone he sees as a blight on humanity.
French actor Ulliel has the duty of being the third actor donning the familiar role, and does well with the material given. He’s creepy when he needs to be and can also pull off a shocking amount of rage when needed. With his role I can see how he’d eventually transform into one of the most popular characters in film history. He able to pinpoint all the characteristics that make Hannibal such an interesting character. He’s polite, yet deadly and resourceful. He’s cruel, yet only punishes those he finds worthy of being dealt such a horrible fate. His first kill is, frankly, a bit anti-climactic. However, when he starts to hunt down those responsible for his sister, the Hannibal we’re all familiar with starts to come about.
The character of his Uncle’s widow, however, seems a bit unnecessary for this movie. She seems shoe-horned in as a love interest for the character, a move that doesn’t really work in the scope of the movie. When Hannibal declares his love for her, you can’t help put wonder why. She seems lifeless and somewhat bland. I can understand the attraction to an extent, a woman who has indirectly nurtured his dark side, but she lacks the complexity of a worthy partner.
Hannibal Rising marks the first time in the award-winning series, best selling author Thomas Harris (Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs) writes the screenplay – reaching back to explore the origins of Lecter’s rage, terror and savagery. And while he does present an interesting back story, his screenplay seems to come up as corny at times. Dialogue that should be frightening either comes of as hackneyed or clichéd. And given the odd structure of the movie, including an ending that happens way too fast, the movie comes across as unbalanced at times. It stretches on and on during the middle half, trying to fill the gap between his horrific World War II experiences and the more exciting and ghastly revenge-driven third act.
And given the European flavor of the movie, everyone speaks English, regardless of the setting. Be it France, Russia, etc., there seems to be no international flavor save for the accents.
The prequel doesn’t live up completely to the expectations laid on it by the previous Hannibal movies. I can image those die-hard Hannibal fans will have much to chew with this movie. However, those who may not have liked the earlier Hannibal sequels (such as Hannibal and Red Dragon), may not be too fond of this tale, either.
The DVD comes in a standard Amaray case with an embossed cardboard slipcover reproducing the cover art. It actually looks pretty snazzy with the movie’s title in stylish gold font. The insert is simply a double-sided advertisement for the book on which this movie is based.
The audio and video on this disc is on par with a standard DVD release. The visuals can be quite stunning, be it the snowy backdrop of Hannibal’s World War II experiences, or the Gothic landscape of Europe and France. While there seemed to be a few minor instances of grain in the transfer, it’s a great reproduction. The audio is just as solid with no complaints whatsoever. Oddly enough, only an English track is presented on this disc.
Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary with director Peter Webber and producer Martha De Laurentiis, a Hannibal Lecter: The Origin of Evil featurette, an Allan Starski: Designing Horror and Elegance featurette, a host of deleted scenes and the film’s teaser and theatrical trailer. A pretty standard set of extras, though a bit disappointing given the extra material that have graced previous Hannibal movie DVD releases. I don’t think we’ll be seeing a double-dip on this title anytime, soon.
Overall, I’d say give this film comes Recommended for at least a rental. Is it worth owning? Well, it’s an interesting story for those wanting to learn more about Hannibal, but the film’s uneven pace can turn some people off. The movie does do the character justice if you’re in the camp that believes an evil such as Lecter’s can be created. Those believing that Hannibal was simply born and fashioned into such an evil creature may be let down. Hannibal completists will definitely want to own this release, and I doubt will be let down by it. The DVD itself gives us a standard and pleasing audio/video transfer of the film and a comfortable, though somewhat lacking, amount of extras to feast on. While not as scary as the film’s trailers lets on, it does give us some insight into the birth of one of most popular and enduring villains in film history.
Hannibal Rising: Unrated arrives on DVD May 29th, 2007.