Hannibal Rising (Unrated Widescreen Edition) Review
Written by: jay_wigger
When Hannibal Rising was released in theaters, it was unjustly pilloried by critics and, possibly as a result of the negative reviews or because audiences had given up on the Hannibal Lecter franchise after two subpar outings, widely ignored by moviegoers. When a franchise series includes such high-water marks as The Silence of the Lambs and Manhunter, any sequel (or prequel, as is the case here) is almost doomed to fail before the first frame is even shot.
With a budget of $50 million, the film only grossed $37 million at North American box offices, even with promising director Peter Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring) at the helm and Hannibal's creator, author Thomas Harris, on board as screenwriter. Fans of Sir Anthony Hopkins beware: as the title implies, Hannibal Rising is the story of how Hannibal the Cannibal became such an evil monster, and thus the film is devoid of Hopkins' presence. It starts off with a very short glimpse of a young Lecter's idyllic and privileged life with his family in Lithuania during World War II. But just as quickly his parents are killed in the crossfire between German and Russian soldiers, and the hunting lodge where he and his youner sister Mischa take refuge is soon infiltrated by a band of Nazi-sympathizing thugs. Soon enough, with no food to be had anywhere, their attention turns to young Mischa. We are spared any explicit sight of what goes on, but the idea is disturbing enough. The film then jumps ahead eight years and we see Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel, Brotherhood of the Wolf) in a state-run orphanage, which happens to be his family's castle. He manages to escape and finds his uncle's widow, Lady Murasaki (the beautiful and talented Gong Li, Memoirs of a Geisha), who introduces him to the ways of the Samurai. They move to Paris and he enrolls in medical school and here the film turns into a pure action/revenge flick, albeit with some stylized horror elements included. Hannibal is bent on finding his sister's murderers and doing to them what they did to her.
With excellent lighting by cinematographer Ben Davis, especially during the opening war-time scenes, and an astounding attention to detail by production designer Allan Starski (Schindler's List, The Pianist), Hannibal Rising is a beautiful film to watch, but is that enough when we're talking about a film where we pretty much know exactly what's going to happen after the first 30 minutes and the hero is a man who we already know will become the world's most notorious serial killer? Hell yeah, it's enough, especially when you take into account the excellence of Gaspard Ulliel as the young Lecter. He was also harshly criticized for his performance when the film came out, but Ulliel perfectly captures the essence of a tormented young man who gradually becomes more and more demented. His purpose in life is singular and the cat-and-mouse game he plays with Inspector Popil (Dominic West, TV's The Wire) as he searches out the evil Grutas (the excellently over-the-top Rhys Ifans, Notting Hill) is probably even better than the one between Jodie Foster and Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs.
The DVD: As previously mentioned, this is a beautiful film to watch, and the sound and score are used to great effect. But apart from the excellent featurette about production designer Allan Starski, the suppleental materials don't quite live up to their billing. Hannibal Lecter: The Origin of Evil is a very general "making-of" where people like producer Martha De Laurentiis gush about everyone involved, and the deleted scenes are quite short and the optional commentary doesn't explain much. The feature commentary by director Peter Webber and producer De Laurentiis is actually quite entertaining, in an odd way. While Webber's insights are naturally quite interesting, his voice sounds like he's going to burst out laughing at any minute. And De Laurentiis uses the occasion to once again praise everyone involved. She does get credit for the funniest line, though. When they were casting the role of young Mischa, she says they reaaalllly had to find someone so cute that audiences would want to eat her. I'm not lying; she actually says this in all seriousness, completely oblivious to how disturbing what she just said was. Priceless!
Final Thoughts: For my money, Hannibal Rising would probably be the best entry in the series (okay, maybe second behind Manhunter) but for one small problem: with his deep-seated desire and somewhat justifiable motive for revenge being satisfied, there's no reason to believe that the good Doctor Lecter would go on killing (and eating) people in future installments. Taken on its own, though, it's a satisfying revenge thriller worhty of a rental.