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HANNIBAL RISING

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Gaspard Ulliel, Gong Li, Rhys Ifans, Dominic West
Director:  Peter Webber
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Genius Products
Features:  See Review
Length:  See Review
Release Date:  May 29, 2007

“That little boy Hannibal died in 1944 out in that snow.  What he is now, there’s no word for it…

…except monster.”

Film **

It wasn’t hard to eagerly anticipate the filmed arrival of Hannibal Rising.  Not only did it promise to show us the origin of one of our favorite movie psychopaths, but it was also written directly for the screen by author Thomas Harris, the true father of Hannibal Lecter.  True, there would be no Anthony Hopkins this time around, but the premise was ripe with promise.

But promises don’t always pay off, and in this case, a psychologically twisted and powerful franchise made an awkward misstep, taking the origins of “Hannibal the Cannibal” and turning it into a somewhat tired and by-the-numbers revenge tale.  The writing is off, the feel is lacking, and Gaspard Ulliel, bless his heart, just doesn’t have the charisma of Sir Anthony.

The story starts in 1944 in occupied France where a young Hannibal sees the ravages of war take his parents, and then worse, a group of Vichy supporters of the Nazis do the unthinkable with his small sister.  And if you don’t know what that is, I’m sorry, but I’d rather not mention it here.

His only family is a Japanese aunt (Li), who takes him in, and teaches him about her culture, even training him with a samurai sword, in what has to be the most curious sequence yet for a Hannibal movie.  Are we watching Lecter?  Or Kill Bill or Batman Begins?  It’s unintentionally laughable.

One by one, the teen Hannibal goes after those who brutalized his sister.  And he attends medical school as well, where he learns how to properly take care of dead bodies.  I thought he was a psychologist, but never mind.

The vengeance is justified and satisfyingly gory, but what you end up with is the polar opposite of Silence of the Lambs.  That story played on our minds and in our imaginations, and didn’t serve up neatly sliced packages of violence for our immediate pleasure.  There is some sympathy created for Hannibal, but do we really understand why, once he gets his revenge, he continues down the path of serial killer?  While finishing his medical degree?

It’s hard for me to say it, but this movie boasts some of the worst dialogue in the series.  Hard, because as mentioned, it was Thomas Harris himself on the script, so we don’t even have the luxury of imagining some hack writer mangled his work.  Lines like “the butcher was like butter” or “you smell of smoke and blood” will either make you chuckle or wince, and I doubt either was the response Harris was hoping for.

Mr. Ulliel doesn’t remind me of a young Anthony Hopkins.  Interestingly enough, he did remind me a lot of a young Anthony Perkins.  If someone wants to delve back into the early years of Psycho, he would be my first and only choice.  In fairness, what he’s asked to do in this movie is thankless:  take one of the most famous screen roles and recreate it in younger form, but stripped of all the charm and unease that made the character so popular.

The only satisfying aspect of the movie is the deaths, which we can cheer with conscience because these guys really deserved what was coming to them.  But that doesn’t really equate to horror, psychological or otherwise.  It’s just watching a brutal score being evened one by one.  It works for the moments they play out in front of you, but you won’t be thinking much about them afterwards.

The same goes for the whole film.  Without real foreboding, charm, or psychological prowess, Hannibal Rising can’t distinguish itself from any number of forgettable pictures, and the name of Lecter isn’t enough to make it rise above.

Video ***1/2

The film has a good look to it, and it translates well onto DVD.  There are many dark sequences, but they ring through with clarity and crispness, with only a small touch of noticeable grain here and there.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 audio is lively and dynamic, particularly during Hannibal’s nightmares, where the front and rear stages really open up for an enveloping experience.  Dialogue is clear throughout, and the haunting music is a nice touch.

Features ***

The extras include some deleted scenes with optional commentary, a making-of featurette, a featurette with production designer Allan Starski, a commentary with director Peter Webber and producer Martha De Laurentis, plus the teaser and theatrical trailers.

Summary:

Hannibal Rising should have been called Hannibal Flailing.  The chance to open up the book on a classic movie monster and find out what makes him tick just never delivers on emotion, fear or intrigue.

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