Bottom Line: More like Hannibal Chastising a classic villain.
“I don’t believe it!” –Dez (Aidan Quinn) in Desperately Seeking Susan
Directed by: Peter Webber
Starring: Aaran Thomas, Dominic West, Gaspard Ulliel, Gong Li, Helena-Lia Tachovska, Martin Hub, Michele Wade, Rhys Ifans, Richard Brake, Richard Leaf
The above quote, supposing it was an omen set off twenty years premature, is very well said. I might go even further: I don’t believe it, nor do I want to, nor do I wish I ever had to. Novelist Thomas Harris, the man responsible for the creation of perhaps one of the most classic villains ever presented, must have suddenly become very bored with his career–for whatever reason. In early December 2006, Harris published the fourth entry in his series of “Hannibal Lecter” novels, a prequel simply titled Hannibal Rising. Shortly after, he adapted that novel himself into his first screenplay, which was then turned into a film of the same title; the adaptation was released barely two months after the printed tale itself. It’s actually more sad than ironic that such an author’s adaptation of his own work comes nowhere close to meeting the quality of how others scripted his words for the screen. I have an overwhelming desire to conclude that Hannibal Rising is a useless addition to the series, but that would equally imply that its written source, a novel I have yet to read and therefore may not speak for, is something we could all do without. When Hannibal last appeared, his roots were slightly traced back. A further trip back into the character’s past would be desirable, as well, but not when presented this nonsensically, let alone laughably. If I had known Hannibal had such a dumbed-down story to tell, I guess I wouldn’t have wondered why he was so laconic about his earlier life in the series’s previous entries.
From the very start, Hannibal Rising is established as a careless, failing effort to make us care about the villain. After three films that had no phrase other than “sick b##tard” running through our minds, are we honestly supposed believe that Hannibal Lecter has heart? The story sets up in 1944, when eight-year-old Hannibal (portrayed by Aaran Thomas) and his sister Mischa (Helena-Lia Tachovská) are taken hostage by Nazis during World War II. Hannibal is enraged, not to mention scarred for life when his beloved sister is eaten by the Nazis (??). Fast-forward eight years, when Hannibal (portrayed for the rest of the film by Gaspard Ulliel) has moved out of his aunt’s house, where he has undergone unwanted attempts to calm his soul via some sort of spiritual Asian ritual (??), and on to medical school, where he finds his forte. Knowing that most of the serial killer’s aggressive attempts to avenge his sister take place in the very spot where he earns his doctorate, why not just call the film Hannibal Unsurprising?
Sometimes we must wonder if those who chose Ulliel to portray Lecter had actually seen any of the previous films. Though not even close to the caliber at which all the other installments stood, his performance is acceptable. What is often confusing is watching him claim he is Hannibal for two hours. Do we need a reminder that Anthony Hopkins was the one actor who made the villain a cinematic icon? Other than similar abilities to deliver cunning, sadistic charm, the two bear absolutely no resemblance to each other. Nothing on Hopkins’s face appears similarly on Ulliel’s, and despite attempts to avoid it, Ulliel has a French accent! The film, in its nearly excruciating consolidation, has no right to be placed in the “Hannibal” series. Quite simply, it’s horrific enough to make the mediocre Hannibal look stunning. I can accept a film that goes over-the-top with violence, as long as this is for the sake of staying true to the story. Though Hannibal is quite possibly just as much a grisly film, the simpleminded placement of violence just for the sake of being violent, is often sickening. If such a high body count is your cup of tea, I’d recommend Saw in a heartbeat. You’d gather much more enjoyment in the plot with that film.