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Movie Review: Hannibal Rising

Hannibal Rising
Directed by Peter Webber
Written by Thomas Harris based on his novel
MGM/Weinstein Company

There’s a valid point made by Skeet Ulrich in 1996’s Scream where the discussion of a movie killer’s motive takes place.  One of them is, “Do you ever figure out why Hannibal Lecter liked to eat people?  No…it’s more scary when you don’t have a motive.”

Well, that’s absolutely correct.  Hollywood has gone prequel crazy, and usually the backstory isn’t nearly as good as what we imagine it to be.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre recently had a terrible prequel that missed every opportunity to be scary, and it was basically a rehash of the original, the remake, and all of its imitators.  Hannibal Rising distances itself from its later chapters, but it certainly is no success, because once again, we’re learning the motives, and our imaginations begin to surrender to explanations we once could more frighteningly dream on our own.

As a boy, Lecter sees his family get killed in Lithuania during World War II in their country cottage.  It leaves him alone with his young sister Mischa, but soon some German soldiers, led by Vladas Grutas (Rhys Ifans), take over the house and resort to cannibalism, his sister taken victim.

Eight years later, Lecter (Gaspard Ulliel) is an orphan in the castle he once called home, badly treated by those in charge, eventually escaping to France and finding his dead uncle’s wife Murasaki (the ever-beautiful Gong Li, who is getting better with English with each picture), starting an unusual romance.  He studies medicine, but he’s a bit off-kilter.  He has something raging inside him and it’s revenge.  His knowledge in the sciences make him a better killer.  And so, one by one, he offs the soldiers who ate his sister that day.  He is suspected by Inspector Pascal Popil (Dominic West), who is the first to surmise that things ain’t quite right with Mr. Lecter.

So Hannibal Rising becomes about Lecter getting his revenge on those who have wronged him, a high-minded I Spit On Your Grave or Kill Bill.  It puts Lecter in a position I never thought befitted his character: a sympathetic hero.  Oh, so it’s okay he’s a murderous psychopath because all this stuff happened to him.  As the iconic horror villain, Ulliel can be a bit off at times, but overall he’s a decent young Lecter, sometimes consistent with what we know he becomes. 

But as the movie’s plot plays out, I was disappointed to see how little imagination the filmmakers had in how he carried out his revenge.  You know the scene in Silence of the Lambs where Lecter escapes prison?  How incredible this movie could have been if it was a series of grand murders in that style.  But mostly, it’s a bunch of stabbing and decapitating, prettily shot like some art film, but with very little brains involved.  Too bad; it could have been a pleasant surprise. 


Comment from Lori
Time: February 9, 2007, 5:31 pm

Ah, too bad. Not exactly unexpected, though. You’re right…H’wood’s pretty much beating the idea of the prequel to death. I saw a trailer for this one, and as soon as I realized what the backstory was going to be, I was shaking my head. I mean, I understand that the best movie baddies are characters that do ellicit some empathy from the audience…but I think they’ve gone overboard with Hannibal.

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