Back in 2002, Anthony Hopkins announced he wouldn't play Hannibal Lecter again. However, producer Dino De Laurentiis, refusing to put his lucrative franchise (ironically, the Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs was the only Lecter film he had nothing to do with) to rest, decided to bring the character back, with or without Hopkins. And since novelist Thomas Harris had already mentioned a small but significant part of the famous cannibal's past in one of the books, the solution was pretty simple.
Following the example of Batman Begins and Casino Royale, Hannibal Rising revolves around the protagonist's early years, trying to convincingly explain why such a brilliant man became a cannibal. Apparently, the answer is to be found in a tragedy that marked young Hannibal for the rest of his life.
It's 1944, and the Lecter mansion in Lithuania is under attack from the Nazis. The family runs off to a cabin in the woods, only to be killed, leaving only Hannibal and his little sister Mischa alive. Just to make things worse, the two are taken hostage by a bunch of local SS employees, lead by the psychotic Grutas (Rhys Ifans). Within a few days Mischa is killed, and her death has such a devastating effect on her brother he doesn't speak for eight years. He only starts connecting with the real world again once he moves to France and lives under the protective wing of his uncle's widow, Lady Murasaki (Gong Li). As their relationship moves to more complex and dangerous levels, the tormented youngster (Gaspard Ulliel) also becomes fascinated with the study of the human body, and the various tools he learns to use in medical school will come in handy once he discovers Grutas and his men are still alive and decides it's payback time.
Many bad things have been said of Hannibal Rising. Some found the idea of justifying Lecter's insanity useless, while others complained about the book being a mere commercial gimmick to promote the film. The latter theory may be true (after all, the novel preceded the movie by just six weeks), but I actually think Thomas Harris and director Peter Webber (whose previous work, Girl with a Pearl Earring, also dealt with an origin story, though obviously in a different way) have done an admirable job: the mood is kept suitably creepy for the entire duration, and while there's plenty of gore (the on-screen murders are less gratuitously bloody than in Ridley Scott's Hannibal, but more imaginative and shocking), the focus is constantly on the characters, particularly Lecter and Lady Murasaki, and their evolution. The weak link in the film is Inspector Pope (Dominic West), a police officer whose presence has the sole purpose of reminding long-time fans of Will Graham and Clarice Starling. Pity the lack of any back-story robs him of their charm.
Another inappropriate element is a scene where young Hannibal wears a samurai mask which is identical to the one he's forced to use in the original trilogy. The shot itself is great, no doubt, but it's absolutely clear its only reason to exist is to evoke Anthony Hopkins.
Luckily, that one moment doesn't take anything away from Ulliel's sublime performance: he obviously borrows a few things (the sly food-related witticisms, the spooky stare) from Hopkins, but adds more elegance and charisma, making the character more similar to a vampire than a cannibal. Also notable is the supporting cast, the strongest contributions coming from Li (the sexual tension between her and Ulliel is palpable and conveniently unsettling) and an almost unrecognizable Ifans (most moviegoers probably remember his as Hugh Grant's moronic roommate in Notting Hill).
So, in the end, Hannibal Rising is not a perfect film, but it is sufficiently interesting and scary to satisfy fans of the franchise.
Answered By: BARROWMAN - 2/13/2007