Wednesday, March 14, 2007


This has to be said: After the Oscar grand slam win* of The Silence of the Lambs, there really wasn’t anywhere to go but down.
Thus, Hannibal and Red Dragon** came nowhere near their predecessor. And neither does the prequel, Hannibal Rising.
So the question is: Is Hannibal Rising at least a worthwhile film?
This latest film adaptation of Thomas Harris’ work has, at the very least, more merit than either Hannibal or Red Dragon. That doesn’t stop it from being underwhelming though.

Hannibal’s back story begins in 1944, Lithuania, where his parents and later, younger sister, are killed, casualties of the raging war. This is the film’s brief initial section, a pivotal moment in the serial-killer-to-be’s life.
Cut to 8 years later, and Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel, from Christophe Gans’ Le Pacte des LoupsBrotherhood of the Wolf—and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Un long dimanche de fiancaillesA Very Long Engagement) is a young man growing up in an orphanage located (ironically enough) in what used to be the Lecter family castle. It seems young Hannibal refuses to speak, the only sounds he makes, when he is gripped by nightmare, as he screams his sister’s name.
Escaping the orphanage, he makes his way to the home of his uncle, only to find his uncle has already passed away, leaving behind his widow, Lady Murasaki Shikibu (the luminous Gong Li). Reminded of her late husband by this young stranger, Lady Murasaki takes Hannibal in, setting the stage for the first, coldly violent killing which will be the initial step on the road which will eventually lead him to Jodie Foster and Oscar glory…

The problem with Hannibal Rising is, ultimately, it’s not a very involving film. We’re watching an amoral character going about killing people and we’re not really going to sympathize with him, are we? There is something about Hannibal’s portrayal here that makes him an entity distant and unknowable by the audience.
And we have no Clarice Starling this time around to identify with; Hannibal Rising’s law enforcer, Inspector Popil (played by Dominic West, a regular on The Wire, who also starred in The Forgotten alongside Julianne Moore, and is in the upcoming 300), though an interesting character, isn’t really given enough of a presence in the narrative.
Meanwhile, the mutual attraction between Hannibal and Lady Murasaki (love has always been a twisted theme where Hannibal is concerned) isn’t mined for all its dramatic worth either, causing a distinct lack of internal conflict within the young man. He knows he’s out for blood, and he doesn’t waver from that cold knowledge.
The audience knows this too, so we know what choice he’s going to make in the end (this is, after all, a prequel). The key would have been to make it a torturous journey, with a wrenching choice at journey’s end. But everything seems coldly preordained. There is no human interest here. As Popil points out, the boy who was Hannibal Lecter died during the war. All that is left for us to view is something they didn’t have a name for yet back then…

Hannibal Rising does, however, take pains to establish motifs and character traits cinema audiences have come to associate with the good doctor. Thus, the drawings, and (in a chilly bit of foreshadowing) a section of a samurai mask.
This fixation on continuity does have its drawbacks though, as the scene where Hannibal turns the tables on his interrogator and questions Popil feels stilted and contrived.

Though this is the first time writer Thomas Harris has actually adapted his own novel for the big screen, there’s not enough going on in the narrative to make the experience interesting. Director Peter Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring) doesn’t really bring anything particularly noteworthy to the table either. (Though it must be said that he’s a far better choice than getting Brett Ratner again; it still boggles the mind how he bagged the Red Dragon gig.)

Since it isn’t atrocious though, I imagine Hannibal Rising would be of interest to any Lecter completists out there.
Let’s just hope that this is it for our favorite cinema cannibal. He’s definitely overstayed his welcome.
Sorry, Doc. All out of fava beans and Chianti.

* This is when the same film wins all five major Academy Award categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress.

** Actually the second time Harris’ novel was adapted. The first time Red Dragon came to the screen, it was under the title of Manhunter. Directed by Mr. Miami Vice himself, Michael Mann, Manhunter starred Brian Cox (seen recently in Ryan Murphy’s Running with Scissors, also reviewed here) as Hannibal.

(Hannibal Rising OS courtesy of

(Originally posted 021507)

1 comment:

Emma2000_93003 said...

Gong li has been described as "Luminous" more than any actress in history.