‘Hannibal’ prequel plummets to new lows

Ally Melling

Being romantics on Valentine’s Day, don’t us girls wish we had our very own Hannibal Lecter? He’s artistic, cultured, smart and suave. He’s even a doctor, and as we know, he can be an amazing cook. Minus the whole face-eating thing, Hannibal’s the ideal man.

But just because Freddy, Leatherface and Darth Vader got their origins exploited in prequels doesn’t mean the same should happen for the American Film Institute’s number one greatest villain.

The evidence? The let down that is Hannibal Rising.

In this prequel, Hannibal is shown as a little boy living in Lithuania during World War II. When he and his baby sister, Mischa, are orphaned, the toddlers take shelter in an abandoned house but are soon discovered by Nazi sympathizers (led by the awesome Rhys Ifans of Enduring Love).

Years later, Hannibal is a teenager (Gaspard Ulliel) who escapes an orphanage to live with his widowed aunt, Lady Murasaki, in Paris. While Hannibal and Murasaki (Curse of the Golden Flower‘s beautiful Gong Li) form a romantic relationship, he occupies his time by going to medical school, eluding a local police inspector and tracking down his sister’s killers for a little sweet payback.

It may be hard to believe the back-story to such an infamous character could be disappointing, but in Hannibal Rising it’s undeniable. The revenge plot is simple and predictable. Hannibal tortures guy. Guy somehow knows the whereabouts of people from over a decade ago. Guy suffers a gruesome death from the depths of Hannibal’s imagination (though, sadly, most of the gore is edited out).

There are details that are often borderline cheesy too. For example, no one would have guessed Hannibal had secret samurai training during his youth. He also foreshadows during one tacky scene by placing a half-mask over his mouth similar to the one strapped onto his character in The Silence of the Lambs.

Hannibal Rising

Starring Gaspard Ulliel, Gong Li, Rhys Ifans, Dominic West

Directed by Peter Webber

Distributed by The Weinstein Company, MGM

Rated R for strong grisly violent content and some language/sexual references.

Stater rating (out of five): ??

To pinpoint why Hannibal turned to be the brilliant, merciless cannibal we know him as by citing one sad childhood event is disappointing by itself. The popularity of the Hannibal character has built him up too far for pitiful human tragedy to try to justify. All the mystery is lost.

The audience could feel sorry for the lost vision of novelist/Hannibal-creator Thomas Harris if he weren’t the one who wrote the screenplay, based on his own book that came out last December.

French actor Ulliel gives an admirable effort to live up to Anthony Hopkins’s landmark portrayal of the chilling doctor, but he falls short and sometimes goes over the top. His constantly bowed head and menacing upward stare becomes downright annoying by the end of the film.

However, Ulliel is able to match Hopkins’s fluid grace and playfulness during all the killing scenes. Li and Ifans give enthusiastic supporting performances that keep the film engrossing.

Director Peter Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring) also does what he can by capturing all the scenes in an artistic way.

The truth still remains that it’s been more than 15 years since The Silence of the Lambs produced the psychopathic, cultural icon of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and as usual, Hollywood doesn’t know when to stop. Hannibal was a colorful yet disappointingly romantic attempt, and the 2002 prequel, Red Dragon, was only a slight step up. And despite all its promise, Hannibal Rising falls flatter than any of them.

So, tell your date to skip Hannibal Rising this Valentine’s week. Stay out of the snow at home and share a romantic, candlelight dinner of liver, fava beans and nice Chianti.

Contact ALL correspondent Ally Melling at [email protected].