Monday, September 24, 2007

Hannibal Rising (2007)

After seriously dragging my feet, I finally got around to viewing Hannibal Rising, Peter Webber’s prequel that explains exactly why Hannibal Lecter loves the flesh of people so much. When I first heard about Rising, I was excited. The character of Hannibal Lecter has always fascinated me and I was anxious to see how a young Lecter progressed into a cannibalistic serial killer.

Of course, when it hit theaters and generated pretty bad reviews, I decided to wait until DVD. When it hit DVD, I just found myself continually putting off watching the flick. That is, until now…

The film certainly didn’t live up to my expectations of showcasing an intelligent and methodical killer honing his skills, but it sure was “purty” to look at!

A young Hannibal (Aaran Thomas) and his rich, castle-dwelling family are forced to flee their Lithuanian fortress when Nazi troops invade in WWII. The Lecter family hides out in a cabin in the woods with winter fast approaching. Hannibal and his younger sister Mischa (Helena Lia Tachovska) have an inseparable bond that only grows stronger when their parents are killed. They are left all alone as they continue hiding in the cabin as bitter winter sets in. A band of looters discovers the two children and take them hostage while they seek refuge from the Nazi troops. Pretty soon everyone is starving and young Hannibal is witness to some horrific things, including the death of his baby sister.

Years after escaping the Eastern Front, Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel) is living with his uncle’s widow, the Lady Murasaki (Li Gong), in Paris. He has a determination to hunt down his sister’s killers and make them pay for the horrible atrocities they committed. He enrolls in medical school and begins to seek out those that have caused him so much pain. One by one the men are killed, and Hannibal has to avoid Inspector Popil (Dominic West) who is hot on his trail.

As I said before, this film’s visuals are absolutely stunning. The opening World War II scenes are spectacular to behold, and the snow-covered countryside is something else! We are treated to grandiose images of Eastern European forests, lakes, castles as well as the fashions and people of Paris in those days. The cinematography by Ben Davis and the direction of Peter Webber really give us some breath-taking scenes to look at.

It’s too bad the story doesn’t measure up.

The whole problem with Hannibal Rising is that it feels nothing like a Hannibal Lecter movie. Gaspard Ulliel may be adorable to look at, but that doesn’t do him much good if he’s supposed to be playing a cold, calculating serial killer. Lecter’s shrewd deducing skills and sharp intelligence just don’t shine through in Ulliel’s performance. Just like the rest of the movie, Ulliel is pretty to look at but don’t expect much else from him. As a Hannibal Lecter movie, Hannibal Rising doesn’t work at all. I mean, Lecter as a samurai-in-training?! C’mon! There are just too many silly instances and clichés to qualify this as a “good” movie.

The scenes of revenge were executed quite nicely, though the actually acts aren’t shown explicitly on screen. The most vicious scene involved a length of rope and a horse that results in decapitation. I enjoyed when Hannibal caught up with his prey, but everything seemed a little too perfect and he seemed a little too calm and suave for a first-timer. The big climactic ending was also a bit of a let down, and felt like more of a James Bond, rescue-the-damsel-in-distress flick than a horror, or even thriller movie.

Overall, Hannibal Rising is a very beautiful, almost epic film in regards to its imagery, but falls short when it comes to its story. Instead it devolves into silliness and clichés, without every giving a clear picture as to Hannibal the Cannibal’s real motivations.

Check out Hannibal Rising if you want to look at pretty scenery. Check out Manhunter or Silence of the Lambs if you are hankering for some good ol’ fashioned Lecter.

Available from Amazon!

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