Hannibal Rising


In the history of cinema there are many great cinematic villains that have terrified movie audiences over the years. Often times they are frightening in appearance or deeds, sometimes they are misunderstood or victims of circumstance, and they can even be so captivating that you can’t help but pay attention to their many evil acts. These great villains range from the dreaded Darth Vader, to the slashers known as Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface, or the brilliant evil genius’ of the James Bond films, to the most feared psychological villain of all time, Hannibal ‘the cannibal’ Lecter. Moviemakers lately have felt the need to explain the origins to some of cinema’s classic villains from George Lucas’ prequel trilogy of ‘Star Wars’ films, to Leatherface’s lackluster origin story in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning”, the most recent addition to the list of villains getting the origin treatment would be Hannibal Lecter in the Weinstein Company’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel, “Hannibal Rising”.

“Hannibal Rising” is the origin story of Hannibal Lecter, showing how he went from being an innocent young boy in Lithuania to society’s most deadly, cannibalistic serial killer. As a young boy in Lithuania, Hannibal witnessed the deaths of his parents in World War 2, leaving he and his sister Mischa to fend for themselves. Just when Hannibal thought things couldn’t get worse, a group of militia men invade their home, taking Hannibal and Mischa hostage. Some time after that, grown up and in college, Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel), is mastering every course he takes, and well on his way to earning his doctorate. Little does his professors know that Hannibal hides a dark, deadly secret. In his own time he is obsessively pursuing the men that formed the militia, and if there’s one thing Hannibal intends to do when he finds them, it’s take his pound of flesh for what they’ve done.

The decision to make a prequel to the popular Hannibal Lecter trilogy of films seemed like a waste of time and space, simply a way for the studio to just cash in on the character’s well-known name. Which left me feeling like this would be a pathetic movie, because more than likely not a single person associated with the previous films would be involved, and for the most part I was right on that count, but there was a glimmer of a chance that this movie would be more than expected. Shortly after the film was greenlit, it was announced that the movie was being written by none other than Thomas Harris, the creator of Hannibal Lecter, based on his novel of the same name that he was in the process of finishing up. With that prospect, I thought that “Hannibal Rising” (at the time the movie was being called “Young Hannibal”) just may stand a chance of equaling its predecessors in terms of quality storytelling and acting that is among the best Hollywood has to offer.

Well, as good of a writer Thomas Harris is, or I should say was (his other three books in the Lecter series are great works of fiction), this novel and the screenplay that was based on it are far inferior to anything offered in the other installments. I was disappointed by the movie for several reasons; first I felt the actor chosen to portray young Hannibal was only okay. I understand he was trying to only give hints as to what this character will become later on, and I’ll give it to the actor, there were a couple of times that I saw a glimpse of Anthony Hopkins’ creepy portrayal seep in, but these were few and far between. For the most part the actor was just flat in his performance and apparently the only expression he really knew how to make was a snarl, he didn’t really have any of the nuances that Anthony perfected in this character.

Second, it seemed like Hannibal took to cannibalism a little too easily. I understand that the experiences the young man has endured would definitely scar a young child, but when he commits his first act of cannibalism, there doesn’t appear to be any uncertainty or disdain for what he’s doing. He simply does the deed, doesn’t appear to be bothered by it, in fact he may even have enjoyed it (the movie really doesn’t explain this), and moves on in search of the next victim on his list. Which brings me to my third problem with this movie; aside from revenge being his motive for killing those who’ve wronged him, he doesn’t show any further conviction to commit murder. Leaving one to wonder why he continued to murder throughout his life? Did the events in this movie create such an obsession within him that he just felt compelled to do more or what? This was an aspect that wasn’t explained, and I felt should have been, especially since this was to be the origin of his evil life and a deep psychological profile into the why of his life of crime. Instead, Thomas Harris’ screenplay barely scratched the surface, no doubt because the Weinstein’s are hoping to cash in on further installments of prequels, since Hopkins is probably through portraying the character.

“Hannibal Rising” is not the worst film ever made, it’s actually an ok movie, and if it had been the first in the series to be made, it may have seemed better. However, when comparing it to the other three already in the franchise, “Hannibal Rising” pales in comparison. The other movies contained many psychological aspects to them, especially “The Silence of the Lambs”, “Red Dragon” and “Hannibal” did to an extent just not as much, but this film didn’t contain any. There was potential, especially given that Hannibal endured a horrific childhood which is the root of his evil, but aside from a few dream sequences we don’t get much insight into his character. Which is probably where the biggest problem of this film lies, is that in trying to explain why Hannibal is who he is, the makers of the film try to make the audience feel sympathy for him. This is one of modern cinema’s greatest movie villains, I don’t want to feel sorry for him, I want to see what made him who he is. The filmmakers tried to accomplish the why of the character, but went about it wrong, they only focused on his thirst for vengeance, nothing further to shed light on his murderous impulses throughout his life. My guess is that the filmmakers were wanting the audience to feel that his killing is justified, at least in this movie (it’s just a really sick brand of justice), and in doing so you sympathize with him. What this all boils down to is that everyone pretty much dropped the ball on explaining the origin of Hannibal Lecter, opting simply to give audiences an average revenge tale, just a little gorier than most.

“Hannibal Rising” is unrated containing violence, gore, and language.

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