DVD Review: 'Hannibal Rising'
The movie isn't any good, but there are plenty of extras
Nobody wants to know how the sausage is made, particularly when the nature of its manufacturing is so banal and rudimentary. Like Magneto and several other baddies before him, the Nazis were responsible for Hannibal's pathology. Even a decade later, well on his way through medical school, Lecter is incapable of moving forward with his life without going all "Death Wish" on the band of evil soldiers who kept him and his younger sister terrorized and trapped over one fateful winter.
Thus, one of cinema's more intriguing portraits of unfathomable evil has been reduced to just another low-brow slasher, offing his victims one at a time.
All else is a muddle.
The film's main character, the young Lecter, is a Lithuanian transplanted to France, played by a French actor (Gaspard Ulliel) whose ability to deliver English-language dialogue in any accent is suspect. He's assisted by a Japanese woman transplanted to France played by a Chinese actress (Gong Li), whose inability to deliver English-language dialogue is well-established (see "Miami Vice" or "Memoirs of a Geisha"). Lecter's adversary is a Russian who colluded with the Germans played by a Welsh actor (Rhys Ifans), whose most recognizable henchman is played by a Scottish actor (Kevin McKidd). On Lecter's trail throughout is a French investigator played by a Brit (Dominic West), best known for playing a cop from Baltimore (on "The Wire"). It's perfectly suited that nobody speaks with the same accent and nobody can get across their dialogue clearly because the movie was written by a well-established novelist (Thomas Harris) without a screenplay to his credit working from a book that was almost universally derided upon its release.
To top it all off, the movie is directed by Peter Webber, a British director whose only previous feature credit was 2003's "Girl with a Pearl Earring," a sumptuously shot movie with -- to put it kindly -- pacing problems. On "Hannibal Rising," Webber continues to display a painter's eye. Taken frame-by-frame, "Hannibal Rising" is occasionally evocative and periodically haunting, but it never builds any tension and perhaps because nobody on set was speaking or reading the same language, it's impossible to develop an emotional bond (either a rooting interest, or an engaged distaste) for any of the characters.
Ulliel must, unfortunately, take the bulk of the blame, though he never should have been put in this position. As a literary character, Hannibal Lecter is only as terrifying as Anthony Hopkins made him and watching Ulliel's performance, there's nary a hint of evidence how his Lecter became the man we saw in "Silence of the Lambs."
According to the 16-minute featurette "Hannibal Lecter: The Origin of Evil," Ulliel was actually attempting to set up parallels between his performance and Hopkins', but it'd be hard to know, since nobody secured the rights to any of the three Hopkins Lecter films, so the featurette lacks any side-by-side comparisons. That's just one of the ways, though, that this behind-the-scenes dud is lacking. Despite repeated praise for his genius and availability, Thomas Harris doesn't appear on-camera, nor do any of the actors besides Ulliel. One producer and one hack journalist keep popping up to talk about the audience's insatiable desire for more information about the Lecter character, but having seen the box office returns for the movie, I know how laughable that contention is.
A second featurette, the seven-minute "Allan Starski: Designing Horror and Elegance," is far superior. The production design for "Hannibal Rising" is, indeed, one of its unimpeachable facets and Starski, an Oscar winner for "Schindler's List," is a true titan of his craft, a collaborator with Eastern European cinema legends from Wajda to Polanski.
Webber's commentary is far too erudite and thoughtful to be stuck on a movie of this caliber. You get the hunch that the arty European film he was best-able to direct was at odds with the piece of ghoulish hack-work the property demanded. He'll live to work again even as "Hannibal Rising" languishes in the bargain bin.