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Review

'Hannibal Rising' disappointing in the movie’s series

February 15, 2007

Thump. Thump. You hear that? That’s the sound of a dead horse being beaten. In this case, the brutalized equine is none other than the Hannibal Lecter franchise.

Although purists will argue that Hannibal was first unleashed in 1986’s “Manhunter,” it wasn’t until 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs” that people really met this twisted mind, launching them into a realm of messed-up cinema Hollywood has yet to look back from.

“Hannibal Rising” is here to “explain Hannibal’s violent past.”

Our story begins in 1944 Lithuania, as little Hannibal Lecter is left an orphan after his parents perish in a battle and his sister is eaten by looting soldiers. Years later, a more grown-up Hannibal (now played by Gaspard Ulliel) makes his way to France, where he tracks down his uncle’s widow, Lady Murasaki (Li Gong), and sets into motion a plan to hunt down the guilty parties and exact his own brand of bloody justice.

Remaining one step ahead of the pursuing Inspector Popil (Dominic West), Hannibal uses a combination of medical expertise and sinister intellect to punish these men, though with each killing, Hannibal moves closer to becoming the vessel of pure evil he will eventually be.

For a while, I was convinced that “Hannibal Rising” wouldn’t turn out to be a category seven crap-storm.

I dug the lush, dark cinematography, which brings out the foreboding nature of the film’s settings. The violence quotient didn’t turn up anything as memorable as anything in the other Hannibal films, but it’s enough to satisfy gore-hounds.

Li Gong turns in a good supporting performance as Hannibal’s aunt and lover, who aids Hannibal in his quest but soon becomes repelled by his violent nature.
But the one aspect of “Hannibal Rising” that nearly sinks the entire production is Hannibal himself. Ulliel makes for a piss-poor Hannibal. The performance itself is incredibly awkward, coming across more as Crispin Glover having an off day more than the world’s most terrifying serial killer.

In addition to Ulliel’s garbled accent and overall inability to even come close to filling Hopkins’ shoes, Thomas Harris, who wrote all of the Hannibal novels and wrote this film’s screenplay, slaps together a pretty done-to-death set of motivations for Lecter, an explanation that might serve a slasher-villain well but doesn’t quite cut it for a man of such complex evil as Hannibal.

Hannibal is a much more terrifying figure when his motives are left in the dark, and moments like when director Peter Webber correlates a samurai mask here with that muzzle Hannibal wears in “Lambs” are downright laughable.

As drenched in atmosphere and violent to the point of camp as “Hannibal Rising” is, in the end, it’s just a little better than “Dumb and Dumberer” in the realm of prequels that didn’t really need to be made.

A.J. Hakari is a student at UW-River Falls.

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