DVD Review: Hannibal Rising - Unrated
Release Date: May 29, 2007
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
· Peter Webber
· Gaspard Ulliel
· Gong Li
· Rhys Ifans
· Dominic West
· IMDb: Hannibal Rising
by R.J. Carter
Published: May 28, 2007
Director Peter Webber joins forces with author Thomas Harris to give us an indepth look at the childhood of serial killing cannibal and media cash cow, Hannibal Lecter. It seems that it's not enough to know the man is an intelligent monster -- we must know why he is an intelligent monster.
Gaspard Ulliel gets tasked with the insurmountable job of imitating a junior Anthony Hopkins, and the result comes off seeming much like that -- imitation. Indeed, the whole film is filled with such repeating imagery -- the restraining mask, this time seen as the faceplate of samurai armor; the boars; the turn of a phrase -- that it all seems to be a feature-length foreshadowing scene.
The film starts with a younger Hannibal, fleeing with his family from Castle Lecter in Lithuania to avoid the conflict between the Nazis and the Russians. Despite their taking shelter away from the fighting, Hannibal nonetheless sees his parents killed before his eyes, leaving him as the sole caregiver for his younger sister, Mischa. But worse than the Nazis for Hannibal are the Lithuanian looters who would be SS, and who also play their part for the Russians. They come upon Hannibal's shelter, and force their way in to evade the winter. They are brutal and sadistic and, when food cannot be found, they turn to cannibalism, and Mischa.
This sets in motion the rest of the story. Hannibal escapes his captivity, and we later see him as an orphan in a facility run by the Communists -- in his very own castle. He is bullied there, but we see the Lecter intelligence come to the fore as he viciously outwits his tormentors, sneaking out of the orphanage and making a daring escape across the Iron Curtain and into western Europe. With nothing but an address of an uncle in France, Hannibal makes his way to the estate of his aunt, the Lady Murasaki (Gong Li). She is widowed now, but takes Hannibal in -- he looks so like his uncle. While he stays, she teaches him her religion, the ways of the samurai, and Lector proves to be an apt student with a blade. But where Murasaki sought to teach Hannibal temperance and restraint, the driven young man instead uses the knowledge to become a killer.
The rest of the film is a revenge fantasy. Lecter, whose first burst of violence in defending his aunt's honor against a vichy Frenchman has already brought him to the attention of Inspector Popil (Dominic West), finds a way to track down the looters who killed his sister. Of course, the looters have moved on to better stations in life, but they -- led by Grutas (Rhys Ifans) -- have also moved on to other evils: so-called white slavery. Which continues to place Hannibal in the role of sympathetic hero and avatar of justice through to the end. And while the denouement may shed light on that final straw that pushed Lecter over the brink of madness, it does not give cause as to what led him to continue this path -- and, God help me, I think that was intentional so that they could leave things open for more sequels of the young Lecter.
Connoisseur. Hannibal Lecter (Ulliel) surprises one of his victims.
This unrated edition runs at 131 minutes, but does not contain much in the way of excessive gore (at least, not exceeding that which was in the theatrical cut.) Viewers will likely be more creeped out by the underplayed romantic relationship between Hannibal and his aunt than by seeing him behead his enemies. Further, the trap of every prequel is that, by way of trying to explain the past, they inevitably end up obfuscating the present, inserting continuity and logic gaps that weren't there before and weren't bothering us in the slightest.
If you need a Hannibal Lecter fix, there's absolutely nothing untenable about a repeated viewing of "Silence of the Lambs", which continues to hold up after all these years. The difference between "Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal Rising" is that "Silence" achieved its place in history and has remained there; "Hannibal Rising" fails to rise, and will remain as unremarkable in the future as it is today. "Hannibal Rising" is nothing you can sink your teeth into.
Bonus features on this unrated release include an audio commentary track with director Peter Webber and producer Martha De Laurentis. De Laurentis, Ulliel, and others also provide their insights through interview segments in the sixteen minute making-of featurette, "Hannibal Lecter: The Origin of Evil". There are five deleted scenes, viewable with optional commentary by Webber, and a seven and a half minute interview with set designer Allan Starski. For the bonus feature starved, there is also a "Trailer Gallery", where you can see the theatrical trailer and teaser for the film.
Audio is in English only, with subtitles in English and Spanish.
Previews on this disc include "1408", "Nomad the Warrior", and "Black Christmas".