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With: Gaspard Ulliel, Rhys Ifans, Gong Li, Helena Lia Tachovska, Dominic West, Aaron Thomas, Kevin McKidd, Richard Brake
Written by: Thomas Harris, based on his novel
Directed by: Peter Webber
MPAA Rating: R for strong grisly violent content and some language/sexual references
Running Time: 117
Date: 02/07/2007
IMDB

Hannibal Rising (2007)

1/2 Star (out of 4)

Diet Desperation

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Hannibal series of horror films has gone more deeply down the drain than even the Halloween series or the Friday the 13th series. The main problem is not so much that the last couple of films were bad, which they were, but that they're following up a critically acclaimed Oscar-winner, The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and have taken on an air of pretentiousness. The other problem is the sheer contempt that oozes from both Hannibal Rising and its predecessor, Red Dragon (2002). These movies have no love for the characters, nor any respect for their audiences; they're just out to generate money.

This latest humorless entry goes back to the humble origins of Hannibal Lecter (played as a child by Aaron Thomas), living in a Lithuanian castle before World War II separates his family. A band of scuzzy rebels descend upon his sanctuary, doing unspeakable things to both Hannibal and his beloved younger sister Mischa (Helena Lia Tachovska). Years later the young man (Gaspard Ulliel) moves in with his sexy, seductive aunt, Lady Murasaki Shikibu (Gong Li) and vows revenge on his and his sister's tormenters. That's it. That's the secret to Hannibal's complex neurosis: revenge. I liked it better when I didn't know.

This is a big disappointment, but even worse is that twenty-something Hannibal appears to have sprung upon the world, fully formed. There's no sense of "rising" or of becoming anything. He's already an expert scholar, an accomplished artist and a cunning student of human nature. He can even hold his own with Inspector Pascal Popil (Dominic West, from TV's "The Wire") breathing down his neck.

But even worse is that Hannibal loses his famous cool when confronted by his ultimate demon, the lead bad guy, Vladis Grutas (Rhys Ifans), allowing him to turn the tables several times over. It's a toss-up as to who gives the worst performance: Ifans or Ulliel. Both leer and smirk and slaver their way through every line reading. Ulliel attempts a soulless copy of Anthony Hopkins, but Ifans copies every one-dimensional villain that ever walked across a movie screen. Poor Li doesn't fare much better; she's asked once again to play Japanese (as if there were no difference), and has nothing to do except get herself kidnapped.

Director Peter Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring) is far more talented than Red Dragon's Brett Ratner, but he's still at a loss. Hannibal Rising has nothing in the way of suspense or horror, and all the drama comes from these half-witted characters and their simple-minded obsessions. He manages some elegant compositions here and there, but they're nothing compared to the delicious, ludicrous opulence of Ridley Scott's entry, Hannibal (2001).

In The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal struck a chord with audiences, mainly because of his dangerous mystery and his clever tête-à-tête with Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). The makers of Hannibal Rising have tried to turn him into a cultural icon, a famous monster of filmland, without ever understanding what makes him tick (this goes double for novelist Thomas Harris, who created the beast and wrote this screenplay based on his own novel). The best Hannibal movie yet was the very first one, the one that very few people ever acknowledge, Michael Mann's Manhunter (1986), based on Harris' novel Red Dragon. In that, Hannibal (played by Brian Cox) never leaves his cage and quietly steals the movie with only a small portion of screen time.

That's the character's real power: his stillness and quiet, and the eerie thought that, even while caged, he's freer than any of us.

DVD Details: For the new "Unrated" edition, the Weinsteins have added 13 minutes of footage back into a film that never had much going for it in the first place. There's also four more minutes of deleted scenes, as well as a commentary track by director Webber and producer Martha De Laurentiis. We also get little featurettes on the history of Hannibal ("the most famous antagonist in the world," according to De Laurentiis) and one on the production design, plus trailers.

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