Film Reviews

HANNIBAL RISING

By • Feb 9th, 2007 •

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MGM/The Weinstein Co. / A Dino De Laurentiis presentation in association with Quinta Communications and Ingenious Film partners
Running time — 121 minutes

Much better than the lousy book. Perfect casting of French actor Gaspard Ulliel as Hannibal.

There were no press or promotional screenings for HANNIBAL RISING. That’s always a bad sign, but I enjoyed the movie. I read Thomas Harris’s book and it was a huge disappointment. I really enjoyed the previous Hannibal book, “Hannibal,” in which Hannibal showed a delicious meanness and was quite clever. The movie adaptation made Lecter out to be a prissy, fussy queen who spent way too much time discussing when to pick Bordeaux grapes and writing notes on custom-made-to-his-specifications scented stationery.

Meeting diva Hannibal Lecter, I would have quickly surmised, ‘He can’t get it up.’

Thomas Harris wrote the screenplay for HANNIBAL RISING. Harris has fallen in love with his creation. Hannibal Lecter started out DOING GOOD! I was surprised director Peter Webber, who helmed the weepy THE GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING was chosen. However, Webber cleverly bypassed Harris’s inane and inadequate script the only way a skilled director can – by visually showing what the written word lacks.

This prequel stars French actor Gaspard Ulliel as the young Hannibal Lecter and Gong Li as Hannibal’s silly ethereal aunt. HANNIBAL RISING tells the story of the future monstrous serial killer growing up on his family’s estate in Lithuania, Lecter Castle. Young Hannibal’s upbringing is aristocratic until World War ll arrives and the Nazis invade. Hannibal adores his baby sister, Mischa, and becomes her protector when his parents are murdered in front of them.

Mischa is savagely killed and this traumatizes Hannibal. He ends up a mute, angry boy in an orphanage established by the Soviets at Lecter Castle. After Hannibal’s first murder at the orphanage – where he only hurts the bullies – he goes to Paris where he finds that his father’s brother has died and left a very young, exotic wife, Lady Murasaki, a Japanese aristocrat who also lost family members in Hiroshima. It takes Lady Murasaki one look at Hannibal and she wants “sexy time.”

In the book, Lady Murasaki is a riot draped in kimonos and smelling of fresh jasmine. She floats. She has a servant playing a lute as she bathes. She bathes a lot. Hannibal watches. I wanted to scream at her: “Get a damn job!”

Thankfully, Webber dumped the bathing nonsense and floating kimonos. Though the bath scenes must have been filmed to make Harris happy – I noticed a candle lit tub (but thankfully, Lady Muraski kept her kimono on and did not take a bath in front of Hannibal). Lady Murasaki does wear kimonos shopping at the open market.

Tormented by nightmares, Hannibal goes to medical school and decides to avenge Mischa’s death by imaginatively killing those nasty Soviets led by Grutas (Rhys Ifans – he looks good. Did he have work done?)

The casting of Ulliel as Hannibal is perfect. With the crushing limitations of Harris’s screenplay, Webber and Ulliel give Hannibal immense pleasure in killing. His face easily conveys a lust for killing not in the book. Harris’s book made his iconic monster – the most famous villain in movie history – a dull, sullen blank slate who merely avenges his sister’s death. In the movie, Ulliel does indeed show an appetite for cruelty and a taste for human flesh.

Lady Muraski is no saint either. Where did that come from?

So serial killers are made, not born. I disagree, of course. Where would civilization be without extreme genetic aggression and the pleasure of killing? In another time, Hannibal Lecter might have conquered a country.

Alexander the Great was a fiend (very conservative figures suggest that in the space of just eight years Alexander the Great had slain well over 200,000 men in pitched battle alone); Aztec human sacrifices (20,000 per year); Mongol conquests (40 million dead); Genghiz Khan (massacred 6 million Christians in 1214), and finally, the Mohammedan Conquest of India. Historian Koenraad Elst estimates that “between the year 1000 and 1525, eighty million Hindus died at the hands of Muslim invaders, probably the biggest holocaust in the whole history of our planet.”


Credits:
Director: Peter Webber
Screenwriter: Thomas Harris
Producers: Dino De Laurentiis, Martha De Laurentiis
Tarak Ben Ammar
Director of photography: Ben Davis
Production designer: Allan Starski
Editors: Pietro Scalia, Valerio Bonelli
Costume designer: Anna Sheppard
Music: Ilan Eshkeri, Shigeru Umebayashi

Cast:
Hannibal Lecter: Gaspard Ulliel
Lady Murasaki: Gong Li
Grutas: Rhys Ifans
Inspector Popil: Dominic West
Kolnas: Kevin McKidd
Dortlich: Richard Brake

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