Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs is one of the most effective thrillers ever. Its follow-up, Hannibal, was a disappointing yet passable film. A year later, Red Dragon fully revived the Hannibal franchise in all its suspenseful glory. 2007 brings us Hannibal Rising, a pointless (but still visually arresting, thanks to Prague and France) prequel directed by Peter Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring) that serves up a cold entrée of answers that are in desperate need of reheating.
Throughout Hannibal Rising, I was reminded of one of the final moments in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, when a psychiatrist explains in detail the psyche of Norman Bates. We learn why he killed the most important person in his life, why he set to keep her “alive”, and why he continues his path. It goes down as the worst part of the film.
Now imagine a two-hour film like this. In Hannibal Rising, writer Thomas Harris unveils the why that no one really wanted to discover anyway. As it turns out, young Hanbone’s childhood experiences (which I won’t fully spoil here) led him to become a mute, a spell that is broken by his aunt Lady Murasaki (the lovely Gong Li). Hannibal vows revenge against the six SS militiamen that made a meal of his sister…and he’s going to do it one by one with methods that will make all goreheads smile. Think Uma Thurman’s The Bride as a cannibal.
The reason Silence and Red Dragon are effective is due in part to the mystery behind Lecter. Anthony Hopkins has just over 16 minutes of screen time in Silence, and just enough in Dragon. He owns Hannibal, undoubtedly a weaker installment. With Rising, Lecter is in nearly every scene, making us too comfortable with him. And what’s worse is that he’s played by the decidedly less creepy Gaspard Ulliel, who uses melodramatic cries to somehow imitate the more restrained Mr. Hopkins.
Hopkins’ eyes in any installment make our heart pound louder than the entirety of Rising, a devastatingly sloppy and obvious endeavor. Webber’s film is void of suspense, save the provisionally unnerving moments with the 8-year-old Hannibal (Aaron Thomas). The “paralyzing” bullet to the spine and exploding houseboat scenes don’t work because we know Lecter is a-okay enough to eat the census taker’s liver sometime before Silence. Not even newbies can be fooled into liking Hannibal Rising.
Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary (4:18): There are five here, presumably cut for time, despite their brief length.
Hannibal Lecter: The Origin of Evil (16:08): Hannibal enthusiasts and fans of Rising will dig this one, while the “haters” won’t bother after they finish the film. This featurette dives into the origins and evolution of the project, along with a number of enhancing clips from the film.
Designing Horror and Elegance with Production Designer Allan Starski (7:29): Fight the thick accent and you’ve got quite an interesting bit on the location/set design of the film and how Starski achieved the vision.
And some Trailers.