It must be understood that, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, the first film in the franchise, is untouchable – a superb masterpiece of filmmaking. No amount of effort or money in the entire world could ever make a sequel, or prequel for that matter, better than the one that started it all. My expectations have been completely squashed after the disappointment that was HANNIBAL and my love for the character and his history diminished even more with the bland thriller RED DRAGON. With the announcement of HANNIBAL RISING all I could do was laugh a little and assume that a prequel would be more of a joke that the previous two entries – I was 100% wrong in my assumptions. RISING is a fantastic stand-alone film that should not (cannot) be compared to any of the others.
At last, the evolution of his evil is revealed. Hannibal Lecter emerges from the nightmare of the Eastern Front, a boy in the snow, mute, with a chain around his neck. He seems utterly alone, but he has brought his demons with him. Hannibal’s uncle, a noted painter, finds him in a Soviet orphanage and brings him to France, where Hannibal will live with his uncle and his uncle’s beautiful and exotic wife, Lady Murasaki. Lady Murasaki helps Hannibal to heal.With her help he flourishes, becoming the youngest person ever admitted to medical school in France. But Hannibal’s demons visit him and torment him.When he is old enough, he visits them in turn. He discovers he has gifts beyond the academic, and in that epiphany, Hannibal Lecter becomes death’s prodigy.
There are various reasons why making a prequel is difficult and many ways to either please, or piss off, your already committed audience. In the end the filmmakers must realize that you cannot win everyone over, so they must pick the path that appears to me “organic” to the story – basically the story should tell itself. One of the assumptions I made going into the film was that Thomas Harris would try and be “smart” and “tricky” in his storytelling, but thankfully he wasn’t. We know Hannibal Lecter and we know what he’s capable of, so all we want to know is “why?” Something that really bothered a lot of horror fans who saw the new TEXAS CHAINSAW film was that they felt there wasn’t enough of a back story on Leatherface… if you’re one of those people you’re going to love RISING. In fact, there might even be too much back-story for it’s own good.
HANNIBAL RISING plays our empathy strings by the telling of Hannibal’s horrible childhood experience that only deepens when it turns into a KILL BILL revenge style thriller. He’s been wronged and he’s going to get revenge. The audience roots for our killer, but soon we’ll regret our decision (in SILENCE). But what really turns the story into an effective experience is the final twist, the moment where Hannibal finally “snaps”. This moment is the pinnacle of the movie and the essential centerpiece or backbone for the entire franchise. Ultimately, in the end I asked myself, “did this movie do anything to ‘add’ to my experience of any of the other films in the franchise?” Short answer, yes.
As entertaining and relevant as the film is, it does have it’s flaws, specifically with the lose-lose situation of the plotline. If Thomas went creative on us and really went “out there” in his story I think most of us would have sighed and shook our heads, but telling the story straight as an arrow only makes it a little obvious. We obviously know where the story is going and some of the history of the character – and if you’ve ready the books you would also know some of the plot turns in RISING. But like I said, it’s a lose-lose situation, so there has to be some level of lenience given.
The book hasn’t been receiving rave reviews, maybe because of this trite direction it follows, but the directing by Peter Webber and the cinematography by Ben Davis enhance the experience on a visceral level. The locations are beautiful (Prague), the costume designs magnificent and the aesthetic beauty of the entire team’s collaboration make HANNIBAL RISING a look everyone will be pleased by. It’s going to be hard for anyone to hate this movie because it is so well done. It’s even harder to hate it when they scored such a marvelous actor in Gaspard Ulliel (Hannibal Lecter). He’s got perfect spunk and a sharp, calculated attitude that really helped you remember that he’s supposed to be THE Hannibal Lecter. He’s also got a really unique scar on his left cheek that give him sort of a Joker smile, he looks like a sly fox planning something evil all the time. Calculated to perfection.
Just remember, Harris couldn’t win with us on a storytelling level no matter what he did, but I respect the direction he went in. What you should expect is a simple revenge thriller with some magnificent FX work and a little shocker at the end that is sure to have a strong emotional impact on fans of the franchise (if you don’t figure it out first). This is, in my opinion, the best Hannibal film since SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and it did carry a little of that “bite” I was hoping for.