I don't know who it was that said "OK, look. Anthony Hopkins is too old (and expensive) at this point, but damn this Hannibal Lecter series just oozes money from every pore. Let's get that Harris guy to bang out another book, which we can release a month before the movie comes out.
It'll be a prequel that covers what went down in Lecter's early life that turned him into such a man-eating maniac..." -- but someone across from the board-room table should have spoken up right then and said "Dude, stop. Hopkins IS this series. Without him playing Hannibal Lecter, we've got what? A period piece horror flick about a young villain who discovers the joys of cannibalism? Plus, if we all know he lives at the end, where's the tension? Are we actually planning to turn Hannibal Lecter into a hero? Hey, while we're at it, let's turn Freddy Krueger into a comedian!"
Apparently a conversation like this never took place, because if it had then /Hannibal Rising/ would have never seen the light of day. It's a painfully arid and unintentionally amusing little curiosity that offers a whole lot to talk about ... but very little that's actually worthy of conversation. The gimmick here is that, as we open in 1944 Lithuania, Hannibal Lecter is a perfectly normal little boy, although one who becomes irretrievably twisted and cannibalistically ravenous after a gang of evil war criminals invade his home and, well, eat his little sister. Yikes.
That Hannibal Lecter's evil mystique has now been washed away is a damn shame indeed. Frankly I wish the movie series had began and ended with Silence of the Lambs (review here), but we all know that money breeds sequels. Unfortunately the Lecter series has gone way downhill since Jonathan Demme's oscar-winning classic -- and I'm bummed to say that 'Rising' is probably the weakest of the lot. First off, the kid who plays the young Lecter (Gaspard Ulliel) is either woefully miscast, egregiously talent-deficient, or both. After only about fifteen minutes with the perpetually sneering kid, you'll just want to smack him and take his fork away. Ulliel comes off more like a petulant teen who just lost his favorite Depeche Mode poster than an aspiring criminal mastermind / man-eating monster.
The flick commits the cardinal sin of horror-dom by over-explaining everything. In Silence of the Lambs we knew very little about Lecter's past, which made the character all the more intriguingly creepy. Here we get a bunch of silly little throw-in touches (ooh,a mask! ooh, a chef!) that smooth out all of Lecter's rough edges. Plus the guy's about as intimidating as a mildly irritated kitten, and that certainly doesn't up the creep factor.
I won't even get into the film's more ridiculous subplots, like how Lecter shacks up with a Japanese aunt-in-law and discovers the joys of the Samurai, but what's most disappointing about Hannibal Rising is the depths to which it will sink in an effort to paint the lunatic as ahero. According to this movie, he only became a cannibal because of some very evil bastards (who ate his little sister!) and even when Hanny DOES get down to some serious slashin' -- he's only killing some former war criminals who, by the way, are now a bunch of slave-trading scoundrels.
Plus since we know that Lecter will grow up to turn into Anthony Hopkins and star in three more movies, it really does suck any sense of tension or mystery from the proceedings. The flick is basically an "art-house slasher flick," a combination that sounds groovy on paper, but turns out quite ridiculous on the big screen. Aside from some hellacious WWII warfare found in Act I and a few small handfuls of creepy atmosphere, Hannibal Rising is an absolute time-waster. The backstory is boring, the actors are all off, and the whole damn project has the reek of "afterthought." Too little, too late, and one too many, folks.
That's my review of the Hannibal Rising theatrical cut. Regarding the "unrated version," which runs about 12 minutes longer than the multiplex cut, all I can say is "Zzzzzz." Most of the new footage, save for a few half-nifty early scenes, were obviously cut for good reason. And by that I mean issues of pacing and logic, and not because they were too gory or violent. Basically an extra twelve minutes of yap.
Things do get a little better in the extras department: Director Peter Webber and producer Martha De Laurentiis deliver a surprisingly solid audio commentary that's as informative as it is kinda ... overly enthusiastic about the movie. A pair of featurettes called "Hannibal Lecter: The Origin of Evil" (16m) and "Designing Horror and Elegance" (8m) cover the character's long-lasting impact and prequel production design, respectively. Also included are about four minutes of fairly worthless deleted scenes and a pair of HR theatrical trailers.
All in all, a fine DVD for a pretty lame movie. If you're a die-hard Lecter fan you'll probably want to add this one to your collection, if only for completion's sake. I highly doubt that we'll be seeing any more Hannibal Lecter misadventures, old, young, whatever.