In this prequel to Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal trilogy, all our questions about Lecter’s murky past are finally answered. Where’s he from? Why did he become a cannibal? Who trained him as a samurai? Wait…what?
If this film had to belong to a conventional genre it would probably be horror on account of its gore, even though it’s not scary. The real genre it belongs to, however, is pointless cash-in prequel, as it languishes in a mundane middle ground between horror, thriller and war film in a pitiful attempt to flesh out the infamous cannibal’s back story.
It opens in Lithuania, where Lecter, of apparently noble lineage, becomes a victim first of the Nazis, and then the Communists for good measure. A group of soldiers kills and eats his sister, but at just eight years old diddy Hannibal is powerless to stop them. He grows up and escapes to France in a montage, and then trains as a samurai. Having learnt to kick ass Kill Bill style, he hunts down those who have wronged him and exacts his trademark form of bloody revenge.
The problem is that Hannibal’s a character we don’t need to see explained, especially if that explanation involves him being a samurai. The fun of meeting Lecter later in life comes from using our imaginations to fill in his history using the sketchy details we’ve been given. We don’t need to see Lecter as a little kid, we just need to know he once ate a census taker’s liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti. Ff, ff,ff. It’s like making a Star Wars prequel with Darth Vader as a child. It just wouldn’t work.
While this film adds little of any interest to the Lecter back story, one thing that is explained is where Hannibal gets his iconic mask, from a samurai suit his Japanese aunt keeps in her house. What the film makers don’t seem to realise is that the mask in Silence of the Lambs wasn’t a costume Lecter wore, it was a restraint to stop him biting people. Maybe they do realise and they just don’t care. In any case, he puts it on for a brief few seconds so they can stick it on the poster.
Sometimes inferior additions to franchises are accused of ruining the originals. No such accusation can be made here, as with none of the same actors, settings or plot elements, this really has nothing in common with the original films. In fact, the only thing it shares is a character called Hannibal, so it could equally be accused of ruining the Battle of Cannae.
As for performances, Gaspard Ulliel doesn’t do too badly as young Lecter, considering the impressive shoes he has to fill. He looks suitably evil, like a cannibalistic Loki, and seems to be enjoying himself. I couldn’t quite work out if he was underacting or overacting. In any case he seemed to be acting the wrong amount. It just about works though, as he at least manages to be noticeable in this otherwise piss poor flick.
Overall there’s a sense that they knew this could never be a great film, so were content to tick a handful of prequel boxes, sling in some gore and leave it at that. What results is a film that isn’t interesting or scary or fun. In my recent reviews of the Psycho sequels (II, III and IV) I said it was enjoyable to see what happened to Norman, even in inferior films. Well in Rising there’s no such pleasure. It’s so far removed from the other films that it’s not worth watching even for hard core fans. Hannibal let-down.