A few weeks ago when theaters debuted the trailer for Hannibal Rising, attached to an advertisement for a novel of the same name, every fan in the audience became nervous. It wasn't the twisted characters and chilling story that evoked their nerves, as viewers have been well desensitized to these through Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal. Rather, it was the fear that the characters and story had finally collapsed to commercialism.
Hannibal Rising goes back in time to the period of World War II, with Hannibal Lecter as a young boy witnessing the brutal murder of his parents and infant sister. Eight years later, Lecter escapes from an abusive orphanage to live with his trusted friend and aunt, Lady Murasaki.
The story proceeds with Lecter's pursuit of vengeance, as he advances through medical school and plunges into insanity. The question is, does this series warrant yet another novel and movie, or is this just an empty excuse to make a profit?
This prequel to the trilogy that made Thomas Harris famous is the most poorly written of the novels. Harris formerly wrote in a dry, elementary style. Here, however, this technique no
longer contributes to the creepy appeal that made Hannibal excellent. Instead, the pages drag on as the reader becomes increasingly anxious to get to the "good stuff."
Despite the distracting mediocrity of the author's writing, Harris made a thoughtful effort to create the history behind Lecter, a serial-killing cannibal and genius, and his efforts resulted in a compelling story. Hannibal Rising adds two new dimensions to the profile of Lecter: sympathy and motive. For the first time, readers see the killer in a pitiful state of weakness and a cause for his brutal killings. This adds to the complexity of his character, calling into question whether he was born a sociopath or became one.
The book ended well and came together as a fitting, if not necessary, addition to the other three. Naturally, the next step from its publication was a screenplay. But the process of turning Hannibal Rising into a
movie faced a slew of new problems. Most noticeably, the movie portrayed the main character as a young man, which changed little in writing but
everything in acting. While Harris created the terrifying Dr. Lecter, Anthony Hopkins gave him an irreplaceable face and voice.
Fortunately, Gaspard Ulliel mastered the role, adopting the unique subtleties that Hopkins defined, yet making no attempt to replicate his performance. He brought his own style to the part, with quirks and mannerisms that reveal new elements of Lecter's character. He perfected
the demented smile, random twitches, and icy stare that Hopkins created, and then added looks of uncertainty, vulnerability and fear. Ulliel rose above expectations to create a version of Dr. Lecter that was as disturbing as any other.
The change in director was also cause for concern, though it was a situation that fans are more than used to. Each installment of the series has had a different director, and the potential outcome of little-known Peter Webber's efforts was uncertain. But Webber's style was perhaps the most engaging that the series has seen. In fact, the movie was shot at a steadier pace than the novel was written. Additionally, the location was visually appealing, and the scenes were interesting and well-balanced between flashbacks, graphic violence, and well-written dialogue.
Everything came together to form a film that was as disturbing as it was realistic and most importantly, it didn't fall short in the Hannibal series. Most importantly, it didn't sell out. The nerves of fans can be at ease.
Although the book is not Harris's best work, and the movie is not at the caliber of The Silence of the Lambs, the story of Hannibal Rising is a welcome development to a character that fans have come to love and fear.