Prequels are almost always unnecessary. They diminish the mystery surrounding the stories and characters of their sequels. Sometimes what you don’t know is far more intriguing than what you do. This is the major problem with “Hannibal Rising.”
Hannibal Lecter was portrayed originally by a totally creepy Brian Cox, then mastered by a superbly horrific Anthony Hopkins and finally perfected by a suavely monstrous Mads Mikkelsen. The history of the character has always been shrouded in mystery. How can an amazingly intelligent and charismatic individual be so violently insane? What kind of upbringing could create such a ghoul?
These questions are answered unsatisfactorily in “Hannibal Rising,” which wraps its origin story in a plot of revenge, with Hannibal tracking down the men who killed his young sister in Lithuania during World War II. Some viewers might appreciate the background story; I know I definitely wondered about Lecter’s past. The problem is, once the mystery is solved, what’s left? When watching a prequel it’s difficult not to think about what eventually does happen, removing any suspense from the story.
Directed by Peter Webber (“The Girl With the Pearl Earring”) and based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Harris (“Red Dragon”, “The Silence of the Lambs”, “Hannibal”), “Hannibal Rising” is visually appealing. The shooting locations - particularly the forests - are beautiful. The cinematography is sweeping, and the overall color scheme is interesting and appropriate for the tone of the film.
The other issue is the casting of Hannibal Lecter. Lecter has been so perfected that Gaspard Ulliel (mainly known for his roles in French productions) has enormous shoes to fill. His constant “evil scowl” was off-putting and distracting. His accent, as well as the accents of much of the cast, broke suspension of disbelief. You could fault poor direction or acting but ultimately the character of Hannibal Lecter is, was and always will be (to me) Anthony Hopkins.
“Hannibal Rising” was competently made, though slightly overlong and unfortunately unnecessary. I haven’t read the book, but if the quality of this adaptation’s story is anything to go by, it’s easy to assume that Thomas Harris was pressured by his publishers to write a prequel. He already had perfection in “Red Dragon” and “The Silence of the Lambs” (a personal favorite). One could go out on a limb and even compare this film to “The Phantom Menace.” That movie turned a supervillain (Darth Vader) into a towheaded little pod racer who liked exclaiming “Yipee!” Do we really need to see the makings of a monster? My answer is: absolutely not.
Overall rating: 5/10