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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Hannibal Rising (review)

Undercooked Ham

So, this Hannibal Lecter Babies movies, it’s mostly just boring, and in the rare few moments when it isn’t boring, the rare few moments when it dares to be even the slightest bit adventurous, it’s either risible or reprehensible. It takes one of the greatest boogeymen in the history of cinema and turns him into a comic book villain. Oh, and it’s ridiculously banal, to boot.

This unholy fiend, this inhuman monster, this Hannibal Lechter, what could possibly have driven him to his unspeakable crimes, to the depths of his sadistic atrocity? See, it’s like this: He had a rotten childhood. Really. And sure, plenty convincing and poignant stories can be and have been told about rotten childhoods creating rotten adults, but this is not one of those stories. The possibilities for one are here: We meet young Lecter, maybe 10 years old or so, in 1944, as Nazi tanks are rolling into the Lithuanian village where he and his family lives. Well, they live in Castle Lecter, which instantly brings thoughts to mind of, oh, Castle Frankenstein or something. Not generous thoughts, not thoughts about tapping into archetypes and rich veins of mythology, but instead thoughts about clichés and crude glomming onto the power of other, better stories.
But still I waited, thinking: Interesting, what Thomas Harris the novelist and screenwriter is setting up here, Hannibal a product of the horrors of World War II, Hannibal a monster civilization made. And yet the film never follows through with that. Young Lecter (Aaron Thomas) and his toddler sister, Mischa, (Helena Lia Tachovska) end up being held captive by a cruel band of Lithuanian looters (led by Rhys Ifans: Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, Vanity Fair), and Something Bad happens. The film keeps flashing back to this event as it moves on to follow the teenaged Lecter (Gaspard Ulliel: A Very Long Engagement), as if there were some suspense in how this Something Bad resolved itself, but knowing what we know about Lecter, we can guess what happened. And so the heart and soul of the young Lecter is destroyed, and he vows revenge, and this is why he is a monster.

Except, you know, 99.9999 percent of the people who survived even the worst horrors of WWII did not turn into sociopathic monsters, no matter how traumatized they were. And revenge is one thing, but why does he continue to murder and cannibalize after his revenge is complete, as it is by the end of this film? I mean, sure, okay: He’s gone mad. But none of what we see in the film feels like a persuasive portrait of a descent into madness. It’s just: boom, he’s crazy. So we’re back to the same old “he’s just evil,” which is boring in a movie that’s supposed to be about how he got to be evil. Look, he’s just bad, okay. Jeez, stop bugging the movie already. Man.

The scariest thing about Hannibal Rising is that this seems to indicate that there will have to be another movie, in order to explain the explanation of Lecter’s evil, which will basically negate the ostensible reason for this film’s existence. It’s all shorthand anyway, this Hannibal Rising, as if the movie assumes we don’t really care about how Hannibal got to be the way he is and just want to see him eat someone’s liver with some fava beans and nice chianti for the first time. Quid pro quo, audience — quid pro quo. You show up, and Hannibal will eat someone’s cheeks. “He picked some wild mushrooms and made a brochette: mushrooms and cheeks.” a French cop says, so casual, like he sees human cannibalism every day. Probably he saw The Silence of the Lambs. Apparently the French police detective (Dominic West: The Forgotten, Mona Lisa Smile) who is trying to tie Lecter to a brutal murder has too: He dubs Lecter “monstrous” after one brief meeting, perhaps the quickest diagnosis in the history of law enforcement.

It’s all very standard-potboiler by the end — it’s even got a damsel in distress in Gong Li (Curse of the Golden Flower, Miami Vice), who plays Lecter’s aunt-by-marriage, through whom we get to see Lecter develop an erotic fascination with blood and violence. Which is a bit yucky, but low in the ranking of all the many things wrong with this film. Then again, making a hero of a monster and suggesting that there are some people who deserve to be tortured has become par for the course for horror flicks these days, so even that’s not surprising anymore. Disturbing, yes, if not in the way the film wants to disturb. But so predictable as to be banal itself.

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MPAA: rated R for strong grisly violent content and some language/sexual references

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
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  • Mike Donohoe

    Hello. Just read most of your damning review and must say that you are way offbase on *Hannibal Rising.* The one thing that I might agree on is the silliness of “Lecter Castle,” and, I suppose, the damsel in distress, although that didn’t really bother me too much.

    To say that this movie leaves *Hannibal* in the dust is not to say much.

    As for turning H.L. into a comic book villain, well, he is damned near a comic book hero, el oh well!

    Which perhaps, deep down, might be your real probelm with it, the one you’ve been suppressing all your life; that you, yourself, are among the rude!

    What the movie does in its climax is to show that Hannibal is not only attempting to avenge his sister, but, driven mad as a child by the circumstances of having *participated* in eating the sister he adored and protected. That is like the switch to Hannibal’s madness, the thing which he can never undo or escape although he must try madly to do so. The “man with the eyes of an arctic wolf” has in essence taken this boy who earlier had thrown rocks at the wolves who fed on the corpses of their invaders and infected him with, allegorically speaking, werewolfism, all of which harkens to Lycos in ancient Greece who accidentally partook of human flesh rather than lamb in a test and was transformed into a wolf for 7 years.

    He is still at heart essentially a good werewolf as they go, a heroic monster. Well, at any rate, me thinks though dost protest too much. Bon appetite! :^) Mike

  • Robert P.

    Haven’t seen it but one of the better parts, possibly *the* best part of the book “Hannibal” was the description of the events of his childhood, which was completely left out of the movie, apparently because they were saving it to make this movie.

    What I got from it was that he was an intelligent but strange kid to begin with. He may well have grown up to be a monster anyway, the events that unfolded may have only had an effect on what kind of monster. From your description, I take it “Hannibal Rising” pretty much followed the events in the previous book.

    Hollywood screenwriters might not be this clever or engaged with continuity, so it might have been by accident but there were a couple of lines from previous films that stuck out in my mind once I’d read the part about HL’s past. He refers to the reasons as to why he’s imprisoned as “…what you call my ‘crimes’…”. Also “…a rational society would have killed me long ago…”

    Seen in the context of his past, this takes on a different meaning – there’s a twisted logic to it and addresses your question as to why he continues his killing – he feels completely justified in preying on a screwed up world that has done him harm.

    That and he’s insane. ;-)

  • MaryAnn

    What the movie does in its climax is to show that Hannibal is not only attempting to avenge his sister, but, driven mad as a child by the circumstances of having *participated* in eating the sister he adored and protected.

    Yes, I understand what the movie *tells us* about Lecter’s madness — the problem is that it does not convincingly *show us.* Any movie can have a character *say* all kinds of weird and bizarre things, but unless the rest of the presentation of that story supports those things, the story has failed.

    addresses your question as to why he continues his killing – he feels completely justified in preying on a screwed up world that has done him harm.

    I’m not looking for an explanation — any explanation — for Lecter’s insanity. It’s not that I don’t understand what we’re *supposed to* get from the film. But the film doesn’t show that.

  • Robert P.
    Spaketh I:

    addresses your question as to why he continues his killing – he feels completely justified in preying on a screwed up world that has done him harm.

    Respondeth MAJ:

    I’m not looking for an explanation — any explanation — for Lecter’s insanity. It’s not that I don’t understand what we’re *supposed to* get from the film. But the film doesn’t show that.

    .nod Can’t say I’m surprised. Harris seems to be a bit inconsistent. He painted a very vivid and believable picture in parts of “Hannibal” but then (IMO) completely botched the ending, and the movie itself left out a lot (and some crucial points) of what was good about the book.

  • I agree with the reviewer. The novel is better than the film, but definitely the lesser of the Hannibal Lecter books. Although I did like the twist at the end “His mouth greedy around the spoon”. Heh heh.

    My own full review is here:

    http://www.digital-retribution.com/reviews/other/cin011.php

  • Dave Ruiz

    I read several of your reviews and agreed with some and disagreed with others.

    While I do stand by you in the fact that Hannibal Rising is a rancid prequel, let us look back on a review you did on another not so great prequel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.

    To me the two movies tried to do the same thing, take two of our biggest and horrific horror icons and explain as to why they were so devilishly twisted. Now, The Beginning failed in that it pushed the villian role on Hoyt and left Leatherface in the dust.

    Other then that it stayed true to the 1970 classic. It was an hour or so of brutal slayings of innocent teens. Now, if you go back and watch the 1970 movie you will see the truth to that. What made the first TCM so great was it’s unashamed and total disregard for humankind.

    What this prequel did was bring that vision of horrific slaughter to a new age of teen whom have been dulled down by today’s media. I myself was brough to tears when I first viewed the film. Something I hoped for Hannibal Rising.

    I agree with you full-heartedly that this movie was unjustifiable to the Hannibal series. Not only did it leave me scratching my head but it also left an extremely uneasy feeling in my stomach. A feeling I normally get after a bad burrito night.

    I’d have to say though you could ease up on the movies a little. You aren’t thinking like today’s youth, in which these movies are trully jumping out for. You know and I know that the movie industry could give to shits what the critics think.

    TCM: The Beginning was bad. It didn’t answer the questions it set out to. The same goes for Hannibal Rising. But does that truly matter? In a world where teens are senselessly pouring hours into video games where you have to slaughter millions, is a movie where they flash grotesque and stomach-wrenching images on screen so far fetch’d?

    All I can say is, no it’s not. These movies do one of their jobs, which is to sell tickets on the premise of blood-shed. So step out of yourself into the mind of a 16 or 18 year-old. Do you think they really care how Hannibal got so fucked up?

    I do, but that’s because I’m a horror fan with a heart. Sorry, but that’s just how things roll.

  • MaryAnn

    I’d have to say though you could ease up on the movies a little. You aren’t thinking like today’s youth, in which these movies are trully jumping out for. You know and I know that the movie industry could give to shits what the critics think.

    I don’t care what Hollywood thinks about critics, and I’m not a writing for teenagers. I’m writing for people who feel the same way I do about movies. Some of those people may be teenagers, sure, and that’s fine. But I am most certainly not writing for a mainstream adolescent audience. Those people don’t give two shits for what critics think, either.

    These movies do one of their jobs, which is to sell tickets on the premise of blood-shed.

    I don’t cover movies from a business perspective. Not that that’s not a valid way to write about the movie industry, but it’s not what I do. If that’s what you’re looking for, there are plenty of people writing about film online — I’m sure there’s someone out there who’s looking at the movies from that perspective. But I absolutely refuse to give a bad movie a pass because it’s successful. Read a few more of my reviews, and you’ll see that I critique the culture as much as I critique movies.

  • Reviewing a schedule filler like HANNIBAL RISING from a teenager’s point of view is fine, but you can’t excuse poor choices and laziness, either. These must be highlighted as much as the cheap thrills aspects. I try to judge both so that people can decide for themselves.

    Part of the problem with writing about these opportunistic movies (sequels, prequels, cash-ins etc) is that the idea of the movie itself is rotten from the start. That is a given. Ideally these films wouldn’t exist at all. Also ideally, a reviewer shouldn’t bother seeing them given that expectations are low and opinions are universal.

    But they do exist and we keep writing about them. Why? I believe that if you are not harsh enough in your judgement, the studios will just churn out more and more trash. Why would they bother making a BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN when 10 variations of POLICE ACADEMY will always return more revenue? You can also teach readers of your reviews how to be more critical of what they watch. I suspect this is the real reason why Hollywood hates film critics: because we don’t let their bullshit go un-noticed.

  • Robert

    Roddy saiddy:

    Part of the problem with writing about these opportunistic movies (sequels, prequels, cash-ins etc) is that the idea of the movie itself is rotten from the start. That is a given. Ideally these films wouldn’t exist at all.

    Why is it a given? Even assuming that MAJ is right and the film sucks, it seems it could have been a superb movie. Hannibal Lecter’s backstory could be intriguing. Too bad they failed to make it so, if in fact that’s the case.

  • MaryAnn

    I don’t think Roddy meant that Hannibal Lecter’s backstory per se is the idea that’s rotten from the start: I think he meant the attitude with which it was approached as the idea. Movies like this one are produced the way they are produced — lazily, stupidly — because they can simply cash in on the preexisting interest in, say, the name and notoriety of, in this instance, the lead character. The movie lets the name alone do all the work without bothering to attempt anything interesting with it.

  • phylwx

    your critic is very poor, you wished an unexplainable character for Lecter? and then you complain about him becominga comic book hero… doubt you know that much about comic books.

    Really criticable points where the story lacks consistency, like the sword saving Hannibal life went without mention.

    Read a book, matey.

  • MaryAnn

    Oh, do tell, phylwx, what book should I read?

  • amanohyo

    Arrrr, Matey. Me hearties be greatly interested in books ye be recommendin’ as well. Arrrrreading rainbow be Arrrr favarrrrite shanty on the lonely nights at sea. Friends te know, ways te grow… Tis true there be no fairer booty than a fine graphic novel… wrapped ’round a bottle of Jamaican rum… cradled in the arms of a proud, saucy beauty standing atop all the Doubloons of the Spanish Armada!!! Okay, that’s enough. But, yeah umm… what books do you specifically recommend, phylwx?

  • hungryman

    I just saw the movie, having seen the other three first, and read the two books. I agreed with many that Hannibal was a major step down from the previous two movies, and felt that the eating the living brain thing was totally over the top campy, and with agent Starling to boot, it was simply ridiculous. But this movie at least is every bit as good as the first two, though it is not more of the same.

    In this case, judging only from the reviews, it’s quite possible the movie is for a change better than the book. There were evidently many trite, formulaic, awkward things written in the book from some reviews I read. True, the movie gets into a few cliches, which the first two movies avoided better. You do have to suspend disbelief with the Japanese sword wielding aunt/wannabe love interest/hot babe. But the basic premise is very sound. They don’t show in the movie whether Hannibal is strange or not to begin with. It would have been a nice touch to show him doing something ambiguously kind/cruel to an animal, to show that there is something strange and terrible inside. But they didn’t. They do show his love for and protection of his sister. They show his increasing violence as he gets bigger, at first directed only in self defense, then escalating to murdering the butcher. The book has the uncle in the scene, unnecessarily complicating the justification). The movie clearly shows that Hannibal is carefully enjoying hunting his prey, and yes, making the butcher so unsympathetic after the initial crude insult to the aunt was over the top. It would be better to show Hannibal just enjoying his first kill, clearly something wrong. So clearly, Hannibal already has a sense of entitlement to kill, and likes playing with blood. Yes, he seeks revenge. But it’s not a standard Hollywood revenge thriller, because there is no question that all the guilty will die. This is something new, akin to Law and Order type drama. You are seeing how his pathology unfolds. The revenge is just an excuse to get started, but by the time the weird aunt/love interest asks him to give up, it’s way too late, he’s hooked on blood and wants it way more than he wants her. It was totally believable to me that from that point, once he runs out of guilty people to kill he’ll just go for someone else, because now he has a taste for it. I have to read the book. Beyond the silly melodrama that might hurt, the details of his youth being already twisted must be great — there’s no one like Harris for describing a psychopath. It makes me wonder what Harris is like. One review mentioned his “full life” and I shudder to think what that could be!

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