October Horrorshow: Hannibal Rising

Some movies just don’t need to be made. Did we really need a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise this past year? Or another Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake so soon after the last one? Do we need any of the reboots, remakes, sequels, rethinkings, reimaginings, spinoffs, etc., that we get every year? Of course not. But as long as we keep paying to see them, Hollywood will keep making them.

Case in point, Hannibal Rising, from 2007.

Way back in 1992, a little film called The Silence of the Lambs took home all top five Oscars for the previous year (picture, director, actor and actress, and screenplay; quite a feat). Since then, audiences have been fascinated with the character of Hannibal Lecter, brought to life by Anthony Hopkins. Audiences loved this character so much that Thomas Harris, the writer behind the source material, had to write more stories featuring everyone’s favorite cannibal. Don’t feel bad for Harris. Whatever damage he feels has been done to his artistic integrity has surely been salved by the fat pile of cash he gets to sleep on every night. And if that hasn’t worked, then tough. I have no sympathy.

Hannibal Rising was directed by Peter Webber from a script by Harris, and stars Gaspard Ulliel as the titular character. What’s this? No Anthony Hopkins? Not in this one. Hollywood went the route of trying to convince us that Hopkins had aged in reverse for the remake of Red Dragon, but while there are ways to take ten years or more off a middle aged man, Hannibal Rising takes place in the 1950s. There’s not enough CGI in the world to make that work, so enter Mr. Ulliel. Unfortunately, the role is beyond him. His performance appears to be inspired more by Christopher Lambert than Anthony Hopkins. If they ever do a Highlander prequel, though, this is the guy you want starring in it. There are other people in the film, but does it really matter? Everything and everyone in this film exists as playthings for Hannibal Lecter. Harris could have written this thing using Mad Libs.

Hannibal Rising tells the story of Lecter’s origins as a psychopath. According to the story, it can all be traced back to one horrific event in the woods of Lithuania during World War II. Lecter is obviously a case of nurture rather than nature, but I’m wondering why, other than a paycheck, Thomas Harris needed to explore the reasons why his most famous creation became such a monster. Lecter, as it turns out, is a character of great weakness. World War II was a horror show. It was assured there would be a countless number of survivors who suffered or witnessed unspeakable acts, yet these actual, real people never became cannibalistic psychopaths.

What is also bizarre is that in the course of four movies (five?), Hannibal Lecter has gone from being the personification of evil to an avenging angel with proclivities that aren’t his fault. He spends the bulk of the film, after a throwaway escape from Stalinist Russia, learning about the refined life and chasing down the bad people from his past.

I blame Dexter for this remarkable retrograde transformation. Less facetiously, I blame the moviegoing public. We liked the character of Hannibal Lecter so much that we just couldn’t get enough of him, demanding more more more, from both a tired Harris and a shameless Hollywood. This bastardization of the character is our fault. The only redeeming aspect of this relationship the viewer has with the character is that, as far as I know, people aren’t out there pretending to be Hannibal Lecter. That’s yet more evidence that viewers are much better at separating fact from fiction than the culture war prudes give the people credit for.

None of this means the movie is any good, of course. In fact, it’s this ‘give them what they want’ style of filmmaking that keeps Hannibal Rising from being anything but totally uninspired. But hey, at least the production design is decent.

Wait a minute. Is that Richard Brake, playing a thug with a literal taste for little girls? Oh, man. This guy is continuing the worst Hollywood career I have ever seen. I’ve already tagged this guy playing a potential rapist in Doom and a necrophile in one of Rob Zombie’s Halloween flicks. Richard, seriously, either hire a new agent or find a new career. People are starting to talk. This is absolutely the last way an actor should want to be typecast.