The Hannibal Lecter character has become one of cinema's most memorable villains and gained further popularity once Anthony Hopkins stepped into the role in "Silence of the Lambs". Audiences lined up to see Lecter's return in 2001 with "Hannibal", which grossed $165m at the box office. Audiences were less interested, however, in the 2002 follow-up, "Red Dragon", which still nearly reached the $100m mark.
While many thought that "Red Dragon" would be the end of the films, another Lecter novel from author Thomas Harris arrived on store shelves, and - sure enough - another film started up. However, given the fact that this was an origin tale, the film would not see the return of Hopkins in the role.
Instead, "Rising" starts in 1944 Lithuania, where Hannibal Lecter (Gaspard Ulliel) witnesses his parents killed when the Germans attack right in front of their house. While he and his young sister retreat into their home, it's not long before a group of Germans arrives and takes over the house in order to get shelter for the Winter. When the food supply runs out, the Germans eat Hannibal's sister for dinner. Ewww.
Years later, Hannibal is now being taught swordplay by Lady Murasaki Shikibu (Gong Li), an aunt of his. He goes to medical school on a scholarship and then goes off, seeking revenge on those who killed his sister. However, on his tail is a detective (Dominic West), who keeps finding himself one step behind Lecter.
"Hannibal Rising"'s origin tale doesn't seem very necessary - do we really need to see what made this villain a villain? The issues behind some characters are best left to the imagination. That said, director Peter Weber's film does have a few pros and a set of a few sizable cons. Weber does at least seem to be working with a sizable budget and this is a sleek film with some memorable visuals and some gorgeous locations. It does also have a few scares up its sleeve.
However, Weber's film takes a long time to get going and by the time the film starts getting more intense, a little over an hour has gone by. The film's plot isn't particularly complicated, and one wonders if it really needed 131 minutes. Actor Ulliel doesn't seem like a right fit for the role that Hopkins played as an adult in the prior films, but he provides an adequate performance in the role of the increasingly unstable Lecter. Still, one wonders if they couldn't have found someone more suited for the role. Gong Li and West provide decent supporting efforts, Gong Li is especially capable of far better.
Overall, this is a so-so prequel that has a few moments, but feels overlong and unnecessary. One would think that this closes the door on the franchise. This unrated edition runs an extra 14 minutes.
VIDEO: "Hannibal Rising" is presented by Genius Entertainment/Weinstein Company in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Presentation quality is excellent, as the picture looked superbly crisp and clear, with fine details often apparent. Some minor grain was occasionally seen in the film, although the grain remained fine and looks to have been an intentional element of the photography. Some slight edge halos and artifacting were spotted in a couple of scenes, but the transfer otherwise looked crisp and clear. Colors were largely subdued, but bolder colors showed through at times.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation offered a reasonably good time, with the surrounds kicking in for some creepy sound effects and atmosphere, as well as some reinforcement of the score. Audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue and effects.
EXTRAS: Commentary from director Peter Weber and producer Martha De Laurentis, "Hannibal Lecter: The Origin of Evil", "Designing Horror and Elegance" featurette, theatrical/teaser trailers and 5 deleted scenes.
Final Thoughts: Overall, this is a so-so prequel that has a few moments, but feels overlong and unnecessary. One would think that this closes the door on the franchise. The DVD presentation offers excellent video quality, fine audio and a nice assortment of extras. A rental recommendation for fans of the prior films who are curious about how Lecter's early years are presented.
The Film C