‘Hannibal Rising’ is just finger food

Creating an effective prequel is problematic. With an iconic character like Hannibal Lecter, the task becomes more daunting. Not only must the story provide an adequate preface to Lecter’s legend, it must also be satisfying. “Hannibal Rising” attempts to shed some light on the beginnings of this demon, but falls short.

Opening in war-torn Lithuania, the film details Hannibal’s life as a young boy through his precocious adolescence in France. Young Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel) witnesses a tragic event at the hands of a group of locals and manages to escape. Hannibal goes through his teenage years haunted by his past and vows to get revenge on those responsible.

“Hannibal Rising” is a tough nut to crack. On one hand, it succeeds marginally as a simple revenge thriller. As a two hour diversion, it fits the bill. But it also has its past (or, in this case, future) leaking through the seams of every frame. The film is so concerned with showing the development of the killer that it glosses over the person. The closest we get to knowing what he’s thinking are multiple shots of his head, slightly downturned, with a malevolent smile on his face. Sure, Hannibal is given a reason to kill, but the film gives us no insight into his mind because it is too busy showing him maiming one of the disposable villains. The film seems to rush through the story.

Lecter is part of our collective consciousness because he is more than a sadistic animal. He is human, that’s what makes him so chilling. If he were an incoherent lunatic, he would have faded long ago and no one would know what went well with fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Those interested in the inner-workings of the psyche of a legendary killer will find the book much more fulfilling. The film distances itself from Hannibal’s mind and instead concentrates on his evil smile and eating habits.

Gabe Habash can be contacted at s.habash1@umiami.edu.