Hannibal Rising

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 June, 2007, 12:00am

Hannibal Rising

Starring: Gaspard Ulliel, Gong Li, Rhys Ifans, Kevin McKidd

Director: Peter Webber

The film: Sometimes you just have to wonder. After draining all the life out of the Hannibal Lector franchise, some studio heads have dug up the corpse and tried to make it do one last sad and sorry dance. No prizes for guessing, then, that it falls flat on its face.

Hannibal Rising is bereft of anything but a stream of unintentional laughs. It's a well-packaged disaster that clearly had Hollywood's established - and more savvy - stars running for cover. Presumably, that's why the filmmakers were left to play with Frenchman Gaspard Ulliel and Gong Li (right with Rhys Ifans) - two actors eager to raise their profiles in the US, no matter what the cost.

The film takes us back to the second world war and tries to explain why Hannibal became the monster he was.

There's tragedy in his past, of course, and it takes only one look at the hungry Nazis who storm into his Lithuanian house to know what's going to happen. They lick their lips when they see Hannibal's sister. And it isn't because she's pretty.

The haunted Hannibal escapes to Paris in search of his uncle, and finds a sympathetic shoulder to cry on in the comely shape of his uncle's ex-mistress, Lady Murasaki. Yes, that's Gong turning Japanese again. Her memories of a geisha are obviously pretty dim.

Hannibal is disturbed but nonetheless something of a genius, and we follow him to medical school, where he learns the craft that we know he'll later put to terrifying - and more entertaining - effect.

The success of The Silence of the Lambs - and even the much less heralded Manhunter before it - lay in the fact that this Hannibal character (thanks to Anthony Hopkins and Brian Cox) got under your skin.

Where director Peter Webber (Girl With a Pearl Earring) goes wrong is opting for cheap shocks, and then trying to dress it all up as something far deeper by presenting Hannibal as some kind of avenging angel.

Having him scream, 'They ate my sister', doesn't help. Nor does having a lead (Ulliel) who has as much menace as marmalade.

At least we get to see Gong vamping things up, although what she actually thought she was getting herself into is anyone's guess.

The French settings, full of darkened, shadowy doorways, might have been used to dramatic effect if we weren't forced to turn away from the blood - and from the far more shocking dialogue.

The extras: Two featurettes - one with the director and the screenwriter and one with the production designer - are worthwhile, especially if you're a fan of the series and want more background, or if you're simply interested in how people go about lifting ideas from a novel and putting them on screen. There's also a batch of deleted scenes and a commentary that's earnest - but hard to take if you think the film's a dud. Which it is.

The verdict: Don't be a victim.