Today, on this May the 29th, curious moviegoers can flop themselves onto their couches, chew on some popcorn and see just what it was that made Hannibal Lecter so crazy, because the unrated Hannibal Rising DVD has just come out. Now, this is a film that I avoided in the theater. Critic friends, actors and movie fans alike told me not to bother; however, presented with the opportunity to review the DVD, I figured it was my perfect chance to see it. My expectations were low, but my curiosity was high -- I always wonder what happens off-screen, and I was always curious about what made Lecter such a cold and calculated murderer.
Seeing Hannibal Rising is like excitedly strapping yourself in to a roller coaster and slowly creeping up to the summit, your mind full of exciting, twisting, corkscrewing possibilities, only to hit the peak and find out that there is no drop, but just a slightly-slanted plateau. The beginning of the film is both beautifully shot and deeply disturbing. We're taken into the turmoil of World War II, and see how a rich, healthy and happy family can at once be destroyed by a cruel twist of fate. As you watch what happens to the young Hannibal, you can't help but cringe, because it's truly terrible, but in that way that your mind can comprehend. It's not some big imagined King Kong, but a real and possible menace.
I won't say more about it, because if you plan to see it, the beginning moments are the best of the film. By the time I got to Lecter's adolescence, I was wondering how people could have had such negative words about the movie. Unfortunately, I was soon to understand exactly what they meant. As Hannibal grows into a young man, you learn his story, but it just doesn't seem quite right. The film quickly becomes a tale of revenge, and while some Lecter quirks are definitively answered -- his pristine manners, for one -- many others are left to the imagination. While the viewer needs to be aware of the fact that many years fall between his Rising and the subsequent stories, there is too big a gap between young and old Lecter. At times, it falls into a tacky horror cliche. While Gaspard Ulliel is one hell of a good serial killer, he cannot bring the charisma that Anthony Hopkins brought to the role, and just never seems quite right.
But really, if you want a full review, you can head here and read James Rocchi's take on this piece of cinema. Chances are, if you're entertaining the notion of purchasing this unrated DVD, you don't agree or don't care. And luckily for you pro-Rising folk, there are a number of features to bask in -- deleted scenes with optional commentary, a short called Hannibal Lecter: The Origin of Evil, a film commentary with Peter Webber and Martha De Laurentiis, another short called Designing Horror and Elegance with the production designer, Allan Starski and finally, the inevitable theatrical and teaser trailers. But are they worth the cash?
Maybe. Maybe not. If you're a fan of serious commentary full of artistic aims and producer talk, you'll love commentary by Webber and De Laurentiis. However, if you're looking for something more entertaining, you won't find it. The track holds a lot of interesting facts and discussion of artistic method, but it often feels over-serious for the material and has some PR-speak to look out for. When Martha cuts in with her aims and thoughts, you can tell that she's into the film and story, but her use of flowering adjectives and flattering words makes it seem superficial -- and this is coming from someone who loves some funky descriptors. The best commentaries are those that explain without making you feel as if someone is trying to sell you something, or stroke someone's ego. Unfortunately, this track doesn't accomplish that.
Beyond the commentary, there are the deleted scenes -- which are interesting, and sweetened by the fact that you're offered explanations about why they were cut. And, because this is the unrated edition, the film includes lots of those bits. There's also The Origin of Evil, which is another one of those PR sorts of clips, which gives lots of words, but little substance. However, I really enjoyed the short with Starski. In this featurette, you get a look into the process, and he explains his motives simply, and with a sense of humbleness. It's warm, inviting and interesting to see how he put together the lush backdrop for the film. (As much as the film might fail in plot, it's still beautiful to watch.)
Overall, it's a solid DVD that should please fans of the film. It's no superhero special feature extravaganza, but there's enough to satiate the normal appetite for just a little bit more. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how many people are curious for another helping. Of course, Lecter went on to have many more fleshy servings of his own, but whether you're up for more bloody Hannibal is entirely up to your tastes.