Hannibal Rising is the first Thomas Harris movie I have ever seen without reading the book first. I thought about waiting, but the novel, Hannibal read so much like a screenplay that I decided not to spend the cash on the prequel.
I went in expecting it would be middle of the road entertaining and I was pleasantly surprised. Harris has shaped the early years of Hannibal Lecter into an interesting revenge piece. I found myself both rooting for Hannibal and being disgusted by his actions. Sure, the movie was a mere shadow of Silence of the Lambs when it comes to intelligent ideas and portrayals, but it was no worse than the other movies in the franchise.
In Hannibal Rising, instead of a the calm and manipulating madman that Anthony Hopkins portrayed so well, we get a teenager struggling to come to grips with his past through revenge. This movie would have been good even if it wasn't tied to the series, but the origin of Hannibal's cannibalism and his early years in war torn Europe were revealing and interesting character development.
Peter Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring) also did a wonderful job making the movie both beautiful and haunting. He never falls too far into gore, but keeps the most disturbing parts on the edge of our minds.
I also thought, unlike many of the other reviews I've seen, that Gaspard Ulliel played the young Hannibal well. He might have been a little over the top at times, yet he could never be the calm collected Anthony Hopkins because the character would then have no where to go.
Overall, Hannibal Rising is a decent addition to a series that will never live up to the first feature. As revenge films go, it was not the best I have seen, but it was certainly not the worst either.