Thomas Harris’ just-delivered prequel, “Hannibal Rising”, is coming to bookstores Dec. 5. The author also penned the screenplay for the hush-hush movie version, Young Hannibal: Behind the Mask, which will be released in theaters two months later. Even though very little has been written about this forthcoming flick and it’s still not announced on the film company’s website, this could be that big score which The Weinstein Company has been waiting for. (HollywoodWiretap.com updates TWC, What’s Happened To Harvey?). For one thing, there’ll be a closely timed tie-in between the book’s release Dec. 5 and the film’s distribution by MGM in February 2007. The book and movie look at what transformed Hannibal into a sadistic killer. Anthony Hopkins is not expected to appear in the new movie but he supposedly narrates it. The film follows Lecter’s life in three phases: from early childhood in Lithuania, to his years in France, and then America before he is captured by FBI agent Will Graham (who’s appeared before in the movies Red Dragon and Manhunter). The new film was shot mostly in Prague.

I love the idea, and irony, that Harvey finally met his match pairing with wheeler dealer Dino De Laurentiis, who just turned 87 and is the official film producer of the Hannibal character. Because it’s said about both Harv and Dino that negotiating with them is more painful than a root canal. This was a speedy delivery of “Hannibal Rising” for author Harris, only 7 years, compared to the 10 years it took him to turn in its predecessor Hannibal. (Before that, Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs.) And Dino produced them all. Though Universal made Hannibal, Harvey snatched up the prequel, which has great franchise value. The 21-year-old French star, Gaspard Ulliel, is best known for playing Audrey Tatou’s lover in the 2004 WWI drama A Very Long Engagement. His performance was rewarded with a Cesar as Best Newcomer in 2005. Young Hannibal is directed by Peter Webber (2003′s Girl with the Pearl Earring). “Usually, even the best-selling books have an eight-week excitement cycle,” Bantam publisher Irwyn Applebaum told The New York Times. “But for this book, the movie excitement will hopefully be at its height just as the book goes through that cycle, so it’s a very good opportunity for this book to have an extended hardcover life.”

From the previous novels, readers know that Lecter saw his entire family killed during World War II in Eastern Europe. The new novel covers the character from age 6 through 20. A minimum of 1.5 million copies of “Hannibal Rising” will be printed. (Its 1999 predecessor sold nearly that many copies in hardcover, and about 4 million copies in paperback.) Because Harris is a notoriously slow writer, De Laurentiis was canny enough to send his personal pasta chef to Miami to cook for the author, presumably to help him finish “Hannibal” faster. A Byzantine series of back-room maneuvers dating back years has enabled De Laurentiis to retain the rights to the character Hannibal Lecter. (The tortuous history behind “Hannibal,” drafted by the Century City law firm Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger, took 10 pages to sum up. Even so, the confidential document was incomprehensible even to those people involved from the very beginning.) Universal leveraged first negotiation and last refusal rights from De Laurentiis for any “Silence of the Lambs” sequel written by Harris. That didn’t stop both sides from going to court on the matter until a settlement was reached. Then, a $10 million payment put De Laurentiis first in line for the “Hannibal” film rights. This time around, Dino came with the package. Among my favorite De Laurentiis/Hannibal nuggets is that, after lobbying for weeks to drop Jodie Foster from the Hannibal project because she’d cost too much, he insisted on calling the double Oscar-winner “Judy.”

For more history on the Hannibal Lecter movies, read my 1999 articles for SalonYes, Sir, That’s My Cannibal and Will Hannibal the Cannibal Eat Hollywood?

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.

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