Hannibal Lecter is not your everyday movie subject. For “Hannibal Rising,” cinematographer Ben Davis had to convey the requisite sense of foreboding and horror without lapsing into a parody of the film’s notorious predecessors, “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) and “Hannibal” (2001).
Helmer Peter Webber’s upcoming prequel, about Lecter’s formative years, beginning in World War II in a medieval castle in Lithuania, aims to show “how the child became a monster,” Davis says by phone from his native London.
“Peter wanted a film noir look to reflect Hannibal’s journey,” Davis adds. “As he sinks further and further into his insanity, the images become more and more intense. The camera gets closer and closer to him, and more claustrophobic. So there’s nowhere to hide for an audience.”
Just as important, Davis says, was the use of light and darkness to suggest an ominous dread: “As the film progresses, I wanted Lecter to disappear more and more into the shadows. The light becomes harder and more directional. So often his face would become quite dark, but his eyes would be illuminated, so you’d still see information in his eyes.”
For Davis, 44, who takes pride in the fact that he started in the industry “literally making the tea” on movie sets, shooting “Hannibal Rising” was the highlight so far in a career that has involved 17 commercials, a pair of short films and 10 features, including the splashy London gangster pic “Layer Cake” (2004), the pansexual romantic comedy “Imagine Me & You” (2005) and, for next year, the “Decameron” knockoff “Virgin Territory.”
Favorite tool: “Lenses are everything,” especially the old handmade Panavision E and C series anamorphic lenses. “They’re just beautiful,” Davis says.
Film or digital: “I love film negative,” he says, without specifying a particular stock. “I haven’t seen anything in HD that’s made me think it’s the equivalent of film. The drive to shoot HD has been driven by money, not by quality.”
Inspiration: Gordon Willis (“The Godfather” pics). “He always puts the camera in the perfect position. Before you even light the shot, you’ve got to put the camera in the right place. And you can light anything — that’s what keeps me interested.”
What’s next: “Stardust,” a Matthew Vaughn fantasy yarn full of special effects that stars Robert De Niro.
Reps: Tad Lumpkin at ICM in Los Angeles; Sue Greenleaves, ICM in London