Batman, Bond: Say hello to Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the latest franchise superstar to merit his own prequel albeit one with an odd pedigree. When Hannibal Rising is released Feb. 9, it will hit screens only two months after the novel on which it's based appears in bookstores. Both versions will tell of how a young Lecter formed into his bon-mot-tossing, human-liver-snacking self.
Lecter creator Thomas Harris worked on the screenplay and novel simultaneously, handing in his manuscript to publisher Bantam Dell in August, a situation that makes the Dec. 5 crash release of the book's 1.5 million-plus copies an interesting test case. Will fans rush to buy a $27.95 hardcover (don't expect your typical tie-in paperback) when they can see the film two months later? ''A lot of readers are not going to wait until the big ballyhoo for the movie,'' says Bantam president and publisher Irwyn Applebaum. ''They're going to be excited from day one to read the novel.''
And what about the Anthony Hopkins-less film, which stars a virtual unknown as Lecter (A Very Long Engagement's Gaspard Ulliel) and will likely dictate the future of a franchise worth almost $400 million in box office? ''I think I would have been concerned if someone had said to me that Hopkins would be in the film,'' says director Peter Webber (Girl With a Pearl Earring) . ''Even with the best makeup in the world, there's no way he could pull that off.''