“Hannibal” – Reawakening the Public’s Psychopathic Appetite

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One of the more interesting and comparatively difficult series of books to adapt remains Thomas Harris’s Hannibal series. Now the film adaptation of Silence of the Lambs was and remains a remarkable masterpiece and a personal close-held favorite. However, by the time of Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon, the Hopkins incarnation (which still remains one of the best on-screen performances) had run its course. And with the lackluster book and movie release of Hannibal Rising was the signaling of the death of the character. Which was proper. The original books of Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs were focused on the agents working the specific cases. They were very well seasoned pulp stories that had many very significant elements apart from the novels Hannibal and Hannibal Rising. The main point was that Hannibal Lector was not the main character of the first two novels. He was the part of the novels (and later the films) originally as a very eccentric psychopathic genius that loved to toy with people’s minds as if they were his puppets. But the emphasis was placed more on the killer that Hannibal was helping them catch.

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Hannibal series poster

That is why so much more time was devoted to the Tooth Fairy and Buffalo Bill and their lives, because they were always meant to be the primary antagonist. One issue with the later series were entire stories and plots surrounding Hannibal, exploiting every possible aspect of the character in sometimes almost cartoonish ways. Harris had fallen in love with the character as the rest of us, however, that is the last thing a writer should do. One compelling aspect of the stories was that Hannibal’s help could impede or help each story along, but he spends most of the time manipulating their perspectives into wild chases that end with either no results or someone ending up hurt. But that he was the lesser evil in the story until he escaped. Which was a fantastic ending, if the writer and filmmakers had held their tongues. However, now audiences are given a brand new television series seemingly focusing on the Hannibal character exclusively (he being the title character).

Approaching the series first with an attitude that it would be a rehash of the films and novels into a series, trying to emulate the longer form series currently ruling television (Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Dexter). NBC has been known for prematurely cutting programming, but with the series being green lit for a second season, a cursory viewing was necessary. This series, developed by Bryan Fuller (creator of Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me) teams up with horror veteran David Slade to create and develop the series. Slade is more recently known for his directing of the Twilight franchise installment Eclipse. As empty of the subject matter that had to be twisted into a film, it is the debut effort of Slade that made him a bonafide compelling choice for the pilot director.

Hard Candy is one of the most taught and haunting thrillers that has one of the most overall understandings of how to construct tension made in the last decade. But this can cause a quandary. Though Hard Candy was a very effective example of heightened tension, the appeal of the Hannibal character was in is subtly and wit, bending the minds of people.

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Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lector

With the conclusion last night of the Season One finale, the one sole fact remains of the whole series: it is one of the most original and charismatic works of fiction playing on television. It takes the characters and stasis from Red Dragon and creates a prequel-styled series bent on establishing the relationship that exists between Hannibal Lector and Red Dragon protagonist Will Graham, an FBI profiler with a condition of complete empathy, which allows him to easily access the points of view of the killers he’s tracking.

Before the portrayal of Hannibal is addressed, the portrayal of Will is equally, if not more important. This season was almost exclusively built to building the whole of Will’s characterization and how what he does and how he handles it affects his mental well being. Though both cinematic performances by Edward Norton and William Petersen were unique and well delivered, Hugh Dancy’s portrayal is the most compelling and realistic. The fact of his extreme empathy is greatly disturbing to him, as he continually sees inside the minds of killers and reenacts the murders as he is reliving them. With such a dangerous character element, with Will disturbed more and more by each killer he tracks, it seems only appropriate to involve Hannibal Lector. Though the acting legends Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins has played the good doctor, as well as Gaspard Ulliel. Here audiences are greeted to Mads Mikkelsen, who transforms the character in ways that consummate everything to love about the original character with so much more to discover. It creates the character as if Hannibal Rising never took place, and personally that is the way it should be taken. Rising was a book that was consumed by answering every tidbit question one could have about the character is gory and rather unconvincing ways; this creates that element of mystery around the character, not making him the primary protagonist.

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Hugh Dancy as Will Graham.

Will’s emphasis is greater and it was a very wise move to do so. Now that the series has been green lit for a second season, the battle of minds between Will and Hannibal begins in a brand new way approaching the material serving as the series foundation. The performances by the supporting cast (including Laurence Fishburne and Eddie Izzard) are exceptionally unique as well. These characters are fresh, rewarding and original. With original shows from NBC lacking a unique creativity since the extremely premature cancellation of The Black Donnellys and the 2007–08 Writers Guild of America strike which pulled the quality of writing in series such as Heroes, it is a wonderful breathe of fresh air in the absolute horror and suspense that this series generates. A show that could have been easily a rehashed Criminal Minds-esque series with the characters from the novels, it possesses much promise and a lot of subtle and perplexing turns until the true character of Hannibal is beginning its reveal. With so many sequels and offshoot movies and shows, this is something that will hopefully compete with the strong ensemble character driven premises, such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

5/5 Stars

Written by Matthew Roe