There’s this man on the internet named Shawn Collins, who is obsessed with Hannibal the TV show. If I had to guess, I’d say he posts something on Facebook about or alluding to NBC’s Hannibal probably thirty-five times a year. Also “Collins” isn’t even his real last name, does that mean HE’S a serial killer? Who knows?! I do know he has torsos hanging on meat racks in his living room and Gong Li is his aunt, but I don’t think we can prove anything.
In all seriousness, I met this dude doing sketch comedy a while back and we were recently in Jurassic Puppets together. For those of you who didn’t see it, he was phenomenal as a puppet John Hammond. For those of you who did see it – DEAD ASS. Of course, this dude’s first choice of a franchise to watch & review was the franchise that spawned his favorite TV show. We watched all five of the Hannibal-related movies, yes even the dreadful Hannibal Rising, and even though we didn’t rewatch the show, we did include a section in the back where we discuss it.
All of the writing that appears in RED is from Collins and all the writing that appears in BLUE is from me. Let’s dive in!
directed by: Michael Mann; screenplay by: Michael Mann
cast: William Petersen, Kim Griest, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Dennis Farina, Stephen Lang, Tom Noonan, Chris Elliot, Frankie Faison, Dan Butler
runtime: 120 minutes (2 hrs, 0 min.)
release date: August 15, 1986
opening weekend U.S. box office:
- The Fly – $7M
- Armed & Dangerous – $4.34M
- Aliens – $4.3M
- The Karate Kid Part II – $3.3M
- Nothing in Common – $3.2M
NOTE: Manhunter ranked 8th in the box office on opening weekend, earning only $2.2M
Total Box Office Gross: $8.6M
MARGETIS = BLUE; COLLINS = RED
The true outlier of the film series, Manhunter feels less like a Thomas Harris adaptation and more like a hyper-stylized 80s crime thriller. What do you expect when you hire Michael Mann though? Missing are the romanticized extravagances of the rest of the series, the focus on arts, culture, and fine dining – oh, and also, the cannibalism. In this adaptation, Hannibal Lecter (spelled Lecktor here), is just a regular ass serial killer who doesn’t eat people. Smart, but no opera-hound, plain-spoken, and not referential at all. Will Graham is neither broken nor haunted, and he’s not even that brilliant. He’s just a regular-ass cop archetype with short pink shorts and family he doesn’t spend enough time with. When a killer, identifying as “The Red Dragon” but labeled The Tooth Fairy by TMZ, starts murdering families in their homes, they bring Graham out of retirement to interview Hannibal Lecktor to figure out who the killer is.
This is maybe the lamest adaptation of Hannibal Lecter besides Hannibal Rising, but it certainly isn’t Brian Cox’s fault. He nails the coldness of a sociopath with a few amusing gallows humor bits sprinkled in. Much less successful at acting is William Peterson as Will Graham, frequently over-the-top and non-specific in ways that keep us from understanding the humanity/psychology of the character. Tom Noonan is fantastically creepy as Red Dragon and probably delivers the best performance of the film. Dennis Farina (Jack Crawford), Stephen Lang (Freddy Lounds), and Joan Allen (Blind Reba) all deliver solid support, while Kim Griest’s Mrs. Will Graham is an underwritten, one-dimensional supportive wife character, typical of the 80s.
As far as the story, it’s a weak adaptation of the novel from what I understand. Many great scenes, including the ending where Red Dragon breaks into Will Graham’s home to fuck with his wife and kid, are completely missing from the film, even though a key scene involving Lecktor giving Red Dragon Will’s home address, which sets up the entire book climax, remains in the movie. Wtf? With two hours, Michael Mann had more than enough time to have this scene but then he wouldn’t have time for seven hundred five-minute shots where a dude is intensely looking in a mirror or laying on a bed.
It’s hard to even classify this as a psychological thriller because it plunges such minor depths, but as a crime thriller, it’s not bad. This is a gorgeously put-together movie, with a clear, distinct style, but it almost feels like Mann just wanted to make a cop-persues-serial-killer movie, and was just using Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon as a mere bridge to get there – much like what Kubrick did with The Shining. It seems like the movie would have wholly benefitted from some more context and character development. Oh well. Collins! What did you think?
Watching Manhunter in 2022 is interesting because, even though it’s the first live-action portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, it somehow feels like the freshest. Anthony Hopkins would go on to play the role so well that Hannibal became a pop culture icon above and beyond his literary origins, and while I think Mads Mikkelsen put his own indelible stamp on the character, just the fact that he did it after Hopkins means parts of that portrayal are going to feel like deliberate diversions from or homages to that version.
But here we get Brian Cox, who doesn’t know that Hannibal is supposed to love opera and hate blinking. Cox’s Lecter (or “Lecktor”) isn’t a Machiavellian supervillain; he’s intelligent and sadistic, but at the end of the day he’s still just a guy. Missing entirely from this film is a lot of the classic Hannibal Lecter iconography: there are no scenes with Lecktor riding a dolly cart, no classic mouth-guard mask, no dungeon cell with a bulletproof glass barrier, lined with amazingly detailed drawings of the Duomo… Lecktor spends most of his scenes sitting on a metal cot behind a row of bars he could probably reach through if he had to, but obviously won’t because then the guards would just break his stupid arms. Compared to more recent portrayals of Lecter, including the show Hannibal where the guy is basically Dracula, Cox’s Lecktor feels significantly more grounded.
I keep trying to imagine what this movie would be like if you watched it before knowing anything about the books or the films. I’ve gone through so many versions of the Red Dragon story that I know all the major beats by heart, but when I try to look at it from fresh eyes, some of those beats feel like they would have come totally out of left field in this movie. At first, it seems like Graham initially retired from FBI profiling because a serial killer almost murdered him – a pretty reasonable position, but one that’s entirely corporeal. It isn’t until like 40-50 minutes in that we learn that the actual reason why Will quit was because Lecktor got inside his head. This is revealed in what’s one of the most out of place shots in the movie, as Will bears his soul to his son under the flat fluorescent lighting of a grocery store cereal aisle. This is a pretty important element in a lot of other adaptations, but Michael Mann doesn’t seem especially interested in it, as it never really comes up again after that.
Like Mike said, Mann seems a lot more interested in this story as a police procedural, and it does work pretty well as that. The original book was praised for its depiction of forensic investigation, and I’ve seen it said that this would even go on to inspire other procedure-focused crime stories, such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which would also star Petersen. I think Thomas Harris, creator of Hannibal Lecter and author of the Lecter novels, deserves a lot of the credit here – the plot is a pretty close adaptation of the original story, with the exception of the ending, and even includes a lot of dialogue directly lifted from the novel This is something we will see a lot in future Lecter adaptations, to the point that many of the scenes in Red Dragon and Hannibal (the show) are almost word-for-word recreations of what we got here.
A few final stray observations:
- The soundtrack to this movie, while often all over the place in a way that is tonally inconsistent, overall pretty much slaps. It’s very 80’s John Carpenter synth wave type of stuff with a bit of modern-day Mass Effect soundtrack sprinkled over the top. Definitely doesn’t sound like a Hannibal Lecter story, but I was grooving on it the whole time.
- The font choice for the titles at the beginning of the movie feels a lot more “lemonade stand” than it does “psychological crime thriller”.
The Silence of the Lambs
directed by: Jonathan Demme; screenplay by: Ted Tally
cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Kasi Lemmons, Anthony Heald, Brooke Smith, Diane Baker, Frankie Faison, Tracey Walter, Charles Napier, Dan Butler, Paul Lazar, George Romero, Roger Corman, Chris Issak
runtime: 118 minutes (1 hr, 58 min.)
release date: February 14, 1991
opening weekend U.S. box office:
- The Silence of the Lambs – $13.7M
- Sleeping with the Enemy – $12.8M
- King Ralph – $8.3M
- Home Alone – $7.3M
- Dances with Wolves – $6.2M
Total Box Office Gross: $272.2M
MARGETIS = BLUE; COLLINS = RED
It would frankly be weird if you were reading a whole article about the Hannibal Lecter series without having seen this one, but if that somehow describes you: this is the one entry on this list that’s an absolute must-see. Other Lecter movies have their charms (and then there’s the one that’s just outright bad), but none of them can match this movie’s creepy cat-and-mouse game between Lecter and Clarice. At least, not until the show Hannibal came along… but we’ll get to that later.
Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter is still a stunning performance in 2022. It’s one of those performances that is so singular that it kind of became an instant cliché of itself, because it feels like you see shades of that performance in every similar character in other TV shows and movies from that moment onward, along the same lines as Austin Powers, Jack Sparrow, and Heath Ledger’s Joker. I’m not enough of a movie buff to know if Hopkins’ Lecter was a riff on some other character in a previous movie; Hopkins himself has said he based the performance off an old drama teacher of his. But boy, the “polite psychopath” trope has sure stuck around for the last 30 years! I think we still see little nods and homages to this Lecter’s calculating stare and eerie stillness in such characters as Anton Chigurh, Patrick Bateman, or even The Matrix‘s Agent Smith.
That’s not to say Hopkins’ performance is the only noteworthy one. Jodie Foster plays Clarice Starling with the perfect combination of toughness and vulnerability, which helps to explain why Lecter is initially interested in her, and how she comes to earn his respect (or whatever the closest approximation to what someone like Lecter is capable of). The “screaming of the lambs” scene demonstrates this balance perfectly because we get to see Clarice’s strength start to falter. Her voice shakes and her eyes shine as she recounts the memory of her father’s death and her life as an orphan afterward. But then it’s her turn to ask the questions again. Those same eyes narrow, her voice hardens, and she reminds the doctor that this session is “quid pro quo”, and she has some questions of her own.
To borrow an excellent line from Thomas Harris’ novel Hannibal, Clarice exists roughly between iron and silver, and Foster’s performance captures that well.
Anthony Heald does a great job sleazing it up as Lecter’s jailor, Dr. Chilton, and Ted Levine puts in a disturbingly off-kilter performance as Jame Gumb, the “Buffalo Bill” serial killer that Lecter is helping Clarice to track. Scott Glenn plays a serviceable Jack Crawford, but stacked up against the likes of Dennis Farina, Harvey Keitel, and Lawrence Fishburne, he’s probably my least favorite Jack Crawford of the bunch.
There has been so much written about this movie over the years that it’s hard to think of anything new to say about it. I feel like it’s pretty well known that Jonathan Demme shot the movie with an emphasis on the male gaze, to help the audience empathize with Clarice. I think every man in the film stares directly into the camera on or shortly after their first appearance on screen, and you definitely pick up on all the passive-aggressive hostility that Clarice’s competence often brings out in the men around her. Hannibal Lecter forces Clarice to relive her most traumatic childhood memory for little more than his own sick amusement, and yet he still somehow comes off as the nicest guy in the movie.
Except for Barney. Barney’s nice.
Mike, what did you think?
Shawn, I agree. Barney’s a really nice man, the only non-creeper dude in this whole movie. And you’re right, Jonathan Demme brilliantly captures the male gaze through the POV of Clarice in this movie. You feel like the men in this movie are simultaneously condescending to you and undressing you with their eyes. None more so than Jack Crawford played like an absolute stone-faced, closet-chauvinist prick by the great Scott Glenn. It’s an understated but excellent performance that might not reach the emotional highs of the Laurence Fishburne, Harvey Keitel, or Dennis Farina interpretations, but it’s still just as solid.
Anyway, enough about Jack Crawford, probably the least interesting character in The Silence of the Lambs, let’s get onto the meat and potatoes. This is honestly one of the most front-to-back, perfect thrillers I’ve ever seen. The pacing is incredible, every scene has meaning, and it never underhand pitches to the audience. It’s smart without being up its own ass or thinking it’s too good to indulge in salaciousness. After all, it knows it’s a gruesome thriller, but that doesn’t stop it from being clever at every turn or putting the utmost care into the construction of its characters. Props to Jonathan Demme, working in this genre for the first time and somehow mastering it.
Everything has already been said about Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, so iconic it was iconic after opening weekend. It’s been done to death in bad comedy sketches and on late-night talk shows for the past 30 years. Can you imagine if Tik Tok was around in 1991? Good gravy! Anyway, the impressions would lead you to believe it’s a hammy, over-the-top performance when in reality it’s actually a very restrained, precisely calibrated balancing act of intensity levels. He’s a calculating hawk, locked in a cage, using every detail he absorbs to his advantage. However, the real MVP of the movie is the performance far less talked about – Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling. In a time where female leads in these types of movies were infuriatingly portrayed as weak crying machines, Clarice is a strong, intelligent, and capable crime solver. Foster is wise to balance this with an intense vulnerability, she’s emotional and these crimes clearly affect her but it’s shown as her strength rather than her weakness. It’s a beautifully nuanced performance that mixes with Hopkins’ work like a really bomb PB&J.
In the supporting characters, there’s not a bad performance to be had. Ted Levine is chilling as Buffalo Bill, mostly because he exists as a three-dimensional character himself, tortured with sadness and depression but never portrayed as a victim in any way. Anthony Heald is the perfect prick as Dr. Chilton, possibly the most unlikeable character in a movie that includes two serial killers and several cops. Love how the movie ends with Hannibal traveling all the way to the Bahamas to kill and eat him. For a movie with such a strong female lead character, the supporting female characters are really thinly drawn or non-existent. This could be to hammer home the theme of Clarice being dropped into a male-dominated world. Brooke Smith is good ad Buffalo Bill’s victim but we don’t really know much about her personality other than she’s fighting tooth and nail to escape her captor and Clarice’s best friend and fellow FBI trainee, played by Kasi Lemmons (director of the excellent 90s indie drama Eve’s Bayou), is just kind of there to show that Clarice has some sort of support system.
All in all, this is the best the franchise has to offer. It’s pretty seamless from front to back, and has a style, craft, and personality the rest of the movies simply don’t have. It’s been parodied and imitated in lesser thrillers for 30 years, and will most definitely be another 30 to come.
directed by: Ridley Scott; screenplay by: David Mamet and Steve Zaillian
cast: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Ray Liotta, Gary Oldman, Giancarlo Gianni, Frankie Faison, Francesca Neri, Zeljko Ivanek, Mark Margolis
runtime: 132 minutes (2 hrs, 12 min.)
release date: February 9, 2001
opening weekend U.S. box office:
- Hannibal – $73.8M
- The Wedding Planner – $10M
- Saving Silverman – $9.3M
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – $7.8M
- Cast Away – $6.8M
Total Box Office Gross: $351.6M
MARGETIS = BLUE; COLLINS = RED
Released ten years (to the month) after the Silence of the Lamb‘s massive commercial and critical success, Hannibal came with some pretty hefty expectations. However, due to some serious complications, it ended up being an overlong, disjointed, slow-moving mess. Let’s track where it went wrong…
Hannibal Lecter, despite another solid performance by Hopkins, just isn’t as scary when he’s out in the open and fucking about. Besides that, Julianne Moore, one of the best actors in the entire world (even better than Jodie Foster), just crashes and burns in taking over the role of Clarice. Part of it is the way the character is written or underwritten here – I get she has experienced 10 years’ worth of harassment and verbal/emotional abuse in the FBI since we last saw her, but the character comes across as shrill and defensive, two things Clarice and Foster’s interpretation were not. Moore seems to be almost trying to mimic little isms of Foster’s performance and it just comes out weird.
The bigger problem is the screenplay. The story is thin and the pacing is off. Unlike Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, the story has no natural progression. It just feels like a bunch of random scenes, shish-kabobed together. Gone is the tension, suspense, and emotionally-charged and calculated interplay between Clarice and Hanny. The monster is out of the box and he’s kind of boring, ya’ll! Let’s run through it…
Hannibal has escaped prison to eat Dr. Chilton in the Bahamas before making his way up to Europe. He’s already murdered folks who got in his way and has taken over as the Mayor of Dumb Ass Art in Florence. Anyway, he’s just hanging out there drinking cappuccinos and holding Art court, when the dumbest cop in all of Italy (the great Giancarlo Gianni) figures out he’s Hannibal Lecter and tries to capture him to collect the reward money. The FBI wants him as well as a wealthy, physically disfigured, violently sociopathic trust fund baby, Mason Verger (the brilliant Gary Oldman). Detective Eataly goes with the loon, cause he’s willing to pay a higher reward price, and they of course fuck it up, leading to the cop’s death. Hannibal disembowels him and then hangs him from a window so his guts splash out onto the cobblestone steps of Florence in front of a group of excited tourists.
Hannibal then goes to DC to fuck with Clarice, who is freshly suspended from the FBI because a misogynist colleague, Paul Krendler (the incomparable Ray Liotta), was upset she wouldn’t sleep with him. In front of their boss, he openly calls her “country town p*ssy” or “cornhole p*ssy.”, one of the two, and she gets fired! It had something with corn in it. “Corn town p*ssy”? “Corn-prone p*ssy?” Anyway, she’s pissed but energized with Hannibal’s return and she seeks to meet up with him to capture him, but Mason Verger’s men beat her to it and kidnap Hannibal. They try to feed Hannibal to Mason Verger’s pigs, but Clarice shows up to rescue/capture Hannibal. She ends up getting shot while rescuing him, so Hannibal kidnaps her. He brings her to Ray Liotta’s place where he cooks a meal using Ray Liotta’s brain. He feeds Ray Liotta parts of his brain. That part is pretty cool and very on-brand for this series. The ending is solid too, with Clarice handcuffing Hannibal so she can make an arrest and then Hannibal cutting off his own hand with a meat cleaver, making it look like he was going to cut off Clarice’s hand. He’d never do that. Anyway, Hannibal gets away and feeds a kid on an airplane with leftovers of Ray Liotta’s brain. The end.
Besides the screenplay, Hannibal’s character, and Moore’s performance, there’s a lot to like about this movie. Ridley Scott is a solid director and all of this is shot very well. There are a few inspired visual ideas, but the pigeon motif is weird and dropped in the second act, and he doesn’t create an ounce of the dread or creepiness Jonathan Demme did. The rest of the cast is also solid. Ray Liotta is perfect as the creepy Paul Krendler, even if the character seems over-the-top, Giancarlo Gianni is hilariously sad as the desperate cop, but the picture really belongs to Gary Oldman and his incredible latex makeup. Mason Verger is the Hannibal Lecter of this movie, the confined sociopath loudly living his truth gurl cause he has nothing left to hide. All of his scenes are excellent. Emmy-winner Zeljko Ivanek (Damages, 24, Oz) is also really good as his homecare healthcare worker. ALSO — REAL WEIRD — when they’re looking at Lecter on the Ten Most Wanted list they punch in a couple times on Osama bin Laden. Hannibal was released just seven months before 9/11.
ANYWAY, besides the final 15 minutes with the brain dinner and the Gary Oldman scenes, Hannibal is pretty underwhelming. Not nearly as terrible as some people make it out to be, but definitely the weakest of the initial trilogy. It’s such a step down from SOTL, it’s almost unbelievable, but not really. This is how ill-advised sequels usually go, right? From what I understand it sounds much better than the book. The book sounds goofy AF, Shawn is that right? Is the novel a big goof fart of a beach read?
Who knew Hannibal Lecter was a foot guy?
Anyway – to answer your question, Mike: the book is very well written, but it tells a story that isn’t really worth it and manages to somehow shit all over the character of Clarice Starling in the process. I feel like this movie has a bad reputation, but honestly, it works a lot better than the book, largely because it at least omits a whole bunch of dumb crap that was weighing down the source material. The problem is that the stuff that’s left behind just isn’t very interesting.
So what got left on the cutting room floor? For starters, the book gives us more information on Lecter’s backstory. It’s not the full-on origin story nonsense we eventually get in Hannibal Rising, but it is enough to start to piece together some of Hannibal’s pathology: in Lithuania during World War II, Lecter’s rich fancy-pants parents get killed by Nazis, who then also force Hannibal to eat his little sister, Mischa. Poor Hannibal has carried this tragedy inside himself for his whole life and has developed a bizarre theory, based on his understanding of the work of Stephen Hawking, in which one day time itself will reverse and bring his sister back to him, and that it is his job to ensure a suitable place in the world has been made for her. The place he has chosen just so happens to currently be occupied by Clarice Starling, so we’re left wondering if maybe Lecter is planning on eating Clarice after all.
Here’s a free tip for anyone looking to adapt this material: nobody gives a shit where Hannibal Lecter came from. Whether in the books or on screen, this always winds up being the weakest part of the story. You could argue that this is because it just de-mystifies Hannibal’s character, but I think there’s another reason: Hannibal Lecter isn’t really the main draw of this series. This point gets a little harder to defend when you work the TV show into it, but the first two books are very much psychological crime thrillers in which Lecter plays only a small part. They kept that vibe for Manhunter, and Mike already talked about how Jodie Foster’s Clarice is the MVP of Silence of the Lambs… but the Hannibal novel wasn’t published until 1999, eight years after the SOTL movie and in the wake of Lecter’s rise as a pop-culture icon, so it’s easy to imagine that maybe Thomas Harris himself bought a little too much into the hype and forgot what had made the first two novels work so well. Hannibal isn’t quite the main character of the book, but the story is definitely focused on him, and that is to the story’s detriment. The psychological cat-and-mouse game we got in Lambs and Red Dragon is replaced with a “track down the bad guy” plot, except it’s one where we already know where the bad guy is, and which gets resolved when the bad guy eventually just shows up at the good guy’s house.
Another thing they cut from the movie is the original, extremely polarizing ending, which has Clarice Starling abandoning her oath as a law enforcement officer and running away with Hannibal Lecter. Their relationship has become explicitly sexual by this point – Harris even makes us watch Hannibal slurp wine off Clarice’s tits before mercifully fading to black – and the last we see of Lecter and Clarice is them traveling the world together, visiting art galleries and attending the opera, and presumably killing and eating anyone unfortunate enough to recognize them.
Um… I have some notes.
Clarice’s genuine commitment to her principles was such a central character trait in Lambs, so having her ultimately join forces with the cannibal serial killer at the end of the story feels a little… I guess we’ll say “abrupt”?
The movie version wisely changes this around. I think Clarice becoming disillusioned by the FBI is a good story element to introduce, but it’s a lot more satisfying to see her ultimately stick to her guns and try to bring Hannibal to justice. It’s been a while since I read it, but I don’t think the book ever makes it explicit that Clarice actually partakes in cannibalism. But she’s definitely okay with it happening in her presence; when Lecter starts eating Krendler’s brain, she even makes a joke about asking him for seconds. To be fair, she has been drugged by Hannibal at this point… but are we to assume he just spends the rest of their lives together drugging her? And I mean, hey, I’m hip, I bought a lava lamp once, but I feel like it would take a lot more than a strong trip to convince me that it’s okay to eat people who were mean to me. And also, Clarice’s genuine commitment to her principles is like the whole reason Hannibal helps her in the first place, so the fact that the story basically ends with him corrupting her makes me feel like he’s just gonna end up eating her once their honeymoon period has ended.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that the book’s ending is a pile of hot garbage? The movie version has its own problems, but changing that ending was the best thing they could have done for the story.
I’m talking too much about the book. The movie is… fine? I wouldn’t say Hopkins is phoning in his performance, but Hannibal just feels a lot less menacing when we’re watching him shop for hand cream. He’s also become a huge creeper, breaking into Clarice’s house to touch her hair and ogle her “shapely feet”. Hannibal is not a good guy, his interest in Clarice was never supposed to have been healthy, but it at least felt like it came from a place of professional respect in Lambs. Here, it feels more like granddad hitting on the waitress at Luby’s with flowery, over-the-top politeness; Hannibal seems like he’s always only a couple seconds away from dropping a legit “milady” into his conversations with her.
Julianne Moore’s Clarice isn’t nearly as interesting as Foster’s, but I think that’s at least in part due to the source material just being generally weaker than its predecessor. Gary Oldman is the strongest performance, and he’s working under some truly ghastly makeup to help him seal the deal. That’s one thing that did stand out to me on this re-watch: Mason Verger looks fuckin’ gnarly, but credit to Oldman that it never feels like he’s letting the makeup do the heavy lifting. Ray Liotta does a good job making you hate his Paul Krendler, but I dunno, I’ve always been a Ray Liotta stan. Do you guys remember the movie “No Escape”? I like that movie.
Overall, though, the actors here just don’t have as much to work with, and nobody’s getting anywhere close to the highs we got in Silence of the Lambs.
A few stray observations to wrap things up:
- The movie also totally removes the character of Margot Verger, Mason’s sister, whom Mason has spent his whole life abusing. She’s the one who ultimately kills him in the novel, and it makes a lot more sense given what we learn about their relationship throughout the story. In the movie, that story beat is given to Mason’s nurse, Cordell… but, while the movie makes an effort to set this up with a few scenes where Mason is kind of just generally mean and dismissive, it still feels extremely sudden when Lecter convinces Cordell to murder his boss in a single line of dialogue. In the novel, Cordell is much more a willing participant in Mason’s plan, but here he feels like a lazy plot device. I mean, I get that Hannibal is supposed to be a psychological mastermind, but come on.
- Why yes, that is Mark Margolis, Hector Salamanca of Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad fame, making a brief cameo appearance as a world-renowned expert in… how lotion smells, I think? I’m not sure, I was too busy saying “Hey, that’s Mark Margolis!” out loud during that scene so I didn’t hear all of it.
- Barney’s back in this one for about 5 seconds, but he’s still the nicest guy around. I think Barney might be the only nice man in the entire Hannibal mythos.
Lol, we didn’t even mention how David Mamet co-wrote this. Whelp, anyway…
directed by: Brett Ratner; screenplay by: Ted Tally
cast: Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary Louise-Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Frankie Faison, Frank Whaley, Bill Duke, Anthony Heald, Ken Leung
runtime: 124 minutes (2 hrs, 4 min.)
release date: October 4, 2002
opening weekend U.S. box office:
- Red Dragon – $36.5M
- Sweet Home Alabama – $21.3M
- The Tuxedo – $10M
- My Big Fat Greek Wedding – $8.2M
- Barbershop – $6.6M
Total Box Office Gross: $209.2M
MARGETIS = BLUE; COLLINS = RED
Time for Red Dragon Round 2!
We’re mostly dealing with the same plot we got in Manhunter, so let’s focus on the biggest difference: Hannibal Lecter is actually in it this time. That’s no disrespect to Brian Cox – his “Lecktor” version is entertaining to watch, and he deserves a lot of credit for his take on the part before its pop cultural ascendancy – but let’s face it: most people only saw Manhunter after seeing Silence of the Lambs, and given Cox’s different interpretation of the role and Lecktor’s relatively small screen time, I’m gonna guess a lot of them left feeling disappointed. They wanted fava beans and chianti, and for all its unique charms, Manhunter just isn’t that.
As a follow-up to Hannibal, this movie is a refreshing return to form. Instead of creepy Hannibal stealing secret sniffs of Starling’s sneakers, we once again have the psychological mastermind, locked in his cage and yet somehow still the most dangerous presence in the story. It’s interesting to see the difference between Lecter’s relationship with Will Graham versus his relationship with Clarice; for her, Lecter was a twisted kind of mentor… but while Lecter does seem to have some respect for Graham, he also clearly hates and wants revenge on him. This gives his trademark “politeness” a bit of extra bite – Hannibal casually asking Graham for his home address feels way more specifically threatening here than it did in Manhunter – and it gives us a version of the character that, while familiar, feels like he could still surprise us.
For instance: in Lambs and Hannibal, Lecter mostly kills jerks. We know he’s a serial killer, and those cops he take outs in Lambs were just doing their jobs… oh, and he did bite of some poor nurse’s face for literally no reason… okay, maybe this point is collapsing as I make it, but I think you know what I mean. For all his bad behavior, Hannibal isn’t exactly an antagonist in Lambs. He presents a psychological threat to Clarice, I guess, but he still ultimately helps her solve the case, and they practically feel like gross inappropriate friends by their final scene together.
Not this time, though. Lecter is in full-on bad guy mode here, and poor Will Graham is in very real danger just by being around him. Graham tries to downplay this fact to his wife and son… and then Lecter then tries to murder by proxy. Don’t get me wrong, some of these elements were present in Manhunter too, but Lecktor took a backseat to the overall plot in that movie, and so this sense of menace never really had the chance to develop there. The Tooth Fairy never even makes it to the Graham household in Michael Mann’s version of the story, after all.
To be fair, though, Manhunter also didn’t have the advantage of two previously successful outings with the character… which brings me to my only real problem with Red Dragon: it’s kind of just Silence of the Lambs again. I mean, yeah it is a different story and there are a lot of differences between Will Graham and Clarice Starling as protagonists… but as a film, this one is just so clearly aping the style of SOTL that it struggles to find its own identity. Everything’s back: the dungeon, the face mask, Chilton, and even fuckin’ Barney. We get to see footage of Lecter’s attack on the nurse that only got described in Lambs, and we even get a final scene where Chilton tells Lecter that a young FBI trainee has come to interview him, which almost feels like it could have been pulled from the post-credits of a Marvel movie. Now yeah, all of that is what the people wanted, it’s why the movie exists in the first place. There’s nothing wrong with playing all the hits. Red Dragon is way better than Hannibal, and I do like it more than Manhunter, but it’s a movie never steps out of the shadow of its predecessor.
But hey! There’s other stuff going on here too! Ralph Fiennes nails the part of Dolarhyde/The Tooth Fairy. This movie reincorporates his character’s backstory from the novel – he was abused by his grandmother as a child, so now he pretends to be a dragon from a painting while murdering whole families – and Fiennes plays the character with an appropriate mix of pathetic and terrifying. Manhunter made only a passing reference to Dolarhyde’s obsession with the William Blake painting “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun”, and their version of Dolarhyde feels necessarily different as a result. In this version, Dolarhyde is at first a willing thrall to his “Dragon” personality, but he does try to resist it later on in the story, and Fiennes carries the two versions of Dolarhyde pretty well.
Edward Norton does a way better job carrying the movie than William Petersen did. I mean, obviously. That’s why Edward Norton is a famous movie star and William Petersen is the guy from CSI. You’ve also got Harvey Keitel as Jack Crawford, in what feels like a real “why did you waste Patrick Stewart on the first 15 minutes of Oblivion” kind of way. Philip Seymour Hoffman is standing in for Freddy Lounds this time, and he’s by far the best actor to tackle the part. This movie sure ain’t suffering for star power. Red Dragon is a comfortable second-best of the film series. It functions as a solid adaptation of the source material while still giving us a lot of what we liked from Silence of the Lambs. But at the end of the day, second-best is all it set out to be, and it shows.
I also liked Red Dragon more than Manhunter, and it’s more in keeping with the tone of the rest of the series. It’s grizzlier and more in the realm of horror than a “cool cop” movie, which Manhunter was in spades. While it’s a massive improvement over Hannibal the Movie, it never comes close to capturing the magic of Silence of the Lambs. That was a true auteur’s movie – Jonathan Demme in his muthafuckin’ element making shit pop – and this seems very generic and workmanlike, in the writing and especially in the directing/shot framing/technical aspects of it.
At least Red Dragon knows how to tell a story, unlike Hannibal, which just sort of meanders its way into a good final showdown. Will Graham is played far better here by Edward Norton, an actor fully capable of downplaying gestures and properly modulating his voice so he’s not just screaming “You did it! You son-of-a-bitch!” at the camera over and over and over again. Hopkins is back and as good as ever as Dr. Lector, back behind bars where he’s proven more menacing. He has an even smaller part in this than in Silence, but he owns every minute he’s on screen. The real stand-out performance of the movie is a perfectly cast Ralph Fiennes as Tooth Fairy/Red Dragon/Francis Dolarhyde, our story’s main killer. Tom Noonan was also really good in Manhunter, but Fiennes surpasses him with the ability to bring vulnerability, sadness, and awkward relatability to the character, which feels uncomfortably real.
The supporting cast is also solid with a typically excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman performance as their world’s equivalent to a TMZ reporter and Emily Watson as Red Dragon’s blind girlfriend. Mary Louise Parker and Harvey Keitel do what they can in the movie’s two most one-dimensionally drawn characters, with lesser actors these parts would have straight up disappeared into the background. This clearly has the most prestigious cast out of any Hannibal-related project thus far – between the seven leads, there are 18 Oscar nominations, 26 BAFTA nominations, 16 Emmy nominations, and 10 Tony nominations.
It’s weird to think that Brett Ratner (Rush Hour 3, X-Men 3) would make the best non-Silence entry in this franchise, but I feel like Ridley Scott and Michael Mann got caught up in trying to make it their own. Brett just shoots this like a director for hire and maybe that allows it to be what it’s supposed to be. Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon is a good movie telling a good story without many bells and whistles.
directed by: Peter Webber; screenplay by: Thomas Harris
cast: Gaspard Ulliel, Gong Li, Dominic West, Richard Brake, Rhys Ifans, Helena Lia-Tachovska, Kevin McKidd, Denis Menochet
runtime: 121 minutes (2 hrs, 1 min.)
release date: February 9, 2007
opening weekend U.S. box office:
- Norbit – $34M
- Hannibal Rising – $13M
- Because I Said So – $9.2M
- The Messengers – $7.2M
- Night at the Museum – $5.7M
Total Box Office Gross: $82.2M
MARGETIS = BLUE; COLLINS = RED
Wow, I was expecting this to be hot garbage but I wasn’t expecting it to be this boring, dull, and utterly shapeless. Hannibal Rising is sleepwalking cinema, a drowsy origins story no one asked for, given the bare minimum of effort from everyone involved. Sure, they made a couple bucks, but Norbit made more than twice the amount of money this did opening weekend. Fucking Norbit! Need I say any more? Jesus. I think people were more or less over and done with Hannibal the Cannibal at this point, especially considering that this made a little more than a third of the opening weekend box office as Red Dragon, just 5 years earlier. Apparently, author Thomas Harris was forced into writing this crap (both the screenplay AND the book!!!) because they were going to make a prequel with or without him and he figured he might as well write it if it had to exist. Cool, I guess it could have been worse, but it’s hard to fathom the dude who came up with the Hannibal Lecter of Red Dragon and Silence, came up with all this bullshit.
Hannibal’s origin story begins during WWII in Lithuania, where his parents are murdered by Nazis. His little sister, Mabel? (watched this last night and already forgot her name), and he are both like eight or ten or something and get kidnapped by a group of Nazis led by the funny British guy in his underwear from Notting Hill. The winter is harsh so the Nazis end up eating Hannibal’s little sister and feeding Hannibal her smoky flesh in some sort of soup or whatever. Hannibal escapes and makes his way to France or something where he hooks up with his hot Chinese aunt played by Gong Li. They’re not REALLY aunt/nephew so the will they?/won’t they? sexual tension is always present. Anyway, Hannibal tracks down the Nazis who killed his family and begins picking them off one by one, Kill Bill-style.
Except none of this is even remotely suspenseful. He tracks down Nazis and then they just omit the scene where he captures them and then we cut to him torturing/killing them. Not that I expect a movie about Nazis to be fun, but it’s a Hannibal movie with a straight-up unbelievable origins story sloppily attached, so YEAH, I expected it to at least lean into the campiness it set for itself. But it doesn’t. Hannibal Rising takes itself so seriously it’s annoying, giving you a conveyer belt of forgettable, one-dimensional characters. The main dude who plays Hannibal isn’t terrible, but it’s easily the weakest performance of all the Hannibals. Gong Li is all right, but the rest of the cast is awful. The Wire‘s Dominic West, usually excellent, plays a French cop with an accent so jarringly bad it frequently stops the movie in its tracks. Rhys Ifans, the Notting Hill dude, and Little Nicky’s mean brother plays the head Nazi and it’s a classically underwhelming head baddie portrayal. The other Nazis are played by Rome and Trainspotting‘s Kevin McKidd, who probably gives the most grounded performance, and frequent Rob Zombie collaborator Richard Brake (3 From Hell, 31, Mandy).
I’m done talking about this garbage movie. What a waste of time, but I guess we now know more about the origins of a character whose precise power was the fact he was so mysterious. It’s not as egregious as exploring Michael Myers’ origin story (thanks Rob Zombie!), but it’s pretty damn unnecessary. Shawn, you liked this one right?
I think “like” is too strong a word, but I will say this wasn’t as bad as I remembered. This is only the second time I’ve seen it, and the first time around I hadn’t seen the TV show version yet. Maybe the TV show just got me used to a younger Hannibal, I dunno.
There’s no point in damning with faint praise; this movie sucks. But the book it’s based on also sucks, so I guess that means it’s a good adaptation? I feel like a Jelly Belly executive telling a candy scientist that they really nailed the “dirty diaper” flavor, but I can’t imagine a better version of the movie than this one.
Okay, so here’s the thing: producer Dino de Laurentiis basically forced Thomas Harris to write the Hannibal Rising novel, and then adapt the screenplay. See, de Laurentiis had owned the film rights to Hannibal Lecter since all the way back with Manhunter. But when Manhunter flopped, de Laurentiis figured he had a dud on his hands, so he let Orion Pictures use the Hannibal character for free in Silence of the Lambs, which, whoopsie daisy, went on to be a genre-defining classic. After screwing himself out of that huge payday, de Laurentiis wanted to at least capitalize on the character’s newfound popularity.
Hannibal and Red Dragon both did well at the box office, but they’d run out of source material to work with. And so, de Laurentiis basically told Thomas Harris that he’d better write another book, or de Laurentiis would find someone else to do it for him. Harris, not wanting to lose control of his character (and, hey, probably also not averse to the idea of another big payday himself), agreed – and so we got Hannibal Rising… a story nobody asked for, willed into existence by good old fashioned Hollywood greed.
Since the book only exists so that it could eventually be turned into a movie, Harris opts for a simple story that will play well for the cheap seats. I don’t think anyone reading Red Dragon or The Silence of the Lambs would have guessed that the series would eventually turn into young Hannibal Lecter fighting Nazis, but that’s what you get when you tell an author to write something or else. Lecter is fully the good guy now – you don’t exactly root for him, but the Nazi guys he’s after are so cartoonishly villainous that you get a naughty little thrill seeing them get their comeuppance. It’s like Hannibal Lecter by way of The Crow.
It feels unfair to criticize this movie for being unrealistic since I’m about to heap loads of praise on the television show, but here we go: kid Hannibal hunting down a squad of ruthless Nazis without getting caught or killed is pulp novel nonsense. That’s the origin story of an Indiana Jones, or maybe a loose cannon cop who plays by his own rules. It doesn’t really work for a cerebral serial killer who up to now has felt most dangerous from behind bars. Hannibal has always been a bit of a Mary Sue, but for the first two books, the world around him was grounded and realistic. Hannibal‘s introduction of Mason Verger, an evil disfigured billionaire who swears vengeance on Dr. Lecter, was a sign that things were creeping into comic book territory. Hannibal Rising really doubles down on the comic book stuff.
And here’s the thing: that could be fine! I like comic books! The TV show version gets pretty goofy sometimes, but I love it! But the problem is, Hannibal Rising is way too stuffy and self-serious to have any real fun with its premise. So what we get instead is a bleary, boring revenge plot. And it’s a prequel, too, so we already know that he’s gonna get away with it, which sucks out all the tension. Hannibal gets off a couple good one-liners throughout the story – Thomas Harris is still writing the dialogue, after all – but nothing surprising happens and the movie crawls along at a snail’s pace towards a “climax” everyone saw coming when they bought their ticket. Hey, turns out Hannibal Lecter might be a bit of a serial killer, who knew.
I guess maybe one reason I didn’t hate this movie so much this time around is that I’ve gotten pretty used to the idea of Hannibal as an anti-hero. But honestly, that comes almost entirely from the show, which I want to think is (mostly) trying to subvert the antihero trope. Or maybe not, I just typed that and it sounded smart. My point is that Hannibal wasn’t exactly an antihero before the TV show. In Red Dragon, he’s just a straight-up bad guy (he killed a dude for being bad at the flute and then made that dude’s friends eat him). In Lambs, it’s clear we’re supposed to like Lecter more than, say, Chilton, but those cops he kills to break out of jail were actually pretty nice to Hannibal, all things considered. Mason Verger is a bit cartoony as a bad guy so it’s easy to root for Hannibal there, but he does end that movie by making a guy eat his own brain. You’re not really supposed to want Hannibal to win, is what I’m saying.
But here, you sort of have no choice. The movie provides McNulty as like a possible “alternative” to killing all the Nazi child-murderers, but it’s not one that’s ever taken even remotely seriously by the audience; they came to watch Hannibal revel in his bloody, artsy-fartsy revenge, after all. Like I said above, we’re fully in Hannibal’s corner here, kind of like how you eventually just start rooting for Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th series. But the result of that is, for all the smarty-pants quips and Bach cello music, this doesn’t really feel like the same Hannibal Lecter who eventually tries to murder a child he’s never met to take revenge on the guy who fairly arrested him. If you really want to do Hannibal Lecter as an antihero, you gotta do better than just giving him people to murder who are worse than he is. The show manages this, but Hannibal Rising does not.
Gaspard Ulliel is doing a good job, but he’s also mostly just doing Anthony Hopkins’ version of the character. He seems like he was having fun, but the movie is such a slog that it doesn’t help much. (RIP to Ulliel, who died in January of this year – the youngest guy to play Hannibal, and yet the first to pass away.) McNulty is not as bad here as Keanu Reeves was in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but there I go damning with faint praise again. Gong Li is pretty good as Ra’s al Ghul.
What is there that’s really left to say? Hannibal Rising is by far the worst of the series. If you want to see a younger version of the character absolutely nailing that flowery Thomas Harris dialogue, you want the TV show.
A few stray observations to wrap things up:
- Pretty sure that samurai armor is only in the movie so that Hannibal can wear the face-guard part so that it reminds us of when he had to wear the face-guard thing in Silence of the Lambs, which they reference again in both Hannibal and Red Dragon. Gotta put something on the poster, after all.
- In the movie, Hannibal is a prime suspect in a series of murders, and he only gets away by apparently faking his death. But then I guess he moves to America, becomes a renowned psychiatrist, and then helps the FBI investigate a series of murders disturbingly similar to the ones he was suspected of when he was younger, all without even changing his name?
- I haven’t had a chance to mention this anywhere before, so I guess I will now: in the books, Hannibal has six fingers on his left hand, until he eventually surgically removes the extra one after escaping from prison. This never comes up in any of the movies, so it doesn’t really matter here, but I thought you should know about it.
- Hannibal Lecter canonically lives in Baltimore, which is the city where The Wire takes place, which is a show that stars Dominic West, who starred in the film Centurion with Michael Fassbender, who appeared in the movie X-Men: First Class alongside, you guessed it, Frank Stallone.
BONUS – THE TV SHOW
creator: Bryan Fuller
cast: Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Caroline Dhavernas, Laurence Fishburne, Hettiene Park, Scott Thompson, Gillian Anderson, Aaron Abrams, Raul Esparza, Eddie Izzard, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Kacey Rohl, Gina Torres, Molly Shannon, Anna Chlumsky, Michael Pitt, Katharine Isabelle, Cynthia Nixon, Richard Armitage, Fortunato Cerlino, Glenn Flesher, Nina Arianda, Tao Okamoto, Rutina Wesley
3 seasons; 13 episodes each; 43 min. each
Season 1: April 4, 2013 – June 20, 2013
Season 2: February 28, 2014 – May 23, 2014
Season 3: June 4, 2015 – August 29, 2015
similar shows running around this time: True Detective, The Following, Bates Motel, The Fall, Wayward Pines, Scream
MARGETIS = BLUE; COLLINS = RED
***SPOILERS FOR THE SHOW HANNIBAL! If you haven’t watched it, and have any interest in doing so, please go do that first.***
Let’s not play: I love Hannibal. It’s a big part of why this article exists.
I wanted to hate this show. I even did hate it, for the first half of the first season or so. “They’ve gone and turned Hannibal into a dumb buddy cop show,” I said to myself. I winced when Hannibal uttered the word “Google”, and I was laughing (at, not with) when Hannibal has to defeat another serial killer in a silly karate battle in his office. If you’d have asked me then, I’d have described my initial relationship with this show as a hate-watch, in much the same vein as when I’d seen Hannibal Rising.
But the whole time, Hannibal – the show, and the character – was getting into my head. (Oof, that sounds really dumb, but I promise I’m going somewhere with this,)
Hannibal is the story of Will Graham, an instructor at the FBI Academy who was never made a full agent because he has an “empathy disorder” that allows him to vividly recreate the thought patterns of anyone around him, even serial killers. I haven’t done any research into how legitimate this condition is; the show basically treats it as a debilitating superpower that prevents Will Graham from forming stable emotional relationships with anyone except his houseful of rescued dogs. But when the head of the FBI’s Behavioral Science division, Jack Crawford, can’t track down a new serial killer, he taps Graham to visit a few crime scenes to try and recreate the killer’s fantasies. Graham makes some headway on the case, but Crawford is worried about how this work might be affecting him… and so, he brings in a renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, to keep tabs on Will’s mental state while Will continues to investigate the murders.
From here, the show’s first season is effectively a procedural, Will is called in to investigate a new case, and recreates the killer’s fantasies (in what are some of the most amazing sequences I’ve ever seen shown on network television), but his psyche is progressively deteriorating as he spends more time in the headspace of literal murderers. Dr. Lecter is ostensibly “helping” him, but obviously, he’s toying with Will, poking and prodding at his unconscious mind, in what seems to be an attempt to turn Will into a murderer himself. There’s also the serial murders that Hannibal keeps committing – those of the “Chesapeake Ripper” – which serve as kind of a background metaplot to the more “monster of the week” procedural stuff.
I actually love the first season now, but if the show had stayed this way, I probably wouldn’t. The first season has all the big-picture things I like about this show, but there mostly isn’t a lot of connectivity between episodes. This show was released on television week by week, back when people rode dinosaurs to work, and the first season doesn’t have that “just one more episode” thrust that a lot of modern shows are aiming for. But it isn’t exactly a “you can just drop in whenever” show either, and the tension between those two extremes is noticeable. The first season is definitely building towards something, but we don’t really know what that is, and a lot of time out of each individual episode is committed to that one episode’s story.
But then you get to the end of season one: Hannibal frames Will for the murders he has been committing. The final shot of the season is this amazing inversion of our expectations, where Hannibal walks up the dungeon hallway to that last cell on the left, to see Will Graham behind bars and waiting for his visitor. This builds into the second season, where Will, now fully aware of what Hannibal is, commits himself to Hannibal’s destruction. Except the thing is, the means by which he seeks to achieve that destruction is by becoming the one thing Hannibal has never really had – a true friend. And also, hey, remember how Will’s superpower is that he can’t stop himself from empathizing with the people around him?
The second season of Hannibal is fucking incredible. Will Graham and Hannibal engage in a lethal cat-and-mouse conflict that feels pulled right out of the tensest moments of Silence of the Lambs. These are two guys that can’t help hating and loving each other simultaneously, and the ripples of their destructive bromance permanently scar the lives of pretty much everyone around them. By season 02, the show has become mostly serialized; there are still a couple “serial killer of the week” bits, but the focus shifts almost entirely to this bizarre game of mental chess between Will and Hannibal. We see this game gradually alienate both men from everyone around them, which just pushes them towards each other until by the end of the season, you as the audience aren’t entirely sure what you even want to see happen. Will and Hannibal are clearly best friends (they’re actually in love, but this doesn’t really become explicit until season 3), and because they are the two main characters of the show, you kind of want it to work out between them. But you also know that Hannibal is a sadistic murderer – by this point, he’s even offed a couple regular cast members – and you know that the only reason Will ever let Hannibal get this close in the first place was so that he could be brought to justice. It all builds to an incredible Season 02 finale that has been (accurately, in my opinion) described as the saddest breakup episode in TV history.
Then we get to Season 03. It’s the only chunk of the show I don’t like (and honestly, I’ve watched this show so many times that there are parts of this section that I do enjoy), mostly because it separates Will and Hannibal from each other. It’s basically the plot of the novel/movie Hannibal; Lecter is on the run in Florence, and an evil billionaire named Mason Verger is after him. This goes on to more or less the exact same climax we got in the Hannibal movie – Mason eventually captures Hannibal and Will, but then our heroes turn the tables on him – and the first half of season 03 ends with Will finally and in no uncertain terms rebuking Hannibal, effectively ending their weird “will they/won’t they eat a person together” relationship. Finally, we get to the back half of the third (and, so far, final) season of this show, which is basically just Red Dragon again. Will Graham is retired, Jack Crawford asks him to come back to hunt the Tooth Fairy, and eventually, this drives Will back into Hannibal’s orbit.
We get mostly the same Red Dragon plot – Dolarhyde is the bad guy, he still meets Reba, Lecter sends him to Graham’s home – but there are enough differences that stem from the rest of the TV series that it all feels new again. It builds to a wholly different climax, and then the show – which, by this point, producers knew would not be renewed for a fourth season – ends on a bit of vagueness that, at first, felt a little disappointing… but which has honestly kind of grown on me as time has passed and it seems more and more likely that that ending is all we’re gonna get.
So remember when I said earlier how this show gets in your head? I wasn’t trying to be poetic; that’s the literal plot. Will Graham enters this show as a troubled but ultimately good person. His relationship with Hannibal gradually distorts him, and there are whole sections of the series where Will feels like he’s as bad as Hannibal is, but Will always puts up enough resistance to remind us that he’s the hero, this isn’t a really a romance, and Hannibal Lecter is an abject monster. But like, you forget. The show is about how Hannibal climbs into Will’s psyche – and since he’s the POV character, that’s kind of the audience’s psyche too – and after a while, you like Hannibal. We see Hannibal struggle and overcome adversity. We hear him explain his worldview, which even occasionally comes off as reasonable and justified… until we remember that he’s talking about killing and eating people that annoy him.
From a production standpoint, this show is really well done. It’s filmed like a dream that’s always bleeding into an active nightmare, which is hard to explain if you’ve never seen it before, but which will make sense after the first episode. There is a definite corporeal plot to follow throughout, but it’s also the kind of show where a new scene starts and you aren’t always immediately aware if you’re watching reality or if it’s a dream/hallucination/metaphorical vision. I honestly can’t believe a show like this was filmed and screened on network TV in between commercials for laundry detergent and those cartoon bears that shit all the time.
The cast here is excellent. Mad Mikkelsen is, by far, my Hannibal Lecter. He’s walking a trail blazed for him by Anthony Hopkins, true, but just thanks to Mikkelsen’s Lecter getting to respond to a much wider range of situations than Hopkins ever did, it comes off as an entirely fresh take. Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is, by turns, sympathetic, aspirational, and terrifying, and all of this works to serve this show’s interpretation of the character. For example: Hannibal has always come to us “fully formed” before (except in Hannibal Rising, but fuck that movie), so this show is the only time we’ve ever really explored Hannibal’s character while we he was still a practicing psychiatrist and socialite, and we get to watch him gradually turn from that into the more recognizable version we got from the novels and films.
Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham is, IMO, the series MVP, thanks to his ability to shift his character between being the sympathetic hero and someone who might have actually joined Lecter’s side, so that he’s manages to surprise the audience with his actions throughout the entire series. Laurence Fishburne is my favorite Jack Crawford, but he gets a ton more to work with here than any of the other actors to occupy this part. Raul Esparza deserves special mention for his interpretation of Dr. Chilton, who in this show ends up being the go-to punching bad for pretty much everybody… but overall, the cast is fantastic.
Hannibal isn’t flawless. For as much as the show leans into its dreamlike presentation, there are moments that make you question how the killers in the show could actually achieve the picturesque presentations of their murder scenes without the aid of support staff and some construction equipment. The show is never explicitly supernatural, but Lecter may as well be, given his superhuman sense of smell, his apparent invisibility to any witnesses, and his ability to predict the outcome of events with near-perfect certainty, even years ahead of time. The show also has a bad habit of killing off major characters, only to unceremoniously reveal that they actually survived after the fact (this happens to Chilton twice). The first half of Season 03, which is the show’s version of the novel/movie Hannibal, is a pretty boring slog through Hannibal’s dumb and entirely irrelevant backstory.
But hey – the stuff that works, works.
I could go on forever, but I feel like I’ve made you guys slog through enough of my dumb opinions about Hannibal Lecter. If I’m being honest, I just wanted to write about the show, and that’s the bit you just read. It was interesting revisiting all the movies that lead me to the show, but this whole exercise has really just established how much more I like the show than any of the films that led up to it. Mads Mikkelsen is my Hannibal, Hugh Dancy is my Will Graham, and their twisted relationship is my ideal version of their story. This show isn’t for everyone – there’s a real chance you’ll bounce off it before the end of the first season, and I get it – but those that see, see.
Now, all that said… Mike, you better not be about to tell me you don’t like the show Hannibal.
You’re right, Shawn, you could go on forever and you very nearly did. I read all of that, and I agree with almost everything. Unfortunately, I never finished the show due to the third season’s slow, laborious, and downright obtuse first episodes. I think I tapped out around the third one. However, from what I saw the show was really excellent in places.
I got on the Hannibal the Series train sometime during 2014, I think they had just finished airing their second season. I had heard it was pretty good from friends and saw that a lot of television critics were going goo-goo over it. The most interesting thing I heard about it was how homoerotic the relationship between Will and Hannibal was, which I thought was blown out of proportion but upon watch realized if anything it was somewhat downplayed. These two are totally in something with each other, maybe not love, maybe not even solely lust, but the show seems to demonstrate over and over again that these two are soulmates. Needless to say, there’s a lot of bizarre and often impressively rendered hentai surrounding these two. Whatever floats your boat, do it up big!
Anyway, I bought the DVD box set of the first season and blew through it all on the two days I had off at Walmart (I was working at Walmart at the time and it stunk). I found it really entertaining but a bit annoying. For all its wonderful attributes, like two incredibly complex lead characters (Hannibal and Will) made all the more dynamic by the two outstanding performances inhabiting those characters (Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh “Mr. Claire Danes” Dancy) and gorgeous cinematography, it fell victim to the predictable tropes of a week by week police procedural. Added to that, the writing sometimes felt painfully on-the-nose and hokey to the point of being distracting. You also have to get past the ridiculousness of the Baltimore they create. In Bryan Fuller’s Baltimore, much more fantastical than David Simon’s Baltimore, there are dozens of active serial killers running around committing elaborate murders every week. And by elaborate I mean a twenty-foot bound flesh statue made up of dead bodies or murder victims with their back skin mutilated to mimic angel wings. If shit like this was happening on a week-to-week basis, it would be national news, and Maryland would be under marshall law. But it’s just a TV show so I guess we’re supposed to accept this reality where every serial killer is a budding visual artist who fashion their kills to look like MoMA pieces.
The second season on the other hand fixes almost every problem the first season had. It drops a lot of the procedural shit to focus more on the relationship between our two not-lovers, Will and Hanny. It also gives one of its most poorly drawn and yawn-inducing characters, Alana Bloom, something to do that doesn’t put you to sleep. There are so many gorgeous sequences in this and none of it seems extraneous. It all seems to be there to support the story and more importantly, the Hannibal/Will dynamic, which is the entire show. It begins with Will being on bottom and Hannibal being on top and ends with Will being on top and Hannibal being on the bottom. I guess they’re both vers tops. Season 2 of Hannibal is not only the best season of the show but one of the best seasons of television of the 21st century.
Season 3, or at least what I saw of it, slashes this dynamic by not having Hannibal and Will in the same room with each other. I reckon they get together later, Shawn? Anyway, Gillian Anderson as Hannibal’s psychiatrist is pumped up to series regular and she’s honestly the best part of the three episodes I made it through. They also recast Michael Pitt as Mason Verger, and I get it, the actor is notoriously difficult to work with but this new guy is noticeably not as good.
All in all, this is a really good series that was truly great for a year and gave network dramas some credibility back. There were some great performances on the show, Dancy and Mikkelsen of course, but also Broadway sensation/Law & Order actor Raul Esparza as Dr. Chilten, SNL’s Molly Shannon as a serial killer targeting children, Kids in the Hall‘s Scott Thompson as one half of a team of quirky forensic pathologists and Eddie Izzard as a rival serial killer to Hannibal. This show never really stood a chance on NBC though, it was an FX or AMC show, through and through. If Fuller had secured a contract with them, maybe this would have gotten six seasons and a movie. They still wouldn’t be able to get the rights to the Clarice Starling character though, so who the fuck knows honestly.
MARGETIS’ TOP RANKING:
- The Silence of the Lambs
- Hannibal (the TV show is really good but doesn’t reach the heights of Demme’s film, which is pretty goddamn flawless this has flaws up the ying yang.)
- Red Dragon
- Hannibal Rising
COLLINS’ TOP RANKING:
- Hannibal (the TV show… yes, I think it’s better than the movie, I invite you to fight me over it)
- The Silence of the Lambs
- Red Dragon
- Hannibal Rising (this movie objectively belongs at the bottom, but if I’m being honest, I might like it more than the Hannibal movie)