Confession time: I hate prequels. Really, as a rule they tend to be wastes of time for me. The STAR WARS prequels, BATMAN BEGINS, the SMALLVILLE TV series, DUMB AND DUMBERER… THE MUPPET BABIES… a few others I can’t be bothered naming. None of them really worked for me, mostly because the stories behind the characters and tales that inspired the prequels are rarely as interesting as the original stories, otherwise the storytellers would have started with the prequels. Would anyone really give a crap to read a whole novel about Dorothy before she got into the witch-killing business in Oz? Or see The Goonies when they were infant adventurers? Or a Young Indiana Jones- no wait…
Okay, I’m not saying this rule is consistent.
Anyway, prequels rarely work for me. So when I heard that Bryan Fuller (HEROES, PUSHING DAISIES) was frontrunning a TV series focusing on the notorious Dr Hannibal Lecter before the events of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, I was dubious. I had watched the movie HANNIBAL RISING, which purported to blame writer Thomas Harris’ cannibalistic psychiatrist’s lethal tastes on anguish involving his sister’s death at the hands of Nazi war criminals, and was less than impressed. It would surely be at best a failed effort on the part of Fuller (though I enjoyed what he did with the pilot for MOCKINGBIRD LANE, reviewed here), just cashing in on Hannibal’s public recognition factor.
Well, based on the two episodes I’ve watched so far, I was wrong, because this is really quite an impressive show!
Fuller gives us a contemporary take on Harris’ characters, both good and bad, but before the events in any of Harris’ books. Our hero is profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy, KING ARTHUR), a man with emotional problems due to his remarkable empathy, that lets him identify with the killers he pursues – perhaps too much. Despite his desire to remain an instructor, he’s lured back by FBI special agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne, THE MATRIX) on a particularly difficult serial killer case. Crawford, however, not wanting Graham to implode (though more out of self-preservation for his career than concern for Graham), looks for a psychiatric evaluation. And there’s a certain, well-spoken psychiatrist named Hannibal Lecter (Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, CASINO ROYALE), who shows a keen interest in Graham.
One thing that struck me about watching HANNIBAL was that it didn’t feel like a standard network show. This might just be due to the director of the pilot, David Slade, who brought us the superlative 30 DAYS OF NIGHT. This could have just been a generic police procedural, and there are aspects of that in what I’ve seen. But there’s also that visual class that Jonathan Demme brought to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, offering gory, grisly images framed with elegance (and from the looks of things, it’s gonna get worse before it gets better – which is most appreciated LOL).
Hugh Dancy manages to make the role of Graham (portrayed in the movies by William Petersen and Edward Norton) his own, making his profiler at times abrasive and unpleasant because of the uncomfortable and vulnerable state his empathy often leaves him. There is a nice “windshield wiper” visual effect whenever he’s at a crime scene and imagines what had happened, further adding to the sense that Graham doesn’t think like other people. He’s ably supported by a professional cast from film, television and theatre, including Fishburne, Caroline Dhavernas (DEVIL), Gina Torres (FIREFLY), comedian Scott Thompson, and X-FILES’ own Gillian Anderson.
But the real question is if Mads Mikkelsen can stand outside the shadow of Anthony Hopkins and make Lecter is. And, once you get past his Danish accent, and the fact that his true nature will not be revealed, at least not now (the scripts are written so if you didn’t know anything about the character, you probably wouldn’t suspect anything was wrong), you can forget about Hopkins and let the story unfold. He conveys an urbane intelligence, sophistication, and ferocity, without going overboard and telegraphing everything.
In interviews, Mikkelsen has stated: “The closest thing I could come to was the Fallen Angel… [who] believes in the beauty of the darkness. That’s so incomprehensible for us. We can’t understand it. So was not reading textbooks about mental diseases, I was imagining how it was to be Satan.” And it’s Lecter’s budding relationship with Graham (partly driven out of a sense of keeping your friends close but your enemies closer, but also partly out of a sense of connectivity) which will be the lynchpin for future storylines. Fuller’s not planning on letting this run for 10-12 seasons like CSI; at some stage, the friends will become enemies…
Though airing on NBC, Fuller is choosing to use the cable format favoured by series like BREAKING BAD and DEXTER, airing only 13 episodes for each season rather than the usually 22-24 (and each episode is named after some sort of French cuisine, a nice touch of black humour). And from what I’ve seen so far, rather than the Killer of the Week preferred by the CSI shows and CRIMINAL MINDs, there will be only a couple of ongoing storylines (even if the killer is caught, the effects of his or her presence are still felt in subsequent episodes). They are also determined to match if not exceed DEXTER’s own love for bloody, explicit violence (though expert direction and editing ensures you ended up imagining more than you might actually see – but then didn’t SILENCE OF THE LAMBS do the same thing?).
Other characters from Harris’ novels are expected to appear, as well as ideas that never made it out of the books and into the movies (and if they’re lucky, they might even blag an appearance by a certain Clarice Starling) Oh, and case you’re worried about accuracy, they hired Spanish chef José Andrés as a “culinary cannibal consultant”, to make sure Hannibal is eating properly!
I’m hoping that they can maintain the promise they’ve shown in the first two episodes.
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 4 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien. The D is silent. And wearing women’s lingerie. It’s a dirty, dirty letter