Blood, guts, shootings, stabbings, impalings, serial killers, psychopaths, nightmares, hallucinations, breakdowns, insanity and the FBI’s answer to rain man. Within the opening three minutes of Hannibal’s first episode, aptly named Aperitif, the audience is immersed in Will Graham’s world; the camera walks us through a blood-soaked, body-littered crime scene, played out in the minds eye of the overly empathetic FBI agent. He is a genius. He can get into the mind of any killer. He’s slightly unhinged and seems to sweat a lot. Right got it. Scene has been set.
Here’s what worked for me. Hugh Dancy is instantly brilliant as Graham and manages to pull off likeable crazy without alienating the audience too much. Laurence Fishburne, as Agent Jack Crawford, was reliably great, and the supporting cast did the job they were required to do. The production values are clearly very high and all the special effects were on a par with what you expect from a movie. The dialogue wasn’t patronising; it actually credited the audience with a brain and the plot didn’t make me want to punch someone. Now to the problems.
On paper this was fine. Stellar cast, stellar script etc but I found it hard to shake the feeling that I was having the proverbial kitchen sink thrown at me. Hannibal was heavily stylised and violent right from the start. Everything I mentioned above was packed into the 43 minute episode. Unfortunately the style removed you from the action instead of drawing you in. A bit of restraint was needed. Dramatic foreplay if you will. Silence of the Lambs had this simple, unnerving and dirty quality which was noticeably absent from Hannibal. It may be unfair to compare. Different mediums. Different time. However, it’s impossible, as a lover of the films, to disassociate the two. These characters and stories have been done and they have been done well. The result is that character twists are removed due to prior knowledge, and with the plot points already laid out it’s difficult to become engaged or intrigued by characters; we know that dude is a cannibal blah blah blah. Which brings me onto Hannibal Lecter himself. Surely he will be so fucking terrifying the rest won’t matter? Err..
Now we definitely fly the flag for team Mads on this site but I really had a problem with him in this role. The issue is that when you have a character as established in pop culture and as fantastic as Anthony Hopkins, you leave yourself with no room for error. You need to make your Hannibal a Hannibal you haven’t seen before but equally as creepy. Mads Mikkelson currently is missing something. He lacks the quality that made Anthony Hopkins so compellingly sinister. If they cannot overcome or rectify this it will alienate older fans who hear Hannibal and simply think Hopkins.
Now all is not lost. Let’s give Fuller the benefit of the doubt. He may have panicked at the size of the task and thought that going all out on the stylistics and heaping on gore would make this a compelling ride. Hopefully the show will relax into a more sustainable pace as the series matures. To make this work we need to start to appreciate the characters in their own right, introduce unknown threats, tone down the visual barrage and make Lecter terrifying. We’ve got the whole series to see how this pans out. I hope this turns out to be brilliant. Watch this space…