I enjoyed writing my last TV series review so much, I thought I’d share a project my husband and I have undertaken just for fun. We’re both huge fans of the world and characters created by Thomas Harris in his “Red Dragon,” “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Hannibal” trilogy, along with the prequel, “Hannibal Rising,” for which he also wrote the screenplay. Like many, we came to know Harris’ work through the blockbuster film “The Silence of the Lambs,” in 1991, directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Anthony Hopkins as Lecter and Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling. Our project? To read all of his books and rewatch the movies and television series based on these works to try to pinpoint our favorite versions of Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter.
Before we get started, I wanted to apologize for not publishing anything sooner and thank you for hanging in there with me. My goal is to publish twice monthly, but I’ve fallen far short. My health has continued to decline and I’m still largely bedbound. My migraine and neurological symptoms are such that writing and screen viewing has to be kept to a minimum. If you want a quick update on how things are going, step over to The Zebra Pit for my latest update. If you would like them regularly, please follow me there, as well. Now, back to the feast!
Serial Love for a Serial Killer
My husband and I love this series so much, we’ve seen every movie and TV series based on these books, but I must confess, until I started reading “Red Dragon,” a few weeks ago, I have never read one of the books. “Silence of the Lambs,” is probably one of the most terrifying things I’d ever seen and though I’d been thoroughly put off the genre, it was an instant favorite. When I was a teen, I loved to read Stephen King, John Saul and other horror writers. The only problem was I’d developed PTSD and these stories all became fodder for my cortisol fueled nightmares.
Then there is the desire to preserve the things I love without dilution. Simply put, I just didn’t want to run the risk of ruining something I loved. So glad I got over that one, because one of my favorite pastimes seems to have become not only devouring everything to do with the things that strike a deep chord, but to spend time comparing and critiquing remakes, sequels and spin-offs. What else would you expect from a grade A nerd?
What reawoke this love affair for Hannibal Lecter in recent times was the 2013 series “Hannibal,” shown on NBC and directed by Bryan Fuller. You know, the same brilliant mind involved in many of the newer Star Trek Series, the way underappreciated “Pushing Daisies,” (free to watch on CW Seed right not) along with the sci-fi fantasy show “Heroes,” and most recently, the Starz TV series, “American Gods,” based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman. Personally, I think the series outdid the book in “American Gods.” I feel the same way about “Good Omens” and I haven’t touched another Gaiman book since. They just don’t have enough meat for me to devour with any gusto. I greatly appreciate Gaiman’s imagination, but for me, his writing leaves me wanting.
Recently, Netflix released Bryan Fuller’s series “Hannibal,” and we jumped at the chance to rewatch it. Once we started, we couldn’t turn away from it and ended up glutting ourselves on this rich cinematic three season delight in under a week. I can’t help but think that it will win the top spot in my esteem of all these different versions, but I’m fighting the urge to proclaim it too soon.
Without a doubt, the books provide all the charm and intrigue that are carried quite well throughout all the iterations of this world: However, I can’t help but think that both the film version of “The Silence of the Lambs” and Bryan Fuller’s handling of this subject matter may still come out on top of this multifaceted love affair.
I never thought a more perfect version of Hannibal Lecter could exist outside the way in which Anthony Hopkins played him and I’m still quite certain there could never be a better Clarice Starling than Jodie Foster’s: However, Mads Mikkelson has completely stolen the role and somehow managed to one up the great Anthony Hopkins.
For me, there was never any contest between Hugh Dancy’s interpretation of Will Graham and every other person who ever played him. Both the actor and the interpretation of Will Graham Bryan Fuller created are by far the best fleshed and most well explored. In the first iteration of the film version of “Red Dragon,” directed by Michael Mann in 1986, which was named “Manhunter,” Will Graham (played by William Peterson) holds true to the Will Graham met on the pages of the book, yet he lacked the vulnerability that came through so well in the book.
When The Student Excels the Master
What Fuller does by reworking the sequence of events in the series, not to mention the interpersonal relationships that come into play as a consequence, allow us to meet a much more fully fleshed and fallible human in Will Graham. Fuller’s Graham, more openly embraced as the somewhat fragile autistic investigator Harris only hints at, possesses a pure compassion which allows him to step into the mindset of the killers he investigates in order to see their motivations. He also teeters dangerously on this precipice and we often wonder if he might not slip, fully and irrevocably.
In Fuller’s “Hannibal” universe, Graham and Lecter share a much more passionate and intimate relationship, one which often seems to dance between the edges where violence and sex often intersect. These characters are much more intimately tangled. Who has the upper hand is often as murky and untrustworthy as the food at Hannibal’s dinner parties.
There’s also the intriguing addition of Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, played by Gillian Anderson, who adds to our understanding of Hannibal, both through their interactions as therapist and patient, but also through her observations of his behavior and taunts about the “person suit” he wears. This puts Bedelia in a unique position from the rest of the characters as the only person who knows what he really is. Fuller also makes fresh the characters of Freddie Lounes and Alan Bloom by changing their sex, as he also does by giving the traditionally envisaged white guy role of Jack Crawford to Laurence Fishburne, who definitely takes the prize for his portrayal.
Perhaps one of the best opportunities for Fuller’s “Hannibal,” is the luxury of time the series format affords. We get to meet the people most important to these characters, to understand their motivations more fully and to let these stories unfold in new and surprising ways by changing the dynamic of these relationships. The stories are much the same, but how we arrive at them is quite different. Astoundingly, despite all the change, the heart of what Harris created is still honored in the actions of the characters. This is one of the most beautiful things about the show. These stories are all well known and the greats are rarely improved upon in television, yet Fuller manages to make it both fresh and familiar simultaneously, simply by playing with the timeline and shape of these interpersonal relationships. Then there are the technical aspects that make this show superior to both book and movie.
While the apex of “The Silence of the Lambs,” was possibly one of the most intense film scenes shot at that point, none of the movies come close to meeting the incredible cinematography in the Fuller series, which is really a hallmark of all of Fuller’s work. “Hannibal” drips with the dark decadence of Hannibal Lecter and the designs of each serial killer hunted is utterly phantasmagorical and the overall impact is intense.
The way the show allows us to see what happens in Graham’s mind is equally stunning and offers so much more mystery and suspense about how the work affects and shapes him. One of the most delicious parts of what Fuller creates is watching time turn back the scene and how he reenacts each murder in his imagination. He doesn’t just imagine them and their acts, he becomes them. The question constantly looms: Is Will Graham becoming what he hunts?
Sadly, Fuller never got a chance to complete his vision and cover all of the material within the original books before the show was cancelled. Most noticeably absent are Clarice Starling and Buffalo Bill, whose stories didn’t get told prior to the series cancellation, among other things. The way the series ended, one can spend quite a while daydreaming about where it could lead next. With any luck, we might still have a chance to find out.
Though it’s been five years since the conclusion of the series, Fuller, Mikkelson and Dancy haven’t given up trying to revive the series. I’ll be honest though, I don’t hold out a lot of hope. CBS bought the rights to “The Silence of the Lambs,” to do a TV series centered around Clarice Starling as an FBI agent in life after “Silence.” There’s still plenty to do without the rights to that material, but after five years will a streaming service or network take the risk? They’re crazy if they don’t, but that’s just one fan’s opinion.
To date, I’ve rewatched all of the movies and am still working my way through the books, which I’m having difficulty finding on audio. As I complete my reading of Harris’ books, I’m not really looking to see which one is best of all, but rather which one stays truest to Harris’ vision while adding something to it. For me, Fuller takes the cake in these categories by far. It stays true to the books while giving us more nuance, intrigue and a blurring of the lines between guilt and innocence that I think even Harris would enjoy.
For many fans of Fuller’s “Hannibal,” the homo-eroticism of the relationship between Hannibal and Will adds to the mystery and romance of the work. While this seems to be an unintended consequence of the intimacy Fuller builds between the two, he’s been open to developing it further in their discussions of reviving this series, something which Dancy, Mikkleson and Fuller all seem dedicated to. In interviews, Fuller hints at developing this popular viewpoint, which only seems to add to the fervor of what will surely be a cult classic for many years to come.
Either way, fans can’t help but let their imaginations run away with the sexiness factor, such as the artist who drew the above photo. There’s a plethora of fan art available that explores this dangerously scintillating duo. To see more, check out this Pinterest board where I’ve begun collecting some of my favorite pop culture stuff.
The magic of this show rests in so many elements that it’s difficult to say which has the most impact. Whether revived or not, this incredible series has a great deal to offer. It’s complexity lends to multiple viewings, in which you’ll learn, see or feel something new each time, clearly making it a modern day masterpiece which has not only improved on the original, but has by far surpassed it.
Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I would love to know yours. What’s your favorite iteration of these darkly fascinating stories? I’m also really fascinated about the human fascination with deadly and dangerous things. What is it about serial killers that’s so romantic? Why do we come back to stories like these again and again. I have my own opinions on the subject, but I’d rather hear yours. Drop your thoughts in the comments.