‘Hannibal’ Season 1 DVD Review: NBC Series Successfully Reimagines Hannibal Lecter’s Story
Hannibal premiered on NBC last spring starring Mads Mikkelsen as the infamous killer cannibal Dr. Lector, but shown through the eyes of Hugh Dancy’s character – the mentally unstable FBI Special Agent and Quantico professor Will Graham. Due to a combination of mental ailments, Will is gifted with the ability to empathize with murderers in a way that makes him the best person to solve their crimes. Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) enlists the crime scene prodigy to help the FBI catch a particularly elusive serial killer. As Graham delves into each successive murder, his sanity appears to be fleeing him. Time after time he turns to his informal psychiatrist and friend Dr. Lector to explain his instability, unable to realize that the conductor of the murders that plague him is sitting in the leather chair across from him.
The story of Hannibal Lector was introduced in the Red Dragon book written by Thomas Harris in 1981. Gruesome but thrilling, the character was adapted for the big screen in a quartet of features that stuck to the storyline of Harris’ books – Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Red Dragon and Hannibal Rising. Turning the well-known narrative into a TV series, couldn’t have been an easy task for a number of reasons – not the least of which was the fact that Sir Anthony Hopkins won’t soon be forgotten as the face of the mannerly cannibal. Somehow, however, NBC managed to find a worthy actor to fill Hopkins’ shoes in Mikkelsen, and to credibly recreate and reimagine what had been written and filmed before. Also deserving of mention is Dancy, without his ability to play a sympathetic genuine and a reenactor of cold-blooded murder, the series would be impossible. Additionally, Kacey Rohl who plays Abigail, a young woman who gets wrapped up in her father’s crimes, manages to steal just about every scene she’s in with Hannibal‘s more veteran actors.
Notwithstanding the series’ title, Hannibal’s main protagonist isn’t Hannibal Lector in its first season, but Will Graham. Throughout the course of season one, he’s called on to solve one murder mystery after another. From the initial “Minnesota Shrike” killer who is murdering teenage girls that resemble his daughter, to runaway children returning home to murder their entire families and to a severely psychologically damaged woman, who, while believing she’s dead, murders a childhood friend – Will steps up to lend his skills and consequently appears to fall deeper into his own madness as a result of constantly empathizing with sociopaths.
The way Will breaks down a murder scene is one of the most fascinating aspects of Hannibal – and the most stylishly created. Despite the somewhat obnoxious scanner graphic that’s supposed to convey Will “scanning” the scene, the moments that follow are some of the series’ best. Will, after evaluating what he sees and rewinding the narrative back to the beginning, takes the place of the killer and sees himself committing the crime. What he sees, he relays to Crawford and mostly turns out to be the true order of events.
One episode that Will’s ability to empathize with killers is particularly telling is the fourth, “Oeuf,” which was pulled from the air due to its shocking content of children plotting the deaths of their parents and siblings – but is available in the DVD package. The episode’s content might not be the most outright gory, but it is certainly the most disturbing; it’s also one of the most fascinating. Young children who were the odd kids out and small for their age run away from home only to meet a mother figure (played deftly by Molly Shannon) who wants them all to be her sons, her family. In order for them to start their life as a family, however, they have to kill their remaining blood relatives. Incredibly eerie staged murder scenes include a family of four shot dead at the dining room table. Another features a family shot to death around the Christmas tree and the charred remains of a boy who’d regretted what he’d done. Will, understanding the psychology of a kid (or a person) who feels as though he or she is an outcast, helps the FBI track down the latest son before his family dies at his hand.
While murder and the psychology of a killer are undoubtedly central to the story of Hannibal, the TV series does an admirable job with the relationships of the characters: Crawford and Will, Will and Hannibal, Hannibal and Crawford, Hannibal and Abigail, Will and Abigail etc. As Hannibal’s freshman season came to a close, Will is behind bars with Crawford and the rest of his colleagues convinced of his guilt in a handful of copy cat murders, and Hannibal – who actually committed the murders – paying Will a mocking visit to his cell, the second season promises more of the same.
DVD Extras: Eat the Rude, First Look and Forensics 101 featuretes appear on the DVD, as well as the unaired fourth episode”Œuf.”
Hannibal will return for a second season in the spring.