The Many Faces of Hannibal Lecter
I’ve said a few times that I’m a big fan of the NBC adaptation of Hannibal and think this new portrayal of Hannibal is intriguing and suspenseful. I’ve never been that big of a fan of the original movies though- and by original movies I mean Silence of the Lambs. I saw it years ago and didn’t think very highly of it. I seem to be in the minority in that respect since the vast majority of people think it’s an amazing movie and Anthony Hopkins put in an award winning performance. I thought the movie was quite boring and found Hopkins to be annoying and almost comical as Hannibal Lector. This seems a direct conflict to the Hannibal we see in the TV series. So I thought it was time to go back and watch the movies over again and how it all blends together. When taken all together we now have an "active" Hannibal who works alongside the FBI and is quite adept at carrying out his crimes. We have young Hannibal who gets thrown an incredibly dark path due to horrific events involving his sister. And then we have the jailed Hannibal who works to put other serial killers away. Finally, we have an escaped Hannibal with a bounty on his head. How do all of these flow together if in fact they do flow together?
Red Dragon – The movie that should (or perhaps was if you take into account Manhunter) have been released first. Since we were thrown into Silence of the Lamb, the character of Hannibal never made sense to me. In this introduction to Hannibal all the characters are presented and to be honest they all come across as incredibly flat. We see that Will just barely escapes with his life after Hannibal attacks him, but the reasons for that never really show themselves. We’re supposed to fear Hannibal but we never really see why. All we know is that he’s a cannibal and a brilliant psychologist, but I never really felt a fear of Hannibal. He acts foolish and juvenile and doesn’t strike me as someone who could hide an Easter Egg let alone be responsible for all the crimes leveled against him. He doesn’t come across as being smart enough to get away with anything.
Silence of the Lambs – A very slow and boring movie. Even after all these years and all these rave reviews of Anthony Hopkins, I still don’t like this movie. Even when Hannibal kills his guards and wears a face he carved off he doesn’t instill fear or panic. His mannerisms up to that point just make him seem on the verge of shaking his head and foaming at the mouth like you expect to see from Charles Manson. He doesn’t seem sophisticated, he doesn’t come across as calculating, he doesn’t give an air of cool planning or reserved danger. He just comes across as a lunatic who’s no more capable of controlling his emotions and behaviors than a 5 year old on the playground. This was supposed to be award winning performances and I struggled to get through.
Hannibal – A movie with a plot and storyline that made no sense whatsoever. Everything about this movie felt forced and pointless. All the sequences with Mason Verger as Hannibal’s nemesis didn’t strike a chord with me. Someone is going to take the time and spend the money to do away with Hannibal using feral pigs? Oh for heaven’s sake. Talk about an overly elaborate and easily escapable plan. None of the over the top violence made sense either. Fine you can have Hannibal twisting open someone head like a can of beer to expose their brain, but that really doesn’t do much for the character. Yeah, it was gross, like a lot of other scenes, but this doesn’t make Hannibal sinister or foreboding. Since he has nothing else it’s just a shock factor.
Hannibal Rising – A movie that seems universally disliked, but a movie I like quite a bit. While I don’t fully buy into the origin story I do like and understand this Hannibal. He is cold, calculated, plotting, reserved and always thinking ahead. The misdeeds against his sister have thrown him out of whack and his heart and mind burn for revenge. This explains his initial motivation, but is that really enough to sustain his serial killer desires?
Hannibal the Series – Here we see a tormented Will Graham and a sophisticated and lurking Hannibal. Will is being worn down by the atrocities he has to face on a daily basis. Hannibal steps in to watch and feed off that downward spiral. I think in this series we see all the characters that were lacking from the movies. Hannibal is calculating and sophisticated and a master of misdirection and suggestion. He points the FBI away from him at every turn. He’s twisted and manipulated Will so no one will believe the wild stories he tells. His calm and sophisticated exterior make you like him, but the staging of his victims make you fear him. And you always have it in the back of your mind as to whether or not Hannibal is responsible for the crimes. We see him commit some, but he’s able to throw enough clues and suspicion on others that we can’t be sure of some things. I think Mads Mikkelsen is a far superior version of Hannibal Lector. He has a smooth and comfortable presence that draws you in. By comparison I felt Hopkins was abrasive.
Of course you have to watch the movies in a completely different order than they were released. Silence of the Lambs was a confusing mess and Hannibal Rising feels like a forced origin story. I still think the movies are terrible and don’t understand or agree with the draw people have to them. The movie portrayal of Hannibal is cliché and lacking. The TV portrayal of Hannibal feels dark and menacing. In the TV series, Hannibal feels like more like Jack the Ripper – a ghost of a killer that no one can catch, that disappears into the night after leaving behind a wake of devastation and fear. He’s the gentleman killer that will cozy up to you and you’ll never know until it’s too late. None of that comes across from the movies.
I’ve read about the direction the TV series want to go and I would love to see Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal re-written using these characters and personalities. I think it will make for a far superior story and will far eclipse anything the movies have to offer.