MANILA, Philippines – At first, horror-thriller fans might have scratched their heads and wondered why, 4 novels and 5 movies later, the fictitious Dr. Hannibal Lecter is back, via the new television series “Hannibal” (airing in the Philippines on Monday nights, 10pm on AXN). After all, hasn’t the psychiatrist-serial-killer-cannibal cook been, um, cannibalized enough?
Such a thought must have crossed viewers’ minds right after seeing “Hannibal’s” first episode (aired last April 8). While that series debut was excellent in establishing the show’s visual and narrative parameters, as a whole it might have left the audience thinking, “What’s the point?”
Upon second viewing of the episode, however, and after seeing the new installment aired April 15, the point was starting to surface: Just as there is more to Hannibal the character than what the show’s other, clueless-about-him characters know for now, the show itself is beginning to unravel as a more-than-meets-the-bloodshot-eye diversion.
Primary credit for pulling this off goes to Bryan Fuller, a TV screenwriter-executive producer who developed this new show based on “Red Dragon,” author Thomas Harris’s first of 4 Lecter novels. Fuller created the now-defunct small-screen cult favorites “Wonderfalls” and “Pushing Daisies,” and exec-produced and wrote for the also-gone “Heroes.” He infuses “Hannibal” with his penchant for macabre but colorful visuals and hints of subtle humor.
While persons, incidents, and other details of “Red Dragon” give “Hannibal” a collective takeoff point, the show is not at all a straight-up adaptation. It is rather a prolonged remake of the novel — one that plants itself not in the late-’70s setting of Harris’s tale but in the present era of websites and iPads, expands characterizations and adds new players, and ultimately stretches its source story to its fuller, many-TV-seasons potential.
The series may also tease viewers already acquainted with Lecter (or Fuller) by dropping familiar little details every so often, yet the show is conceived with sufficient care that even those uninitiated to the lore, and lure, of “Hannibal the Cannibal” would not find themselves left out.
Complementing Fuller’s agenda for this mature-audiences program are several off-screen talents. These include David Slade, best known for directing “30 Days of Night” and the “Eclipse” chapter of “Twilight” and who helms 3 of “Hannibal’s” season one episodes (including the pilot and the finale). There’s also the visual chiefs, such as production designers Matthew Davies and Patti Podesta and cinematographer James Hawkinson, who make every frame picture-perfect, even during gory moments, and dispense images that further the show’s looks-can-be-deceiving agenda.
And there’s musical director Brian Reitzell, Slade’s “30 Days” collaborator and a former drummer for the alternative acts Redd Kross and Air, who now gives “Hannibal” its eerie, ominous soundscape. (Pink Floyd fans might have noticed Reitzell’s electronic score for episode one’s wordless opening scene, the music a tense variation of “On the Run” from “The Dark Side of the Moon.”)
All those creative folks’ work help buoy the convincing performances of the folks onscreen, led by the duo of Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen as FBI special agent Will Graham and Dr. Lecter, respectively.
While Hannibal is the show’s titular character, Graham is showcased as the lead figure and chief protagonist. Graham is endowed with much empathy for serial-killer victims, here even deeming himself as having the Asperger’s kind of autism. He considers his useful, ample imagining of criminals’ done deeds an unwanted skill the way Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense” kept hoping not to see dead people. As such, English actor Dancy is effective in portraying Graham as a generous but haggard do-gooder, his unkempt appearance suggestive of his messed-up psyche.
On the opposite extreme is Hannibal Lecter, who is introduced in the comparatively supporting role of forensic psychiatrist and Graham’s psychiatric evaluator — one steeped in dapper finery, polite manner, and exquisite cuisine. Lecter soon becomes Graham’s partner in crime-solving, even if he is gradually being revealed as having a criminal mind himself.
While some observers have argued that the native accent of Danish actor Mikkelsen gets in the way of Lecter’s audibility, the detail actually works in the show’s favor — not just in realizing the Lithuanian roots of Lecter as Harris created him but in “Hannibal’s” making its central figure an all the more provocative presence amid the largely American array of characters (and cast members).
But what gives “Hannibal” its true worth as a new show to watch is its scripts. With Fuller leading the show’s ensemble of teleplay writers, “Hannibal” is progressing into an absorbing offering. The program’s unspoken operative word is “deception” — be it in Dr. Lecter’s shrewd, sinister persona or in the twists and turns its weekly plots may take.
On that note, it may as well share the “Trust no one” motto of “The X Files” — whose female star, Gillian Anderson, will appear in “Hannibal” as Dr. Lecter’s own psychotherapist — but thankfully does not necessarily mimic that ’90s hit show’s killer-of-the-week format.
“Hannibal” likewise comes off as a cerebral labyrinth, an invitation to explore possibilities within its realm as populated by well-meaning individuals and fiendish bastards alike. (Heck, despite the show’s front-and-center odd couple, “Hannibal’s” title suggests that, down the line, even Graham could be expendable.)
The show should also interest medical and investigative enthusiasts, given its slew of factoids involving forensic analysis, though never without resorting to impenetrable jargon. Moreover, with three episodes released by this Monday, the show is shaping up into a compelling quicksand, putting its unsuspecting characters — and us viewers — deeper into a cesspool of the methodical Hannibal’s making.
Just about the only general complaint “Hannibal” deserves is in its portrayal of women: its ladies, on these early episodes at least, lack strength, being either hapless victims of grisly murders or shapely folks in aid of investigation. (Apparently, the FBI requires its female agents to be sexy. Sure, it’s a TV show, but come on.)
Watch Mads Mikkelsen talk about ‘Hannibal’ here:
Local viewers, however, will have another gripe: the application of cuts to the show’s Asian edition — be it in visuals that merit the show’s viewer-discretion note or in some of its provocative dialogue. Of the latter, this Lecter quip was cut off from the PHL airing of the US program’s second ep: “Killing must feel good to God, too. He does it all the time. And are we not made in His image?”
On that note, James Dumlao, director for business operations of AXN Networks Philippines Inc., gave Rappler this statement: “As a regional cable channel reaching out to 123 million homes in 20 countries in Asia, we have to be mindful of regional sensitivities in each market, and that includes religious overtones in our programmes.”
Bummer, but it’s so far been a relative speck in local, late-night viewings of the show. It does not substantially detract from the fact that, while the show’s longevity is still up in the air, “Hannibal” is a welcome and sustainable feast for the televiewing senses. – Rappler.com
‘Hannibal’ airs in the Philippines via AXN on Mondays at 10pm. Tablet users can also download the show’s second screen app from iTunes.
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