Hannibal Lecter has been labeled the best villain of all time. Personally, I'd give that title to Anton Chigurh of 'No Country for Old Men,' but Lecter is right up there with him. Given the contrast of the brilliant and the not-so brilliant films that contain Lecter's character, while he's been on top, he hasn't always stayed on top. (Truthfully, I actually prefer Brett Ratner's 'Red Dragon' over Ridley Scott's 'Hannibal.') Nonetheless, the genius cannibal is still an amazing character that's only getting better - surprisingly - with the help of a television series.
When I heard that Hannibal Lecter was getting his own TV series, my first thought was, 'Haven't we had enough?' After five big screen portrayals – the fifth receiving a measly 15% Rotten Tomatoes rating – is there really demand for more? When I learned that it was going to network television, I chuckled. 'How could NBC do the character/franchise any justice?' Somewhat reluctantly, I gave the first episode a shot and - I'll be damned – they did it. NBC found a way to restore the power and strength of the villain's good name.
Most prequels lack suspense because, if you know the franchise, you already know the limitations of where it can go. You know who can die and who cannot – but that's not the case with TV's 'Hannibal.' First off, we've already been told that there's a seven-season structure to 'Hannibal' – the first three being completely new content. While the characters are well established, the story of 'Season One' is quite unique. In fact, what you think you know about the franchise can be flipped on its head. The series is staying fairly true to the canon, but is taking the liberty of little changes here and there in order to keep the content fresh and unpredictable. Second, because everybody already knows the Hannibal Lecter character, during the series, we're in on the cannibal's little secret. We know things that central characters do not know, making it a fun game.
Even if you're not familiar with Lecter or the Academy Award-winner 'Silence of the Lambs,' you can still jump into 'Hannibal' and find it extremely entertaining – that is, if you don't have a weak stomach. This is one of those rare series that couldn't be scripted any better.
One thing that we have yet to see is the pre-prison character Hannibal Lecter working as a murderous psychologist. The first three seasons of 'Hannibal' are giving us a glimpse into Hannibal's heyday. Season One pairs Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) with Dr. Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). Graham's character is quite different from the one portrayed by Edward Norton in 'Red Dragon.' Dancy's Graham is a borderline psychopath himself, which is what makes him such an effective tool for the FBI. When high-up Federal Agent Jack Crawford (Lawrence Fishburn) realizes Graham's unmatched ability to breach the minds of serial killers, he forces the unstable Quantico professor to undergo psychological evaluations with Lecter in order to be approved for field work – hunting down serial killers in action. With Graham constantly on the edge of madness, and Lecter now having an inside track on major investigations, the dichotomy is brilliantly playful.
At this time, the seven-season arc is as follows: seasons one through three are an original Graham/Lecter storyline that lead up to Graham catching Lecter. Season four will follow the 'Red Dragon' storyline, season five the 'Silence of the Lambs' story, and season six the 'Hannibal' tale. Season seven will conclude the series with more original content. Who knows if the series will stick to this plan, but that's where it's headed at this point.
I don't know how they do it, but NBC has managed to maintain the cringe-inducing graphic gore factor that we've come to expect from the films. What's shown is so detailed and disgusting that my local NBC affiliate has yanked 'Hannibal' from its Thursday night line-up. I have to watch it On Demand the next day or DVR a CW syndication of each week's episode on Saturday's at midnight. What I find interesting about 'Hannibal' is that we are never shown the actual murders. For the most part, we begin with the aftermath – the mutilated bodies amidst a blood soaked crime scene – then see flashes of Will Graham imagining and piecing together what he saw. The disturbing acts of violence are only shown in quick snippets of Graham's psyche. You'd think that this would make the show less disturbing, but it really just makes the crime scene images even worse because your mind paints the nasty images on its own. I don't know how NBC gets away with it, but the gore manages to be just as morbid as what you might see on an HBO or Showtime series.
I have a hard time finding television series that are worth watching. I have so little time for pleasure-viewing – as opposed to work-related viewing – that if a series doesn't grip me within an episode or two, I quit. 'Mad Men.' 'The Walking Dead.' 'Under the Dome. These are series that I've tried, but walked away from because they're simply not worth my time. With the recent void created by 'Breaking Bad' and 'Dexter' (assuming you stuck with 'Dexter' through that awful final season), I highly recommend giving 'Hannibal' a shot. Despite being on a tame network, it's far from being mild. 'Hannibal' is wild series that's delightfully dark and disturbing.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate has placed this 13-episode first season of 'Hannibal' on three Region A BD-50 discs that are housed in a Vortex keepcase. Discs one and three are placed on the inside covers of the case, disc two is placed on a hinged arm. Included in the case is a single-sheet episode guide and a code for an Ultraviolet copy of the series. It's worth noting that episode four, 'Ceuf,' was never aired on television. Portions were made into webisodes, but none of the "killer of the week" content. Following the Boston Marathon bombing, the producers decided to hold 'Ceuf' from airing. What made this episode more disturbing than the others is beyond me – but it's a good one. Five of the other 12 episodes are label as "Producer's Cuts." From what I can remember from watching the series as it aired, the differences are slight, including the little bits that had to be worked around in order to pass the network censors. For example, when episode five, 'Coquilles,' aired on NBC, they had to cover the nude butt cracks of the victims with visual FX just so the cracks of the butts could not be seen. In the Producer's Cut of 'Coquilles,' the butt cracks are not covered with FX. The graphic additions are very slight. Most are unnoticeable without watching the extended and aired versions side by side.
Disc One is the only disc that contains more than just a Lionsgate vanity reel, a commentary disclaimer and an FBI warning prior to the main menu. Disc one features skippable trailers for 'Mad Men' and 'Nurse Jackie,' as well as a commercial compilation for other Lionsgate television series and Epix.
'Hannibal' dons a very impressive 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that shows how fantastic a television series can appear. Produced by several folks from the film industry, the entire series carries a strong cinematic feel that not only matches the quality of the Hannibal Lecter films, but complements the style and tone. It truly raises the bar for network television.
The crisp and clear quality lends itself to high definition. Details are consistently abundant thanks to these characteristics. Many sequences make use of faster shutter speeds, high frame rate slow motion and time lapse. The result is notable because the shooting style and fine/sharp details are always visible. When we are shown Will's "premonitions," the style changes. The image shifts from a nice deep look to one of flatness that gives provides an uneasy feeling. The filters employed give a very different feel from that of the "real world" sequences. Bouncing back and forth from reality to premonition causes high points of the real world sequences to jump out at you each time a dream-like sequence ends.
The lighting design of 'Hannibal' also shows off the strong video quality. Certain sequences – like those in Dr. Lecter's office – are brightly top-lit. This blinding top-lighting reveals the individual hairs on Hannibal's perfectly combed head. The strands are so tight that I expected aliasing to appear over it, but it never did. Instead, it offers a glowing example of how perfect HD can look. The series plays with lighting, brightness, darkness and contrast depending on the settings and on-screen actions. The tones of the series are highly controlled by these fine-tuned elements. The bright scenes are glorious and the dark ones bring out strong black levels.
I was only able to find one flaw that occasionally popped up here and there – a light dusting of noise that covered random dark areas of the screen. Aside from this, I don't have a single other complaint.
'Hannibal' carries a sole 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that gets better and better the deeper you get into the series. As explained by the series' music and effects designers, as Will slips further into darkness, the sounds of his progressing madness become wider spread and more prominent. The effects used to express his possible craziness only get wilder, but don't take this observation as meaning that the mix is weak, as it slowly becomes more immersive through its 561-minute runtime. The maddening audio is what's spread thicker, but other effects are strong from minute one. Subtle environmental effects bring the settings to life, while the snippets of violent flashbacks and dream sequences bring loud bursts of creepy and horrifying sound.
The music, which consists of a great number of strange and creative sounds and ominous tones, effectively brings the horror feeling to the series. A solid vibe of creepiness coats the murder scene investigations and Hannibal's questionable actions. Some of the other story elements carry beautiful melodies. Even those traditional overtures are well spread and mixed through the channels.
Imaging effects are present, audibly indicating the directions that invisible sound move – like the wind blowing through a mossy forest. A strong amount of bass can be heard. LFE even pops up in the creative scoring. All in all, 'Hannibal''s audio track is quite exemplary.
With little time for television viewing, I'm extremely picky with which series I choose to fill my free time with. I typically find most series worthless, but 'Hannibal' has proven itself an absolutely worthy hour-long drama. No matter if you're a fan – past or present – of the Hannibal Lecter character or not, so long as you can handle the dark and disturbing content, 'Hannibal' is a must-see series. Despite being on a broadcast network, the icky gore factor that you'd expect from the Hannibal films (like 'Silence of the Lambs') somehow makes it past the censors. Five of the episodes contained in this 13-episode set feature "Producer's Cuts" with a tad more gore. The un-aired fourth episode is also included in its proper place. The video and audio qualities are near-perfect, presenting the series in the best possible fashion. Plenty of special features are included. Some are superficial, but the two episode commentaries are especially fantastic. Because of the series' all around superb quality, I highly recommend picking up 'Hannibal: Season One' - especially for those who love to hate the titular villain.