'Hannibal: Season One' Review: Cannibal Drama Evokes Source Material, not Tepid Prequel

'Hannibal: Season One' Review: Cannibal Drama Evokes Source Material, not Tepid Prequel

Hannibal sounded like a very bad idea when the show was first announced, especially after the disappointing feature film Hannibal Rising in 2006.

It seemed like Thomas Harris’ cannibal character would never be properly cracked again without the expertise and skill of Anthony Hopkins. However, showrunner Bryan Fuller and his team have successfully relaunched Hannibal Lecter by faithfully borrowing straight from Harris’ material and by developing a show that is immensely satisfying and one of the best series television has to offer today despite being on a broadcast network (NBC).

The first season of Hannibal, available Sept. 24 on Blu-ray and DVD, is loosely based on Harris’ brilliant novel Red Dragon. It lifts characters, events and straight passages from that novel to create a sort of prequel to the book where Lecter and Detective Will Graham meet and have a relationship never developed by Harris in his series. 

The first aspect to applaud Hannibal for are the performances. Mads Mikkelson has the hardest job of all and yet he pulls of Hannibal Lecter in a pitch-perfect manner. By the end of the season, you are playing catch up as a viewer just to understand the brilliance of the man’s performance that leads to the fantastic season finale. Hugh Dancy is also very good as Will Graham. Perhaps why these two actors work so well in their roles is because they stick very close to the characteristics described by Harris in Red Dragon. It’s a pleasure for the viewer to watch, and there’s no characters quite like these anywhere else on TV. The dynamic the two actors bring to life from the writing give the show its bloody and very much alive heart.

Supporting players like Laurence Fishburne are strong, too, as well as guest stars ranging from Gillian Anderson to Eddie Izzard.

Fuller and his writing team deserve praise here as well. For someone that has read Red Dragon, Hannibal is nothing short of brilliant. Fuller plays with the book and the stories enough and keeps enough to make the show a real pleasure for any Harris fan. For those unfamiliar with the source material and perhaps familiar with the movies, Fuller will make you forget they ever existed. He proves him and his writing staff are some of the most skilled writers on any show airing today. Hannibal is as close as a show can be to the themes and crispness of good literature without becoming pretentious. This is a thinking man’s show, but it’s still wholly thrilling and haunting.

Despite being on NBC, the show gets away with a lot. It juggles plenty of themes other crime shows ignore i.e. the mind of someone who solves murders, the minds of those that kill, the aftermath of losing someone, taking a life, etc. These were themes Harris explored in his novel intelligently and freshly and Fuller manages to do the same here which is saying a lot for a TV show. Viewers should be warned that Hannibal is very brutal and bloody. It probably belongs on a network like AMC or even HBO.

The season one pack is more than worth the price for fans of the show’s first season as well as for newcomers. First of all, there is an unaired episode (Fuller pulled it due to real-life tragedies), unrated episodes and plenty of material covering the making of show including commentaries.

There’s really not enough good things to say about Hannibal. It’s about as good as television can get and that’s not a biased assessment. I went into the show expecting to hate it and would have no qualms with telling you it stunk.

For those satisfied with regular crime procedurals like a lot of what is on networks like CBS then Hannibal is probably not for you. But, for those looking for an intelligent show with a little more to offer intellectually as well as a series with a darker and more realistic elements to it then Hannibal is right here waiting for you.