The second season of ”Hannibal” premieres tonight at 10PM (9PM Central) on NBC. In an age where many network shows are struggling to compete with the freedom that cable provides in terms of content, this show is the rare exception where the quality actually measures up. This is a show that matches or exceeds the violent content of most cable programs – all the while managing to sustain a uniquely baroque beauty throughout. It also doesn’t hurt that the focus on character here is as strong as it is in the most compelling of dramas.
Speaking of characters, one of the most daunting tasks creator Bryan Fuller and his staff faced when bringing this show to the screen was finding someone to play the title role. After all, whoever they found would be following in the footsteps of some truly iconic actors. Sir Anthony Hopkins (Silence Of The Lambs, Red Dragon, Hannibal) and Brian Cox (Manhunter).
Yet, they really made it work with Mads Mikkelsen. Let’s find out why below in a look sponsored by NBC!!
Hopkins is, of course, the 800 pound gorilla here (for our younger readers I’ll go ahead and point out that this is a figurative statement, not a pejorative). Not only did he play the role three times (in the aforementioned Silence Of The Lambs, Red Dragon and Hannibal), he won an Oscar for the part. In the minds of the vast majority, he is Hannibal Lecter. His performance was certainly the showiest and most flamboyant – which made total sense back in 1991 when there was less of a shorthand between audiences and the idea of the anti-hero. Back then we needed the “fava beans and a nice chianti” to get onboard. That’s not to say his performance doesn’t still resonate, it does (and Silence is an unmitigated masterpiece), but it’s not the only way to play the part.
You guys know (though the general public is still unaware) that Silence wasn’t the first time Hannibal Lecter appeared onscreen. Nor was the film Red Dragon the first time that particular Thomas Harris tome had been adapted into a film. Michael Mann used the book as the basis for his 1986 film Manhunter in which Brian Cox played Lecter (if you haven’t seen it – it’s heads and tails better than Ratner’s Red Dragon). The role was smaller than Hopkins’ take, in terms of both screentime and the general feel. Cox played Lecter as more of a direct presence. There was nothing heightened about him, if anything his evil was played as more of a cold pragmatism. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t effective – he’s the perfect Lecter for Mann’s understated masterpiece.
Casting Mikkelsen was a coup for Fuller and company. Not only is the Danish actor immensely talented, he’s a complete and total break from what came before. I’m sure you remember Don Draper’s advice, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” This applies here. Mikkelsen is so different that there’s no point in wasting time comparing similarities between him and the other actors, because there are none. Of course, he’s not great by virtue of difference alone – his take on the character is fully realized. He’s quiet, assured and has a strangely wounded quality. It’s as though he’s at odds with (and resents) the fact he’ll never truly connect with humanity in a substantive manner. He also eats well, which is huge for me. He looks like he’s enjoying his food so much I almost get hungry for a slice of human. “Hannibal” is rightly praised for the beauty of its carnage, but I don’t hear enough about the beauty of its cooking sequences.
I never saw Hannibal Rising and it’s not currently available on Netflix, so I have no real ground to stand on when it comes to weighing in on Gaspard Ulliel’s performance. I’ve heard good things, but I want to hear from you, dear readers. Hit up the comments below and let us know how you’d rank the various versions of Hannibal. If you’ve seen Hannibal Rising please include it in your defense (or derision) of its depiction!