Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
For quite some time, television has been serving up programmes of an extremely high quality which easily rival anything the Big Screen has to offer. Think Twin Peaks, The Sopranos, Doctor Who. These programmes all benefit from suitably intelligent writing, impressive visuals, and solid acting which, if anything, actually surpass much of what the big budget blockbusters of today have to offer. The new series of Hannibal is no exception. It is clever, engaging, remarkably entertaining television at its very best. The series is an intoxicating mixture of police procedural, forensic-based detective mystery, and full blown gruesomely gothic Grand Guignol. The most distinguishing feature of Hannibal is its predilection for gory set-pieces reminiscent of those seen in David Fincher’s Seven (1995). These set-pieces are truly a sight to behold. Victims are sliced into pieces, skewered on antlers, and sewn into murals composed of human bodies. They are grotesque works of special effects art which contribute to the series’ overall diabolically disturbing aesthetic style.
There is no doubt that Hannibal is, then, one of the darkest, most horrifically enjoyable series of recent years. It is not, however, original. This should come as no surprise, as it is one of many adaptations based on author Thomas Harris’s outstanding novels featuring his cannibalistic creation, Hannibal Lecter. The most iconic of these adaptations is obviously Jonathan Demme’s classic thriller, Silence of the Lambs (1991). So, how does this new version of Harris’s sophisticated psychopath compare to that of Silence? The series is far more explicit than the film, with a great deal more violence, as opposed to the more suggestive approach taken by Silence. Hannibal is also more surreal, incorporating many dream sequences, whereas Silence is, on the whole, more grounded in reality. Possibly the biggest difference between the two is the portrayal of Lecter. Hopkins completely embraces Lecter’s madness, giving a grandiose, highly exaggerated performance. When talking, he elucidates with a strange tone of voice which is calm and inquisitive, but at the same time off-kilter, and quite deranged. In Hannibal, Lecter is portrayed by Danish actor, Mads Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen’s performance is far removed from the gleeful ‘look at me’ madness of Hopkins’s Lecter. Mikkelsen makes the character his own, downplaying the madness, as his Lecter adopts the façade of a suave, sophisticated socialite. He is much calmer than Hopkins’s Lecter, and seems to take much pleasure from literally getting away with murder.
Despite their obvious differences, it is interesting to note that both actors are non-Americans. It may be pertinent to end with a look at why this is. Lecter is a foreign entity terrorising a vulnerable America. In the post-9/11 world of Hannibal, this fear becomes even more relevant. Mikkelsen’s Lecter has a pronounced accent which instantly differentiates him from the other characters. He is the embodiment of all of America’s fears surrounding the unknown, the alien which is threatening their way of life. Lecter is, therefore, the perfect monster for this age of paranoia.