The first thing I need to say about Hannibal Lecter is that I think he is one of the greatest villains of all time. 

The second is that without his creator, he would not exist.

The third is that Thomas Harris is a genius.

Granted, my introduction to Hannibal Lecter was through the movie The Silence of the Lambs. In an effort to get ahead of potential eye rolling over this going down the familiar I-watched-it-because-Anthony-Hopkins-is-in-it path…yes, I did.

How-ev-er.

I was very impressed by that movie. Not only because of its star’s mesmerizing performance, but also the character himself. Hannibal Lecter was a different kind of serial killer. Was he hideous? Scary? Sometimes terrifying? Absolutely. He was also witty, charming, and seductive. There was a push and pull. One end of a magnet drawing toward, then flipping dramatically to shove away with all manner of violence. By all means stay on the safe side of the glass. Enter his presence wearing an invisible shield, guard up, fight or flight response primed to initiate, but if you dare engage in a battle of wits and will expect the dance of your life.

I read the book after seeing the movie. That was when I discovered that Anthony Hopkins had an unseen partner in bringing that remarkable character to life, during the shockingly brief amount of screen time he actually had. Thomas Harris has an intriguing writing style. His prose is spare, yet so descriptive that it practically thrums with life. I’ve read all of his Hannibal Lecter novels and the simply titled Hannibal is my favorite.

Yes, that vivid description is almost unbearably real. That too has its flip side. However much I don’t really want that close a ringside seat to evisceration, hideous disfigurement, and the terror reserved for a facedown with feral pigs, I equally want to feast my imagination on a night at the opera, a stroll through the sunset streets of Florence, and a life spent among art and music and books. Somehow Harris brings all of that to brilliant life, each word a brush stroke in a portrait of the hideous and sublime…a tango of warring emotions.

Having read all the books and seen all the movies, I was both intrigued and torn when I heard about the new NBC series, Hannibal, based on the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon. I had already been down the Hannibal-not-Hopkins road with the movie Manhunter. Brian Cox is a talented actor, but although his Hannibal Lecter came before The Silence of the Lambs, I just couldn’t buy into his portrayal. So I was sure a new attempt to drag my brain away from such an established association would be a giant fail.

It was admittedly an uphill battle. In the first episode Mads Mikkelsen looked like Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element and sounded like Schwarzenegger in extreme Ah-nold mode.  Hugh Dancy’s Will wandered too far afield from the Will Graham I knew from the books and both Manhunter and Red Dragon. I almost didn’t make it to the second.

With Martha De Laurentiis involved, and knowing it’s based on Thomas Harris’ brilliant work, I stuck with it. Thankfully, Mikkelsen was toned down by the second episode, and both he and Dancy continued to refine their portrayals as the season progressed. Though my brain continually tried to match what I was used to and loved with the new version, I came to appreciate Hannibal the TV series, as a separate entity.

The series production values are outstanding. It is perhaps the most visually striking series I’ve seen, with stark images terrifying both in the context of and beyond the stories they so vividly illustrate. The acting is undeniably topnotch, as are all other elements that come together to create an atmospheric, intelligent, and disturbing narrative. By the season finale I had almost trained my brain to stop trying to fit Hannibal’s facets together into the puzzle the books and movies had laid out in the past. Almost.

Perhaps by the end of season two I’ll have fully convinced myself that Mads Mikkelsen even looks a bit like a young Anthony Hopkins. Better yet, perhaps I’ll no longer want to try.

Hannibal Trailer

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