Release Date(s)2013 (September 24, 2013)
Studio(s)NBC/Dino de Laurentiis Co./Living Dead Guy (Lionsgate)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
Hannibal is a seemingly odd duck for primetime TV. It has everything going against it. Not only is it based on a book and a series of films, which never usually yields the best results, but also because Hannibal Lecter’s status in pop culture is as a figure of fun more than anything, due to the impact that Anthony Hopkins’ turn as the character had and the endless parody that came afterwards. And just by the ghastly nature of Lecter’s crimes and the pre-set dark tone, who in their right minds would think that this would be a good idea for a TV show? Well, it’s a show that not only works, but also brings something brand new to the table, if you’ll pardon my use of the expression.
For one, the creators of the show have decided to delve into an area that’s probably the most fascinating, but hadn't been previously given proper screen treatment: Hannibal Lecter’s time as an assistant to the FBI. Of course, that section of his backstory hadn’t really been explored yet, save for the all-too brief opening segment of Brett Ratner’s remake of Manh..., ahem, excuse me, Red Dragon. It’s the most interesting part of that film. Fortunately, the creators of the Hannibal TV show also felt that there was oil to be drilled from this point in time in Lecter’s life, which has gone undocumented in novel form so far, as well. It’s a time when he helps detective Will Graham and Head of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit Jack Crawford profile and track down some of the more cunning and disturbed serial killers. Graham’s ability to relive the point of view of the murderers in his mind helps lead to clues that no one else can find. Meanwhile, Lecter quietly kills his victims one by one, all under the nose of Graham and Crawford without them knowing.
Thankfully there aren’t a whole lot of changes to the characters and what HAS been changed fits well. It gets deep under your skin and leaves you thinking about it days afterwards, which is always the mark of a well-told story. Graham’s character has perhaps the biggest change from the original novel. In this version, he’s no longer a married man with a child. He’s a single man who isn’t very social because of how his abilities are affecting him psychologically. Hannibal himself is basically the same, only more subtle and reserved. Even the side characters like Dr. Chilton, who you will remember is the chief of staff at the Baltimore Institute for the Criminally Insane, has more shades to him this time around, being less of a one-dimensional character than he was in The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon.
Hannibal is not a show that’s not without its faults, however. It does take some minor elements from modern forensic shows, but not in an overt way. The three science technicians working under Jack Crawford, for instance, reeks of CSI or Cold Case Files. But it’s something that functions well in the overall story, so it’s not a big deal. I would also call the show a difficult binge-watch because of how dark and depressing it is. There’s little to no comic relief at all, keeping the tension airtight with no release valve. I would also say that some of the lines that are repurposed from the actual novel of “Red Dragon” stick out poorly, but then again, I’m quite fond of that story and might not notice them if I were less of a fan.
The other thing is that this is one of the most ghastly primetime shows I’ve ever seen. But the thing to remember when watching this Blu-ray is that five of the episodes have been extended, being presented as “Producer’s Cuts.” There’s also an episode that's been included that never aired. The murders are unsettling at first, but they tend to get more and more outlandish as the show goes on until, eventually, it starts to feel a bit ridiculous. You start having thoughts like ‘whatever happened to a good ole strangulation?’ and ‘is everyone in West Virginia a serial killer?’ At one point the murders became so outlandish that I actually laughed out loud (I’m a sick puppy, I know). Still, I wouldn’t call these major faults, because the show had me in its grip for all thirteen episodes and made me want to keep watching, despite how dark it was at times.
From somebody who is a big fan of the original Manhunter (with The Silence of the Lambs in a close second), enjoyed the book, and expected very little from Hannibal, I’m delighted to be so wrong. I should have expected something of such quality from Bryan Fuller, creator of one of my favorite TV shows Pushing Daisies, as well as other cult shows like Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls. Hannibal is one of the most effective and most engaging TV shows to come along in a while, which is saying something.
The quality of the presentation on this Blu-ray release is quite pleasing. The show was shot digitally and there’s an enormous amount of detail to offer, both in the foreground and the background. Because of the show’s nature, many scenes have been color graded for effect, but overall, the color palette is very strong from scene to scene. Skin tones are quite accurate, and blacks are quite deep. My only beef is the overall brightness and contrast, the latter of which could have used a bit of a boost. Otherwise, the images are stable, clean, and beautiful. The audio for the show, which is presented on a single English 5.1 DTS-HD track (as well as a soundcheck option), is pretty amazing, as well. There was a strong effort put into the mixing process to create an enveloping experience with lots of atmosphere and ambient activity. Dialogue is always clean and clear, and the sound effects pack quite a wallop. Score is also quite powerful, being less orchestral in nature and more of a series of odd sounds to make you feel uneasy. It’s a very impressive track. There are also subtitles in English, English SDH, and Spanish for those who might need them.
The extras for this release have been spread out across the three discs in the set, so there’s always something to check out, no matter which disc you’re on. On the first disc, there’s an audio commentary on the episode Apertif with producer Bryan Fuller, director David Slade, and actor Hugh Dancy; a set of storyboards for the pilot episode; and a set of trailers for other shows, which also open the disc. On the second disc are two featurettes: Hannibal Reborn and A Taste for Killing, as well as a gag reel. On the third disc is an audio commentary on the episode Savoureux with the same people as before; two featurettes: A Symphony for the Slaugher and The FX of Murder; and a deleted scene. This material was created by special edition producer Cliff Stephenson, so you know you’re getting some quality stuff, even if it is a bit on the brief side.
I wouldn’t call Hannibal a show for the faint of heart, because it isn’t. It’s quite gruesome and disturbing at times, and it’s amazing that it ever aired on a major network and not a cable channel. If you missed the show during its initial run, I highly recommend picking this release up and checking it out, whether you’re a Hannibal Lecter fan or not.
- Tim Salmons