Book vs. Film vs. TV Series: 'Hannibal'
Good evening, LitReactor readers.
We're returning to the Hannibal Universe once again with the third installment from Thomas Harris, published in 1999 and simply (or perhaps simplistically) titled Hannibal, which was adapted into a film of the same name in 2001 by writers David Mamet and Steven Zaillian (the latter rewrote the former's first draft, but there's enough of Mamet's script left intact to necessitate a credit) and director Ridley Scott. Many elements from Harris's novel were also woven into the entirety of Bryan Fuller's self-described fan fiction television series Hannibal.
Hannibal, Hannibal, Hannibal! This title suggests the book, the film and the TV series are all about the cannibalistic Dr. Lecter, but this is decidedly untrue. While the character receives far more attention from his creator than in previous novels Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs; more screen time in Scott and company's film than in Manhunter (the first screen adaptation of Red Dragon) and Jonathan Demme's Silence adaptation; and, of course, considerable narrative weight in the TV series bearing his name; he is not the protagonist. As with Silence, Hannibal (the film) is ostensibly about Clarice Starling (but it's also heavily about Rinaldo Pazzi and Mason Verger, who we'll address in a moment); likewise, Fuller's Hannibal focuses its attention on Special Investigator Will Graham, who substitutes for Clarice on more than one occasion (Fuller never quite had the rights to Starling's character).
Of course, the ultimate question we'll attempt to answer is, which of the two screen adaptations, Scott's or Fuller's Hannibal, best understands the source material; however, another, potentially uncomfortable question is, did either the film or the TV series handle the contents of Harris's novel better than Harris himself?
Let's dive right in shall we?
At first glance, Hannibal may seem like nothing more than a cash grab. There was no doubt high demand for a Silence sequel, given the success of Harris's novel and, even more so, the subsequent film, which cleaned up at the box office and swept the 1992 Academy Awards. More Lecter and Starling meant more money for everyone involved, because a new novel almost implicitly meant a new film. In fact, one may argue the novel was only written as a matter of course, allowing Harris to maintain literary predominance before the dollars really came rolling in (let's not pretend there's more money to be made in the world of publishing than in film).
This may seem sacrilegious or crass, and normally I wouldn't suggest a lack of integrity or genuine interest on an author's part; the problem is, in many places Hannibal feels slapdash and ambling, not at all resembling the narrative and linguistic tautness of Red Dragon and Silence, even going so far as to retcon certain events in the former books. Moreover, the plot of Hannibal gets into Grand Guignol territory—not a bad thing in and of itself, but when paired with the general ludicrousness of the story, makes for an experience far less sophisticated than previous efforts.
Now, all that being said, I want to make it clear that for all its problems (and there are more than the ones I've already discussed), I actually rather like Hannibal, mostly because it essentially laid the groundwork for a much better handling of the material by Scott and, latterly, Fuller.
That's right, I'm saying it right now, straight away: the film and the TV series top their literary predecessor in spades.
So let's delve into why this is so by first discussing the overall plot of Harris's novel...
Hannibal takes place seven years after the events of The Silence of the Lambs. We open with Clarice Starling, now a full-fledged Special Agent with the FBI, but an ostensibly unsuccessful one as it turns out. Due to the influence of Justice Department agent and misogynist douche bag Paul Krendler, Clarice never managed to get an assignment in Behavioral Sciences, and thus she hasn't worked with department chief Jack Crawford since assisting him in the Buffalo Bill murders nearly a decade prior. Instead, Starling has routinely been given rinky-dink jobs within the Bureau, mostly serving search warrants, tapping phones and conducting general surveillance—tasks the Agent is decidedly under-qualified to do.
The novel opens with one such task, in which Starling assists a SWAT team with the apprehension of drug lord Evelda Drumgo. However, what should have been a routine arrest goes horribly south when Drumgo emerges from her hideout holding an infant. She and her bodyguards open fire on the Agents, forcing Starling to gun down the criminal with the baby still in her arms. Of course, the National Tattler, former employer of Freddie Lounds, was on the scene to snap a few misleading photos of the act, publishing them the next day with the headline "DEATH ANGEL: CLARICE STARLING, THE FBI'S KILLING MACHINE," painting the sensible and passionate Agent as some sort of cold, Charles Bronson-like, brain-splattering ghoul.
A scandal erupts, and Krendler seizes the opportunity, wielding his influence over his FBI cronies to put Starling on paid leave, pending further investigation into the botched operation, for which she will no doubt shoulder all the blame. This very public defamation of Starling's character prompts Hannibal Lecter, silent since his escape from a Memphis holding cell seven years prior, to send his former interviewer and "patient" a letter, in which he continues to needle Clarice about her parents and her strict moral code:
In our discussions down in the dungeon, it was apparent to me that your father, the dead night watch-man, figures large in your value system. I think your success in putting an end to Jame Gumb's career as a couturier pleased you most because you could imagine your father doing it.
Now you are in bad odour with the FBI. Have you always imagined your father ahead of you there, have you imagined him a section chief or—better even than Jack Crawford—a DEPUTY DIRECTOR, watching your progress with pride? And now do you see him shamed and crushed by your disgrace? Do you see yourself doing the menial tasks your mother was reduced to, after the addicts busted a cap on your DADDY? Hmmmmm? Will your failure reflect on them, will people forever wrongly believe that your parents were trailer camp tornado bait white trash?
Remember, we last left Clarice sleeping "deeply, sweetly, in the silence of the lambs," memories of the sheep and horse farm, where the animals were slaughtered, and her gunned-down father laying dormant for the time being. Here, it is Lecter's intent to wake her from this peaceful slumber and make her face her demons. This is an important start to the doctor's rekindling of his relationship with Starling, as we will see later.
The appearance of this letter alerts the attention of one Mason Verger, an obscenely wealthy hog tycoon who fell to Hannibal's sadism fifteen years earlier and lived to tell the tale. Mason, a rapist and a pedophile, was ordered by court to seek therapy with Lecter. In an attempt to "buy off" the doctor, Mason invited Hannibal to his home with offerings of sex, drugs and revelry. Hannibal gives the pig man a powerful hallucinogen and convinces him to carve off his own face and feed the flesh to the dogs (as well as himself). Lecter then snapped Mason's neck, leaving him paralyzed. Since that time, the entire Verger family has been dedicated to ensuring Dr. Lecter pays for his crimes, both through prison sentences and civil suits. After Hannibal's escape and disappearance, Mason has placed a $3 million bounty on the doctor's escape, and keeps his well-paid spies on the lookout for any Lecter-related information (which is how he becomes aware of the doctor's letter to Clarice). Unbeknownst to the FBI, Verger also plans to feed Hannibal alive to a pack of man-eating hogs he's had specially raised in Sardinia.
This aspect of Hannibal's narrative creates a bit of a plot hole. Harris alludes to Mason's existence in Red Dragon, stating that there are in fact two Lecter victims to have survived, one of whom "is on a respirator at a hospital in Baltimore." This is Mason Verger, though in the third novel he now lives at his estate. This is all fine and well, except for one nagging detail: in Red Dragon, it is Will Graham who ultimately unmasks Hannibal as the Chesapeake Ripper when he realizes one of the murder scenes is an identical match for a Wound Man sketch in Lecter's home. If the Vergers have long been committed to ensuring the man who disfigured Mason is justly punished, then why did it take Will Graham to capture him? Lecter was never even a suspect in the crime, so Graham didn't come across the Wound Man sketch during an official investigation; rather, he attributes his discovery of the drawing to pure luck.
Why weren't the police alerted to Lecter? Was Mason not able to speak immediately after his disfigurement? Was he reluctant to out Hannibal out of fear? There are a plethora of simple answers to this question, but Harris chooses to simply not address the issue in Hannibal (and not even mention Will Graham to boot).
Instead, the author plows right on ahead with Mason's revenge plot, which involves wielding his influence over Krendler and getting Clarice reinstated to Lecter's case, charging her with investigating an x-ray from Buenos Aires Verger obtained from his informants that seems to indicate Hannibal has had his sixth finger surgically removed (in the novels, Lecter has the rarest form of polydactyl). This ultimately turns out to be a dead end, a fact Verger was well aware of, as his true motives were in using Starling as bait. By having her put back on Lecter's trail, he hoped the doctor would eventually expose his whereabouts by making further contact with Clarice.
This does not happen, however, but Verger does receive a significant lead when he is contacted by one Rinaldo Pazzi, a detective with the police force in Florence, Italy. Pazzi has recently been disgraced by scandal himself, having falsely arrested a suspect in the Il Mostro investigation, a real-life serial killer case featuring crimes not unlike those of Hannibal Lecter. Pazzi has also discovered Lecter posing as one Dr. Fell, the newly-appointed curator of the Palazzo Capponi library (a job for which Lecter has literally killed to get). Bitter over his shoddy treatment by the public and his colleagues, who once hailed him as a hero, Pazzi decides to sell out Hannibal to Verger and collect the bounty, shirking his commitment to maintain law and order.
It is with the introduction of this subplot that Hannibal begins to feel a bit bloated. Harris dedicates a solid twenty-three chapters to Pazzi and his efforts to capture Lecter, with pages of pontification over the detective's faulty moral compass, inserting numerous literary and historical references in the process. Take a look:
How do you behave when you know the conventional honors are dross? When you have come to believe with Marcus Aurelius that the opinion of future generations will be worth no more than the opinion of the current one? Is it possible to behave well then? Desirable to behave well then?
Now Rinaldo Pazzi, a Pazzi of the Pazzi, chief inspector of the Florentine Questura, had to decide what his honor was worth, or if there is a wisdom longer than considerations of honor...
Avarice is not unknown in Italy, and Rinaldo Pazzi had imbibed plenty with his native air. But his natural acquisitiveness and ambition had been whetted in America, where every influence is felt more quickly, including the death of Jehovah and the incumbency of Mammon.
When Pazzi came out of the shadows of the Loggia and stood in the spot where Savonarola was burned in the floodlit Palazzo Vecchio where his ancestor died, he believed that he was deliberating. He was not. He had already decided piecemeal.
WE assign a moment to decision, to dignify the process as a timely result of rational and subconscious thought. But decisions are made of kneaded feelings; they are more often a lump than a sum...
Honors again? Another chance to endure the archbishop's breath while the holy flints were struck to the rocket in the cloth dove's ass? More praise from the politicians whose private lives he knew too well? What was it worth to be known as the policeman who caught Dr. Hannibal Lecter? For a policeman, credit has a short half-life. Better to SELL HIM.
The thought pierced and pounded Rinaldo, left him pale and determined, and when the visual Rinaldo cast his lot he had two scents mixed in his mind, his wife and the Chesapeake shore.
SELL HIM. SELL HIM. SELL HIM. SELL HIM. SELL HIM. SELL HIM...
It goes on like that.
I'm not saying the inclusion of Pazzi and his narrative arc isn't necessary, but overall it takes away from page space that could have been devoted to developing other aspects of the story, like Starling's decreasing faith in everything she holds dear, her own dwindling moral compass in the face of rampant sexism, bureaucratic tomfoolery and judicial incompetence, not to mention her having to deal with Jack Crawford's increasing ineffectualness and sadness. These matters are dealt with, sure, but not so thoroughly that readers are sufficiently prepared for the book's denouement (we'll get there...). This is due to the attention placed on Pazzi as well as Mason Verger, especially his twisted relationship with his sister Margot, whose presence opens up another avenue of distraction and, unfortunately, another problematic depiction of a queer character (see a discussion of Jame Gumb's pseudo-transsexualism in my column Book Vs. Film: The Silence of the Lambs). See, Margot isn't just a lesbian, she's a bodybuilding lesbian who might only be a lesbian because Mason molested her as a child (gayness doesn't really work that way, of course). She's dependent upon Mason because their father essentially wrote her out of his will after discovering her homosexuality, and she hopes to get a vial of his sperm so she and her partner Judy can have a Verger child and secure their future.
In addition to building this complex backstory, Harris also devotes way more time than he should to the developing friendship between Margot and Barney, Lecter's former guard at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, who has accepted a nursing job from Mason after Starling put the kibosh on his previous means of employment, living off sales of ill-gotten Hannibal memorabilia. Margot and Barney enjoy lifting weights together, but eventually the latter discovers a sexual attraction to the former when Margot unabashedly enters the showers with him. This brief awkwardness is diffused, however, and Margot tries to convince the man to milk Mason while he's sleeping so that she can obtained that much-needed sperm. Barney refuses and quits his job, resurfacing again later in the novel for reasons not essential enough to the plot to mention here.
The above summary of Margot and Barney's relationship may seem brief, but I assure you, it is not. Harris spends about as much time on these two as he does on Pazzi, and neither subplot really goes anywhere. Pazzi ends up getting disemboweled and hanged from a Palazzo Vecchio window just like his ancestor after Lecter becomes privy to his attempt to assist Mason's men in kidnapping the doctor and bringing him to the pig pen at the Verger estate. Given Hannibal's discovery, the plan falls south and things go back to square one, waiting for Lecter to make contact with Clarice and capturing him then. Mason once again enlists Krendler, who by now has been revealed to a completely corrupt S.O.B. For the tune of $5 million dollars, Krendler plants evidence that Starling has been secretly communicating with Lecter and warning him off arrest attempts, thus obstructing justice. This leads to Clarice being permanently fired from the FBI, which Krendler and Mason hopes will bring Lecter in close personal contact with Starling. This plan works, and Mason's men apprehend Hannibal as he attempts to deliver two bottles of rare and expensive wine to Clarice for her birthday.
Stripped of her title and with nothing left to lose, Starling, who has pieced together that Verger was behind the kidnapping, heads for the pig man's estate armed with nothing but a pistol. She shows up just as Mason's man-eating hogs are being lead toward the bound Hannibal. A gunfight ensues, during which Clarice subdues the Sardinian kidnappers, who get eaten up by the pigs instead. During the shootout, however, Clarice gets hit with a tranquilizer dart and falls unconscious, leaving Hannibal free to whisk her out of there. Meanwhile, Margot, on Hannibal's recommendation, stimulates Mason's prostate gland with a cattle prod in order to get his semen, then kills him by shoving his pet moray eel down his throat, leaving a tuft of Hannibal's hair at the scene so that the police will assume the mad doctor was behind the crime.
Here's where we get into weird territory (if you thought we were there already, you were sorely mistaken). See, interspersed throughout all the above action, Harris does something he's thus far done for all his madman—Francis Dolarhyde, Jame Gumb, and Mason Verger—but has refrained from doing so for the titular character: he attributes Lecter's madness to a single traumatizing event or series of experiences in their childhood. Harris reveals that as a boy, Hannibal and his sister Mischa were held captive by a group of Nazi soldiers who, when the food ran scarce, began to eat their prisoners. Lecter does not witness her slaughter firsthand, but he does notice "a few of Mischa's milk teeth in the reeking stool pit," perversely answering his prayers to see his sister again.
This is an odd move on Harris's part, because Lecter always functioned as the pure evil binary to the other killers of the Hannibal-verse. You could explain away the deeds of the Red Dragon or Buffalo Bill, but you can't explain Hannibal. The psychological community simply refers to him as a monster because they don't know what else to call him. Hannibal even reinforces his role as an unstoppable force of monstrousness in Silence. Consider this exchange of dialogue between Lecter and Starling, during their very first interview, in which the latter sets about convincing the former to fill out a psychological questionnaire:
'Oh, Officer Starling, do you think you can dissect me with this blunt little tool?'
'No. I think you can provide some insight and advance this study.'
'And what possible reason could I have to do that?'
'About why you're here. About what happened to you.'
'Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened. You can't reduce me to a set of influences...'
Even if Hannibal is being intentionally evasive here, even if it might be true that the trauma of seeing his little sister's teeth in the stool pit turned him into a cannibal, Lecter was better off in the shadows, a mystery we cannot define, an evil we cannot comprehend.
However, Harris seemed to feel differently back in 1999 and reduces his character to a set of influences anyway (and then goes even further in 2006 with Hannibal Rising...). This revelation of Hannibal's origin acts as a weak spot, an Achilles's heel that Starling uses for her own survival. Because as it turns out, Lecter has come to believe, based on the theories of Stephen Hawking, that time could somehow reverse itself and make a place for Mischa in the modern day—the place currently occupied by Clarice. So, after rescuing Starling and nursing her back to health at his lakeside home, Hannibal sets about drugging and hypnotizing Starling in an attempt to break her down psychologically.
As part of this process, Hannibal kidnaps Paul Krendler, saws off the top of his head, and cooks his brains at the dinner table. Clarice, having totally abandoned her morals at this point, heartily consumes the human meat, much to Hannibal's pleasure. Later, while eating dessert, Hannibal finally suggests that Clarice could give up her place in this world for Mischa, but Starling counters that anyone could give up their life for hers—even Hannibal. This seems to please Hannibal even further, prompting Starling to expose her breast, pour wine on her nipple, and invite Lecter in for a taste.
Yep. That happens.
The novel concludes in Buenos Aires, where Barney and his girlfriend witness Lecter with a now platinum blonde Clarice at the opera. Fearing for his life, he flees the country, leaving Hannibal and Starling to dance in their palatial home. Harris also reveals here that Jack Crawford has died, and that Hannibal no longer has visions of Mischa. For the moment, it seems, he is happy with Clarice at his side.
There has been much criticism about this ending. For instance, Charles de Lint, writing for Fantasy & Science Fiction, stated,
Ignoring all that he has done with the character of Starling to this point, Harris has her improbably fall under Lecter's spell and continues the earlier device of making Lecter a sympathetic character. It simply doesn't work and the storyline reads more like a bad Hollywood movie—implausible and somewhat misogynistic in its cavalier treatment of what had been such a strong female character—than the taut, intelligent thriller one has come to expect from a writer of Harris's caliber.
de Lint has several good points here, but also a few I don't agree with, namely the idea that painting Hannibal as sympathetic is inherently wrong. I mean, yes, he's a monster, but given his propensity to eat the rude and awful people of the world, he becomes a bit likable, because he echoes the base urges we all might feel from time to time. Also, de Lint is mistaken in his assessment that Lecter's brainwashing of Starling functions as a point of sympathy. Sure, there is some level of sympathizing we can direct Hannibal's way when he is being pursued by Pazzi—Hannibal hasn't killed anyone since arriving in Florence, and it seems likely he would have stopped had Pazzi not began to investigate him. Moreover, compared to Mason Verger, Hannibal seems like Mary freakin' Poppins, and we're definitely rooting for Lecter in that battle. But when the doctor uses powerful hallucinogens and mind control methods to lure Starling over to his way of thinking, this is Harris reminding us that Lecter is indeed still a monster, even if he is human after all.
It is also decidedly not a sexist moment either, since Starling did not choose this path of her own volition—at least, not entirely. Lecter did prey upon her own Achilles's heel, the death of her father, and also her temper and sense of rage, which Hannibal correctly reveals to Clarice is intrinsically related to her early childhood trauma, namely that Starling directs her anger toward the injustices of the world because she has never allowed herself to display any anger toward her father for dying young and leaving her and her mother burdened and alone. By resurrecting these buried emotions, Hannibal gives Clarice the gift of catharsis—which would have been a fantastic ending for the character if the doctor hadn't used her vulnerability to manipulate Starling to his liking. Thus, if there is sexism in this moment, it lies in the fact that Hannibal, like all the men in the FBI save Crawford, has crushed Clarice, transforming her from a bright young agent to a somewhat subservient object of sex and desire.
But de Lint is right on the money in saying this ending doesn't work. The problem is, it isn't inherently broken. If Harris had spent more time developing the breakdown of Starling's moral compass and her mental stability—if he hadn't spent so much time with Pazzi, Margot and Barney—perhaps de Lint and other critics like him wouldn't feel the ending was implausible.
Fortunately, we have a screen adaptation that handles the material with much more care and nuance...
And that screen adaption isn't Ridley Scott and company's Hannibal.
Now, this isn't to say that Hannibal is a bad film. I didn't like it much upon its initial release, but upon revisiting it for this column, I found I did rather enjoy it. Anthony Hopkins returns as Lecter, and though he's just beginning to gnash his teeth, he doesn't quite bite into the scenery here (see Red Dragon for that). Julianne Moore steps into Jodie Foster's shoes as Clarice, and she does a fine job handling a more mature and jaded Starling, able to unleash her anger toward Krendler (Ray Liotta) and all the misogynist a-holes who just want to bring her down. Rounding out the cast is Gary Oldman under heavy layers of prosthetics as Mason Verger, whose performance is the highlight of the movie, in my opinion. Overall, Hannibal is a much tauter and compartmentalized version of Harris's novel, which enhances the narrative experience overall, given the author's propensity to meander.
As faithful an adaptation Scott's film is, there are three primary departures from the source material:
One, the character of Margot has been scrapped altogether, with much of her narrative arc going to Cordell, Mason Verger's physician. This serves to tighten up the narrative considerably, though I'd rather Zaillian had excised more of Pazzi (whose story occupies a good forty-five minutes to an hour of screen time) in favor of exploring Margot with more care and nuance (if only such an adaptation existed...).
Second, Scott refused to include any mention of Mischa, especially in reference to the origins of Hannibal's cannibalistic ways, reportedly because he found the concept "ludicrous." As such, this also removes any attempts on Hannibal's part to turn Starling into his dead sister, making his obsession with Clarice squarely about her and her alone. This was most definitely a good move on Scott's part.
And third, the film does not end with Starling succumbing to Lecter's mental manipulation, largely because his regiment of drugs and hypnosis is absent from the narrative. He does slip her an hallucinogen and attempt to "sway her toward the dark side," so to speak, but this sequence isn't nearly as prolonged as it appears in the book. Therefore, Starling is repulsed by Hannibal's eating of Krendler's brain, and she fights him as best she can in her altered state, eventually handcuffing herself to him in an attempt to deliver Hannibal to the authorities. Lecter chops off his own hand and escapes once again, landing himself on a plane headed for somewhere in Asia, where he feeds a curious boy some of Krendler's brain. Roll credits.
As I stated above, all things said and done, this is a decent film, enhanced by the new ending in which Clarice holds on to her morality—again, not because the opposite cannot work, but because there really wasn't time to develop this narrative in any acceptable fashion—unless of course you cut out the Pazzi sequence and focus solely on our protagonist, as Silence does.
Now, while the 2-2 1/2 hour film narrative doesn't allow for a completely faithful adaptation of Harris's novel, the medium of television lends itself nicely to a story this complex...
The TV Series
Bryan Fuller and company's Hannibal isn't just a retelling of Harris's third Lecter book, but rather incorporates elements from all four, even Silence, for which the show's producers never had full rights, specifically to the character Clarice Starling. Because of this, the sections of the show that deal with Harris's Hannibal directly substitutes Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) for Starling.
This shift actually makes tremendous sense. For the sake of simplicity, let's say that Hannibal's overarching goal in the novel bearing his given name is to turn Clarice toward the dark side, to align her moral compass with his way of thinking. Lecter already began this process with Graham in Red Dragon, reiterating over and over that, largely because of Will's pure empathy, he and the doctor are one and the same—in other words, Lecter sees a bit of the "violent sociopath" in Will, and sets about awakening this aspect of Graham's character.
The difference between this effort as Harris depicts it and how it appears in the show is this: Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) begins his brainwashing of Will almost from the moment he meets the Special Investigator, and not at the proverbial last minute, as he does with Clarice in the book. Near the end of season one, we see Lecter actively using more or less the same drugging and hypnotization methods on Graham that he uses on Starling. Like in Scott's film, Will is able to resist Hannibal's sway—but only for a little while. After Hannibal frames Will for his murders, then assists in his exoneration, Graham returns to the doctor to resume their therapy sessions, knowing full well that Lecter is the Chesapeake Ripper, the man responsible for landing him in Dr. Chilton's (Raul Esparza) asylum, and the killer of Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park), one of few people other than Hannibal who actually seemed to understand Will, and the only person who believed Will might be innocent after Lecter framed him.
Given all this, why would Graham willingly go back into Hannibal's care? Well, as we see throughout season two, the special investigator goes undercover in the hopes of drawing the killer out, making Lecter believe he has gone over to the dark side (knowingly consuming human flesh in the process), and so returning to Hannibal's office functions as a part of this long con. And yet, when Lecter questions Will as to his reasoning for resuming his therapy, Graham's answer is telling. In season two, episode eight "Su-zakana" (written by Scott Nimefro, Bryan Fuller and Steve Lightfoot, directed by Vincenzo Natali):
WILL: Can't just talk to any psychiatrist about what's kicking around in my head.
Very true. Hannibal is the only psychiatrist that could understand the good feelings Will gets when he kills, his fantasies about killing the doctor, his predilection for "righteous acts of violence." Given this innate understanding of Hannibal's inner workings, it isn't that surprising that Graham could finally go over to the dark side and admit the beauty of killing. In short, Fuller and company set us up with a relationship that almost seems destined to end with a kind of perverse togetherness, given the unique minds of both Hannibal and Will, and then thoroughly develop the corruption (for lack of a better term) of the "good" character over three seasons and 39 hour-long episodes—more than adequate time to satisfactorily explore a relationship arc of this complexity, exacted far more meticulously than Harris. (For a broader discussion of Will and Hannibal's relationship, see my Book Vs. Film column on Red Dragon).
As far as the main narrative of Harris's novel goes, this story arc mostly takes place in the first half of season three, although Fuller and company introduce Margot and Mason in season two, establishing Margot's need for a Verger baby and, later, depicting Mason's drug-induced and Hannibal-encouraged face peel in all its gory detail. The producers cast horror veteran Katharine Isabelle as Margot, eschewing Harris's rather stereotypical bodybuilder lesbian mold for a more femme and bisexual character, which helps create a more nuanced and realistic person, rather than a caricature (the absence of Barney leching after her helps too). Mason is portrayed by two different actors, Michael Pitt in season two and Joe Anderson in season three. Both do a fine and unnerving job with the role, though my personal favorite is still Gary Oldman.
Concerning Mason, Fuller fills in the plot hole left by Harris. Remember that the author failed to explain why it took Will Graham discovering Hannibal's crimes to stop the Chesapeake Ripper, and not the testimony of Verger? Well, in Hannibal the TV series, the answer to this question is simple: Mason wants to pursue his revenge from the moment he regains consciousness, and thus lies to Jack Crawford about how he manages to lose half his face. Why let the law have all the fun, after all?
The Florence section of the story is handled beautifully here. Pazzi shows up, played here by Fortunato Cerlino, and his story is pretty much the same, with the biggest difference being that he only appears in a few episodes before meeting his grisly end at the hands of Lecter, and within those episodes he only shows up in a handful of scenes. Moreover, Pazzi isn't the only person to have discovered Hannibal's whereabouts—Crawford and Will are both hot on the doctor's trail, and considerably more screen time is given to these more important characters than to Pazzi, who—let's be honest—is really just wicked kill fodder at the end of the day.
And finally, Mischa gets resurrected for the small screen, but in such a way that her presence, rather than humanizing the doctor, works to make Hannibal even more monstrous than we initially thought. However, this is a discussion better suited for another day...
And The Winner Is...
The TV show, despite being a non-linear and re-imagined adaptation of Harris's novel. The more direct Ridley Scott film has its high points—namely Gary Oldman and the presence of Clarice, played quite well by Julianne Moore—but the series handles the "going over to the dark side" elements far more satisfactorily than both the film—which doesn't really handle that aspect of the story at all—and Harris's novel, which handles it too hurriedly (and spends WAY too much time with Pazzi).
So there you have it.
What are your thoughts on the third Lecter installment and its screen interpretations? Did you like the Ridley Scott film better than the TV series? Let us know what you think in the comments section.
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