Why I won't be watching the Hannibal TV Series
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Is less more? And how much mystery can you take away from a 'monster' before spoiling the character...?
After weeks of speculation about Lithuania's best known connoisseur of fava beans and nice Chianti being brought to the small screen, it appears that the rumours are true and that the NBC network is producing the project. Rather than going down the usual pilot route, however, it seems that screenwriter Bryan Fuller, most notable for his work on Pushing Daisies and Star Trek's Voyager and Deep Space Nine, is on board and is writing a script which, if approved by the network, will secure a 13-episode commitment that will focus on Lecter's early days and his cat-and-mouse games with his greatest nemesis, FBI profiler Will Graham.
Now I love the character of Hannibal Lecter, first introduced to the world by reclusive author Thomas Harris in his 1981 Red Dragon novel (and first played on screen - in Michael Mann's 1986 adaptation Manhunter - by Brian Cox, before Anthony Hopkins indelibly branded his stamp of the character into the public's psyche); but I'm worried that the good doctor is going to fall prey to that most deadly of curses that seem to strike down nearly all of our favourite monsters sooner or later - namely that we get to find out too damn much about them, to the point where they cease to be frightening, or, even worse, interesting.
"My heart sank when Hannibal Rising was announced, because I already knew all I needed to know about my favourite cannibalistic psychiatrist, and any further back story that explained why he did what he did was, frankly, surplus to requirements"
It could be argued that this has already happened with Lecter in the wake of Harris's 2006 'Hannibal Rising' novel and the following year's film, both of which were greeted with mixed reviews - though to be fair to Harris he was well and truly stuck between a rock and a hard place. Having had no desire to revisit his most famous creation, Harris acquiesced only after producer Dino De Laurentis told him that if he didn't write the prequel then he would find somebody who would.
As a fan of Harris's first three Lecter books - Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal – and their subsequent film adaptations, including two for Red Dragon (though personally I far prefer Michael Mann's stylish 1986 Manhunter, starring future CSI actor William Petersen, to Brett Ratner's eponymous 2002 remake, with Ralph Fiennes), my heart sank when Hannibal Rising was announced, because I already knew all I needed to know about my favourite cannibalistic psychiatrist, and any further back-story that explained why he did what he did was, frankly, surplus to requirements.
As a result I've never read Hannibal Rising or seen Peter Webber's movie, because I refuse to have another of my favourite monsters explained away to me by Hollywood just so they can milk another movie from a franchise. To illustrate my point about this de-clawing of celluloid's best bad guys, let me offer up a couple of examples.
From the first time I saw Darth Vader, a long time ago in a place far, far away (well, 1977 in a Canadian movie theatre, actually), his black cape swishing around him as he marched onto the Tantive IV flanked by his gleaming white storm troopers, I was captivated by the sheer presence of this towering man/machine thing. There was no question in my seven year-old mind that this Dark Lord of the Sith was anything but evil, and certainly no need for any further explanation.
As the Star Wars story unfolded, this big bad black hulk snapped necks, destroyed defenceless planets and killed kindly old Jedi knights before, but for the timely assistance of his roguish smuggler friend, almost taking out the hero of the piece, a young farmer called Luke Skywalker whose father had apparently been murdered by this dastardly villain in a huge climactic space battle.
Why did he do all this? I had no idea, and furthermore I didn't want or need to know why. All that mattered was that Darth Vader was bad, and by extension that was the simple but perfectly acceptable reason for the terrible and nasty things that he did.
As the original trilogy unfolded, we found out a few things about Vader's past that provided a tantalising glimpse into his character – he had been involved in something called the Clone Wars, and was apparently the last of his kind, the Sith – but I never wanted to know everything. For me, the mystery was far more interesting and satisfying than a full biography. Thanks to the power of my imagination, I could speculate with my friends what his, quite literally, life-changing battle with his old friend turned foe Ben 'Obi Wan' Kenobi on a distant lava planet had been like. I didn't need to see it for myself.
"I was ultimately disappointed and disillusioned to discover that the mighty, menacing, malicious Darth Vader was little more than the galaxy's grumpiest emo kid all grown up"
However, 22 years after I first encountered Vader, The Phantom Menace (1999) arrived and George Lucas decided to whip away the curtain and reveal the boy behind the monster, introducing us to an irritating nine year old called Anakin Skywalker who was, we were to believe, going to grow up to become the most feared cyborg in the galaxy. Things got worse in 2002's Attack of the Clones, with Anakin having turned into a moody, whining, love sick nineteen year-old before finally becoming the dullest man in the universe in 2005's Revenge of the Sith.
As much as I'd pined for years for more Star Wars adventures, and had gotten excited over the prospect of the fabled prequels that George Lucas had spoken of finally becoming a reality, the truth is that I, like many Star Wars fans of my generation, was ultimately disappointed and disillusioned to discover that the mighty, menacing, malicious Darth Vader was little more than the galaxy's grumpiest emo kid all grown up.
(Don't even get me started on my all time favourite Star Wars character Boba Fett and the cruel shattering of all my previous deification of the galaxy's most feared bounty hunter by showing me him as a floppy haired tyke trailing around after his virtually identikit father, who appeared to have been shoehorned into the prequels for no other reason than to sell more toys.)
A few years later I discovered another of my soon-to-be-favoured monsters in the shape of a very troubled individual with the fairly ordinary name (compared to Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, anyway) of Michael Myers.
Back in 1978 when horror maestro John Carpenter unleashed his classic Halloween onto the world, he not only gave us one of the finest horror movies ever made, but one of the most iconic masked maniacs the world had ever seen – one Michael Aubrey Myers. Hiding behind a two-dollar William Shatner mask and fond of large kitchen knives, Myers sliced and diced his way through the sleepy Illinois town of Haddonfield with one singular purpose – to kill his sister Laurie Strode (scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis).
Though we knew what he wanted to do (or at least we did once Halloween II (1980) came out and a couple of crucial scenes revealing the family link were added into the television version of the first movie), we had no clue why, and this lack of motive coupled with his complete absence of emotion made Michael Myers a positively terrifying prospect.
Even though the first movie's novelization (written by Curtis Richards, but long out of print) offers an explanation for Michael's behaviour being down to some ancient curse, and later films in the classic run of Halloween films, which ended with 2002's Halloween: Resurrection, tried to pin his raison d'etre on the Cult of Thorn, it took Rob Zombie's 2007 remake to finally jump the shark as far as Haddonfield's least favourite son was concerned.
"While all this additional information hasn't diminished my love for them as characters, it has stripped them of some of the mystery and wonder that they instilled in me in their earlier movies"
Whereas young Michael in Carpenter's original movie is seen only as a cold, emotionless pint sized killer in the short but very effective opening scenes, Zombie's film takes the best part of an hour to show us what a troubled young man Myers was, complete with textbook, and clichéd, animal torture, and what seems like endless scenes of him either scowling at Doctor Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, the one light in an otherwise dull movie) or building Papier-mâché masks in his room.
Thus, like George Lucas had done with Darth Vader, Rob Zombie succeeded in reducing the previously frightening and mysterious Michael Myers, for whom I had formerly had a perverse kind of respect for, into another annoying brat with a biography that could have come out of any serial-killer-of-the-week movie.
Sadly I could go on. Over the years I've found out more than I really wanted to know about Springfield's favourite child killer turned dream stalker, Crystal Lake's least popular camper, Fairvale's cross dressing motel owner, and Hell's leather clad high priest of cranial DIY than I really wanted to. While all this additional information hasn't diminished my love for them as characters, it has stripped them of some of the mystery and wonder that they instilled in me in their earlier movies.
So while some may be interested in the early life of the charming but deadly Doctor Lecter, I think I'll stick with what I know of his past from Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, and their respective cinematic incarnations, and call it quits. After all, even the good doctor would surely agree that whether dining on long pig or literature, too much of what you fancy may end up giving you indigestion.
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