Before I start this review I must state a couple of things that some could say is a conflict of interest and may affect this and other reviews. First I am friends with Hannibal producer and writer of Bryan Fuller. While I had known about Hannibal for a long time I want to state that my friendship with Bryan does not influence this review in any manner. I work for Radius 60 that is a post production facility that work on many different titles for many of the major Hollywood studios. One of those studios is Lionsgate and we in fact did the post production of both the Blu-Ray and the DVD for them. Again both of these did not influence this or any other review or opinions stated on this website. So with that out-of-the-way let’s get on to the review.
Hannibal Season One
Based upon the Thomas Harris novels; Series Created, Produced, and Written by Bryan Fuller; Executive Producers Martha De Laurentiis, David Slade, & Katie O’Connell; Written by Chris Brancato, Steve Lightfoot, Scott Nimerfro, Jennifer Schuur, and Bryan Fuller; Directed by David Slade , Guillermo Navarro , Michael Rymer, and Tim Hunter; Starring Hugh Dancy (Will Graham), Mads Mikkelsen (Dr. Hannibal Lecter), Caroline Dhavernas (Dr. Alana Bloom), Laurence Fishburne (Jack Crawford), Hettienne Park (Beverly Katz), Scott Thompson (Jimmy Price), and Aaron Abrams (Brian Zeller); Music by Brian Reitzell; Cinematography by James Hawkinson and Karim Hussain; Edited by Michael Doherty, Stephen Philipson, and Ben Wilkinson; Production Designer Matthew Davis; Art Direction Brad Milburn; Casting by Tina Gerussi
Hannibal is a character created by Thomas Harris and is composed of four books in the series, Red Dragon (1981), The Silence of the Lambs (1988), Hannibal (1999) and Hannibal Rising (2006). The first adaptation was the 1986 film Manhunter directed by Michael Mann starring William Peterson as Will Graham and Brian Cox as Dr. Hannibal Lector and did not fare well at the box office or with the critics and the public. It wasn’t until 1991 adaption of The Silence of the Lambs that made Hannibal Lector a household name. Directed by Jonathan Demme and Starring Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal, Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling and Screenplay by Ted Tally. The film was a huge box office success and went on the win the top 5 Academy Awards. There were 2 other film adaptations that met with less success both box office and critically 2001 Hannibal Directed by Ridley Scott and 2002 Red Dragon Directed by Brett Ratner
Martha De Laurentiis wanting to get the franchise re-started had a chance meeting with Bryan Fuller and being a fan of the horror genre came up with his take on the characters and how he would do a television series. And this leads us to Hannibal Season One. The first thing is that the show starts three seasons before the events in Harris’s first novel Red Dragon. The first season has 13 episodes in the first story arc.
Episode 1 Aperitif: A graphic double murder has taken place in a residential neighborhood. Will Graham, a brilliant but socially awkward savant, is examining the crime scene. Putting himself in the mind of the criminal, Will uses extreme focus to hone in on the details of the murder. Every bullet was shot with expert precision. The killer tapped the phones in the house a week prior in order to record a conversation between one of the victims and her security company. When the murder was committed, the culprit played her voice back to keep the authorities at bay. Whoever did this was a pro.
Episode 2 Amuse-Bouche: Will Graham’s deadly encounter with Garret Jacob Hobbs is still affecting him. Jack Crawford wakes Will up from a bad daydream at the site of Hobb’s cabin in Minnesota. The cabin is rustic and littered with animal parts in various states of decay. Upstairs, the loft is splattered with deer antlers, almost from the floor to the ceiling. Jack informs Will about tips that Hobbs spent lots of time at the cabin with his daughter. Could she be an accomplice? Will doesn’t buy the theory, as Abigail is still in a coma from stab wounds her father inflicted. Nevertheless, Jack insists, pondering whether Abigail was the bait Hobbs used to reel his victims in.
Episode 3 Potage: In a flashback, Abigail Hobbs is hunting with her father Garret Jacob, the murderer killed by Will Graham. It’s clear Abigail is traumatized when she shoots a deer, but her father reassures her they’re not committing murder if they use every part of the animal. He hands her a knife and explains how to cut the animal; she reluctantly slices into the beast’s sternum. Later on, Alana Bloom visits Will Graham’s house with news: Abigail Hobbs has awoken from her coma.
Episode 4 CEUF (Unaired in the US): A series of family murders takes place, and Will determines they were conducted by each of the families’ missing children, who were abducted and brainwashed into killing their old families for their “new family.” Against Alana’s advice, Hannibal checks Abigail out of the hospital for some frightening psychiatric practices that ultimately align her loyalty with him.
Episode 5 Coquilles (Producers Cut): An unnerving bout of sleepwalking, that ends with Will walking down a deserted stretch of Northern Virginia back road in the middle of the night, proves serious enough for Will to visit Dr. Lecter. Hannibal thinks this new disorder in Will is an offshoot of post-traumatic stress, from his recent emotionally intensive cases. Jack Crawford, in Dr. Lecter’s eyes, hasn’t been the most scrupulous boss when it comes to handling Will’s expertise, and it’s beginning to take its toll.
Episode 6 Entree (Producers Cut): Dr. Abel Gideon lies unconscious on the floor of his maximum-security cell in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Transported to an emergency room, a nurse rushes to revive Dr. Gideon and stabilize his vitals, but the “unconscious” man slowly picks the locks of his handcuffs and frees himself. When the nurse turns around, it’s already too late. Will and Jack are called to the scene, where they meet a doctor in the facility. Dr. Gideon has been placed back in his holding cell, but his murder of the nurse is beyond gruesome. Will finds the dead nurse lying on a gurney, privacy poles protruding out of her in all directions like spears. The in-house doctor tells Will he thinks the reason they failed to catch the Chesapeake Ripper was because they already had him.
Episode 7 Sorbet: Jack and Will receive a call about another possible Chesapeake Ripper slaying. A man lies dead in his hotel bathroom, with blood everywhere from dismantled sutures and open wounds. Will closes his eyes and enters the mind of the killer. From the entryway, Will envisions the victim stumbling around, still woozy from failing anesthesia, attempting to open his sutures. When the victim notices Will, he reacts violently in self-defense, and Will forcefully tosses him into the bathtub. When the victim convulses, Will rips open his ribcage and attempts to massage the man’s heart from the inside, hoping to keep him alive. He fails. Back in the present, Will tells Jack this wasn’t brutal, but clumsy. The surgeon they’re looking for tried to keep his victim alive. Did the Chesapeake Ripper ever do that?
Episode 8 Fromage (Producers Cut): In a chordophone string shop, a young pupil plays the cello as his teacher, Tobias, looks on. The understudy struggles with the strings, and comments on how they feel different then usual. “Are all cello strings made from cats’ guts?” he asks Tobias. Tobias says, “Not all of them,” and in flashback, we see Tobias extract the intestines from a human being and convert them into instrument strings. Back in the present moment, it becomes clear Tobias’ student is unwittingly playing a particularly macabre cello.
Episode 9 Trou Normand: In her psychiatric hospital, Abigail Hobbs irrationally holds herself responsible for the murders her father committed; if only Abigail were dead instead of Garrett Jacob’s victims, the innocents would still be alive. Meanwhile, in Grafton, West Virginia, the FBI finds a totem pole composed of human corpses on a snow-covered beach. Only one of the bodies is recently killed – the rest were dug up. Jack clears the crime scene and allows Will to dive inside the mind of the killer. Will realizes that whoever did this utilized careful premeditation; they wanted their last, still breathing victim to watch it all before they died. And then, once the totem pole was assembled, the killer stabbed his final victim in the heart and placed his corpse at the very top. This was his design.
Episode 10 Buffet Froid (Producers Cut): It’s a rainy night in Greenwood, Delaware, and Beth LeBeau is just getting ready for bed. As she tucks herself in, Beth notices a leak coming from the ceiling and goes to the attic to check it out. There is a hole in the side of her roof, and Beth quickly patches it up with some plastic wrap before going back to bed. What she doesn’t know is that the hole was man-made. Back in her room, hands reach out from underneath Beth’s bed and yank her under; the splattering of blood that follows marks her end. Elsewhere, Will meets with Hannibal and discusses his regret of the innocence he lost after killing Garrett Hobbs. Hannibal tries to get Will to live intentionally in the present by having him draw a clock, but the doodle Will gives Hannibal is vexingly askew. Something is wrong with Will.
Episode 11 ROTI: Dr. Chilton has been accused of psychic driving by his patient Gideon; it seems the killer is directing blame on his handler for convincing him he was the Chesapeake Ripper. Over dinner, Dr. Chilton wonders aloud to Hannibal if this will mark the end of his career – a very public court date is pending. In his home, Will has a nightmare that he’s drowning in an oceanic expanse; the caverns of his mind have revolted against him. Later, Dr. Chilton oversees Gideon’s transportation from cell to armored truck as his patient is taken to his court hearing.
Episode 12 Releves (Producers Cut): Late at night, Will wanders the halls of the hospital and visits Georgia, the psychotic girl who was suffering from jaundice. She looks better now, as does Will. But Georgia warns Will about the doctors; they will never understand what’s “wrong” with him. They’ll have multiple treatments, but deep down, they never know. Hannibal visits Will. Together, the two talk about his hallucinations and loss of time. Hannibal is worried Will has something more than just a fever. Will may have dementia. When Hannibal asks about Georgia, Will says he doesn’t think she wants to recover. Who could blame her? In her incubator, Georgia combs her hair, and a spark ignites the heavy oxygen surrounding her. She bursts into flames and dies.
Episode 13 Savoureux:Will Graham is slipping into a state of dementia. He can no longer differentiate between reality and hallucinations. Will tells Hannibal he took Abigail to Minnesota, but didn’t come back with her – and now, Will has no idea where she is; Dr. Lecter asks Will to show him. Together the two go back to Minnesota, where Hannibal “finds” an ear in the kitchen sink. Dr. Lecter says they can’t run from this problem. They’ll have to call Jack.
Now I have been a fan of all of Bryan’s shows before I was lucky enough to meet him. He has really created some of the most endearing shows that still live long after they were cancelled well before their time. Dead Like Me (2003), Wonderfalls (2004), The Amazing Screw-On Head (2006), Pushing Daisies (2007), Mockingbird Lane (2012) and now Hannibal. If you have not seen any of his previous shows I highly recommend them if you are a fan of his current Hannibal. I have to admit that when Bryan told me he was working on Hannibal I was less than thrilled. While I’m a fan of his I really felt that we didn’t really need another stab at Hannibal because after Silence of the Lambs none of the other adaptions have been that great. And as a television show I was afraid that it was going to turn into serial killer of the week procedural show. I was fortunate enough to see the first two episodes of Hannibal before they premiered at this springs WonderCon Anaheim where I was impressed with the first two episodes (Read about that here) it was the third episode that let me breath a sigh of relief. I soon discovered that the show was in fact about WIll Graham and that Hannibal while well know to the audience was not known to the characters in the show because he had not become THAT Hannibal Lector yet. The great thing about the show is that it’s Will that we are able to attach to and he helps guide us through the season. Even though he is mentally being pushed off the deep end we still emotionally bond with him. Fuller has wisely kept it from turning into a serial killer of the week show because there is a great overall arc for the first season that is the real meat of the series. Bryan has said that the fourth season of the show will be the Red Dragon novel. This would mean that the first season is roughly three years before the events in that book. That give the show a lot of room to breath before we get there. Even though the show is on NBC, the network has allowed Bryan a pretty wide berth when it comes to the themes and the gore of the show. While not a blood fest I think that having some perimeters on a show like this makes you work smarter than if you have no boundaries. I have always been a person that less is sometimes more when it comes to the horror genre. A lot of the effects on the show are practical effects that are enhanced with digital visual effects and it makes a big difference. You can never beat makeup effects on a show like this because using digital blood looks downright awful when used alone. Trust me I have seen way too many low-budget films that use digital blood and it is just awful and look so fake it’s not even funny.
Bryan has not only amassed a great behind the scenes crew but having a great crew is only part of the equation. Casting is key for a show like this to work and Bryan’s casting magic streak continues with Hannibal. Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham is the glue that hold this house together. His emotional range is unbelievable and it seems so effortless. Mads Mikkelsen probably had the toughest job due to the fact that Anthony Hopkins is so well-known as Hannibal from the films that casting this version of Lector had to be extremely difficult. Mikklesen bring a humanity to Hannibal that is quite surprising. He plays it with such ease that it’s hard to imagine that anyone but Millelsen could play Hannibal. Caroline Dhavenas whom I loved in Bryan’s Wonderfalls series is a welcome return. She plays Bloom with great low-key but she has to keep her emotions at bay for Graham that is so subtle and she keeps it close to the vest. Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford has a hard surface due to the nature of his job but when he find out about his wife’s illness he opens an emotional fountain that very few actors are able to tap into. He brings many dimensions to a charter that could have been so one-sided. Hettienne Park, Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams are a bit of comic relief of the show but they all play both serious and dark humor so well. Along with a great headlining cast Bryan always cast smaller roles so well and has brought many actors that were on his previous shows such as Eddie Izzard, Raul Esparza, Ellen Muth and Ellen Green. But the big score was getting Dana Scully herself Gillian Anderson to play Hannibal’s psychiatrist was not only super cool but a really small but important role. She has to be able to hold her own against Mikkelsen and she does the dance with him so well.
The 13 first season episodes are spread over 3 discs and the video is AVC encoded with a 1.78 aspect ratio. The audio is English DTS-Master Audio 5.1 lossless audio with English, English SDH and Spanish subtitles. The series is shot digitally in 2K and the Blu-Ray captures the original source material quite well. The black levels are deep and solid. The colors are also spot on while times the colors are robust and bright and other times muted and sparse depending on the scene and what the color palate calls for. The original master source is obviously processed to make it look more like film than digital. There is no edge enhancements that are noticeable and the overall picture is nice with razor-sharp details. There are no noticeable artifacting or compression issues in the picture.The audio is a real surprise. The 5.1 mix is simply amazing. If you watched the show when it originally aired and thought the sound was good then you are in for a real treat. The mix is strong and enveloping but also captures the subtle moments with ease but never overwhelms the dialog. The surround channels are particularly strong for an episodic television show. You can tell that the sound work was just as important as the look of the show. This is probably one of the best looking shows on television currently and should come as no surprise to Fuller fans.
It’s one thing to present the episodes in the best possible picture and sound but it’s the special features that for me make a good Blu-Ray into a great one. While not the blow out of special features, it’s a really solid offering and gives some really great insight to the show. All three discs have special features produced by Cliff Stephenson for Lionsgate Home Video.
Disc 1 Special Features:
Episode 1 Aperitif Commentary by Writer/Producer Bryan Fuller, Director David Slade and Actor Hugh Dancy. This commentary is both informative and fun. Bryan definitely keeps the ball rolling during the commentary and David and Hugh have a great time remembering while they were shooting the pilot.
Pilot Episode Storyboards: This is a still gallery that has 59 pages of script, production photos, production drawings and set designs. While this is really nice to see I just wish that it had been done in full screen instead of inside a border. it’s very hard to read the script or any notes.
Trailers (HD 5:57) Includes Mad Men season 5 promo, Nurse Jackie season 4 promo, Lionsgate television shows promo, and Epix trailer.
Disc 2 Special Features:
Hannibal Reborn (HD 11:12) Interviews with Martha De Laurentiis, Bryan Fuller, Hugh Dancy, and Mads Mikkelsen talk about the creation of the series, casting and the overall feel that the show was trying to do and how it was a different direction than the movies.
A Taste For Killing (HD 14:46) Bryan Fuller , Mads Mikkelsen, Martha De Laurentiis, Hugh Dancy, Jose Andres (Culinary Consultant) and Janice Poon (Food Stylist) talk about how you could use every part of the human body in cooking. Andres is obviously having a blast coming up with tasty recipes for the show and Poon makes everything so delicious looking. This sounds like it should be revolting but it’s very fascinating and shows how important this is to the story.
Gag Reel (HD 4:56) The usual flubs and misses.
Disc 3 Special Features:
Episode 13 Savoureux Commentary by Writer/Producer Bryan Fuller, Director David Slade and Actor Hugh Dancy. Another good commentary on the final episode of season one. Bryan talks about how the entire season leads up to this epsidoes and how it will affect the second season. David and Hugh talk about how hard this episode was to shoot. Another solid commentary.
A Symphony for the Slaughter (HD 11:32) Martha De Laurentiis, Bryan Fuller, David Slade, and Brian Reitzell discuss the music and sound design of the show. This is a really nice piece that explains how sound can make or break a scene.
The Fx of Murder (HD 14:23) Bryan Fuller, Robert Crowther VFX supervisor for Rocket Science, David Slade, Anthony Paterson VFX producer and Martha De Laurentiis talk about how visual effects helped enhance the practical effects and how they do it all on a tight TV budget and time limits.
Deleted Scene Will and Alana (HD 3:00) This is a scene after Will escapes he goes to Alana’s house for help.
While there are really solid special features for Hannibal I would have liked to have a few more commentaries on other key episodes with other cast and crew. I would have like to seen the SDCC panel that was packed to walls with Fannibals. And some interviews with some of the guest stars on the show. Over all the special features are solid and do provide great insight to the show. I feel that you can never have too many well done special features.
The final verdict? If you enjoy a good horror series then you’re in luck because Hannibal is a smart and well made show that has a great overall season storyline. Great writing and directing and a really stunning cast make this a really great show. The end of season one really is going to ramp up the second season story. The Blu-Ray has both top-notch picture and audio with nice supplements. I have had to watch the episodes multiple times and I can honestly say that even upon multiple viewing the series holds up well and you are always bound to find new things that you didn’t see before. While it has a $39.97 list price most stores will have it on sale this week. It’s a great addition to any home library and with the Blu-Ray offering the best picture and sound quality available.
If you like Hannibal then check out my photos from this years SDCC (HERE)