Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Selma Ruins Hannibal

The other night I started watching the new Hannibal TV show. I was actually pretty excited; I can't resist anything with cops and I enjoyed the Edward Norton Red Dragon movie (to an extent. To the extent that Edward Norton was in it). I'm going to compare the show mainly to the two movies and one Red Dragon book, since that's the closest parallel. Even though the events of Hannibal the show take place before Red Dragon, the subject matter is essentially the same.

The idea behind the show is great. I love the conceit of two men toeing the line between good and evil; one on each side and close enough to touch. You can watch them influence each other, and wonder what it might lead to. The good in Graham highlights the good (or at least... the charming and sympathetic) in Hannibal, and the evil in Hannibal seems very close to the surface in Graham.

That being said, I don't think it's ever been executed particularly well.

I freely admit, this is a HARD concept to pull off. The fundamental nature of this relationship is that it's two brilliant minds clashing with each other. Therefore, the show/movie/book has to portray two believably brilliant characters and their interactions. That is not an easy feat. There's a reason that most stories about geniuses are told through the lens of an everyman.

In the books and movies, I think the main problem tends to be veering into the ridiculous. Cannibals aren't exactly the most subtle subject, and THEY ARE NOT EVEN THE BIGGEST PROBLEM HERE. I mean, the villain of the Red Dragon book and movie is called the Tooth Fairy.

The show suffers from a similar problem, in that it's about as subtle as a piano falling off a cliff. Into a bear trap. That's run over by Optimus Prime.

Either the show thinks we're stupid or it's clawing desperately at every semi-clever idea it comes across. Every point is repeated a zillion times (OKAY WE GET IT GRAHAM IS AUTISTIC FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP TELLING US ABOUT HOW HE HATES EYE CONTACT). And when they do get hold of a nifty idea, they BEAT IT INTO THE GROUND. Like when Graham comes across a dog on the way home from a crime scene. Dogs are known to be man's best friend, and good judges of character. We see that this clearly domesticated dog (as evidenced by the leash and collar still tied to it) has to be convinced with food and patience to come anywhere near him. When it does, he takes it home and takes care of it. That's a pretty clever way to show that Graham is trying to reconnect with his humanity.

But then Graham says, "Say hello to the family," and we see FIFTEEN FRIGGING OTHER DOGS IN THE HOUSE. Good lord, show! We get it! He really really really is worried about the state of his humanity! Do tell!

On top of that, Graham just doesn't look the part. When Edward Norton played the role he looked tired and wan, but there was clearly iron in him. You believed that he was a man on the edge holding it together by force of will.

In the show, Graham twitches with nerves all the time. He looks on the edge of a breakdown, but not the kind where you'd turn into a serial killer. More like the kind with a lot of crying jags involved.
I mean come on, he looks like Robin Williams and Q
had a lovechild!
And to be honest, the constant fantasy sequences where he acts out a killer's deeds or sees their handiwork just served to make it feel even more exaggerated and cartoonish. Then Thranduil's party elk showed up to hover symbolically outside his window and it just... no.

"Do not fall down these evil paths, my son. The dude
abides. I promise you, the dude abides."

"Son, do not attempt to jack my swagger."

Not to mention Hannibal himself. I'm fairly certain his directing consisted entirely of "BE MORE EVIL". With Anthony Hopkin's Hannibal, there was an aura of menace but he was also capable of looking harmless and grandfatherly. This guy? There is no way anyone would trust this guy to hold their ice cream cone, let alone to be involved in a criminal investigation. He oozes slime.

Come on, I'm pretty sure you can do better than this,
c'mon, really FEEL the evil...
There you go.
While there were a few clever touches I liked (the best of which was Hannibal's careful interactions with Graham, where he comes to Graham on his own terms and reinforces his behavior with continued patient interaction and oblique compliments), it wasn't worth it overall. Unless you enjoy your thrillers being administered with a sledgehammer, I'd give this one a pass.

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