Not many books have managed to shock me and scare me as much as Red Dragon did. I originally read Red Dragon in Greek ten years ago. The cheap paperback has not been touched since (as is the case with most of my Greek-translated books). Last week I decided to reread Red Dragon, this time in English though. I was surprised to discover how scary the book still is. Red Dragon follows Will Graham in his attempt to arrest a serial killer who calls himself the Red Dragon (Francis Dolarhyde) and has brutally killed two families. The truth is, I’ve been meaning to revisit Thomas Harris’s novels for a long time, thanks to NBC’s Hannibal. Hannibal premiered in 2013, and its first two season cover the events that happened before Red Dragon. In season three we will finally meet Francis Dolarhyde.
I am an enthusiastic fan and supporter of remakes and adaptations. I don’t mind if the primary material is a bit overlooked. I am willing to accept a deviation from the literary or cinematic canon for the sake of interesting storytelling. And yet, at first I was sceptical about the idea of a show dedicated to everybody’s favourite cannibal, Doctor Hannibal Lecter. Even if you’ve never read Thomas Harris’s books or never seen the movies, you most likely have heard of Hannibal Lecter. The notorious Doctor Lecter made his first—and relatively short—appearance in Red Dragon. The Silence of the Lambs and, of course, Hannibal solidified Lecter’s place among the most terrifying fictional characters of all time. My doubts towards the show were expressed in the following ponderings: What if the show somehow demystifies Hannibal’s mythology by taking us too close to him? Can the show live up to the fictional characters we first met in the books? What if the show destroys Hannibal Lecter? Needless to say, Hannibal simply works.
These days my default answer to everything is “turn it into a show”. No, I don’t want a new Harry Potter movie, I need a Harry Potter show, I need all the details and the character development the movies lacked (I also desperately need some Tom Riddle flashbacks, good job cutting out the most interesting parts of Half-Blood Prince!). This is one of the many reasons why I absolutely love Hannibal. The show takes its time with each character, giving us enough time to get to know them better, but also to understand what happens in Red Dragon. We find out more about Will Graham and his special ability to get in the mind of serial killers. We get to see Hannibal out of his cell, interacting with people, practising psychiatry, cooking delicious looking—yet cannibalistic—dishes. The originally male characters of Freddy Lounds and Alan Bloom are both female, Jack Crawford is much more likeable than in the book, and Will has a lot of dogs, so every now and then after a gruesome murder we see the dogs and think “They’re so cute! I have completely forgotten of that scene with the flesh angels”. My favourite character of the show has to be Frederick Chilton (Chilton and his impeccable sense of style). Hannibal is a risky show, and at times I wonder how some episodes aired on TV. Still, it is one of the most well-made and aesthetically pleasing shows that are now on air. “Aesthetically pleasing” isn’t a phrase usually associated with cannibalism and serial killers, but this show is the epitome of it. In terms of the story, Hannibal isn’t just a prequel to Red Dragon, it’s a necessary backstory to a very creepy and scary story. The show explores Will Graham growing relationship with Hannibal Lecter and gives us an insight into Will’s mind and abilities. It helps that Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy have such an amazing chemistry. Also, I think Mads Mikkelsen ruined Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal for me.
Hannibal isn’t the first time the Red Dragon appeared on screen. The first movie based on Red Dragon is Manhunter (1986), a decent movie ruined by the happy ending. The 2002 movie adaptation of Red Dragon has an impressive cast of Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal Lecter), Edward Norton (Will Graham), Ralph Fiennes (Francis Dolarhyde), Emily Watson (Reba McClane) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Freddy Lounds). The movie is a somewhat accurate adaptation of the book, with the omission of two or three sub-plots and the slight change of the ending (Side note: seriously, why are people so inclined to give a happy ending to this story? There is no happy ending in Red Dragon). Also, Lecter’s presence is expanded in a smart and certainly entertaining way (even though Alan Bloom was completely cut from the movie and his lines now belong to Hannibal). I hope the show will follow the book until the end and won’t be tempted to also opt for a happy-ish ending (and if you’ve read the book you know what I mean…). The addition of Richard Armitage and Rutina Wesley (playing the roles of Francis Dolarhyde and Reba) to an already amazing cast makes me have high hopes for this season. If you’re looking for a new show to obsess over, Hannibal is here for you! The third season of Hannibal premieres tonight on NBC.