I confess to being underwhelmed by Hannibal (TV version) despite hearing rave reports. One Facebook admirer diagnosed the show’s problem as “the FBI is stupid and everyone’s a serial killer,” which is about right. The FBI part is a bigger problem. I’m at episode 11. There’s a character who was missing for several years, presumed dead. Then that character’s severed arm turns up (it’s that kind of show). Nobody is surprised that the arm is apparently still fresh, nobody thinks to check if it has been frozen, nobody speculates that the arm’s owner might still be alive. I’m betting that the arm’s owner is still alive, but I’ll be annoyed either way.

But apart from shoddy thinking — a show about an FBI agent who can think like a serial killer, whose writers can’t even think like an FBI agent — the show’s problems are hard to diagnose. Fiona complains of a lack of humour, and while it’s true that for a series with one of The Kids in the Hall playing a pathologist and Eddie Izzard as a murderer, it isn’t very funny,but  there are dashes here and there. It obviously owes a debt to The X Files, which borrowed the typed-on place name subtitles from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (and Hannibal borrows Gillian Anderson), but X Files, even outside of the remarkable episodes written by Darin Morgan, had a streak of dry wit just below the surface.


Hugh Dancy is a more vulnerable Will Graham that William Petersen was in MANHUNTER, despite not being tiny and wee with bandy legs. Mads Mikkelsen is a very good Lecter — while Brian Cox played it casual, which was very effective (he spoke of Michael Mann cutting different takes together so that the character’s intensity fluctuated in an unpredictable way), Mikkelsen underplays to the point of coma, his stillness adding creep factor — if the show could afford to slow down, he would really register.

Despite the oceans of gore, we’re not scared — we’re tired of serial killers and their art installations. When they graduated from making corpses into angels with their flayed backs spread out as wings, to assembling a giant totem pole of body parts  on a deserted beach, Fiona’s reaction was hilarity, which I don’t think tells you something scary about her, though I may be biased.

Hannibal himself reminds me irrestistibly of the guy from Electric Six.

One thing that really charmed me, however, was the scene where Hugh/Will goes sleepwalking, and one of his adopted stray dogs tags along. Sleepwalkies! It’s a good idea. I liked owning a dog, but I got tired of standing in the rain waiting for it to poop. You never met charming girls and got your leashes tangled (another area in which the movies lied to me). But if you could walk them in your sleep… and if your dog was trained as a guide dog so it could keep you out of the path of traffic…

Nice that a show in which the serial killers outnumber the non-serial-killers should offer such a quaint and useful lifestyle tip.


The scariest thing on Hannibal is this silent, smiling Lilliputian throng, advertising America’s Got Talent. The latest in unobtrusive advertising.


17 Responses to “Sleepwalkies”

  1. The serial-killer-art-installation was done to perfection by Ridley Scott in Hannibal (which I much prefer to The Silence of the Lambs and all the other variants)

  2. That’s funny, I DID meet a couple girlfriends walking my dog. Did you have an ugly dog?

  3. It seems like everyone on the show is in some sort of trance.

  4. The X-Files had the same trancelike quality. Makes it hard to tell when people are sleepwalking.

    I still haven’t seen Ridley Scott’s Hannibal. I didn’t much like the book, and Fiona didn’t care for the film. Do we really want to see Hannibal and Clarice get together?

    The family dogs were always quite good-looking specimens, so I suspect the problem may have been at the other end of the leash.

  5. David Boxwell Says:

    Hugh’s American accent is very good, but suffers from a bit of studious overenunciation. Many American viewers have complained that MM’s accent is hard to understand. (And they refuse to watch with close-captioning on, like subtitles at one of them furrin’ movin’ pitchers).

    Best thing: ravishingly beautiful foodporn shots, inspired by Washington-based Spanish chef Jose Andres, the “gastronomic consultant.”

  6. Fiona W Says:

    I read the book and saw the film. Both were enjoyable in a trashy way but not exactly good. Of course, the film comes up trumps with the astonishing scene where a still conscious Ray Liotta is fed bits of his own brain.

  7. I first became aware of the fact that a person could consciously interfere with their own brain, using local anesthetic, via the play Memories of Amnesia directed by my hero Ken Campbell. At the climax, the protagnosist performs brain surgery on himself using a couple of mirrors and an assistant. It doesn’t end well.

  8. Hannibal and Clarice don’t get together. Hannibal wants Clarice to witness his crimes because she has come closest to “understanding” him.

    It’s rather like 84 Charing Cross Road in that respect.

  9. Penfold Says:

    Thinking about the previous piece and the career longevity of Esmond Knight, Ridley Scott”s Hannibal features – as one of the victims, an elderly monk, Robert Rietty; child actor turned character actor and voice artist; as Bobby Rietti he appeared as The Professor in the recently-released-by-BFI British version of Emil and The Detectives (1935) – his fourteenth film already, and is still with us and seemingly only recently retired – as recently as Little Britain……75 years on from his debut.

  10. David E: Ah, then the end of the movie is different from the book… It was the deal-breaker that made Jodie Foster not want any part of the sequel.

    Hard to beat Rietty for longevity then! Norman Lloyd is giving him some good competition though.

  11. Skywatcher Says:

    David Ehrenstein: Given that Hopkins is both Lecter and the male lead in 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD, I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to watch the latter movie in the same way again.

    Robert Rietty certainly deserves some sort of gong for longest career, although Sir Christopher Lee did his first telly back in 1946, which certainly makes him a distinguished runner-up. Johannes Heesters, a Dutch actor, died at age 107. He worked to the end, having started at 17. I don’t think that a 90 year career will prove easy to beat!

  12. I have to massively disagree with you on this, David, while completely understanding why you see it the way you do. I watched all of S1 of Hannibal perched uncomfortably on the fence, unsure whether this was just a pretentious Dexter variant with great casting, or something very different. The problematic area is the ‘killer of the week’ phase it went through for quite a chunk of S1. The mushroom people were genuinely nightmarish & upsetting, but a lot of the other cases just seemed a bit… silly, and overly aestheticised (though at least the killers tend to be equal opportunity employers, Hannibal doesn’t go for what a friend of mine calls ‘blue tit’ scenes gloating over naked dead women).


    If you do stick with it, I think you might see why people like myself & Anne Billson are fans. The story arc that goes through S1 & S2 is much more about the courtship between Hannibal & Will Graham than it is about any kind of policier storyline. The FBI are almost irrelevant to the way things play out. What Bryan Fuller seems to be principally engaged with is an exploration of that old crime fiction cliché, “You and I are more alike than you know”, pushing it to the very limits, to the point where Hannibal & Will pretty much exchange roles at least twice across the overall series.

    Put that together with an astonishingly and increasingly slow & hypnotic pace (eps 11 & 12 of S2 started to feel extraordinarily like Chris Morris’s Blue Jam radio show, in fact) and a mise en scene that is based around two-hander dialogue scenes following one after the other, and you get something that’s weirdly reminiscent of the stiltedly beautiful work of Radley Metzger or mid-period Robbe-Grillet, more than conventional US TV.

    Basically, I don’t think this can be read as ‘realism’, or any kind of offshoot of CSI or similar shows. It’s an obsessive, fetishistic creation of the kind that horror cinema used to be full of, but now – with this and American Horror Story leading the way – television seems far more suited to. I can’t think of a recent horror movie that’s given me as much pleasure and amazement as these two shows. And the end of S2 is de Sadean in its treatment of the audience….

  13. Well, I’m sold. I have to admit I was already planning to try season 2, just because that cliffhanger was very strong.

    Yet to be really scared yet, although the visual style is strong and mad Mads is unnerving. The suggestion that it improves is all I need.

    As for Hopkins, this is one of the best things ever:

  14. I don’t find it scary either, but it’s often very very unnerving, that’s for sure.

  15. “You never met charming girls and got your leashes tangled (another area in which the movies lied to me). ”
    Well, poor you, then. But the movies never lied to me on this subject, because I have never been remotely interested in meeting charming girls while walking my dogs (nor while engaged in any other activity), but happily I *have* met a number of charming young men. And occasionally our leashes have tangled. Ahem.
    The movies, of course, frequently plagued as they are by ghastly heteronormative impulses, never bother to imagine that guys, too, might Meet Cute in the Dog Park, so I never felt lied to, just totally excluded from certain pop-culture visions.
    And btw, you never “owned” a dog. None of us do. Dogs, if we’re playing it right, completely own us. Wondrous beasts that they are.

  16. Yeah, I did have a vague impression, based on what I don’t know, that gay men had more luck dog-walking than I did. And it has to give one a better chance than sitting around at home, so I shouldn’t knock it.

    The independence of the dog is something I question more the longer I have a cat, even a rather devoted and doggy Siamese. A dog is a bit like a kept woman, a cat is more like the girl/s in That Obscure Object of Desire.

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