People enjoy seeing and reading about villains, and Hannibal Lecter is one of the most delicious examples of this type of character in both literature and film.
Red Dragon (1981), The Silence of the Lambs (1988), Hannibal (1999), and Hannibal Rising (2003) are the four books that make up the series authored by Thomas Harris (2006).
Moviemakers and actors have tried their hand at portraying the charismatic, cruel villain and other characters in numerous films and TV shows throughout the years.
There has been a wide range of reactions to the film and TV adaptations of Harris’s works, from Oscar-winning performances to forgettable efforts.
Since Dino and Martha De Laurentiis’s company owns a portion of the rights to the Harris characters, it had a hand in creating each film adaptation up to their deaths. Everyone has their favorite on-screen pairing of Hannibal and the FBI agent, but in the end, only two can claim victory.
Rise of Hannibal (2007)
The lowest-rated adaptation of the franchise, despite being the last book published and the last picture made, is Hannibal Rising, which focuses on the younger years of the cinema’s favorite cannibal.
Poor writing and performance prevented Peter Weber’s attempt to bring the youthful, smart Lecter to the movie from matching the success of the earlier stories in the franchise. Amazon Prime and Vudu subscribers can watch the movie for no additional cost.
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Gaspard Ulliel, who plays young Hannibal, is unable to match the sophistication and lethal charisma of his predecessors. Given the negative reviews for the novel and the steady decline of film adaptations since The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Rising is an introduction to a legendary figure that no spectator really needed or asked for.
Clarice, a series that arrived may be too late to the party, was unable to revive a series that had previously produced so many strong entries.
CBS’s drama, which aired for only one season before being canceled, followed FBI agent Clarice Starling one year after the Buffalo Bill case. Rebecca Breeds, known for her roles on The Originals and Legacies on the CW, gives voice to Starling here.
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Observers called the show a safe and boring cinematic rendition of Harris’ characters, and critics were generally unimpressed. Fans of the Hannibal franchise were dissatisfied with CBS’s decision to reimagine the show rather than pick up where NBC left off because it failed to energize the characters after the 2013 season.
The release dates for Hannibal and Red Dragon were so close together that Anthony Hopkins had to work nonstop on the Lecter scripts for both films.
In the final installment of the Harris series, Lecter has settled in Rome after his escape, while Clarice Starling is still reeling from a professional low point.
Since Jodie Foster declined the role of Starling due to creative differences, Hannibal’s adaptation stars Julianne Moore. Critics and audience members may not have liked it, but Moore did a great job with the West Virginia accent.
There was no waste of Ridley Scott’s efforts to carry on the Lecter name. When various characters were introduced in the film and then appeared in the TV series, spectators had a firm cinematic reference point from which to draw.
Though it sticks to the storyline established in the books, Hannibal is too bloody and stale to be anything more than a minor glitch in the franchise’s otherwise stellar track record.
Dragon, Red (2002)
Besides Hopkins’s return to the role, Red Dragon also features a number of notable actors in supporting roles, including Edward Norton as Will Graham, Harvey Keitel as Jack Crawford, and Ralph Fiennes as Francis Dolarhyde. Graham and Lecter’s appearance in this film is the second time they’ve shared the screen together, but it certainly won’t be the last.
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Brett Ratner’s interpretation of Lecter and Graham’s consultant/agent relationship received generally positive reviews from critics and moviegoers, establishing itself as a successful thriller that benefitted both fans and Harris.
Norton successfully maintains Graham’s persona as established in the text, making him a formidable opponent to Dolarhyde and Lecter on screen.
Fans of the franchise had a hard time going back in time to witness Lecter shortly after his imprisonment after seeing Hopkins bring him to life twice before.
Michael Mann’s 1980s film adaptation of Harris’s Red Dragon was well-received by critics and audiences alike, despite the fact that he changed the name of the villainous Dr. Lecter to the less intimidating Lektor.
Manhunter, starring William Petersen as Graham and Brian Cox as Lektor, has a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Petersen used to go after the “Tooth Fairy” and play mind games with Cox’s Dr. Lektor before he ever wore a CSI jacket.
Manhunter, the first film adaptation of Harris’s books, is an 80s-style thriller that doesn’t quite live up to the standards set by The Silence of the Lambs.
Even though the spelling of Hannibal’s name was changed, this picture is easily among the top three when it comes to Lecter’s screen appearances because of its excellent production values and compelling tale.
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