Perhaps one of network television's biggest surprises of the decade thus far, NBC's Hannibal almost instantly became a critical favorite...which typically means "swift cancellation after the first season, if not earlier". Yet the series has been renewed for a third year and, based on the strength of the first two, shows no signs of slowing down in quality.
Based on the works of Thomas Harris, creator Bryan Fuller designed this series to loosely follow characters and events from Red Dragon onward, including The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and possibly beyond. It was an risky move (especially after the last three films) but, so far, seems to have paid off handsomely. Featuring magnetic performances, impeccable set and costume design, a hypnotic atmosphere and, of course, a near-infinite number of twists and turns, Hannibal almost---almost---has no business being this good. It also wouldn't be complete without unspeakable acts of violence and gore...but parents needn't worry, because no one swears or takes their clothes off.
If I had to pick one secret weapon to Hannibal's sensory effectiveness, it would have to be composer Brian Reitzell's stunning sound design. More than just your average television soundtrack, the percussive and experimental sonic cues really enhance the psychological experience of what plays out before us. Rear channels and separation are used to great effect in the 5.1 mix, even circling around the viewer's head to keep our ears engaged. Other more peaceful moments stand in stark contrast but are no less effective. I would certainly classify myself as a "visual person" if my eyes were better, but my ears work just fine and Hannibal hits precisely the right notes. If you're the same way, I guarantee that you'll be tempted to close your eyes and simply get lost in the mix...and not just because of the visuals, which include some of the most repulsive images you'll see on the small screen. The food looks great, though.
Hannibal's first season, like this second one, ran for just 13 episodes but featured very little fat. We were first introduced to psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) and his professional relationship with Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), an FBI instructor turned criminal profiler hand-picked by Special Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) for his innate ability to "read" crime scenes. This ability, of course, came at a price: as the season progressed, Graham's exposure to a series of grisly murders slowly loosened his grip on reality. These crimes were believed to be at the hands of "The Chesapeake Ripper" and, in some cases, a copycat killer. Of course, anyone familiar with Thomas Harris and his most famous character knows who's behind the murders. Spoiler alert: he's pretty good in the kitchen.
Season 2, not surprisingly, picks up more or less where the first one left off. It cleverly turns certain characters almost completely upside down and, thankfully enough, doesn't stick to its source material like glue. Hannibal, still juggling his personal and professional exploits with extreme precision, now visits Will Graham behind bars after he's presumed guilty of committing the very murders he helped to investigate. From there, questions arise as to Will's possible innocence, including the personal motives of Dr. Frederick Chilton (Raul Esparza), administrator of Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where Will is kept. Hannibal's guilt, which Will remains adamant about, is also brought into the light. Additional suspects and other figures from the first season return, including the brilliant but sadistic Dr. Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard) and Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), Lecter's therapist who shares an unlikely personal bond with our title character. Through these next 13 episodes, Hannibal's irresistible second season moves at a similar pace to the first one: stoic and slow-burning at times, with sudden bursts of horrific violence and a spiraling second half.
Lionsgate serves up Hannibal: Season Two in a similar fashion to the first one: 13 episodes are presented on three discs, paired with a near-perfect A/V presentation and an assortment of quality supplements that elevate the already-strong series to even more considerable heights. In many respects it's even better in almost every regard, so those who enjoyed the first season won't be disappointed with this one. Just be sure to devour it in time for the next meal. 4.5.
CHEF'S NOTE: More than half of these episodes are listed on the menu as "Producer's Cuts" which, like the
first season, indicate that they were not edited for content like their broadcast counterparts.
Hannibal's exacting, consistent attention to detail pairs nicely with a 1.78:1, 1080p transfer that showcases its beautifully disturbing cinematography. The colors are often muted and lean towards earth tones, while many of the show's more gruesome moments are more richly stylized. Image detail is quite distinctive, especially during close-ups. Textures are essential to the series as well and these are rendered superbly, especially in regards to background detail. Digital imperfections are largely absent during the viewing experience, though trace amounts of banding are present during a handful of unusually lit scenes. These minor instances, however, are far from distracting and may stem from unavoidable source material issues. Regardless, Hannibal earns high marks and Lionsgate's Blu-ray does a tremendous job of letting them shine. Without question, fans of the series will find this an exquisite, captivating affair. 4.5.
CHEF'S NOTE: The promotional photos featured in this review are decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.
This enveloping DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix will delight and challenge your senses. Although viewers must be warned of its lightly intoxicating effects, the entire experience is a satisfying and crisply rendered one that will linger after the meal is complete. The dialogue pairs well with careful background effects and composer Brian Reitzell's experimental score adds a complementary layer to the meal. Hannibal's previous season displayed considerable audio development during its progression; naturally, these episodes maintain that considerable level of quality. Also available are English and SDH subtitles, which complete the experience for customers who are deaf or hearing impaired. 5.
Lionsgate's standard menu interface has always been a little cumbersome and counter-intuitive, but what's here is still organized fairly well. Unfortunately, a number of pre-menu advertisements and trailers must be skipped beforehand (mostly on Disc 1), although a helpful "Resume" feature speeds things up on subsequent viewings. The three-disc release is housed inside a hinged keepcase with a matching slipcover and a two-sided insert with episode synopses.
Our meal continues with a collection of Audio Commentaries during "Kaiseki", "Sakizuke", "Yakimono", "Takiawase", "Su-zakana", "Naka-choko", and no less than two separate tracks during "Mizumono". Featuring key cast and crew members including Bryan Fuller, Jose Andres, Hettienne Park, Raul Esparza, Hugh Dancy, and Caroline Dhavernas, these sessions go into modest detail about each respective episode and are well worth a listen. Unfortunately, like the rest of these bonus features, the lack of participation from Mads Mikkelsen and Laurence Fishburne is a slight disappointment.
Next on the menu, "This Is My Design" (82:51), is a complete breakdown of episode #5 ("Mukozuke"), which was produced between October 25, 2013 and February 7, 2014. Topics of discussion include sound design, prosthetics, makeup, lighting, CG and in-camera effects, specific days of production, the overall writing process, department head meetings, shooting locations, editing, post-show analysis, and much, much more. There's a nice balance of retrospective talking-head interviews and, of course, a mountain of on-set behind-the-scenes footage to dig through here. Featured participants include Martha de Laurentiis, Bryan Fuller, Hugh Dancy, Aaron Abrams, Francois Dagenais, Hettienne Park, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Caroline Dhavernas, Scott Thompson, Brian Reitzell, and others.
Three shorter featurettes are also here. "The Style of a Killer" (13:24) features Martha de Laurentiis, Christopher Hargadon, Bryan Fuller, Raul Esparza, and Hugh Dancy as they discuss Hannibal's impeccable costume design, from suit fabrics to specific changes since the first season. "Bodies of Lies" (12:16) includes comments from Bryan Fuller, Martha de Laurentiis, and Francois Dagenais as they detail the jaw-dropping prosthetics crafted and seen during a handful of Season Two's most gruesome moments.
"Killer Intentions" (11:41) features Bryan Fuller, Hugh Dancy, Raul Esparza, Caroline Dhavernas, Lara Jean Chorostecki, and Hettienne Park, who compare Hannibal's second season with other Thomas Harris adaptations. Though limited in scope, these bite-sized morsels are worth your time and attention.
Don't worry, we get a nice little dessert with the meal too. Also here are nine brief installments of "Post Mortem" with Scott Thompson (42:47 total), hosted by the charismatic cast member in Hannibal's office set. These out-of-character chats offer a nice contrast to the other extras and feature Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, Laurence Fishburne, Caroline Dhavernas, Hettienne Park & Aaron Abrams, Jim Hawkinson, Janice Poon, Bryan Fuller, and Christopher Hargadon. Also cut from the same cloth is an amusing Gag Reel (7:38) featuring plenty of failed takes and on-set antics.
Last but not least is a short collection of Deleted Scenes (12:01); these are largely presented without context, which is a bit surprising since everything else is labelled so clearly. For the most part, these include minor character moments that take place during meetings or evaluations and, oddly enough, more than half of them feature Jack Crawford.
Unfortunately, no optional Closed Captions or subtitles have been included during any of these supplements, which is one of the only oversights in an otherwise detail-oriented effort. Still, a near-perfect effort in every regard. 4.5.
Hannibal remains a unique and captivating experience during this 13-episode sophomore season. This is easily one of the finest network dramas in recent memory: equal parts magnetic and repulsive, the show's exquisite attention to detail, pitch-perfect performances, and considerable sonic presence makes Hannibal a visceral feast for the senses, while its clever twists and turns will keep even the most astute viewers on their toes. Lionsgate's Blu-ray serves up a strong amount of support including a near-perfect A/V presentation and plenty of entertaining and informative supplements. All things considered, this is one of the year's very best TV-on-DVD packages and well worth hunting down...and though new viewers should start from the beginning, no one else should ignore this. Very, very Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.