I was by no means the only person who was astonished to note that NBC’s ground-breaking TV show Hannibal failed to get a nomination for Best Cinematography at last year’s Emmy awards, solidifying the notion that award ceremonies are merely publicity-puff nonsense, nods between industry insiders and are otherwise inconsequential.
Most critics agree that Bryan Fuller’s highly-acclaimed drama is unofficially the best program on American network TV (doing brisk business on cable as well) and that’s saying something, as it has some stiff competition. It distinguishes itself by being remarkably well conceived and intelligently written, but most strikingly by its visual style and attention to detail. Simply put – Hannibal is cinematic in conception – dense, stylish, dreamy, compelling and beautiful.
Admittedly, this seems a very odd string of adjectives to use when describing a show dealing with some of the potentially darkest aspects of human nature. I’m surprised at myself using them with such confidence – having initially been too squeamish to watch until repeatedly nagged by one of my most TV savvy friends to do so…and me being a horror movie veteran. I was daunted by a further reacquaintance with the notorious cannibal doctor (the role famously taken by Anthony Hopkins in the movies – a deeply disturbing portrayal).
It did not prepare me for the ingenious take Bryan Fuller and Mads Mikkelsen had on the character of Hannibal Lecter – a creation entirely more intriguing, nuanced and insidiously attractive. The show proved to be an inventive merging of psychological horror, complex characterisations, mind-games, creative gore and a generous helping of culinary obsessiveness.
Jesse McClean’s book The Art & Making of Hannibal: The Television Series (Titan Books) features a comprehensive look behind-the-scenes of the first two seasons of Hannibal. The first thing one notices about the book is that it is designed to be as informative as it is collectible. Most entertainment tie-ins prefer to focus on pretty pictures, storyboards and handsome actors to fill up the pages. That is refreshingly not the case here – rather like the show itself, the book doesn’t insult our intelligence. It is indeed a beautifully presented and photographed item, but it also delves into the craft and artistry of Bryan Fuller’s successful cult television show in considerable detail.
The volume opens with an introduction by Martha de Laurentiis, an appropriate choice given her long history with the character. She traces the origin of the show back to first reading Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon with her husband Dino. The book then hands over to the two men most responsible for the show – writer and creator Bryan Fuller and director David Slade.
Appropriately enough, the book is separated into sections named after courses of a meal (Aperitif, Entrée, Main Course, Sorbet, Dessert, Digestif) which examine the creation, process of filming and post-production of the show. It describes what Brian Fuller had to do to form his personal vision of the story and to set it apart from Thomas Harris’ books and the subsequent movie adaptations.
It features explanations from Fuller, Slade, Mikkelsen and others who helped create the finished version of Hannibal that graced our TV screens. It’s enlightening to read Mikkelsen’s comments on Hannibal’s wardrobe and set design in order to appreciate how much consideration and work goes into the portrayal of the central character. In addition the book devotes written and illustrated pages to each character, and also to each major set piece in the show’s two seasons.
However, be warned – The Art and Making of Hannibal: the Television Series does not shy away from depicting gory details when it comes to the Grand Guignol-style killings in the show. It would not be advisable to leave this volume illustrating some of Hannibal’s most disturbing scenes on the coffee table where children can get hold of it (or even some adults – if you’ve just invited some over for an innocent and relaxed dinner). Jesse McClean gives us an insight into just how much work goes into creating these macabre and elaborate scenes. The graphic pictures demonstrate to fans of the show (fannibals) how the show’s deaths are made to look like installations in a modern art gallery. They also serve as a reminder as to how astonishing it is that the show manages to get these gruesome scenes to air on network TV at all.
None of this is style for style’s sake – it has everything to do with augmenting the content. The visuals play an integral part in enhancing the dreamlike state of Will Graham or the manipulative power plays of Hannibal Lecter and are key to moving forward the narrative and plot. “It’s a show about the horror and the danger of looking at violence in detail” says David Slade “…and what that does to a character”.
In addition to Mikkelsen’s memorable turn as Hannibal Lecter and Hugh Dancy’s as Will Graham, the book gives space to other important characters – Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford, Caroline Dhavernas as Dr. Alana Bloom, and it doesn’t leave out the supporting cast. Dr. Chilton (Raul Esparza), Margot and Mason Verger (Katharine Isabelle and Michael Pitt), Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki), Dr. Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard) and Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) are all included. It’s not all about the characters though – a large portion of the book focuses on the art and construction of the show, down to floor plans, furnishings and the meticulous design of the food.
The reinvention of Hannibal for television resulted in one of the most macabre and strangely mesmerising series on TV. There was much disappointment when the third season of Hannibal was postponed last year, but at least ‘Fannibals’ had a fascinating book to tide them over. The Art and Making of Hannibal: The Television Series by Jesse McLean, is now available from Titan Books in stores and online.
The Art and Making of Hannibal: The Television Series, written by Jesse McLean.
Published by Titan Books.
The Art and Making of Hannibal: The Television Series is available to buy from Amazon.co.uk; plus if you decide to make a purchase after following the link provided you will have supported Attack From Planet B, so thank you.