The announcement has come disappointingly early into the show - but alas, Hannibal has officially been cancelled by NBC.
Like many, when the concept was first announced, I was not only a skeptic, but downright hostile to the idea of a TV show based on the character so gleefully evil, that had made Silence of the Lambs one of my favorite movies and Red Dragon very close to my top 10.
Past Hannibal Adaptations
The eponymous sequel Hannibal was a disappointment, but I could see what Ridley Scott tried to do with it and it was Julianne Moore's disappointing performance and a clunky screenplay that derailed it rather than it being bad. Indeed it could be argued the book itself was to blame, as it was almost lurid at times. Scott had made many executive decisions and excised several characters and plot-lines, if Hannibal feeding a man his own brain while still living was far fetched then an eel, a jar and a cattle prod or Clarice and Hannibal as lovers was definitely far fetched.
Red Dragon redeemed the series somewhat, giving us the best version of Lecter yet, we saw him before and as he was caught and the vengeance in his heart towards Will Graham. While Hopkins was on form it was Ed Norton and Ralph Fiennes' movie, both played men were haunted by demons with aplomb and turned what could have been a Rat-Shat fest into a very enjoyable adaptation of the book that brought Thomas Harris to the dance, and we then saw what brought Hannibal to the dinner table.
Hannibal Rising was a somewhat misguided second attempt to write a Lecter book for filming rather than Silence and Dragon, which had first been books. Like Hannibal, it suffered as a result but it introduced the mythos behind Hannibal, why he is how he is and some of his motivations. Again the movie, this time a lower budget affair disappointed but there was enough there for Bryan Fuller to want to try to tell the story in a totally different style.
Casting: Mads Mikkelsen vs. David Tennant
Thus the TV adaptation was born and heads were raised when David Tennant was first mooted as Hannibal. Fresh off his near legendary stint as The Doctor, he had just had a mini flop movie in Fright Night but had enough fan credibility to make his apparently guaranteed casting a major selling point. Tennant auditioned and was very close to signing on.
At the same time, another actor was equally close to signing with Marvel to play The Executioner in the sequel to Thor. Mads Mikkelsen was no stranger to that mythology, having been in Valhalla Rising, and the deal was almost done. Marvel fans got rightfully excited that we'd see The Executioner and Enchantress.
However, things were not quite as they seemed and in an at the time very jarring snub to Marvel and to fans of Tennant, Mads won the role of Dr. Lecter.
It was that sudden. He hadn't even been mentioned as a runner, but immediately it seemed an inspired decision, and while Marvel turned to another former Doctor in Chris Ecclestone to be Thor's now revamped villain, it took Tennant out of the Hollywood system for a while almost, he returned to the UK and had a big hit with Broadchurch and its US remake Gracepoint before finally landing a Marvel role as Killian/Purple Man on the Netflix show Jessica Jones.
Casting the Rest of the Characters
The cast of Hannibal quickly rounded out; Brit Hugh Dancy was cast as Will Graham and Laurence Fishburne, one of the few actors who could still A-List in movies such as Man of Steel AND serve as a viable TV lead was Jack Crawford.
Other names like Eddie Izzard were announced and Fuller stirred the pot that he wanted Tennant for a villainous role (I am willing to bet my liver and a bottle of Chianti that he was going to be Dollarhyde till the Marvel deal) and David Bowie to play Hannibal's uncle. Gillian Anderson's casting in a guest role sealed the deal, and the series gained a lot of pre-release momentum and concern.
After all, this was going to be on NBC, network TV couldn't handle a gore show like this needed to be, right?
It's big advantage was quickly revealed, European stations such as Sky in the UK were co-financing the show, so to an extent, NBC had little risk in showing it as they were not paying for it or it's high budget for effects and casting. It was almost on paper a perfect riposte to shows such as Dexter and Game of Thrones that on premium cable could push the envelope.
Season 1 began with the death of Garrett Jacob Hobbs and introduced several new characters and this to all extents was a perverted procedural in the vein of CSI, Criminal Minds and other shows of their ilk. We got a sense of the discomfort Will felt each time he "became" a killer, the "this is my design..." sequences were where the show found it's identity and of course the cooking.
If Will's sequences show the gore and depravity, then the cooking sequences with Hannibal show the beauty of this world Fuller created. Indeed the phrase "food porn" is the most apt for these, yet there is always that dread that even if it IS human flesh, you're still tempted. These two dynamics combine with an intellectual concept that makes Hannibal the most beautiful show yet seen on TV. This was art as well as good TV, and art done well.
As the season progressed and we saw Hannibal and Will's borderline affair, Will being framed for the murder of the girl he felt responsible for and the finale with Will Graham in the famous gurney rather than Hannibal, we knew this was NOT a retread of the books and films.
Season 2 showed more of this corruption, with Will eventually being cleared as he was actually sick with a brain disease AND being hypnotized. Season 2 also started at the end of the season with the inevitable fight scene from hell. Till Daredevil this was the most brutal fight filmed on TV and this was still on Network remember. It gave us all a nice little flashback to 1999 and Morpheus seeing Laurence Fishburne kicking ass again.
The finale, after another riveting but poorly viewed season was as jarring as the knife Graham took to the stomach. Everything we thought was coming didn't, Hannibal was getting away and all the "good people" were dying - and the kicker, the one person we thought hated Lecter and knew what he was was in on it!
The machinations over whether we'd see Season 3 began quickly and the delay in filming/the season even if spun as for production reasons was no doubt due to this. Fears were allayed when the Hobbit's Richard Armitage was cast as Dollarhyde. We would at least see Red Dragon after a little sojourn into Hannibal territory.
The season begins and then the news, it's over... or is it?
It's no secret the biggest issue the show has faced is over the rights to Silence of the Lambs, which are held at MGM. This was a big movie for them and they inevitably hold out hope of a reboot, and for the ratings it was getting, there is no way NBC was going to pay top dollar for them.
However, one company could have a very good reason to do so.
Netflix Could Save the Series and Bring in Viewers
Netflix is increasingly becoming THE place for A-List talent to branch out and their event series, which are not only critically acclaimed, as Hannibal is, but free of the pressures that NBC was imposing on the show.
Assuming the Red Dragon arc is completed in this season then all that really remains is Silence of the Lambs and that is a perfect "Event Series" tale, a 13-hour version, released the same day would score Netflix's highest numbers ever and could tempt even MGM into playing ball because there are some serious actresses out there who would not only suit the role but work well alongside Mads' interpretation of the character of Hannibal and make the "step" to play Clarice Starling.
We're talking the kind of actresses who currently command millions a picture, but for an iconic heroine role like Clarice may well consider TV and thus Netflix a viable option. Kevin Spacey in House of Cards, Bradley Cooper in Wet Hot Summer, Farrell, Vaughn, McConaughey in in True Detective; the guys are at it so why not the girls?
Who Could Play Clarice?
The one who immediately leaps to mind as the perfect Clarice Starling is Emma Stone.
Emma has the acting chops to play outside of her usual comedic/bubbly character (which Foster's version did show occasionally, such as flirting with the Entomologist) as well as the physical abilities to be a realistic FBI trainee and someone Hannibal not only forms a bond with but an attraction to.
I can picture her being repelled by this series' version of Dr. Chilton's attempts to ask her out, her trepidation while walking to meet Mads/Lecter for the first time, her horror as she leaves and "Multiple Miggs" unspeakable act that raises Hannibal's ire and changes her destiny forever. You can imagine her fear as she tracks Buffalo Bill alone, or the effect of working her first murder scene and autopsy as well if not better than Foster did.
In many ways, Emma Stone is today's Jodie Foster and she would certainly be my pick to play her signature role as one to change perception of her as "the adorable funny girl," as she recently said she wanted to after turning down Ghostbusters.
From a plot perspective, she works perfectly with Fishburne's version of Crawford and the events of the series, deliberately sending Starling, as she would remind Hannibal of Abigail Hobbs.
The second is Jennifer Lawrence, again perfect physicality and could pull off the role of Clarice AND get "bums on seats love" to watch the show guaranteeing MGM wanting to be involved. Both these ladies are money AND top level actresses, and when coupled with Mads and Fishburne who are themselves A-list talents you have the basis of a great cast.
Other Casting Ideas
All you actually need then is a Buffalo Bill, and Netflix could again go to their A-list drawer in attracting a name for that role. The Marvel deal probably means any of their guys are off-limits, but why not someone like Brad Pitt, Matt McConaughey or, if they set their sights a little lower, someone like Andrew Garfield, Patrick Wilson or Norman Reedus? Maybe even another top name for either Catherine Martin or her mother the Senator (perfect Sandra Bullock role there as a Palin type) or even simply a cameo as a victim ala Zachary Quinto in Season 3. Rebel Wilson as Federica Bimmel? I could not only see it but it could be an opportunity again to branch out or for someone to play Clarice's father or uncle who slaughtered the lambs.
The Pros and Cons of a Netflix Deal
The beauty (and shame) is that if Will Graham, Alannah Bloom and the like's arcs are over, they won't return but that may also be appealing to Netflix, that they can to an extent "make their own show," just using the bare bones of what has gone before. But over 13 episodes, and with Fuller's MO of moving things around, why could we not see Will Graham somewhere, perhaps as an early teacher of Starling's, or in a flashback? He could even come back to berate Jack Crawford for sending a young girl into the hell of Hannibal's world again like Miriam Lass.
From Netflix's point of view, picking this show up and doing whatever it takes to get the Lambs' rights is as close to a no-brainer as they will get.
It's a known property with rabid "Fannibals" who as you read are probably lighting their ovens for the NBC execs who pulled the trigger, it has name recognition and the movie's Oscar winning pedigree could help rather than hinder; after all, the next adaption of Silence is going to be a MASSIVE deal and setting it in the existing universe, on a new platform is almost guaranteed to not only drive viewers for that event series but also to the three prior series which Netflix may elect to buy as well.
The downside is, of course, if they do so and do Lambs, once it's done, it's done.
They've already used most of Hannibal... unless of course they "erase Season 3." In many ways I wish this could have happened before that season, Red Dragon deserved this kind of treatment too, which is not to say the series will blow it. It's just almost a shame they didn't pull it and try to get Netflix last year.
Whatever happens, Hannibal has justified its existence as a great example of rebuilding a brand on TV and that doing so doesn't mean "dumbing down," in reality it was NEVER going to get big numbers on network TV, but like Firefly before it, it's earned a crack at a bigger stage. It also has avoided the negativity other worthy shows got, like Constantine. In the main, people are either saddened or pissed off if they've seen the show and are likely to still say "bummer" if they hadn't gotten round to it yet and enjoy it.
I doubt we'd see a movie with this cast, though it's not beyond the realm of possibility. Should Netflix decide to take the plunge, they're almost guaranteed a return in terms of fan love, mainstream publicity and critical success. Let's not leave it too long, it'd be rude and we all know what happens to the rude when Dr. Lecter is around.