CBS launched its latest series Clarice on February 11. It’s a take off on the classic Thomas Harris novel The Silence of the Lambs, but they’re not allowed to mention Hannibal Lecter. In fact, the show basically has to pretend it doesn’t exist. As you can imagine, I wasn’t impressed.
The Silence of the Lambs is one of my favorite films of all time, and I’ve seen all the films and shows made out of Harris’ novels. So this week for Binge Watch I decided to take a stroll down memory lane to consider all the works that were allowed to mention Hannibal Lecter. Below is the list in chronological order with my take on each.
About: This one is sort of forgotten to the history of time. It was based on the novel Red Dragon, and featured William Petersen as Will Graham. It also featured Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecter. Cox is a fine actor, but lacks some of the menace of others who’ve played the part. That being said, this Michael Mann directed film is quintessential 1980s and I dig it. It’s a well-made take on the story, and I enjoyed Petersen and Tom Noonan as Francis Dollarhyde. If you haven’t seen this one, it’s worth checking out. After you watch this, you should also check out the episode of CSI where Noonan guest stars.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
About: This is one of my favorite all time films. This one, based on the novel of the same name, recasts Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter and pits him against a young new agent, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). It’s one of only three films in history to win Best Picture, Best Director (Jonathan Demme), Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. It’s a phenomenal film that is the best of the genre. Hopkins is incredible in his Academy Award-winning role, and Foster is great opposite him. Skip Clarice and watch this instead.
About: A decade after Silence, Ridley Scott took the reigns of the franchise to deliver a sequel. Hopkins returned as Hannibal Lecter, free and in the world after the events of the previous film. But Foster declined to return and the part of Clarice went to Julianne Moore. This was a more graphically violent film, and while it’s OK it’s not as compelling. I didn’t think Moore worked as well in the part despite being a fantastic actress. I think the follow up to a classic film like Silence was always going to be a let down, but this was just OK.
Red Dragon (2002)
About: Not willing to give up on the Box Office dollars from Hopkins as Lecter, a year later we got Red Dragon. This was adapted from the novel and a re-make of Manhunter, this time from director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, X-Men: The Last Stand). Hopkins is back as Lecter in a film meant to be a prequel to the first time he played the role, 11 years prior. Edward Norton suited up as Will Graham and Ralph Fiennes took the role of Francis Dollarhyde. The idea of this seemed sound, but the execution was bland. This was a tepid follow up at best. It’s OK, but Manhunter is better despite the lack of Hopkins.
Hannibal Rising (2007)
About: By this time films moved on from Hopkins playing Lecter but hadn’t given up on the world. This one is a prequel to everything, based on Harris’ novel and scripted by the author himself. It takes the action back to World War II where we meet a young Hannibal Lecter (Gaspard Ulliel). It attempts to explain why he became Hannibal the Cannibal that we met in the previous films. This included a group of disgusting men who ate his sister in front of him. Yes, you read that correctly, and I don’t feel bad about giving away spoilers from a movie that is awful and also 14 years old. This was a true low point for this franchise in every sense of the word.
About: After the unease from the final film settled, six years later NBC decided to bring the story to life as a weekly series from Bryan Fuller. It focused on FBI Agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and his relationship with Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), a consultant who seemed to be more than he appeared. I was skeptical of the idea at first, but from the moment I watched the pilot I knew this was the magic fans had been seeking. Fuller created one of the most haunting and visually stunning series on television, which ran for three seasons on NBC and eventually went through the story of Red Dragon. The show was going to tackle The Silence of the Lambs if it was granted a fourth season but, alas, it wasn’t to be. This is the only entry in the franchise that rivals Silence the film in both visual style and performances.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a proud member of the Drive-In Podcast Network.