Hannibal will take his last bite out of prime time TV with the series finale on Saturday, Aug. 29. And after its third season, which was based on the storyline in Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon, many Fannibals are disappointed the cannibal has run his course—especially since showrunner Bryan Fuller had plans to base season 4 off the cult classic Silence of the Lambs.
Many fans became captivated by the characters of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (played by Mads Mikkelsen) and Will Graham (played by Hugh Dancy), the beautiful art direction and the gruesome murders. Some might be wondering how the series compares with the books and movies.
Here's a look at how NBC's Hannibal stacked up, the books vs. the movies.
Warning! This article features some graphic images and videos, along with spoilers for those not caught up on the series.
The Series vs. The Books
The main difference between the NBC show and Thomas Harris' books is that the show kicked off in a totally different timeline.
Harris started the series with Red Dragon in 1981, introducing the world to Dr. Lecter and the infamous serial killer "The Tooth Fairy," better known as Francis Dolarhyde—the man who becomes the Red Dragon. In the book, FBI agent Jack Crawford enlists profiler Will Graham to come back from retirement to help capture the killer to prevent another murder timed with the full moon. Crawford knows Graham is the best man for the job because of his special ability to think like a killer, a skill which helped him capture Hannibal the cannibal three years prior.
In Harris' novel, Graham reaches out to consult Dr. Lecter about capturing Francis Dolarhyde, the Red Dragon—the same as in the series. NBC's Hannibal does a good job recreating the characters and events in the book; however, this is the storyline featured in its third and final season.
The series actually starts before the books, introducing Hannibal as the psychiatrist who serves as a FBI consultant, working alongside Jack Crawford and Will Graham to hunt down the serial killer "Minnesota Shrike," who turns out to be Garret Jacob Hobbs. In the book Red Dragon, we know that Graham's first case was the Minnesota Shrike murders, and Graham does catch Hobbs and kills him, which is why he is admitted into the psychiatric ward and retires; however, the series really digs into this back story.
The first season also showcases the budding bromance between Graham and his now-therapist Lecter, something the books don't explore. Lecter becomes a friend to Graham, a friendship that is sometimes shown in what fans would call a homoerotic way.
Viewers also see a more fleshed-out version of Graham in the series, in terms of his almost supernatural ability to get into the mind of the killer and his copycat, the "Chesapeake Ripper" (aka Lecter).
In season 2, Graham attempts to prove his innocence while Hannibal continues on his killing—and eating—spree. Again, a plot that is not featured in the books. We are also introduced to twins Mason and Margo Verger, characters who are introduced in Harris' third book in the series, Hannibal. Of course there is the showdown between Crawford, Bloom, Graham and Lecter in the finale of season 2, something fans waited all season for—which is something also not described in the books.
While there are similar plot points and characters adapted from the book, some events were changed in the series, such as when Miriam Lass finds out that Hannibal is the Chesapeake Ripper in season 2, something Graham discovers in the book Red Dragon.
Of course there are some other noticeable differences besides the timeline in the series, such as tabloid crime reporter Freddy Lounds being changed to be a female blogger in the series. Graham's love interest in season 1, psychiatrist Dr. Alana Bloom (played by Caroline Dhavernas) was also changed to be a female from the male character Dr. Alan Bloom in the books.
The series never got the chance to follow the storyline featured in Red Dragon's 1988 sequel, The Silence of the Lambs, and its characters, including Special Agent Clarice Starling and serial killer "Buffalo Bill." However, Fuller did have plans to feature this storyline in the potential season 4, which is safe to say won't happen since the series has not been renewed.
Some events and characters in the series had to be tweaked a bit because of licensing rights (such as Clarice not being featured from day one)—something we will get into in the next section. The series does follow the events in the 1999 book Hannibal, and some of the Lecter's back story as featured in the 2006 prequel Hannibal Rising; however, more on this will be explained as we compare the movies.
The Series vs. The Movies
As mentioned above, licensing rights restricted Fuller from featuring some of the characters and plot points in the series.
MGM owns all the rights to any film or television adaptations of Silence of the Lambs, including the character Clarice Starling, learning from previous mistakes made by Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis to lock in these exclusive rights.
Laurentiis' 1986 movie Manhunter, which is the first movie adaptation of Red Dragon and the first Hannibal Lecter film, bombed at the box office. Two years later, Harris published Silence of the Lambs, which led to Gene Hackman securing the rights for the characters with Orion Studios, which was later sold to MGM after going bankrupt. Hackman was able to do this because Laurentiis thought the character would never be a hit. Of course, he was very wrong because the movie made three times its original budget, grossing more than $270 million worldwide.
So with Dino de Laurentiis Communications (DDLC) owning the rights for the characters in Red Dragon, and MGM owning the rights to those in Silence of the Lambs, Fuller and affiliates were able to negotiate the rights for Lecter with DDLC.
Manhunter, staring Brian Cox as Lecter, William Petersen as Graham and Tom Noonan as Dolarhyde, closely follows the events that take place in the book Red Dragon. The same is true for the 2002 film Red Dragon starring Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton as Graham and Ralph Fiennes as Dolarhyde. (We will get into the actors later.)
The films feature similar scenes in the series, such as Crawford reaching out to Graham, who has started a life with his wife Molly and her son. Graham also consults with the imprisoned Lecter, and there are also the famous scenes of Dolarhyde "becoming" the Red Dragon, which is based on William Blake's "The Great Red Dragon" paintings. However, the series is able to depict these transformations artistically thanks to the gorgeously haunting art direction.
Since the series could not feature Starling, who was famously played by Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs, and then played by Julianne Moore in the film's sequel Hannibal, Fuller creatively found a way to incorporate her storyline into the series. We see traits of Starling in Miriam Lass (Anna Chlumsky), who is a trainee assigned to the Chesapeake Ripper case. More interestingly, we see the bizarre love connection between Lecter and Starling through Mikkelsen's character and his psychiatrist Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), who runs away with him to sort of take part in his killings in Florence—the storyline to how season 3 kicked off.
Which takes us into the 2001 film Hannibal. The movie closely follows the events in the film where Starling sets out to capture Lecter, who runs off to Italy before the villain—and his surviving victim—Mason Verger gets to him first.
There are some differences in the series to how the events unfold in the book and movies, such as Starling infiltrating Verger's estate, whereas Graham is taken hostage along with Lecter. However, Lecter in both the series and the movies protects Graham/Starling, even nursing them back to health (although in the movie Starling is taken to Deputy Assistant Attorney General Paul Krendler's lake house).
The most famous scene in the film, where Hannibal feeds Krendler his own brains, is also slightly changed in the series, with Dancy's Graham almost being the victim before being kidnapped by Verger's men.
Instead of Verger infamously being fed to his pigs, as seen in the movie, he is suffocated by his pet eel when pushed into the water by his sister Margot in the series.
Season 3 of the series also featured another famous scene from the 2001 film, when Lecter hangs and disembowels the Italian Chief Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi.
This latest season included a character from the 2006 prequel novel and 2007 film of the same name, Hannibal Rising. The book and film give the back story of how Lecter came to be the monster he is, which is told through the storyline of how German troops killed and planned to eat his sister Mischa. In the series, Lecter himself is suspected to have eaten his sister, who was murdered by a man his childhood friend Chiyoh keeps hostage.
Chiyoh in the book was the ward of Hannibal's aunt, but was not featured in the film. Tao Okamoto played the character in the NBC series.
How The Characters Compare
How can we compare the series to the books and films without speaking about the actors who brought these iconic characters to life?
Out of all the faces who have played Lecter, Hopkins will forever go down as portraying the character best. While Gaspard Ulliel played a younger Lecter in Hannibal Rising, and Cox was Lecter in the original film adaptation, they cannot come close to Hopkins' acting chops. Hopkins was insanely perfect for this role.
Many were unsure how Mikkelsen would stack up compared with Hopkins, but he actually was able to brilliantly play the character and all his evil ways in the series.
As far as the character of Will Graham, Edward Norton definitely outshines William Peterson's portrayal, but Hugh Dancy has been the only actor to really bring the character's complicated psyche to life in a way that is so vulnerable and heartbreakingly beautiful. While Peterson's character, too, would talk out the details of the murders in his film, Dancy's famous "This is my design" line will forever be loved by Fannibals.
While the series follows the basic storyline as featured in the books and movies with its own twists and takes on the franchise, the best part of the TV adaption is that fans got to see the cannibal really showcasing his skills in the kitchen. For three seasons we got to see Lecter butcher, saute, and serve gourmet meals made from his victims, unbeknownst to his guests. And let's be honest, despite watching to see how Will and Hannibal's volatile relationship played out and to catch the creatively morbid murders, fans couldn't wait to see what—rather who—Hannibal was cooking up.
We will miss the intriguing yet dysfunctional relationship between Mikkelsen's Lecter and Dancy's Graham as the series is finally coming to an end. However, Fuller revealed that it will have the most satisfying ending compared with the first two seasons.
The series finale of Hannibal airs Saturday, Aug. 29, at 10 p.m. EDT.