Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Da Vinci's Demons and Hannibal are perfect examples of source material that has yet to exhaust itself

Whoever said that all the plots have been written may have been right in the strictest sense of the word, however, the statement does a gross injustice to the inventiveness of writers. A decade or so ago, we saw fairy tale fiction get re-opened and re-examined in a new way with reboots like Wicked and Pretty Woman taking their cues from time-honored stories like The Wizard of Oz and Cinderella. That tradition is alive and well today with the many sequels, prequels, and re-tellings (myself included in that crowd with a sci-fi series that explores the Arthurian mythos through allegory).
Leonardo DaVinci on the left and Count Riario on the right. They are
enemies in the story played out in Starz' DaVinci's Demons.
Recently though, I've been impressed with how writers are exploring "holes" in tales that we previously thought were done. For example, Da Vinci's Demons just ended it's first season on Starz. At first, I was turned off by the immediate killing of a molested boy in the Vatican because he had overheard plans between the Pope (the one molesting him) and Count Riario (who is the Pope's most trusted agent). But I talked with my friend Dezmond at the Hollywood Spy, and he convinced me to give it another go. So I did, and thank you Dezmond.

At the center of Da Vinci's Demons is the tale of Leonardo Da Vinci, a man that many believe could possibly be the smartest man to have ever lived. I for one have seen the traveling exhibition that has turned many if not all of Leonardo Da Vinci's art pieces into actual working models through a grant from IBM. I was impressed to learn that he created things like a spyglass, an odometer, an aqualung, and various weapons that the city state of Florence (in the television series) uses to great effect to defend itself and warn off enemies. So how could a fictionalized dramatic series be made of Da Vinci's life when we already know all about him? I'll tell you how. There's a five year gap in what people know of Da Vinci as a young man, and the series is taking liberties to explore that five-year gap with an incredible search for a thing called The Book of Leaves.
This is the title sequence from Da Vinci's Demons. I love the music, and if
you watch it, you'll see how many of his inventions are brought to life with
special effects that pay homage to the sketches from that time period. 

The first season took us through the Vatican to the mysterious archives where we saw the Spear of Longinus and a sword in the stone among many other wonders. It's absolutely captivating to see Leonardo's inventions brought to life in a speculative fiction way as the young Leonardo is forced to create and use these devices to get him out of some very sticky situations. In the backdrop of course is all the political maneuvering of the era (Florence and the Medici family versus the Catholic Church) and it has all the machinations and plot hooks of a Dan Brown novel.
The tree of political influence, or "Da Vinci's demons." All of these characters
play a part in the Starz series in manipulating, controlling, and steering
young Leonardo's destiny. Will he ever find The Book of Leaves? I hope so.
Click to EMBIGGEN and examine in more detail.
Additionally, there's another series on television that also explores holes in stories that I previously didn't think existed. Hannibal on NBC is based on the Thomas Harris novels, of which I've read all three. Red Dragon shall always be my favorite, but Silence of the Lambs comes in a close second. The actual book, Hannibal, was "meh." I could tell Thomas Harris didn't have his heart in it, but gave us a book anyway to try and "tie up" some things that some thought needed "tying up" I suppose.

So where could they possibly go with Hannibal? Well, in Red Dragon he's already in prison and it's through him that we get to know Will Graham who is the person that caught Hannibal and put him into Dr. Chilton's institute. If you'd have asked me, I would have said "that story is done." But I'm wrong and have been very impressed with how NBC is bringing this story to light. Below, I've embedded the title sequence because I think it's brilliant. It sums up everything about the character using wine (Hannibal is quite cultured) that looks like blood.
We all know that Hannibal is eventually captured. That of course will play out in the series finale at some point in the future bringing us full circle and back to the first book, Red Dragon. The series explores Hannibal's life as a successful psychiatrist and boy, it does not hold back on the gore. In the first season we've seen skin torn from limbs like a rubber glove, human body parts arranged on a totem pole stuck in the sand of a beach, and Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame as a guest star as Hannibal's own psychiatrist. It's an homage I suppose since her character in Dana Sculley was created after the character of Clarice Starling.
Mads Mikkelson is a great Hannibal. He has no problem filling shoes
previously donned by Anthony Hopkins.
I also like that we are seeing the evolution of the character in Will Graham. He's equally as fascinating as Clarice, yet kind of took a backseat to the character played by Jodi Foster in the film adaptation when it struck such commercial gold in 1990 via Jonathan Demme's production that crushed every Oscar category of note.

So a question to my readers: did you watch Da Vinci's Demons, and if so, what did you think of the liberties they take of the historical real-life character? Are you watching Hannibal?

Anyway, I want to end by saying Da Vinci's Demons and Hannibal are perfect examples of source material that has yet to exhaust itself. It kind of begs the question: is any story truly over? What do you think?

I look forward to reading your comments.


  1. I haven't watched either show but I agree with the premise of your post - those who say all stories are done under-estimate authors. I love reading/watching new spins on age-old tales. Even 'done-to-death' plots can be fascinating if delivered with engaging characters.

  2. PS I want to subscribe to your blog via email but can't find a way to do so. Do you not have this feature or am I just blind? :-)

  3. Both look pretty good, but I think I'd be more interested in Da Vinci's Demons.

  4. I have one more episode of DA VINCI to finish the first season. Lucretia killed Giuliano in the 7th one as you've told me. Such a shocker, especially now that Leo knows that she tried to ruin him as well. Will they make Lucretia a villain in the next season?
    Vatican archive is such a wondrous place. I bet it's like that in reality too. I love it how they picture Vatican and Pope as symbols of ebil :) Wish Leo managed to take some of the things from the archives while fleeing from there.

  5. Haven't had a chance to watch Da Vinci yet, but will when the season gets released on DVD or Netflix. Hannibal is one I think I'll stay clear of. Too creepy.

    But, yeah, I love it when someone comes up with a new twist or take on something to make it fresh again.

  6. I don't think Hollywood thinks they've ever used up a story since nowadays there's always room for reboots and prequels and sequels and whatever. I think inevitably people will tire of that but I thought people would tire of reality TV and 13 years later people still watch "Survivor."

  7. I tried to watch Da Vinci's Demons but the facts are too removed from historical reality, and Da Vinci's character is such a fiction that I just gave up. Leonardo was many things but a sword fighting, womanizing man of action he was not. This story has little to do with the actual Leonardo.

  8. I tried watching Hannibal, but I got kinda freaked out by the gore. I'd better start getting back on track.


  9. I'd love to watch DaVinci (because i LUUUUURVE him) but we don't get Starz.
    And we were going to DVR Hannibal, but the first couple of episdoes were conflicts, so we missed the start of the series and never recovered.

    Red Dragon is totally my favorite, though, too. Followed closely by Silence. Same with the movies.

  10. I haven't heard of DaVinci, but I've been wanting to see Hannibal, since I've read all four books and seen the movies (except Hannibal Rising). Unfortunately it's on the same time as Elementary, and I usually tape it instead, but I hope to catch up on Hannibal this fall (I think Amazon will have it on Prime, then).

  11. I thought about starting DaVinci's Demons, but something prevented me from doing so. So, I should try to pick those up? I may be able to get them on demand...

    Hannibal, however, I will not watch. Too squeemish.

    So, did you try Orphan Black...?

  12. Very insightful post, Michael. Though I'm such a wimp... I doubt I'd watch any of these! I couldn't even get through the first episode of Walking Dead, LOL.

    And I was just looking at your page view number... HOLY... that's amazing, Mr. Popular!

  13. @Morgan: I'm proud of my pageviews :) I think I do pretty good.

  14. I haven't seen any of Hannibal yet but I did see one episode of Da Vinci's demons. He had to break into a building and while in the sewer drilled a hole in the ground above with a giant drill. It was pretty interesting how they showed that. The fight scenes were good too.


  15. I want to see Da Vinci and maybe I'll be able to catch it soon. The man and period were so complicated that a lot of intricate fictional stories could be created around them.

  16. I haven't actually heard of Da Vinci's Demons. I'll look it up.
    I watched the first episode of Hannibal and ... it's the kind of thing I wish I could continue watching because it's fascinating, but part of me is too creeped out by the whole thing!

  17. I've been curious of both shows, but haven't checked them out. Thanks for the good reviews and I'll have to had them to my must watch list...especially Da Vinci's Demons.

  18. I hope they explore DaVinci's true sexuality and not pair him with a woman. I also think that Dan Brown is perhaps the worst plotter and writer. If this is anything as simplistic as his stories, epic fail. I figured out The DaVinci code from page 2 and there was nothing original or different in his material. If anything, he failed his source material and the fact that his story caught on just goes to show how little people are informed.