Release Date(s)1991 (March 3, 2009)
Studio(s)Orion Pictures/MGM (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
Few things can be said about The Silence of the Lambs that haven’t already been expressed ad infinitum. It’s everything that all of the critical praise laid upon it suggests, perhaps even more. A tight and engaging thriller bordering on the verge of horror, its amazing performances make it one of the finest films of its kind. But the film is often overshadowed by the impact it had on pop culture for many years after, so it’s easy to overlook the film itself.
Revisiting The Silence of the Lambs, which is a frequent occurrence for me, there’s often smaller details of its design and execution that come to the fore. Overlooked items of interest in the background of a scene, whether it be a performance or an object, help to renew the film’s shelf-life and further cement its authenticity. It’s also amazing that a movie about a serial killer, who slays and skins his female victims is also a feministic war cry, reinforced at every possible opportunity by Jodie Foster’s work. As the film progresses, this theme slowly builds as Clarice Starling begins to take control of her world and conquer the monsters within it. She becomes an equal to the preceding events, making her both a survivor and a hero in a typically male-driven profession. Her relationship with Anthony Hopkin’s Hannibal Lecter is one of cinema’s great dances between two characters. Lecter is obviously the intellectual superior but, despite needling Starling, he respects her and values her insight. Starling, conversely, is both driven and curious, making Lecter somewhat alluring to her, whether she’ll admit it out loud or not.
On the less academic side of things, The Silence of the Lambs is simply an intriguing tale, well shot by Tak Fujimoto and directed by Jonathan Demme. The performances are effective and memorable across the board. Hopkins and Foster were the obvious standouts early on and continue to be lauded within filmdom, but the supporting players also offer strong backing for their stars, including Ted Levine and Scott Glenn, amongst many others. The film is also one that lacks any strong criticism, other than some of the controversial accusations made towards it at the time of its release. That aside, The Silence of the Lambs leaves no wiggle room for complaints as a piece of entertainment and continues to be an potent film nearly 26 years after its initial release.
As previously mentioned, The Silence of the Lambs has always been a good-looking movie, and the transfer found on this Blu-ray release is quite good, but not perfect. For its time, it was much more acceptable, but being that this is an eight-year-old release, it’s definitely in need of a new transfer given the advancements in restoration tools. Rumors are avid that just such a thing is on the horizon, but for now, this will have to suffice. Solid but heavy grain levels and good fine detail permeate this presentation, with a color palette that’s subdued, more or less, by design. Skin tones are a little inconsistent while black levels are deep with occasional noise, lighting them up from time to time. Overall brightness and contrast also could use some tweaking, but the material itself is very clean with only the mildest of element issues, such as occasional speckling. It’s a quality presentation that’s softer compared to recent restorations of titles from the same period, but it is by no means poor or unwatchable.
The audio for the movie is on par with the video presentation. It comes as an English 5.1 DTS-HD, with other options including Spanish & French 5.1 Dolby Digital, as well as Thai 2.0 Dolby Digital. Dialogue is obviously the whole ballgame in a movie like this, and it’s represented well. Clarity is not a major issue, but it does feel a little closed in at times. Sound effects, including ambience, have some room to breathe, and sometimes shift between speakers. Dynamics are decent, and Howard Shore’s terrific score still retains its lush but weighty quality. If needed, subtitles are also included in a variety of languages, including English SDH, Spanish, Spanish Text, French Text, Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin, Thai, and Thai Text.
The Silence of the Lambs has been released on home video various times in a variety of formats, and all of those releases have their pros and cons. This release, as of this writing, is the closest to being a complete extras package, but is still missing a few key things. Under Documentaries, you’ll find the new Breaking the Silence picture-in-picture video commentary, as well as carried-over material including the Understanding the Madness featurette, Inside the Labyrinth: Making of The Silence of the Lambs documentary, The Silence of the Lambs: Page to Screen TV episode, the Scoring the Silence featurette, and the original 1991 making of featurette. There are also 22 deleted scenes, an outtakes reel, the audio-only Anthony Hopkins phone message, 11 TV spots, the theatrical trailer, and the teaser trailer.
Missing from the MGM Special Edition and Collector’s Edition DVD releases are 8 photo galleries and the 3-part Jonathan Demme & Jodie Foster featurette: The Beginning, Making The Silence of the Lambs, and Breaking the Silence (some of which is reused for the picture-in-picture segment). The Collector’s Edition DVD release also contained a few trailers for other movies, which aren’t missed, as well as an insert booklet and Hannibal Lecter recipe cards. The biggest chunk of absent material comes from the Criterion Laserdisc and DVD releases. They contained an audio commentary with Jonathan Demme, Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, screenwriter Ted Tally, and FBI agent John Douglas. There were also 7 deleted scenes, not all of which are included in this set, and those that are slightly different comparatively. There was also a film-to-storyboard comparison, 7 separate storyboard sequences, an “FBI Crime Classification Manual” in text form, the text-based “Voices of Death” containing statements from real serial killers, and an insert with an essay on the film by Amy Taubin.
Considering that so much material is missing from this release, it’s troublesome to give it a high rating. But what is present is definitely top quality. It’s just a shame that the rest couldn’t have been carried over, perhaps even on a second disc. So as good as this Blu-ray release is, it’s far from being definitive. Any release of The Silence of the Lambs is worth watching though and, for less than $10, this Blu-ray deserves a look.
- Tim Salmons