Release Date(s)1991 (October 19, 2021)
Studio(s)Strong Heart Productions/Orion Pictures/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
[Editor’s Note: A small portion of the film review is by Todd Doogan. The rest is by Bill Hunt.]
Based on the 1988 novel by Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs focuses on the twisted journey taken by a young FBI trainee named Clarice Starling, played here with unflinching honesty by Jodie Foster. The FBI is attempting to solve a rash of serial killings in Illinois, murders apparently committed by a psychopath they’ve nicknamed “Buffalo Bill” (Ted Levine). But criminal profilers claim there couldn’t be a person evil enough to commit such crimes in real life. It seems that Bill is making himself a suit out of human skin, and is kidnapping and murdering young women to obtain it. So Starling is asked by her superior, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), to question Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), another infamous serial killer who was formerly a well-respected forensic psychiatrist. After all, who better to understand such evil? Through their conversations, Starling and Lecter form a bond of sorts; he agrees to help her, but only in exchange for details of her childhood... a quid pro quo that Crawford specifically warns her against. But the question soon becomes: how far is Starling willing to go? How much does she dare reveal to Lecter in exchange for his help? And given Lecter’s cunning brilliance, is he actually helping Starling, or using her for his own darker purpose?
Directed by Jonathan Demme (Philadelphia, Stop Making Sense), The Silence of the Lambs is a superb thriller that blends psychological horror with neo-noir crime drama. Much of the film’s genius lies in its restraint, not surprising for production that cost less than $20 million. Demme and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (Badlands, The Sixth Sense) reveal the story’s details slowly, grudgingly, and often in darkness, shadows, or under gray skies. This is a bleak film from start to finish, and that feeling of gloom extends to the interior lives of its characters. Anthony Hopkins’ performance as Lector embodies the veneer of civilized humanity stretched perilously thin over something much darker. Glenn plays his character with a certain coldness too. Crawford is a man marked by his career like a candle that’s burned too long. Even Starling has a dark past, traumas that have haunted her since childhood. Something about the way each of these elements comes together results in a remarkable sense of tension and building dread on screen; tension that’s enhanced by Howard Shore’s atmospheric yet claustrophobic score. The Silence of the Lambs won the Best Picture category at the 1991 Academy Awards, and earned Oscars for Demme, Hopkins, Foster, and screenwriter Ted Tally as well.
The Silence of the Lambs was shot on 35 mm photochemical film using Panavision Panaflex cameras with Panavision spherical lenses, and it was finished photochemically at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for theatrical exhibition. For its 30th anniversary release on Ultra HD, Kino Lorber Studio Classics has taken advantage of an existing 4K scan of the original camera negative done by MGM (and supervised by Tak Fujimoto—this is not the Criterion master), now graded for high dynamic range (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are included here). Resolution and detailing exhibit a significant improvement compared to the previous MGM Blu-ray release, readily apparent in clothing, brick and stone, foliage, and facial detail. Even the optically-printed transitions and titles reveal good detail—if anything there’s just a bit more grain visible them. That grain is at moderate levels throughout the presentation, but it’s pleasingly organic. This has always been a gritty-looking film by design, and it’s reassuring to see that the grain hasn’t been scrubbed away. The HDR grade enhances the film’s coloring nicely, while preserving its deliberately subdued, cool look. Yet skin tones are natural and accurate, and—within the limited palette—the wider-gamut teases out remarkable subtleties of blue, green, gray, and brown. The shadows are often deeply black and, even when they aren’t—given the occasional use of atmospherics on set—they’re more detailed than ever before. And the highlights are bold without sacrificing detail either, lending the overcast sky a more naturally oppressive appearance. On the whole, this is a very pleasing image.
[Editor’s Update (9/26/21): In terms of comparison to the recent Criterion Blu-ray release, the KLSC Blu-ray is similar in quality overall. Grain and fine image detail are a little more refined on the Criterion disc, but contrast is better on the KLSC disc—blacks are a little deeper. The Criterion disc also has a slightly warm color push (the KLSC Blu-ray palette is more natural looking in my opinion). KLSC’s 4K Ultra HD disc, on the other hand, bests both Blu-rays by a good margin, with still greater image detail, significantly deeper and more detailed blacks, genuinely bold highlights, and more life-like color—it’s less warm yet more nuanced and accurate. The 4K is absolutely my preferred way to view this film going forward.]
Primary audio on Kino’s 4K release is offered in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and this appears to be essentially the same mix that was available on the 2009 Blu-ray, perhaps with just a slightly higher volume level. The soundstage is medium wide and forward-biased, as you might expect given a film of this type, with dialogue spread across the front but anchored in the center channel—it’s clean and clear at all times. The surround channels are used almost exclusively for light ambience and music, lending the listening environment a bit of added spaciousness, though there’s a little movement from time to time. The dynamics are good overall, with Shore’s score presented in excellent fidelity—a solid foundation of bass gives it pleasing weight. An English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also available, which replicates the original stereo theatrical experience (a nice touch, as the MGM Blu-ray did not include this). There are optional English only subtitles.
Kino’s 4K disc includes a single special feature:
- Audio Commentary by Tim Lucas
Lucas is a respected film critic and historian, and—as always—does yeoman’s work here to deliver a continuous stream of trivia, context, and production details.
The package also includes the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray (and thankfully, it’s definitely mastered from the 4K scan—it looks fantastic), which also has the commentary and adds the following:
- Inside the Labyrinth: Making of The Silence of the Lambs (SD – 66:29)
- The Silence of the Lambs: Page to Screen (SD – 41:18)
- Understanding the Madness (HD – 19:36)
- Scoring the Silence (SD – 16:00)
- Original 1991 “Making of” Featurette (SD – 8:07)
- Jonathan Demme & Jodie Foster: The Beginning (SD — 52:31)
- Deleted Scenes (Upsampled SD – 35:47)
- Outtakes Reel (SD – 1:46)
- Anthony Hopkins Phone Message (HD – :35)
- TV Spots (SD – 11 spots – 5:56 in all)
- Teaser Trailer (SD – 1:06)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:52)
- Hannibal Trailer (HD – 2:19)
Nearly all of these extras are carried over from the previous Blu-ray release and they’re quite good despite their vintage. Some of them were produced for the original DVD release and some were new for the Blu-ray. In a very nice touch, Kino Lorber Studio Classics has included the Jonathan Demme & Jodie Foster: The Beginning documentary that was on the original DVD but was omitted from the MGM Blu-ray. The Deleted Scenes have also been improved; the Blu-ray included only about 20 minutes worth of them in 4x3, but now they’re in 16x9, have been upsampled, and they run nearly 15 minutes longer. Kino has also added the trailer for Ridley Scott’s sequel, Hannibal (which the company has also released in 4K Ultra HD back in 2019). Really the only thing that’s missing here from past MGM releases is Breaking the Silence (neither the original DVD featurette nor the BD picture-in-picture version is included) and the DVD image galleries. Obviously, none of the Criterion-exclusive extras are included, which means their wonderful 1994 LaserDisc audio commentary with Demme, Foster, Hopkins, Tally, and FBI agent John Douglas isn’t here. But then again, if you’ve got the recent Criterion Blu-ray, you’re unlikely to part with that anyway (nor should you).
The Silence of the Lambs is, without question, an all-time cinema classic. (Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for brief cameos by filmmakers Roger Corman and George A. Romero.) Thankfully, Kino Lorber Studio Classics has not disspointed with the film’s first appearance on 4K Ultra HD. This is definitely a disc that cinephiles will want to add to their video shelves. It’s highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt (with Todd Doogan)