MGM // 1991 // 118 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // April 1st, 2009
Have the lambs stopped screaming, Clarice?
By now, most people have seen this 1991 nail-biter which won Best Picture, despite the fact it was released in February (a graveyard month for award contenders) and was a thriller with a horrifying undercurrent. Regardless, its impeccable acting and execution earned the respect of Hollywood's elite, successfully spawning three forgettable sequels. With this track record, is Silence of the Lambs worth upgrading to Blu-ray?
Rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster, The Brave One) is one of a select few females undergoing the rigorous Quantico training. Her superior, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn, W.), sees potential in this strong trainee and enlists her for an unusual assignment: interviewing Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lector (Anthony Hopkins, Howard's End), in the hope that he can help create a psychological profile of serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine, American Gangster). What seems like a simple task, however, mushrooms into a mind battle between the brave ingénue and the psychopathic doctor.
Director Jonathan Demme's masterpiece is hardly typical horror, but rather two brilliantly realized character studies molded into one knockout motion picture. Based on Thomas Harris' best-seller, Demme and screenwriter Ted Tally take a somewhat conventional tale and give it a shot of adrenaline, generating suspense from the first frame of Foster running. From there, The Silence Of The Lambs never stops to take a breath. Thanks to some genuine talent in front of the camera -- with Hopkins' liver-eating doctor now part of cinema folklore -- Lambs has endured as a contemporary classic. I could go on and on, but the sheer number of articles, essays, and reviews prove additional insight would be exhaustive, if not downright repetitive.
The big question, after all, is how does Lambs look and sound in Blu-ray? Overall, pretty damn good. If I remember correctly, the print has always exhibited at least a few visual imperfections, in terms of grain and small speckles. As expected, they are kept to a strict minimum in MGM's 1.85:1 non-anamorphic print, which is encoded at MPEG-2 @ 19 MBPS and 50 GB dual-layer. While I haven't viewed the Collector's Edition -- which followed an early Criterion release and MGM's own 2001 special edition -- I suspect it's a slight-to-mild improvement. No matter, because for a film eighteen years old, Lambs is strikingly clean, with superb flesh tones and solid black levels. Consequently, Howard Shore's moody operatic score is likewise treated with respect, the DTS-HD 5.1 track swelling up inside the speakers with hardly a crack or pop. Natural sounds and other effects come through with flying colors. Surround tracks in French and Spanish are also available, as well as subtitles in five languages, including English SDH.
While this Blu-dip may sound like nothing more than a glossier release of the Collector's Edition, boasting the same extras, you'd be surprised. Two exclusive features are added here, while retaining most of what has come before.
Breaking The Silence: While it's listed in the bonus features as a documentary, it actually plays over the course of the movie as a video commentary of sorts. Interviews with Hopkins, Foster, Scott Glenn, and Anthony Heald round out the speakers, with Demme uninterested or too busy to participate. I've never been fan of these features where interviews pop up as a box in the corner of the screen because it becomes distracting. Why not just edit all the comments for a regular commentary, even if everyone is recorded separately? Regardless, much information is offered here, and it's a welcome Blu-ray exclusive feature replacing the previous Foster-Demme documentary.
Understanding The Madness: Essentially a look at real-life serial killers and the staggering profile work performed on the part of the investigators. This is a modest feature which will give viewers an insight into the process, even if this ground has been covered before. It would have been a little more interesting it if it covered the evolution of criminal profiling, starting with Bundy and Ridgeway (the Green River Killer) and explained how DNA analysis has been instrumental in capturing these people. What's annoying is clips of the movie play as a supplemental device, but it doesn't work.
Inside The Labyrinth: The Making of The Silence of the Lambs: The first of the repeated extras is far and away the best, even though Demme and Foster are nowhere to be found. This hour-long doc covers a lot of ground, from pre-production to casting and reception. I would have liked to hear more about the crumbling of the once-prolific Orion Pictures, which was about to go bankrupt once Lambs made it to theaters. Still, fans should find nothing to complain about, as it also touches upon the controversy involving gay activists who were offended by Levine's sexually confused killer.
From Page To Screen: A Bravo-network special which does include Foster and other speakers such as future director Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou) who helped Starling with her investigation. A polished presentation keeps your attention, and things are told from somewhat different points-of-view, making this a fine companion piece to Inside The Labyrinth.
Scoring The Silence: A brief but more than welcome featurette with Howard Shore talking about his score. Best known for the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, Shore is one of the finest composers around, although I prefer his scores for smaller films such as The Fly, Doubt, and the equally-great serial killer thriller Se7en.
Additional features include an original making-of featurette, 20 minutes of deleted scenes, a phone message by Anthony Hopkins (which made me cringe...and not in a good way), some hilarious outtakes, and many promotional pieces, including no less than a dozen TV spots. I'd recommend you'd skip them, unless you want an idea of how the film was marketed upon release.
Bottom line: The technical quality is near-outstanding, and the extras are nourishing, if not all excellent. Chances are fans reading this already own the Collector's Edition, so I'd recommend a purchase only for replacing one of the earlier releases, or if you must check out the new features.
The film is found not guilty, while MGM is acquitted of a fine Blu-ray release.
Review content copyright © 2009 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Phone Message