Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky's pulse never goes above 85, even after he reviews this movie.
Our reviews of The Hannibal Lecter Collection (Blu-ray) (published September 21st, 2009), The Silence Of The Lambs (Blu-Ray) (published April 1st, 2009), The Silence Of The Lambs: Criterion Collection (published December 4th, 2000), and The Silence Of The Lambs: Special Edition (published August 21st, 2001) are also available.
"Oh, Agent Starling, do you think you can dissect me with this blunt little tool?"—Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins)
If you check your movie release calendar, you will see that there is a new Hannibal Lecter film due out shortly. So MGM carts out a respectable old warhorse, The Silence of the Lambs, for its fourth go-around on DVD. I mean, I love this movie and all, but do I really have anything new to say about it?
Facts of the Case
Cannibals, murderous transsexuals, and severed heads in garages. You think you've seen it all before. Just remember, in 1991 brilliant serial killers outwitting the cops were not yet boring Hollywood clichés. Everybody imitates The Silence of the Lambs, but even Hannibal Lecter's own creators—novelist Thomas Harris, screenwriter Ted Tally, director Jonathan Demme, and actor Sir Anthony Hopkins—have never topped the film.
The other day, I received an envelope forwarded to me by a remailing service in Buenos Aires. It contained a packet of a flavorful, home-grown herbal tea, a pencil drawing of Dante's discourse with Cavalcanti in Canto X of Inferno, and the following hand-written letter on ecru stationary:
Good morning. This is Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
After a long and fruitful correspondence over many years, Michael (Dr. Pinsky) and I have found a little common ground, at least in the area of cinema. He does steadfastly refuse my notes on cuisine. He claims that this is because his children steadfastly refuse sweetbreads, and he has been thus far deaf to my insistence that such dishes would be most rewarding and flavorful if made only with the freshest ingredients. I do respect his decision, however, to keep his friends and family and not make more inventive use of them.
There, I have made a cannibalism joke. I felt this was the only way to acknowledge your pedestrian and—dare I say—louche view of me. Now we will move on.
Michael (and I must remind all my dear readers that this "doctor" bears only a degree in literature, which makes his use of the appellation inappropriate at best—I will say nothing about the ludicrous "judge" label) has respectfully asked that I weigh in with my comments on the new release of The Silence of the Lambs, Hollywood's vaguely accurate account of my brief incarceration and its connection to the sordid business of Jame Gumb. And so I will put aside my plate of hand-picked figs brushed with a balsamic reduction—paired, of course, with a buttery but not overly cloying Tokaji Aszu—to offer my concise thoughts on this new package. I can certainly afford to be generous now, in this comfortable place with a view and a short walk to a fine local market.
Indeed, my first thought is that the recipe cards that tumbled out at me upon opening the package were only mildly amusing. Really, three fava bean dishes? And why is the Roast Saddle of Lamb prepared with Chianti? Oh, now I recall that Mr. Tally's screenplay for the film had me eating that census taker with Chianti, as opposed to the Amarone that I did in fact sip that evening. If you must make these recipes, please at least purchase a firm sheep's-milk Pecorino as instructed, particularly for the risotto, and none of that off-the-shelf dust claiming to be "parmesan" that you keep in your refrigerator.
I watched the film again. It was entertaining, although not as funny as I remember it. I will put aside my criticisms of Mr. Hopkins, namely that he looks nothing like I did during my visit to the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Ignoring simply that he lacks several of my physical characteristics at the time—the polydactylism, my eye color—it is nonetheless an acceptable impersonation on its own merits. I credit the time we spent together during his visit to Florence around the time he made that unfortunate Mussolini film. I cannot say I was much pleased with his later impersonations of me in Hannibal, or the remake of Red Dragon. (As an aside, I was pleased with Mr. Cox's portrayal of me in the earlier Manhunter; although I must candidly admit I have never met this gentleman.) I commend Sir Anthony for distancing himself from the unpleasant and woefully inaccurate Hannibal Rising. The story of my childhood as a bluntly Freudian explanation for my future behavior? As I said quite clearly to Clarice that day we first met, "Nothing happened to me. I happened." But as I am a public figure now, in spite of my best efforts, the details of my biography are evidently fair game for Hollywood.
I can see that my letter is becoming tiresome and long, so I will restrict my comments to the new material included in this package. My colleague has commented on this film twice in the past, and I will let his comments stand on their own merits…or lack thereof. The film itself is identical to the last release, the so-called "Special Edition." It has been moved to a disc of its own, and the original supplemental features are segregated on the second disc. Clarice, who understands more about this DVD technology, tells me that the feature now has a greatly-increased average bit rate: 8.49 Mb per second, according to her computer's software, almost double the Special Edition. This, I am told, makes for increased sharpness, but again I will defer to Clarice on this matter, if and when she chooses to speak of it. (Clarice, by the by, has lately expressed to me her amusement that she was ever so naïve as she is depicted in this film. My word, she has come so far.)
The previous DVD edition of this film had several features added to it, including a documentary, some deleted scenes and outtakes, a promotional short made for the movie's original release, and an answering machine message recorded by Mr. Hopkins. These bored me, but I suppose you will enjoy them. I do miss the amusing commentary audio track from the Criterion edition.
MGM has created a few new features to justify this new release, which is of course tied to the upcoming "prequel." (This is a word I thought I would never use in polite conversation.) "The Silence of the Lambs: Page to Screen" is a recycled television program from the Bravo network. The piece compares the Thomas Harris book to Ted Tally's screenplay. This seems to me a fine idea in principle, although I was clearly not asked for input on how closely either story adhered to the actual truth. In practice, this is another "making of" featurette. Jonathan Demme does not participate in this show, but he does take part in a three-part interview. Mr. Demme and Jodie Foster fill in what few gaps are left from all the other interview segments—and you might be able to assemble an entire print of the film from all the clips among the featurettes. The only thing left to talk about is the score. There is an extended interview with composer Howard Shore. He is a bit modern for my tastes, but I do recall some of his scores for those droll David Cronenberg films. Now there is a man with some issues that I could help with.
Thank you for your time. Perhaps I will see you quite soon.
I will add little to Dr. Lecter's assessment of this release. The "Inside the Labyrinth" featurette holds up as a survey of the film's production better now than I recall from the earlier release. I found the recipe cards cute but gimmicky, and the new supplements solidly filled out what was missing in the original making-of featurette. But really, it feels like window dressing, especially since MGM is clearly trying to compensate for the superior Criterion supplements that they evidently don't want to buy the rights to.
Overall, the movie is well worth getting if you don't already own a copy. It has certainly earned its iconic status, as every detective thriller since has had to account for its debt to Demme's work here. But even beyond the more parodied moments (hell, even Clerks II got in a Silence joke), there are subtle details that have emerged over the years that only make it seem more interesting and rich. I have made that clear in past reviews, and I reiterate the point here. I cannot say that it is worth rushing out for the upgrade though, if you already have a copy.
But if you do not own The Silence of the Lambs, pick up this new MGM two-disc set. Rub it on your skin, or you will get the hose again.
Jonathan Demme and company are free to go. The world is more interesting with them in it. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
• "Into the Labyrinth: Making of The Silence of the Lambs"
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