Review Date: October 14, 2001
Released by: MGM
Release date: 8/21/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
The Silence of the Lambs is one of the most honored films of all time, in any genre. The Academy of Motion Pictures saw fit to bestow upon it their five most coveted awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress. Does it deserve all these awards? And since there already is an excellent release of this movie by The Criterion Collection, does anyone need another copy of this movie? The answer to both questions, without a doubt, is a most resounding "YES!" Heat up the fava beans and uncork the Chianti, because Dr. Lecter is back in town, at least on DVD.
FBI Special Agent trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) has been given an interesting new assignment: She is to interview notorious serial killer Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Presumably, the interview is only to gather information to build a database, but Dr. Lecter sees through the veneer quite quickly. It seems there's a rather brutal killer on the loose, nicknamed "Buffalo Bill", and the FBI, led by Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) is looking to pick Lecter's brain in order to get a profile of the sexually dysfunctional new serial killer.
Lecter at first shuns young Agent Starling, but soon warms to the enigmatic FBI trainee. However, in exchange for the information he provides, he wants something in return: He wants to uncover Starling's past, and find out just where her motivations really lie.
Matters are complicated when Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith), a senator's daughter, is kidnapped by the deranged Buffalo Bill. Evidence from past murders shows that Bill keeps his victims alive for a few days before finally killing them. Now there's a race against time to rescue the senator's daughter, and all the while Dr. Lecter is getting quite bored with incarceration…
Is The Silence of the Lambs a horror film or a suspense thriller? Is it a sequel to Michael Mann's Manhunter (which also had the Lecter character in a much smaller role) or a stand-alone film? Arguments both for and against are valid, but in the end, who really cares? The Silence of the Lambs is simply one of the best films ever made (in any genre), and highly deserving of every single award it received.
But what makes it so good? Well, any discussion of Silence needs to begin and end with Anthony Hopkins' Oscar-winning performance. I don't think there's ever been a character more sinister than Hannibal Lecter. He's more terrifying any other horror villain, even though spends most of the movie behind bars. Look at the scene where we first encounter Lecter. He's standing dead center in his cell, at complete attention. No hiding in the shadows for him. He's happy with who and what he is. The class and dignity he exudes, while never denying his evil nature, is about as creepy as anyone can possibly get.
Lecter is of course not the only bad guy here. There is the much less refined (if a serial killer can indeed be "refined") Buffalo Bill, played by Ted Levine. Bill is based on an amalgam of famous serial killers, like Ted Bundy, Gary Heidnik, and perennial screenplay inspirer Ed Gein. It's interesting to see the contrast of Bill vs. Lecter and Levine's performance is just as strong and creepy as Hopkins' is.
Tracking both of these murderers is Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, in another well-deserved Best Actress role. There's a duality to her role as well, with both the innocent and frightened country girl, and the strictly business FBI Agent in training. She obviously hides her vulnerable interior, and watching Lecter cut so smoothly into her psyche is just something I never get tired of. Just watch the first scene of her and Lecter, where she alternates between being frightened by the monstrous doctor, and showing the tough side that comes with being a woman in a man's world. This dual nature of Clarice Starling was what I thought was one of the things missing in the sequel, Hannibal.
And overall, it's simply just an amazing film. Very few films have presented the mind of a serial killer this well. Most movie killers are over-the-top and unrealistic, but these murderers are presented in an unsettling and life-like manner. By keeping the costumes and settings so drab, the style of the film doesn't date it in the slightest (probably the biggest flaw of Michael Mann's Manhunter, a lesson in 80s pop culture). I can't imagine not having this film in my collection, as it just never gets old or boring.
Finally, viewers should be alert for a few cameos from directors Roger Corman and George A. Romero, as well as singer Chris Isaak. And maybe it's just me, but the brief scene with Jodie Foster in the airport seems like it was taken directly from the opening of Dario Argento's Suspiria.
MGM isn't the only company to release a special edition of The Silence of the Lambs. The Criterion Collection, long considered a pioneer in the world of special editions of classic films on laserdisc and DVD, released a laserdisc version in 1994. A DVD with nearly the same content came out a few years later. Many fans have wondered if the MGM version would compare to the older Criterion release. I've never seen the Criterion DVD, but I do have the laserdisc, and I'll be comparing both versions in several ways.
The MGM release is 1:85 widescreen, and enhanced for 16x9 televisions. That factor alone gives it an edge over the Criterion. The picture is much clearer, though the colors seem a bit more muted. The old version wasn't bad at all, as cinematographer Tak Fujimoto supervised the transfer. I do like the MGM video presentation a little more though, and if I had a 16:9 TV, the choice would be obvious. Even on a 4:3 TV though, this is a damn fine looking DVD, especially for a rather low-budget film from 10 years ago. Dark scenes (and there are quite a few) are clear and defined. This is definitely the preferred video transfer.
There's a new 5.1 surround sound mix on this disc, and it sounds great. It's very clear, and the dialogue is crisp. Since this is a dialogue driven film, good clear dialogue is of the utmost concern. But I have to say that the THX Pro-Logic mix on the Criterion laserdisc is a bit better. It's slightly muddier, but much more active and deep, with heavy use of the surrounds. The MGM release will please most viewers, but I give a very distinct edge to the Criterion laserdisc. I wouldn't seek out the Criterion edition just for the sound, but I do think the MGM version lacks in comparison.
Criterion's The Silence of the Lambs was loaded with supplements, and so is MGM's. But here's the kicker: The supplements on both discs are almost completely different! Criterion offered up an audio commentary with Jonathan Demme, Jodie Foster, and Anthony Hopkins. This was a great commentary, and it's too bad Criterion doesn't license out their supplements. In addition to that commentary were essays on Demme, Foster, and Hopkins, as well as FBI definitions of serial killers and profiling techniques.
But MGM did a fine job even without any help from the folks at the Criterion Collection. There's no commentary, but there is an hour-long documentary, with several cast and crew members interviewed. Jonathan Demme and Jodie Foster are conspicuously absent, but Anthony Hopkins has plenty to talk about. Some of the supporting cast members like Anthony Heald, Scott Glenn, and Brooke Smith discuss how the film affected their careers. We also get plenty of behind the scene stuff, from costume and set design, to special effects, and even the finer points of moth wrangling. MGM has done some fantastic documentaries on their recent releases, and this one is about as extensive as you can get. Required viewing.
A second documentary, made the year of the film's release, shows up here as well. This one is a bit more superficial, as I'm sure no one involved knew how well the film would succeed. The first documentary has the advantage of ten years' worth of adoration of the film. This is the advantage of making a DVD several years after the films' release, compared to special editions of current films. I like that MGM has included current commentary as well as material from 1991.
20 minutes of deleted scenes are included as well. Some of these scenes were included with the Criterion release, but these are much more extensive and of much higher quality. There's also some outtakes and bloopers, which are hilarious and entirely too short. But you don't really want a lot of comic material with The Silence of the Lambs, so I understand keeping this segment brief. We also get Anthony Hopkins' outgoing answering machine message, in character as Lecter. Just to be on the safe side, I don't think I'd leave my name and number. Last up are the standard set of Trailers, teasers, and TV spots.
When MGM announced this special edition, the question on everyone's mind was, "Should I still keep my Criterion disc?" True fans will actually want BOTH copies. The MGM version does provide a superior picture, and the documentaries are required viewing. But everyone should still locate the Criterion release if only for the commentary, as well as the serial killer essays on that disc. And I can attest that the Criterion laserdisc does have better sound. The bottom line is that it doesn't hurt to have more than one version of certain movies, and The Silence of the Lambs is one of the best. Get this disc.
Movie - A+
Image Quality - A
Sound - B+
Supplements - A
- Running Time - 1 hour 59 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- French Stereo Surround
- Spanish Mono
- English, French, and Spanish subtitles
- "Inside the Labyrinth" Documentary
- 1991 "Making-Of" Featurette
- 20 Minutes of deleted scenes
- Anthony Hopkins' phone message
- Outtake reel
- Photo Gallery
- Teasers, trailers, and TV spots