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The Silence of the Lambs - Special Edition

Orion/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 115 mins . MA15+ . PAL


The passing of time can be very revealing when it comes to movies. Incredibly, it’s now just over ten years since a seemingly innocuous thriller named The Silence Of The Lambs made its theatrical debut, then set about spooking the hell out of just about everyone who’s seen it since. As it went on to win multiple Oscars (including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and acting awards for Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins) the film became part of global culture - it was spoofed on TV and in dubious feature film parodies, it spawned many imitators, and inevitably (especially given the closing credit line “A Luta Continua” - translated literally, “The Struggle Continues”) it spawned a sequel in the form of the underwhelming Hannibal. Along the way The Silence Of The Lambs became part of the global psyche to a certain extent - never even vaguely attempting to be a serious exploration of serial killers and their motivations, it nevertheless played exceptionally well on the underlying modern fear of the lethal human predator with no conscience, remorse or perceived reason. Yes, it gave most who saw it the creeps. But that was the whole idea.

While director Jonathan Demme seemed to many a very, very odd choice to helm the film version of Thomas Harris’s novel of the same name, the choice was a brilliantly insightful one. Demme may have spent the preceding years directing slightly fuzzier matter such as Married To The Mob, the acclaimed Melvin And Howard and the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense. But he had never made any secret of the fact that he was a Hitchcock devotee, and while he may have initially been reluctant to take charge of The Silence Of The Lambs (in fact, the film was originally bought by Orion for Gene Hackman to direct!), the insightful combination of human drama and pure tension that he brought to the film - carefully orchestrated for maximum impact on the audience - proved to be a magical, inspired turn of events.

But of course, there were other factors at play - Anthony Hopkins redefined his career overnight with his remarkable performance as Hannibal Lecter, and Jodie Foster - already being taken more seriously than ever as an actor after The Accused - took Harris’s character of FBI trainee Clarice Starling and redefined it.

The story is best left mostly untold in this review, lest those seeing the film for the first time miss out on the sense of absolute suspense and tension that this movie so effortlessly generates (Se7en may be bleaker and darker, but The Silence Of The Lambs is far more cleverly constructed - but is equally reliant on its surprise factor for full effect). The setup, though, is fairly simple. FBI agent-in-training Clarice Starling is seconded by Jack Crawford - head of the Bureau division that specialises in solving serial killer cases, a specialty that Starling hopes to work within herself - to interview jailed psychopathic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter in an attempt to gather profile information on a new serial killer that the media have dubbed “Buffalo Bill” - who is, needless to say, a particularly nasty piece of work. But Lecter - brilliant, insane and bored, a deadly combination - isn’t about to play nice. Instead, he sees an opportunity to play some mind games with Starling, a chance to reignite his fascination for the workings of the human mind after too many years in virtual solitude. As time runs out to save Buffalo Bill’s latest victim, Starling must match wits with Lecter in a game that is almost literally cat-and-mouse (Anthony Hopkins has often said that he played Lecter with some cat-like mannerisms).

What could have been a routine serial-killer-thriller turns into a brilliant combination of intelligent horror movie and Hitchcockian thriller, propelled by the superb cast, almost flawless direction and editing, and Howard Shore’s unconventional orchestral score. Worth seeing for the performances of Hopkins and Foster alone, The Silence Of The Lambs also works perfectly on many other levels - many have tried, but the sense of dread, tension and pure fear in this film (one which eventually prompted the Australian censorship authorities to create the “MA” classification after many protested its seemingly “lenient” M rating) has not been equalled since. And ten years later, it works better than ever - without a doubt, this is a modern cinema classic. Indeed, the first ten-minute encounter between Lecter and Starling, deep in the dank dungeons of his prison, is one of the most astonishing and compelling pieces of drama ever committed to film.


Transferred afresh for its tenth anniversary, The Silence Of The Lambs looks better than it ever has on MGM’s new DVD. Home video versions of the film up until now have been very disappointing, opting for a washed-out look that did not represent the original intentions of cinematographer Tak Fujimoto. But here, we’re treated to a gloriously rich and vibrant 1.85:1 widescreen transfer (16:9 enhanced) that easily has the movie looking better than it did on its original cinema run. Everything’s right - black levels and shadow detail (VERY important in this film) are spot-on, colour saturation is rich and accurate even in the many scenes utilising muted palettes, and sharpness is exactly right, never overdone.

The only section that shows the film’s relative old age is, not surprisingly, the opening credits sequence, which suffers from the usual problems of films of this vintage (caused, most likely, by the optical printing process used to superimpose the titles and inherent in the finished cut negative). After the credits have rolled, though, the film’s vintage becomes immaterial - this is as solid and dependable a transfer as the best of them.

Given a substantially higher encoding bitrate than the new region 1 release of the film on DVD, the MPEG encoding here is not surprisingly fairly artefact-free - it looks, in fact, pretty much identical to its region 1 cousin. The layer change here is placed slightly rudely at the end of a scene, at the 58.19 mark. It’s fairly quick, but the interruption of relatively loud audio is very noticeable. The R1 layer change (which occurs much later in the movie) is just as jarring - this is not an easy movie to split in half transparently.

There is, however, something controversial here which must be mentioned. The subtitles used throughout the film (in a style later replicated by TV show The X Files) to indicate the location of a new scene have all been removed from this transfer of the movie, the disc’s authors instead placing the text below the frame as upper-case blocky-font DVD subtitle streams. This is something MGM have been doing a lot of outside of region 1, and it is, to put it bluntly, unacceptable - particularly in this case, where the subtitles used in the film are placed in a specific place on the screen in a specific font for a specific reason - by the director himself. The reason, of course, is to help non-English-speaking viewers understand the film’s progress - but this could easily have been accomplished by leaving the subtitles in the film frame as intended, and translating them if needed by using DVD subtitle streams. As it stands now, viewers don’t see the film in its original theatrical form, and that’s a real shame; we’ve removed a point in the video rating because of this, and have not been harsher only because the overall visual quality is so good.

Note that the region 1 version of this disc does retain the original on-screen subtitles as intended by the director.


With sensational sound design (by the legendary Skip Livesay) and a wonderfully atmospheric mix, the soundtrack for The Silence Of The Lambs was originally presented in two-track matrixed surround. For the first time, though, this DVD offers the film’s audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 - but don’t get too excited. Mixed for the cinemas of its day, this soundtrack does not make extensive use of the surrounds or the LFE track. They are used, but do bear in mind that this is not a show-off-your-system remix. Nor should it be - this film’s audio got it right the first time (and was nominated for an Oscar for the sound team’s work). In terms of fidelity, this film’s never sounded better than it does on this DVD.

The only issue here is minor: those listening in stereo or surround via their DVD player’s downmix of the 5.1 track may notice some very mild “flanging” on some of the dialogue and effects, as well as some bleed from the centre channel into the sides and surrounds on very brief occasions. This appears to be a result of the way the R4 sound stream was encoded, and may not affect everyone - either way, it’s unlikely to bother the non-pedantic.


When it comes to Special Edition DVD releases of films of the importance of this one, the question many want answered is whether they’re getting everything our friends in the USA get on their version of the disc. And pleasingly, the answer in this case is largely “yes” - though there are differences, they’re minor. Perhaps the biggest difference is the use of two DVDs for the R4 release - a dual-layer disc for the movie itself, and a second single-layer disc (packed to capacity) for the extras. The US version packs everything onto a single dual-layered disc (and commendably does not sacrifice video quality on the main feature at all). Completely different companies have likely done authoring on these different versions - the format and content is different, as is the approach to on-screen subtitling during the film. Most notably, though, the menus are distinctly different - and the R4 disc easily wins out in the style department, with some wonderfully atmospheric, very animated menu screens, as well as fully animated scene selection menus, something the US version doesn’t have.

We’ll compare when necessary as we go - but first, it’s worth saying that the quality and quantity of the extra features here is very, very good. While not groundbreaking, what’s here only serves to affirm MGM as a film studio that knows what fans of their films want on DVD, and do their best to provide it.

Documentary - Inside The Labyrinth: Made for the film’s tenth anniversary, this 63 minute documentary is not perfect, but comes very close - only the absence of a couple of key players and a slight tendency to rush the most interesting subject matter spoils it. But that’s only a minor criticism - MGM have led the way when it comes to documentaries on their re-release DVDs (you only need to look at the James Bond collection for evidence of that) and there’s plenty of insight to be found here - particularly from Ted Levine (who plays Jame Gumm in the film). Anthony Hopkins, meanwhile, proves once again that he’s not only one of the finest actors working today, but also a level-headed, unpretentious man with a wicked sense of humour. The controversy about the accusations of homophobia and bias against transgender persons in one element of the plot is covered here too, with Levine offering his own insights into what was, at the time, a very thorny issue in Hollywood (and particularly outside that year’s Academy Awards). Well produced, this documentary makes a good companion to the movie itself. While produced on full-frame video, the visual quality on this PAL disc is fine - only a minor occasional spot of aliasing is there to distract from the information-fest. By the way, unlike the US disc, this documentary is extensively chapter-encoded, a courtesy which is very welcome.

Original Featurette: A 7 minute 47 second EPK-style promo piece made for the film’s release. This one’s notable only for its historic value - most of the info here is covered in greater detail in the new documentary. Also interesting, though, is the sight of bits of the utterly dreadful 1991 home video transfer of the film, which show you definitively just how much of an improvement the new transfer done for this release is.

Deleted Scenes: 21 scenes of varying length that were shot for the film but not used: the US version of the disc features 22, but the one missing scene (Clarice Meets Barney) is a 22-second bit of pointlessness where nothing of note happens - you’re not missing out on anything there. Why it’s not included on the R4 disc, though, remains a mystery. At any rate, the plethora of cutting room floor fodder here is wonderful exploration stuff for fans of the movie - who, of course, won’t expect pristine quality. The film elements here are certainly not in good shape, and most are very short. But there’s some fascinating stuff lurking here, particularly the outtakes from the very long shoot of the first meeting between Starling and Lecter. Letterboxed at 1.85:1, these are gritty, scratched, dirty, have bits replaced by blank leader film, and needless to say are not 16:9 enhanced. Sound is mono.

Outtakes Reel: A particular favourite extra feature for this reviewer, the outtakes reels that directors and producers keep from their productions often contain some of the best comedy (most of it unintentional) that you’ll ever see. This very, very short reel (only 101 seconds long) offers a few choice moments from the shoot where things went slightly wrong, along with a priceless take of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter impersonating Sylvester Stallone playing Rocky! Once again, unlike the R1 version of the disc, this is chapter-encoded. Mono sound, gritty video, and we loved every second.

Theatrical Trailer: Letterboxed at 1.85:1, this trailer is in fairly good condition - unlike the version on the R1 DVD, which is full-frame and badly transferred - and also unlike the version on that US release, this one is 16:9 enhanced. The R1 offering also omits the original release date at the end, included here.

Teaser Trailer: Running just under one minute, this one was issued by Orion in 1990 to promote the still-months-away release of the film - note the different title font and still-forming ad campaign. This one’s not included on the R1 disc.

TV Spots: Two 30-second TV ads - titled Hangs In The Balance and FBI - that try (and mostly fail) to sum up the film for idiot box viewers with the aid of The Guy With The Voice That Usually Does Trailers But Just For The Moment Has Been Recruited To Do TV Ads. The US disc offers eight of these. And once again, you’re not missing anything - like most US TV campaigns for films, they’re all very, very similar and more than a little annoying.

Anthony Hopkins Phone Message: Oh, this one’s cheesy. Funny, but cheesy. Origin unknown, this is Hopkins as Lecter doing a message that you can place on your answering machine to greet callers (and most likely scare them off talking to you for life, either through fright or because they have the DVD as well and are sick of their friends “wackily” making this their outgoing message. Interestingly, the audio clarity is substantially better here compared to the copy of the message on the R1 disc.

Still Galleries: A rare “bzzt” for the R4 disc here. While the content appears to be the same (no, this review is NOT about to spend hours making comparative lists of the photos here!) the method of viewing it differs greatly. While the R1 disc is a conventional DVD “photo gallery” (in that you can navigate through the images using your remote at your own pace), on the R4 disc the same photos are presented as video segments with music from Howard Shore’s orchestral score backing them, the screen before each batch asking you to use your remote to “navigate” - in other words, pause, fast forward and fast reverse! While this is actually an approach we prefer with simple, single photo galleries on most DVDs, the “archival” nature of the material here - and the sheer volume of it - makes this heavy going if you’re after a particular image. The sections included here are: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Demme, Buffalo Bill / Catherine Martin, Portraits, FBI, Special Effects and Behind The Scenes.


An innovative, hugely original thriller, Silence Of The Lambs was at the time of its release the most intelligent and inspired movie in years to deal with the psychology of the serial killer, as well as being a truly skilled bending of old-school Hollywood stylistic rules. Perfectly judged, expertly made and loaded with amazing performances, it’s as good today, ten years later, as it was back in 1991 - instead of dating, it seems to have gotten better with age. MGM’s lavish Special Edition DVD offers the film to fans and newcomers alike with a state-of-the-art video transfer, and despite some minor flaws it’s still excellent value - a must-have addition to any DVD collection.

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      And I quote...
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