Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Anthony Heald, Ted Levine, Frankie Faison, Kasi Lemmons, Brooke Smith
Thomas Harris (novel), Ted Tally
To enter the mind of a killer she must challenge the mind of a madman.
Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins deliver sensational, Oscar-winning performances in this "shockingly powerful thriller" (New York). "Stunning" (Los Angeles Times) and "spellbinding" (The Hollywood Reporter), this terrifying masterpiece garnered five Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
A psychopath nicknamed Buffalo Bill is murdering women across the Midwest. Believing it takes one to know one, the FBI sends Agent Clarice Starling (Foster) to interview a demented prisoner who may provide clues to the killer's actions. That prisoner is psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins), a brilliant, diabolical cannibal who agrees to help Starling only if she'll feed his morbid curiosity with details of her own complicated life. As their relationship develops, Starling is forced to confront not only her own hidden demons, but also an evil so powerful that she may not have the courage - or strength - to stop it!
$13.766 million on 1497 screens.
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Thai Dolby Digital 2.0
Runtime: 118 min.
Release Date: 9/15/2009
Available as Part of “The Hannibal Lecter Collection”
• “Inside the Labyrinth: The Making of The Silence of the Lambs” Documentary
• “Breaking the Silence” Documentary
• “Understanding the Madness” Documentary
• “Silence of the Lambs: Page to Screen” Documentary
• “Scoring the Silence” Featurette
• Outtakes Reel
• Original 1991 Making of Featurette
• 22 Deleted Scenes
• TV Spots
• Anthony Hopkins Promotional Phone Message
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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
The Silence Of The Lambs: The Hannibal Lecter Collection [Blu-Ray] (1991)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 7, 2009)
As I've whined in a few other reviews, Oscar and I have a strained history. It all started in 1975 when the Academy failed to bestow its Best Picture honor on my fave, The Towering Inferno. For the record, I no longer actually argue that Inferno should have bested The Godfather Part II, though my seven-year-old self felt otherwise. Hey, I have a soft spot for Inferno, but not a soft head.
That horrible incident set the stage for many years of crushing disappointments, in life as well as on Oscar night - not that I'm bitter or anything. Jaws lost to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Star Wars fell to Annie Hall. dropped by Chariots of Eggs. And then the final blow: the absurd victory of Gandhi at the expense of ET the Extraterrestrial.
Oscar made a slight improvement in 1985 when Amadeus - a movie I actually liked a lot - won, but after that it was back to the loser parade for me. This reached its nadir again when Scorsese's marvelous GoodFellas lost to the pretentious Dances With Wolves.
After that bitter defeat, things could only go up, and they did. For 1991, the Academy picked the most improbable Best Picture winner since Midnight Cowboy and its "X"-rating: Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs. To say that Lambs didn't look like typical Oscar-bait is an understatement. This was essentially a thriller/horror film, after all, and it included some fairly graphic scenes. Frankly, I felt astonished that it even received a nomination, though the Academy clearly felt somewhat frisky that year; they also nominated an animated film - Disney's Beauty and the Beast - for the first time ever.
It was an odd year for my Oscar rooting interest as well, since I actually would have been happy if any one of three nominated films won. Lambs, Beauty and JFK were all movies I really liked and I would have cheered the victory of any of those choices. Heck, all five options were solid; I didn't want them to win, but Bugsy and Prince of Tides were also very good films.
In retrospect, I've done a complete 180 on JFK, largely due to its callous manipulation of history. I still like Beauty a lot, however, and Lambs has only come up in my eyes. It wasn't my first choice during the 1992 award ceremony, but I now see it as clearly the best picture of 1991.
Lambs offers that rarest of beasts: a thriller that remains tremendously compelling despite repeated viewings. Usually this sort of film goes flat when you see it again; after all, when you know all the plot twists, what's left to enjoy? However, as with semi-soulmate Se7en, Lambs easily rises above its genre; it's so incredibly well-executed that it stays fascinating even through many re-screenings.
Also like Se7en, Lambs creates an immensely creepy atmosphere that pervades virtually every frame of the film. One time a few years ago I tried to eat a snack while I watched it but I discovered I couldn't do it without feeling sick. This isn't because Lambs is a terribly graphic film. While it shows some unpleasant sights, the movie actually depicts surprisingly little violence or gore. No, my nausea simply resulted from the general aura of the film. Director Jonathan Demme so absolutely infused his production with this atmosphere that discomfort was inevitable.
In addition to Demme's masterfully created aura, the film owes much of its long life to the terrific acting. While I'm not sure Jodie Foster actually deserved an Oscar for her role as FBI agent-in-training Clarice Starling, there's no question that she ably inhabited the part. She adds a few too many self-consciously showy flourishes for my liking - such as the way she repeats "wrongful death" while examining a victim - but Foster nonetheless remains true to the character and makes her a surprisingly real and three-dimensional person.
As Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins attempted no such thing, and we're all much happier because of that. Make no mistake: Lecter is a cartoon, a broad theatrical creation that bears no resemblance to any actual human being. And so what? Hopkins so magnetically and fully brings Lecter to magnificent life that no one cares how flamboyant he is; Hopkins offers one of the most compelling and memorable performances in years, so damn the fact it's not realistic. Hey, not everything has to be 100 percent true to life, and Hopkins displays how exciting and vibrant a "movie monster" part can be in the hands of a talented actor.
In fact, Hopkins provided such a stunning turn that he received the Best Actor Oscar even though the role should have qualified only for Best Supporting Actor. Lecter appears in only about 25 percent of the film, but it's a tribute to Hopkins that we think he's there for much more of it. The aura of Lecter pervades the movie so strongly that it almost becomes a fault; we are so drawn to him that we occasionally forget Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), the actual target of the film.
The Silence of the Lambs is not a perfect movie, but it certainly delivers the goods. Demme made a film that seems to grow in stature as time passes. To this day I remain stunned that the Academy, the pretentious windbags who normally select whatever gassy "epic" appeared that year, chose a movie, not a “film”, as the Best Picture of 1991. Good for them!
The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus A
The Silence of the Lambs appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Overall, the film looked fine, though the transfer didn’t excel.
The picture looked consistently positive, as I discerned very few examples of softness. A few wide shots seemed slightly ill-defined, but those were brief and minor. The film favored a slightly vague sense of focus by design, so the transfer usually remained true to the source. I saw no problems related to moiré effects, jagged edges, or edge enhancement. Source flaws popped up on occasion. I noticed sporadic instances of specks along with a scratch or two.
Lambs offered a restricted palette but the colors seemed fairly well-reproduced. The colors looked clean and accurate, though ultimately quite subdued. Black levels came across as dark and solid, while shadow detail was clear and easily discernible. By design, Lambs will never offer eye-popping visuals. Outside of the minor source defects and some unintentional softness, this was a positive presentation.
As for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio, the front soundstage was quite broad and added a lot to the experience. Music and effects were consistently spread out across the front speakers, and I also heard some dialogue from places other than the center. The rear channels stuck with music and effects, though they did so adequately. The surrounds contributed some decent atmosphere at times, although they were junior partners in the mix.
Dialogue appeared to be easily intelligible but slightly rough, as the speech betrayed a somewhat hard-edged and metallic tone at times. Howard Shore’s score also appeared somewhat harsher than it should, though the fidelity was decent. Effects came across as the most natural and realistic parts of the mix, but they still appeared somewhat thin and bland. All of that was good enough for an inconsistent “B-“.
How did the picture and audio of this Blu-ray compare with those of the 2007 Collector’s Edition? I thought audio was a wash, as the tracks remained similar. Visuals showed mild improvements, though, as the superior resolution of Blu-ray added a bit greater definition. Don’t expect a revelation here, though.
Most of the same disc-based extras from the 2007 CE repeat here, and we get a few new components as well. We start with a very good documentary called Inside the Labyrinth. This 63-minute and 13-second program consists of the usual array of film snippets, shots from the set and interviews with participants. The latter category provides the strongest elements, as “Labyrinth” packs in a wide variety of folks.
From the movie’s production circle, we hear from producer Ron Bozman, screenwriter Ted Tally, former Orion Pictures VP Mike Medavoy, production designer Kristi Zea, composer Howard Shore, set dresser Ken Turek, set decorator Karen O’Hara, art director Tim Galvin, special makeup effects Carl Fullerton and Neil Martz, costume designer Colleen Atwood, editor Craig McKay, production sound mixer Christopher Newman, moth wrangler Ray Mendez, re-recording mixer Tom Fleischman, sound designer Skip Lievsay, and actors Anthony Hopkins, Roger Corman, Diane Baker, Brooke Smith, Anthony Heald, and Ted Levine. In addition, we also get comments from film critic Amy Taubin and transgender activist Vicky Ortega; more about the latter later. Remarks from actors Jodie Foster and Scott Glenn appear via 1991 interviews, while director Jonathan Demme remains totally absent.
The failure of the last three folks to appear in the post-1991 material offers this program’s only disappointment; while we hear from a slew of others, those three are awfully important omissions. However, I honestly barely missed them during this entertaining documentary. Very few stones were left unturned as the piece neatly cut through all manners of the film’s production. It gave a fine overview of the various elements, and it even went into the movie’s aftermath. I had totally forgotten about the misguided protests leveled against Lambs by gay and lesbian groups; they complained because of the film’s evil homosexual villain. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, as Jame Gumb was never described as gay. Sure, he was viciously misogynistic and a crossdresser, but as Ortega explains, that doesn’t make him gay, and Gumb’s sexual preferences play no part in the film. Anyway, that dimension of the documentary shows how detailed it was, and I thought it was an enlightening and entertaining piece.
The Silence of the Lambs: Page to Screen runs 41 minutes, 17 seconds and includes remarks from Foster, Tally, Medavoy, Glenn, Zea, Heald, book editor Richard Marek, NY Times book editor Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, producer Ed Saxon, former St. Martin’s Press editor-in-chief Tom McCormack, former FBI agent John Douglas, and actors Kasi Lemmons and Gene Hackman.
“Screen” starts with a look at author Thomas Harris and then examines issues related to his work as well as some specifics of Lambs. From there we move to the movie. Its participants discuss why the project appealed to them and we get info about the tale’s path to the screen. Those pieces inspect how the producers brought Demme on board plus Tally’s script adaptation, casting, research and preparation, locations, sets, cinematography and visual design, the film’s shoot, its release and reception.
Though “Labyrinth” encompasses a lot of information, “Page” manages to bring out a fair number of new details. I like the parts about Hackman’s initial interest in the project, and Foster’s dissection about why the movie needed a non-American actor to play Lecter proves insightful. I think it skims over the scriptwriting process too quickly; the title implies a stronger look at the printed page, whereas “Page” tries harder to become a general overview of the production. Nonetheless, it works well and fleshes out our knowledge of Lambs.
For something new, we head to the one-hour, 58-minute and 37-second Breaking the Silence. This is actually a “picture-in-picture” feature that allows interview windows to appear during the film. It also includes occasional text notes about the production and elements found in the film. Along the way, we hear from Foster, Glenn, Tally, Heald, Hopkins, Lemmons, and actor Alex Coleman. “Breaking” discusses changes from the book to the screen, cast, performances and characters, and aspects of shooting the film.
While “Breaking” includes some good information, two elements make it frustrating. For one, we’ve heard some of this elsewhere, so redundancy becomes something of a problem. In addition, though “Breaking” spans the entire movie, we don’t get close to two hours of information. Lots of dead spots appear, and it’s not enjoyable to try to watch the movie during “Breaking”. It’s not a bad feature, but it’s not especially well-executed either.
Another new feature comes to us with Understanding the Madness. In this 19-minute and 35-second featurette, we hear from FBI (retired) Supervisory Special Agent/Academy Group Senior VP Robert R. “Roy” Hazelwood, FBI (retired) Supervisory Special Agent/Academy Group VP Michael R. Napier, FBI (retired) Behavioral Science Unit Chief/Academy Group founder Roger L. Depue, FBI (retired) Supervisory Special Agent/Academy Group Executive VP R. Stephen Mardigan, FBI (retired) Behavioral Sceicne Deputy Unit Chief/Academy Group VP Richard L. Ault, Jr., and FBI (retired) Supervisory Special Agent/Academy Group Violent Crime Consultant James R. Fitzgerald. They talk about profiling of serial killers as well as aspects of Lambs.
Fans of Lambs have heard a lot of this material in the past, but “Madness” nonetheless offers a good recap. It covers the subject matter in a compelling way and moves at a nice clip. Though superficial, it’s worth a look.
For a look at the music, we go to the 15-minute, 21-second Scoring the Silence. This presents notes from composer Howard Shore as he discusses challenges connected to the project, various choices he made and aspects of the score. He gives us a concise and insightful look at his work that proves illuminating.
In addition, we get an eight-minute and eight-second Featurette that stems from the original release time frame of Lambs. This brief piece focuses on interview snippets from Hopkins, Douglas, Demme, Glenn, Foster and an unnamed FBI dude. Obviously the program’s brevity means that it can’t provide much depth, but it still offers a good experience. We learn some details absent from “Labyrinth”, mainly due to the extra perspectives. It’s a somewhat insubstantial piece, but I like it nonetheless.
The next big attraction is a collection of 22 Deleted Scenes that last a total of 20 minutes, 28 seconds. A lot of the disc’s snippets are quite valuable. Eight of them are referred to as “excerpts”, which essentially means that they’re just tiny snips from various segments. Some are also just alternate takes of existing scenes. However, a number of them are totally new, and these are the most useful pieces. They were quite fun to see, even if none of them really needed to be in the film.
Speaking of unused material, we find a 107-second Outtake Reel. This offers the usual mix of flubbed lines and goof-ups, which I usually don’t enjoy. However, in this instance, I made an exception, mainly because it was so odd to see semi-lighthearted footage from the seemingly grim Lambs set.
Another unusual extra comes via the Anthony Hopkins Phone Message. This brief piece provides an outgoing answering machine clip. I don’t know if Hopkins actually had this on his service or did it for a friend or performed it just for promotional purposes, but his Lecter bit is entertaining to hear.
A mix of ads comes along for the ride as well. We get 11 TV Spots plus two trailers for Lambs.
What does the Blu-ray lose from the CE DVD? It drops some photo galleries as well as a 52-minute documentary called “Jonathan Demme & Jodie Foster”. The absence of both surprises me, and I have no idea why either would get the boot.
I continue to love The Silence of the Lambs. After more than 18 years, it’s lost none of its power or perverse charm. The Blu-ray provides generally good picture and audio along with a solid array of supplements. Though I think an even higher quality rendition of Lambs could be made, this one satisfies.
Note that the version of Lambs I reviewed comes as part of a three-movie “Hannibal Lecter Collection”. The set also includes 1986’s Manhunter and 2001’s Hannibal. I suspect that the “Lecter Collection” version of Lambs is the same as the Blu-ray available on its own, but I haven’t seen the latter, so I can’t totally confirm that. The other two movies are exclusive to the “Collection”.
To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS