Hannibal week continues with the film that started it all, The Silence of the Lambs. Yes I know that this was not the first adaptation of the Thomas Harris books that would be Manhunter directed by Michael Mann and starring William Peterson as Will Graham and Brian Cox as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. But it was The Silence of the Lambs that made Hannibal into the screen icon that he is. Released in 1991 The Silence of the Lambs was a triumphant for the horror genre. After the splatter fest that plagued the horror genre in the 1980’s, The Silence of the Lambs not only was a box office success with a worldwide gross of over $272 million dollars on a very modest $19 million dollar budget. It then went on to sweep the top 5 Academy Awards that year for Best Picture, Best Director (Jonathan Demme), Best Actress (Jodie Foster), Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally) and is the only horror film to win best picture.
There have been many releases of The Silence of the Lambs over the years. The Criterion Laserdisc was the definitive edition for a long time. Criterion also in the early days of DVD but sadly was non-animorphic transfer. MGM who now owns the Orion catalog released a DVD with new special features but it did not have the wonderful Criterion commentary with Demme, Foster and Hopkins. In 2009 MGM released the Blu-Ray of the film that I will be reviewing today.
The plot synopsis of the film is, Young FBI agent Clarice Starling is assigned to help find a missing woman to save her from a psychopathic serial killer who skins his victims. Clarice attempts to gain a better insight into the twisted mind of the killer by talking to another psychopath Hannibal Lecter, who used to be a respected psychiatrist. FBI agent Jack Crawford believes that Lecter, who is also a very powerful and clever mind manipulator, has the answers to their questions and can help locate the killer. However, Clarice must first gain Lecter’s confidence before the inmate will give away any information.
While The Silence of the Lambs is a remarkable film the Blu-Ray is somewhat disappointing. While it is the best version available currently it is in desperate need of a restoration and a proper hi-def transfer. The Blu-Ray is one of the early releases in the format and it really shows. The MPEG-2 encoding is really rough. The film has a dark, gritty and grainy look by cinematographer Tak Fujimoto very purposely gave the film but while it looked great in the theater the MPEG-2 compression just can’t handle it. There is tons of noise and motion blur and the blacks are really noisy especially on the edges. The Blu-Ray does seem to capture the muted color palate that Demme shot. Overall the picture is pretty weak but is sharper than the DVD that had a lot of the same issues and sometimes worse due to the limitations of standard definition. The audio is really mixed, while not terrible the fake 5.1 DTS Master Audio is disappointing. The original Dolby Spectral Recording mix is sadly not included on the disc. The problem is that the fake 5.1 mix was obviously not done by the original sound creators Tom Fleischman and Christopher Newman. It tends to have an unnatural wideness to it and some level issues.
The good news is that all of the DVD special features have been ported over to the Blu-Ray.
Breaking the Silence: This is a PIP track that you watch during the feature. It has interviews and pop up information. This is a nice feature that is exclusive to the Blu-Ray edition.
Understanding the Madness (HD 19:35) Interviews FBI agents from the behavioral unit and talks about they solve crimes.
Inside the Labyrinth: Making of The Silence of the Lambs (SD up-converted 1:06:28) This is a ten-year retrospective with interviews from the cast and crew.
Silence of the Lambs: Page to Screen (SD up-converted 41:17) Peter Gallagher host how Thomas Harris novel was turned into the respected horror film.
Scoring the Silence (SD up-converted 16:00) Interview film composer Howard Shore on how music played a key in the final film.
Original 1991 “making of” featurette (SD up-converted 8:07) Standard making of with interviews of cast and crew.
Deleted Scenes (SD up-converted 20:29) There are 22 deleted scenes in various lengths.
Outtakes Reel (SD up-converted 1:46) A gag reel.
Anthony Hopekins Phone Message ( HD 00:34)
TV Spots (SD up-converted 5:55)
Theatrical Trailer (HD 1:49)
Teaser Trailer (SD up-converted 1:05)
While this disc does contain a lot of good supplements I do wish that the original Criterion commentary was on the disc. It was recorded during the original release of the film and everyones thoughts on the film are fresh in their minds. Most of the newer material like the ten-year retrospective is nice there are noticeable missing cast and crew. The picture in picture track is a nice bonus that only Blu-Ray can provide.
Overall the disc is a mixed bag. While the picture and the audio are disappointing and should be better quality it’s by no means a disaster. The bigger problem is that MGM really needs to update this title on Blu-Ray. You would think that this is one of your crown jewel titles and deserves the best possible presentation in hi-defeniton. It definitely is a step up from the DVD but overall not a huge leap in quality. If you do not own the Blu-Ray it’s usually on sale for a pretty cheap price especially with the upcoming Halloween promotions that most stores have this time of the year. You can get it for under $10.00 or less. The film itself is a modern-day classic and has an incredible repeat value and you discover layers that you may have not noticed before. The current Bryan Fuller Hannibal television show is a great companion piece to this stunning film. If you are a true Fannibal then you should already have this in your collection. Don’t forget to check out my review of Bryan Fullers Hannibal that came out this week on Blu-Ray.