Silence of the Lambs, The (UK - BD)
Chris Gould takes a look at the Blu-ray release of the 90s psychological thriller
Promising FBI rookie Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is pulled from her training at Quantico by Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) of the Bureau's Behavioural Science Unit and tasked with interviewing the incarcerated cannibalistic serial killer, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Crawford believes that Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist, might just be able to offer some insight into the habits of a new serial killer, dubbed 'Buffalo Bill' by the tabloid press because of his predilection for skinning his victims. Starling journeys to the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where Lecter's jailer, Dr. Frederick Chilton (Anthony Heald), introduces her to the charming psychopath in his dungeon-like cell.
After some initial distrust, Lecter agrees to provide a profile of Buffalo Bill in exchange for transfer to a more lenient facility away from Chilton, whom he despises. Elsewhere, Buffalo Bill abducts the daughter of US Senator Ruth Martin, prompting Crawford to authorise Starling to offer Lecter a fake deal guaranteeing the transfer if he provides information that saves the girl and leads to Bill's apprehension. Instead, Lecter engages Starling in a game of quid pro quo, offering clues to Bill's identity in exchange for information about her past, with the ensuing battle of wits deciding the fate of Senator Martin's daughter.
The Silence of the Lambs arrives with a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer (1080/24p MPEG-2). As an owner of the non-anamorphic Criterion DVD, I was expecting a big improvement in the video quality. On the whole I wasn't too disappointed, but I had fairly realistic expectations. The image is obviously much sharper than the non-anamorphic Criterion DVD (for example, Migg's 'deposit' is now clearly visible), but it is somewhat lacking in detail when compared to the average Blu-ray transfer. Colours are more natural than the DVD, with flesh tones in particular looking much better than in standard definition, but the palette as a whole is quite muted and differs from the Criterion (and possibly the film's intended look). There's some noticeable telecine wobble during the opening logos, grain is heavy throughout, and there are numerous film artefacts (although most are small enough not to be too distracting). Blacks are satisfactory rather than excellent, and shadow detail isn't as good as it could be. To be fair this is easily the best looking version of the film I've ever seen, but those expecting a Blade Runner style restoration are going to be sorely disappointed.
As with most Fox releases, the disc includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The Silence of the Lambs isn't the most aurally dynamic film going, but the track does a reasonable job of reproducing the film's all-important dialogue and building a suitable amount of atmosphere. Fidelity isn't quite as good as I would have liked, which is especially noticeable when it comes to the dialogue (it lacks crispness). Additionally, for a full 5.1 remix the track squanders many opportunities to immerse the viewer, with most of the effects placed firmly at the front of the soundstage even during moments that would obviously benefit from surround utilisation (such as rainfall). That's not to say it's all bad though, as surround utilisation picks up towards the end of the picture and there are a few memorable moments scattered throughout (such as Starling's first visit to the asylum, during which the sub emits a steady thud that emulates the sound of a beating heart to great effect). The track does the best with what it has to work with, but even so it's probably best described as serviceable rather than good. The decision not to include the original audio mix is also disappointing.
What initially looked like a fairly run-of-the-mill selection of bonus material actually turned out to be far more enjoyable than I had expected, thanks largely to the presence of two forty-five-minute-plus documentaries.
Breaking the Silence (01:58:38 SD): This is 'fake' picture-in-picture feature that plays over the top of a separate, standard definition version of the film. The cast and writer periodically appear in a small window at the bottom of the screen to offer their thoughts on the film, along with the odd text-based fact, but there's quite a lot of dead-air between comments. Also, why the SD version of the film instead of a true BonusView feature? I guess it's better for people with older Profile 1.0 machines, but surely those are in the minority now?
Understanding the Madness (19:35 HD): This is an interesting little documentary that deals with the origins of FBI profiling and examines a number of real-life cases and their influences on the Lecter character.
Inside the Labyrinth: Making of The Silence of the Lambs (01:06:29 SD): This is a lengthy making-of documentary that includes interview footage with all the key players (except, oddly, for Demme). This should be your first port of call if you're looking for a detailed account of the making the film.
The Silence of the Lambs: Page to Screen (41:18 SD): Yet another lengthy documentary that deals with the process of translating the novel to the screen by way of interviews with the cast and crew and clips from the film. It makes for pretty interesting viewing and I actually leaned a lot about the origins of the production.
Scoring the Silence (16:00 SD): Composer Howard Shore is on-hand to discuss the creative process and talk us through a number of cues. Unfortunately much of the running time is comprised of clips, rather than interview footage.
Original 1991 Making-of Featurette (08:07 SD): I have a fondness for this kind of short promotional feature from the eighties and early nineties, because they were my window into the world of cinema on late night television. This particular featurette includes plenty of on-set interviews and clips from the film and could easily have included voice-over by Casey Kasem.
Deleted Scenes (20:29 SD): These consist of longer versions of the scenes between Starling and Lecter, more of Starling's FBI training and investigatory work, more Jack Crawford and some additional scenes that expand the third act. Unfortunately the quality of the footage is very poor, with numerous print defects and the like.
Outtakes Reel (01:46 SD): This is your typical blooper reel with the actors fluffing their lines or falling foul of props (such as the coroner struggling with latex gloves). We even get to witness Anthony Hopkins' Sylvester Stallone impersonation.
Anthony Hopkins Phone Message (00:34): I believe that this was included on the old MGM DVD release, but since I only have the Criterion DVD I'd never heard it before. It's basically a 'scary' little message that you can put on your voicemail to frighten callers. I might try it—I could use something to deter the bloody cold callers.
TV Spots (05:55): Eleven TV spots are included. They're wonderfully nineties and feature some wholly inappropriate music.
Theatrical Trailer (01:49 HD): The film's original theatrical trailer is included in full 1080p video with accompanying Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo audio.
Teaser Trailer (01:06 SD): Pretty self-explanatory this one.
The Silence of the Lambs is a solid thriller with strong central performances from Foster and Hopkins. It isn't my favourite Lecter film (that would be Manhunter), but I did find Hopkins' portrayal of 'Hannibal the Cannibal' quite chilling, if altogether campier than Brian Cox's more detached performance. The quality of this Blu-ray Disc isn't up there with the very best restorations, but it is currently the best audio-visual presentation available and the bonus material is quite interesting. The biggest lament is the absence of the commentary track as found on the Criterion release, but I never really expected that to find its way onto the disc. This is a no-brainer purchase for fans of the film, but even those unfamiliar with the picture should take a look if only to witness how a 'serial killer' feature should be made.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 4th May 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Spanish DTS 5.1, French DTS 5.1, Thai Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, Spanish Text, French Text, Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin, Thai, Thai Text
Extras: Documentaries, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Trailers, TV Spots, Phone Message
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jonathan Demme
Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Anthony Heald, Brooke Smith, Frankie Faison
Genre: Horror and Thriller
Length: 119 minutes
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