It's been a long time coming, but at last, the definitive Blu-ray release of The Silence of the Lambs has arrived. This two-disc special edition from Criterion features a stunning, all-new 4K digital restoration, the original stereo soundtrack in DTS-HD Master Audio for the first time, almost all the extras from the previous Blu-ray, DVD, and laserdisc releases (along with a new supplement), a 60-page book packed with essays and photos, and handsome digipack/slipcase packaging. And lest we forget, the movie is a masterpiece, too! So toss out all your old copies; until there's a UHD rendering, this is the only edition you will need. Without question, this release is Must Own.
To date, how many horror movies have ever won the Best Picture Oscar? Just one. The Silence of the Lambs earned that distinction not because of its grisly subject matter, which includes murder, dismemberment, and cannibalism, but because of its brilliant direction, searing performances, and substantive script. Always riveting and endlessly fascinating no matter how many times you see it, Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’ acclaimed novel is a true work of cinematic art and that rare motion picture that combines expert storytelling with superior craftsmanship in every category. It may be scary and disturbing, but its dazzling style, layered narrative, and complex underlying themes temper the horror and transform a straightforward detective yarn about a frantic hunt for a serial killer into a richly textured journey into the dark recesses of the human psyche.
The tale of Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), a rising ”star” at the FBI Academy who’s tapped by senior agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) to pick the diabolical brain of notorious murderer Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in a desperate attempt to catch fellow serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) before he strikes again, is well known. Yet the thrilling plot gains additional power and relevance when viewed today, thanks to the current spotlight on sexual harassment, discrimination, and abuse and an increased awareness of transgender issues. Clarice’s struggles to infiltrate the male-dominated FBI culture, win the respect of her peers, finesse unwanted advances, and match wits with a master manipulator who preys upon her deep-seeded insecurities like a hungry vulture resonate more strongly in light of recent events, and as a result, her ultimate triumph earns even more ardent admiration. Similarly, Buffalo Bill was labeled a freak 25 years ago, but today we possess a greater understanding of his gender identification problems, which adds more texture to his tortured character.
Yet whether you view The Silence of the Lambs as a searing drama with social and psychological overtones or merely an edge-of-the-seat popcorn thriller, its standing as a timeless classic cannot be questioned. It's one of only three films in all of Hollywood history to win the top five honors at the Academy Awards - Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Screenplay (It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest are the other two) - and it remains just as riveting, brutal, and fascinating as it was when many of us first experienced it a generation ago. For Foster, Hopkins, Demme, and writer Ted Tally, The Silence of the Lambs would mark the pinnacle of their respective careers, and their indelible work - as well as that of their gifted colleagues - will surely dazzle anyone who loves movies for many years to come.
For a complete review of The Silence of the Lambs from 2009 by my colleague Peter Bracke, click here.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The two-disc Criterion edition of The Silence of the Lambs arrives on Blu-ray packaged in an attractive fold-out digipack inside a sturdy slipcase. A 60-page book featuring an introduction by Jodie Foster, an essay by film writer Amy Taubin, two pieces by novelist Thomas Harris, a 1991 interview with Jonathan Demme by Gavin Smith, cast and crew listings, transfer notes, several color scene stills, and a number of black-and-white production photos is tucked inside. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and default audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. (An alternate DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is also included.) Once the disc is inserted into the player, the full-motion menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
The Silence of the Lambs flaunts a gritty, realistic look that's been difficult to accurately render in previous home video incarnations, but this brand new 4K digital restoration, approved by director of photography Tak Fujimoto and struck from the movie's original camera negative, comes closer than any other transfer to replicating this gruesome thriller's original appearance. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer seems a tad brighter than the previous Blu-ray release, and the increased vibrancy exposes more details during murky scenes. Grain is quite noticeable at times and persistent throughout, but it complements the rough subject matter and lends the picture a very organic and filmic look. The movie's color palette has always been muted, but the hues here - especially the reds - stand out against the drab backgrounds and make a bold statement. Blacks are incredibly rich and deep, whites are vivid, and flesh tones remain natural and stable throughout. Pitch-perfect contrast enhances depth, shadow delineation is far better than ever before (some crush occurs, but only during the darkest sequences), and background elements are much easier to discern. Demme uses many extreme close-ups to heighten tension, and they are all stunningly rendered - sharp, smooth, and bursting with breathtaking details. Thankfully, any errant nicks and specks that plagued the previous transfer have been meticulously erased and no digital doctoring could be detected. It’s taken a couple of tries, but at last we have the definitive transfer of The Silence of the Lambs, and anyone who owns any previous versions of the film should not hesitate to upgrade.
The previous Blu-ray editions of The Silence of the Lambs only included a fabricated DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that was expressly created for the film's high-definition release. Criterion offers that option once again, but the default audio - and better choice - is the film's original 2.0 stereo track presented here in the DTS-HD Master Audio format. According to the liner notes, the track was "remastered from the 35 mm magnetic track," and the results are so good, the 5.1 track really isn't necessary. Terrific separation across the front channels provides a wide, expansive feel that helps immerse us in the action, while exceptional fidelity and tonal depth heightens the sonic impact. Even though the subwoofer is excluded from the mix, bass frequencies are strong and weighty, and a wide dynamic scale handles all the various highs, lows, screeches, and rumbles without a hint of distortion. Howard Shore's eerie yet lyrical music score fills the room with ease, all the dialogue is well prioritized and easy to comprehend, and no imperfections muddy the mix.
The 5.1 track does offer a surround presence, but the bleed to the rears is sporadic and often faint. Though it's hard to resist a 5.1 option for what some may consider an archaic alternative, sometimes it's best to stick with the original track, especially when it earned an Oscar nomination. Tom Fleischman and Christopher Newman knew what they were doing back in 1990, and their work still delivers the goods today.
Hours of supplements are included on this two-disc Criterion release. Not much is new, but almost all the extras from previous Blu-ray and DVD editions of The Silence of the Lambs have been ported over. What's missing? The 'Breaking the Silence' pop-up video/trivia track from the 2009 Blu-ray did not make the cut (not really surprising, considering the pop-up fad has long since passed), but it's a shame some of the interview content from that track couldn't have been edited into a cohesive piece. Also, the teaser trailer and multiple TV spots have been abandoned. A treasure trove of supplements remain, however, and that's very good news for savvy fans who might want to upgrade.
Audio Commentary - The biggest complaint about the previous Blu-ray editions of The Silence of the Lambs has been the absence of the 1994 audio commentary featuring actors Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, director Jonathan Demme, screenwriter Ted Tally, and former FBI agent John Douglas that appeared on the Criterion laserdisc and DVD releases. Well, it's back! Though all the remarks were recorded separately, they're edited into a seamless whole, and they provide exceptional context and perspective. Foster calls Clarice "a real female hero, not a bad imitation of a male hero," who uses brains instead of brawn to fight evil. She also talks about her extensive preparation for the role and the theme of human acceptance that runs through the film. Demme expresses his high regard for Thomas Harris' book and mixed feelings about the FBI, notes Buffalo Bill is a composite of three real-life serial killers, cites some differences between the novel and movie, and confesses The Silence of the Lambs was the first picture he agreed to direct without first seeing a script. Hopkins discusses his approach to Lecter, the inherent human fascination with the dark side, how he came up with the famous sound that follows his "nice Chianti" line, and how Lecter resembles the iconic computer HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, while Tally explains how he lobbied for the screenwriting job, outlines the script's evolution, and muses about Lecter's elevation in pop culture from villain to hero. Douglas makes many cogent points as he examines women in the FBI (keep in mind, though, his comments were made almost 25 years ago), the serial killer mentality, FBI procedures, how to crack cases, and where the film is not credible from an FBI standpoint. Many of us have longed to hear this comprehensive commentary for a number of years, and it's definitely worth the wait.
Interview with Maitland McDonagh (HD, 18 minutes) - In this absorbing 2017 interview, film critic and author Maitland McDonagh explains the differences between serial killers, mass murderers, and spree killers, analyzes the characters of Lecter, Clarice, and Buffalo Bill, examines serial killers throughout history and how some were portrayed on film during Hollywood's early days, and looks at how Hannibal Lecter has evolved over the course of several Thomas Harris books and a backstory TV series. Pictures of real serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, and Ed Gein add an appropriately creepy element to this fascinating piece.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 38 minutes) - A number of excised scenes and snippets are included - in fact, 15 more minutes of footage appears here than on the previous Blu-ray releases - and though all of it was probably best left on the cutting room floor, the sequences are interesting to see. An abandoned subplot, more scenes featuring Scott Glenn, additional bits of Clarice's FBI training, a longer storage unit sequence, and the complete tele-evangelist speech that's only seen in silent clips in the finished film are among the nuggets included. A few humorous outtakes and a funny voicemail message from Anthony Hopkins complete this substantive collection.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2 minutes) - The original preview for The Silence of the Lambs, which is as taut and visceral as the film, wraps up the Disc One extras.
Interviews with Jodie Foster and Jonathan Demme (HD, 52 minutes) - Three 2005 featurettes produced by Laurent Bouzereau are stitched together here, and they provide an intimate, in-depth account of the film’s production. Foster and Demme’s enthusiasm, openness, and articulate remarks keep us engaged and reflect their continued reverence for The Silence of the Lambs. ‘The Beginning’ focuses on the project’s genesis, casting (Foster and Hopkins got their roles only because Michelle Pfeiffer and Sean Connery turned them down), Demme’s affection for the original novel, and Foster’s affinity with Clarice, while ‘Making The Silence of the Lambs’ covers Demme’s interpretation of the material, the movie’s locations, visual style, and structural challenges, and the story’s themes. Finally, ‘Breaking the Silence’ looks at the film’s legacy, box office success, and Oscar accolades. Plenty of film clips, behind-the-scenes photos, and amusing anecdotes enhance these worthwhile featurettes.
Documentary: "The Making of The Silence of the Lambs: Inside the Labyrinth" (HD, 56 minutes) - This captivating three-part 2001 documentary covers every aspect of the film, beginning with America's obsession with serial killers and carrying on through the initial involvement of Gene Hackman as director, how Demme got his job, the novelty of a female hero, the story's connection to fairy tales, and the cooperation of the FBI. We also learn about makeup, costumes, sets and locations, editing, sound, how various problems were solved, Hitchcockian connections, and controversies and protests. Levine's preparation for his disturbing role, Though Foster only appears briefly in an archival clip and Demme doesn't appear at all (which is the documentary's greatest mystery and deficiency), almost everyone else associated with the production participates. Interviews with Hopkins, Levine, Anthony Heald, Diane Baker, Brooke Smith, writer Ted Tally, composer Howard Shore, Roger Corman, and several technicians, producers, critics, activists, even a "moth wrangler" bring a wide variety of perspectives to the piece, while photos and film clips nicely illustrate their remarks.
Documentary: Page to Screen (HD, 41 minutes) - Actor Peter Gallagher hosts this 2002 episode of the Bravo TV series that chronicles the film's adaptation, casting, and production, and shows how the movie draws from, closely follows, and veers away from the book. The background of novelist Thomas Harris and his exhaustive research and writing style is explored, Gene Hackman recalls his initial attachment to the project, Foster describes her attraction to Clarice Starling, and Tally outlines how he approached the adaptation.
Featurette: "Scoring The Silence" (HD, 16 minutes) - In this 2004 interview, composer Howard Shore provides an inside look at how he constructed the score, his personal creative process, and how the characters, events, and narrative themes influenced his musical decisions. Shore doesn't participate much in the other documentaries on this disc, so it's fitting he gets a featurette of his own.
Featurette: "Understanding the Madness" (HD, 20 minutes) - Several retired FBI agents take us inside the agency and the study of criminology and profiling in this interesting and enlightening 2008 featurette. Criminal methodology and psychology and investigative tactics are also examined, as well as the various serial killers who comprised Buffalo Bill and how they can manipulate law enforcement.
Original 1991 Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (HD, 8 minutes) - This typically slick, breezy piece features on-set footage, film clips, and surprisingly intelligent interviews with Demme, Foster, Hopkins, Glenn, and FBI advisor John Douglas.
Storyboards (HD, 4 minutes) - About three dozen black-and-white storyboards with camera notations are included.
At long last, the definitive home video edition of The Silence of the Lambs has arrived! Criterion's comprehensive two-disc Blu-ray set honors this multi-Oscar-winning film like no release has before. With a stunning, all-new 4K digital restoration, the original stereo soundtrack in a lossless format for the first time, a wide-ranging spate of new and vintage supplements, and a beautifully designed 60-page book, this handsomely packaged set immerses us in Jonathan Demme's masterpiece. This disturbing yet endlessly fascinating tale of murder, manipulation, psychosis, and female empowerment that includes unforgettable performances by Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins has never looked or sounded better, and it demands a prominent place on every film lover's shelf. An upgrade is mandatory for fans, and if you haven't yet seen one of the best films of this or any era, there's no better time. Must Own.