Silence of the Lambs

“Silence of the Lambs” is a case study of how great a film can be when all of the elements come together. Director Jonathan Demme brought years of exploitation and mainstream experience to the film, and displayed a maturity that would elevate him to the next level as a director.


silenceofthelambsWriter Ted Tally, adapting Thomas Harris’ popular read, delivered a riveting, haunting, and ultimately intelligent screenplay. Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins and Scott Glenn gave life to characters who only existed on the printed page. Demme was reluctant to do the film because he didn’t want to make a movie about a serial killer. Instead, the focus is on young FBI cadet Clarice Starling (Foster), who wants to be a crime profiler. She gets her big break when a serial killer abducts a senator’s daughter, and the FBI is called in to save her. In order for Clarice to get inside the killer’s head, she needs a link to him. Enter Hannibal Lecter, a serial killer who feared by the FBI that they keep him locked in a basement cell far removed from civilization. Once a brilliant psychiatrist, Lecter developed a taste for human flesh and gained a nasty reputation.

Now he’s Clarice’s only hope in finding the kidnap victim alive. Good luck, because the victim is trapped in a makeshift well in the basement of a real sick-o known as Buffalo Bill. The wannabe woman has been kidnaping and killing women so he can make himself a female birthday suit. Honest! Demme employed several cinematic tricks to keep the audience off guard, including having the actors look directly into the camera while they’re addressing the other character in the scene.

That’s tough to do, and that’s what makes “Silence of the Lambs” so powerful. It’s easy to hide emotion with action. Foster and Hopkins don’t have that net to fall back on. It’s all in their eyes. The windows to their souls. It’s no wonder that Foster and Hopkins both won Best Actor Oscars for their portrayals. You believe everything they say and do. While the supporting characters are excellent, it’s the relationship that develops between Clarice and Lecter that makes “Silence of the Lambs” such potent stuff.

Their little mind games make for extremely fascinating viewing. “Silence of the Lambs” also won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. It’s an extraordinary exploration into the darkest recesses of man’s mind. The suspense is so extreme at times that the film leaves you giddy with relief when its over. The Academy usually doesn’t hand over it’s top trophies to suspense-thrillers, especially those laced with horror elements. The fact that “Silence of the Lambs” won the top awards and became a huge box office success is a testament to it’s strengths as a film.

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Handsome 1.85:1 widescreen transfer captures every somber shade of Tak Fujimoto’s mesmerizing cinematography with perfection. The color palette ranges from warm, earthy tones to vibrant neons, and all are nicely captured on the RSDL disc. I noticed some flaking half-way through the movie (the scene where Clarice takes the moth cocoon to the examined), but I wasn’t sure if it was compression artifacts or a problem with the original negative. It comes right after a reel change, so it’s tough to know where to point the finger. Otherwise, the images are sharp and realistically rendered. Check out the outstanding flesh tones. Director Demme chose to have the characters speak directly into the camera, and these close-ups act as gauges to the transfer’s clarity. One close-up of Foster is so vivid you can see the light hairs of her moustache. The blacks are solid as a rock, and hold up quite well considering a lot of the film takes place in tight, dark quarters. All in all, a solid transfer.

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Dolby Digital Stereo Surround tracks fill the room with creepy, ambient noise and the strains of Howard Shore’s haunting score. On the alternate audio commentary, director Demme talks in length about the intricate sound mix used to create mood and atmosphere. The multi-layered sound tracks sound so realistic it’s spooky. The dialogue mix and separation is superb. Even when the surround tracks reach a crescendo of music and mayhem, the dialogue is never sacrificed. Impressive high and low end frequencies with no audible hiss or disturbance.

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No closed captions or subtitles.

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This Criterion Collection DVD not only features impressive picture and audio, but comes packaged with some wicked extras:

» The alternate audio commentary track features director Demme, Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, writer Ted Tally and FBI agent John Douglas is one of the best. What a great combination of talent to bring together to explain the process of making “Silence of the Lambs.” The commentary was recorded in 1994 for the laserdisc version of the film, but it’s just as vital and fascinating today. I especially appreciated the fact that each of the players on the track are identified when it’s their turn to speak. I hate it when more than a handful of people are shoved into a room to record commentary, and none of them are identified. Oh sure, it’s not difficult to recognize Jodie Foster or Anthony Hopkins’ voice, but I wouldn’t know Jonathan Demme or Ted Tally’s voice from the guy who works out next to be at the gym. This little extra helps put their comments in perspective. The commentary for “Silence of the Lambs” is provocative and well thought out. Foster and Hopkins talk about their motivations and experiences while making the film. That’s what I want to hear. I want to know what was going through their minds when they shot some of the more difficult scenes. I could care less about their philosophy about the business. Stick to the matter at hand. They do, and provide plenty of insight into the acting profession and the personal choices they make to play a character. Likewise, Demme and Tally discuss the balancing act of turning a book about a serial killer into popular entertainment. FBI Agent Douglas lends a voice of experience to the proceedings. I found myself riveted to their observations.

» Seven deleted scenes that don’t change the narrative of the film, but do flesh out the motivations of the characters. While I can understand Demme’s reasoning for not including these scenes, they do stand on their own as pieces of vital information. Most are extensions of scenes included in the movie. One features an extended conversation between Scott Glenn and Foster after a rather grueling autopsy that makes much more sense than the one in the film. I guess Demme believes that less is more. The scene in which Clarice discovers the pickled head in the storage facility is much longer, and in my opinion, much creepier. Since these scenes were rescued on the cutting room floor, they’re not in the best condition, but they’re still worth a look.

» For a real peek inside the movie making process, check out the film-to-storyboard comparison. The scene is the one where the two policemen bring Hannibal Lecter his dinner, only to wind up victims. On the top of the screen is the storyboard for the scene, while the actual scene plays on the bottom of the frame. You’ll be amazed at the consistency of the two. The DVD also features a storyboard portfolio of the set designs and some disturbing serial killer images.

» Fans of true crime will appreciate the FBI Crime Classification Manual that goes in to detail how the FBI labels and then investigates the various sexual crimes they encounter. There are profiles of actual crimes and details how the FBI solved them. While there’s nothing too graphic here, it’s still unsettling.

» Even more disturbing is “Voices of Death,” word-for-word statements of convicted serial killers. Talk about sick puppies. Once again, nothing too graphic, and the information is essential in trying to understand these sick minds.

» Sadly, there are no production notes, cast and crew bios, or an original theatrical trailer. Oh well.

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Anyone attempting to build a serious DVD collection will already have a copy of “Silence of the Lambs” in their collection.

VITALS: $39.98/Rated R/118 Min./Color/28 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#13

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: SILENCE OF THE LAMBS – SPECIAL EDITION

BIRTH DATE: 1990

HMO: Criterion Collection



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