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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/7/98

The Silence of the Lambs
1991 (1998) - Orion (Criterion)

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Film Rating: A+
One of the greatest films ever put on celluloid. A well-rounded thriller with wonderful characters and a villain we all can root for.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/A-
Although the audio isn't of the THX standard the laserdisc from Criterion is, it's still good. The video transfer is flawless and respects color choices made by DP Tak Fujimoto and the extras include some of the most informative entries ever placed on DVD.

Overall Rating: A
An excellent DVD version of an excellent film.

Specs and Features

118 Minutes, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 28:00, right at change point between chapters 7 and 8), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary by director Jonathan Demme, Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, screenwriter Ted Tally and FBI consultant John Douglas, seven deleted scenes, film-to-storyboard comparison, storyboards, FBI crime classification manual, Voices Of Death: word-for-word statements of convicted serial killers, animated film-themed menu screens (with background music), scene access (27 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0 Surround Sound)


Anyone who has read any of my reviews at knows that I'm a big supporter of The Criterion Collection. I always look at their product with a critical eye, because the moment they stumble I feel a need to be there to help them get back up. So far, I've been spotting them without incident, but when they made their move to DVD recently, I got a little closer - just in case. Well it looks like I can back off now, because right out of the gate, the incredibly careful people at Criterion have been on their game. With authority, I can say that these people love movies - and although they took flack in the last couple of years for putting out questionable Disney product like SuperCop and The Rock while also claiming "a continuing series of classic and important contemporary films", their choices are ALWAYS warranted. I don't care what anyone says about The Rock, I think it's a great brainless movie filled with choices no one in their right mind would make. For some that's their complaint about the movie, but to me that's the frickin' great thing about the movie. If I want to see people make real choices, I'll go hang out with my cousin at the ER. I want to be entertained damnit - and The Rock is as entertaining as they come.

But I digress. Let's talk about a film that no one can argue about being in The Criterion Collection - The Silence Of The Lambs. Based on Thomas Harris' brilliant novel, Lambs focuses on the twisted journey taken by a young FBI trainee named Clarice Starling, played with an unflinching honesty by Jodie Foster. The journey Starling makes is in fact a quest. She is asked by her superior Jack Crawford to question the infamous Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter. Lecter is Starling's mentor in a way. She is trying to glean from him information about a current rash of serial killings occurring around the state of Illinois. Nicknamed Buffalo Bill, the serial killer is so evil, criminal profilers claim there couldn't be a person evil enough to commit the crimes perpetrated in this film in real life. What we know (and the FBI doesn't) is that Bill is making himself a suit. But not just any Brooks Brothers job, no siree Bob. Our nasty friend is making a suit out of human skin - dead, overweight and female human skin. It's a nasty idea, but it works in the context of this film.

Clarice and Lecter form a bond of sorts, and he agrees to help her, only if she tells him a story from her childhood. She agrees, and that's the movie in a nutshell. I don't like giving things away, so if you haven't seen the film for yourself, you should - and don't let anyone's opinions stand in your way. This is one well-made film, and if the subject matter doesn't appeal to you, just keep in mind that it's done very tastefully. Hell, I doubt Foster would be involved if it was exploitative.

The Criterion Collection edition of The Silence Of The Lambs is as good a DVD as your gonna get. Yeah, I would have liked more (much more actually) included in this, but for what we get, we can't complain. I can, and so I'm going to. One of the things I would have liked to have seen is a theatrical trailer - I'm assuming there is one, I can't remember - but it must have been cool. Though the laserdisc was the first Criterion disc to sport THX-quality sound, the DVD is not up to the same standard. The sound is quite good, but a laserdisc, at least at this point, shouldn't sound better than the DVD. Sadly, this is the case here. And were is a "making of"? I would have loved to see some behind-the-scenes stuff on this one - a document of how the actors did this, and some research material as to what inspired the story. I know Harris is a recluse (so much so that there is a debate whether he actually exists), but it would have been nice to get Harris involved here. [Editor's Note: I would add a 16x9 anamorphic transfer to Todd's wish list. Every widescreen Criterion DVD should be so enhanced.]

But, complaints aside, we do get a great audio commentary track. Jodie Foster starts things off with her take on the Hero Myth, a la Joseph Campbell. She breaks down Clarice's quest as being the classic hero's quest, pointing out similarities to classic mythologies and Silence all throughout the disc. She really is a brilliant person, and just hearing her talk is enlightening. Speaking of hearing someone talk -- I don't care what he's talking about, but I will forever want to hear Hopkins' voice. That guy could talk Moses into dropping a few commandments. Hopkins talks about motivation and his identity with Lecter. Fascinating and enlightening. Also included is Jonathan Demme, the director who talks about director stuff and FBI consultant (and Jack Crawford model) John Douglas, who tells us what is hokey and what is by the book. He just sounds like a cop - it's weird what we get from voices, isn't it?

On top of the commentary, there are also seven deleted scenes, all of which appear in the film in shorter versions. The stand out is the video of the evangelist that is playing during Clarice's second visit with Lecter. It's a full blown rant about child abuse, and is quite appropriate for the film's subject about nurture versus nature. The piece was written and performed by performance artist Jim Roche, a friend of Demme's that he discovered in Florida while filming Something Wild.

Of great interest, on this DVD you will find three stand out things. One, a reproduction of the FBI crime classification manual that uses examples to explain certain differences in crimes. These examples are morally repugnant, but you can't help to read on and on. The case involving two sex crime offenders, who pooled their "talent" and created a van of death, intent on raping a woman of every age, is disgusting. Ironically enough, these guys audio taped themselves doing some of these crimes and Douglas played the tape to Scott Glenn to get him into the "mood" of being Jack Crawford. Another thing on this, is a collection of quotes taken from serial killers on many different subjects. It's just a small snippet, but it is so enthralling, most anybody reading this will want to know more about what goes on in these people's minds. Lastly there is a great piece of video included here that splits the screen and shows you the storyboard and the actual film of a scene from the film. In my opinion, every special edition should include this if they're going to have storyboards. It's an incredible look behind the scenes. This is the sort of thing that was done for The Game laserdisc from Criterion, and it works wonderfully.

The disc itself is a great transfer -- colors are bright and smooth, the dark and light contrasts are beautiful. This is the best looking representation I've seen. The sound is good, it's not THX -- and since I have something to compare it to, I'm spoiled and can point this out. It sounds like the Image disc, and that is not a slam. Both discs sound good.

Bottom line

If you are interested in following Clarice Starling down into the pits of hell, the best guide you have is this DVD. A wonderful print, good sound and extras that will keep you occupied for a couple of hours make this a disc best served with fava beans and a nice Chianti. And no, I'm not going to make that slurpy noise, so don't ask.

Todd Doogan

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