1991 (October 19, 2021)
Strong Heart Productions / Orion Pictures / MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film / program rating: A +
- Video quality: A
- Audio level: B +
- Category of extras: B +
[Editor’s Note: A small portion of the film review is by Todd Doogan. The rest is by Bill Hunt.]
Based on the 1988 novel by Thomas Harris, Thesilenceofthelambs focuses on the twisted journey undertaken by a young FBI intern named Clarice Starling, played here with unwavering honesty by Jodie Foster. The FBI is trying to solve a wave of serial murders in Illinois, murders apparently committed by a psychopath they have dubbed “Buffalo Bill” (Ted Levine). But criminal profilers claim he couldn’t to be a person bad enough to commit such crimes in real life. It looks like Bill makes a costume out of human skin and kidnaps and murders young women to get it. Her boss, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), therefore asks Starling to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), another infamous serial killer who was once a highly respected forensic psychiatrist. After all, who better to understand such evil? Through their conversations, Starling and Lecter form a kind of bond; he agrees to help her, but only in exchange for details about his childhood … misunderstanding which Crawford specifically warns her against. But the question quickly becomes: how far is Starling ready to go? How much does she dare to reveal to Lecter in exchange for her help? And given Lecter’s crafty brilliance, is he actually helping Starling, or is he using it for his own darker purpose?
Directed by Jonathan Demme (Philadelphia cream, Stop making sense), Thesilenceofthelambs is a superb thriller that combines psychological horror and neo-noir crime drama. Much of the film’s genius lies in its restraint, which is not surprising for a production that cost less than $ 20 million. Demme and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (Wild lands, The sixth sense) reveal the details of the story slowly, reluctantly, and often in darkness, shadow or under gray skies. It’s a dark movie from start to finish, and that sense of sadness extends to the inner lives of its characters. Anthony Hopkins’ performance as a reader embodies the veneer of civilized humanity stretched dangerously over something much darker. Glenn also plays his character with a certain coldness. Crawford is a man marked by his career as a candle that burns too long. Even Starling has a dark past, traumas that haunt her since childhood. Something about the way each of these pieces fit together creates a remarkable sense of tension and dread on the screen; tension which is reinforced by the atmospheric but claustrophobic score of Howard Shore. Thesilenceofthelambs won the Best Picture category at the 1991 Oscars and also won Oscars for Demme, Hopkins, Foster and screenwriter Ted Tally.
Thesilenceofthelambs was shot on 35mm photochemical film using Panavision Panaflex cameras with Panavision spherical lenses, and it was photochemically finished at 1.85: 1 aspect ratio for theatrical exposure. For its 30th anniversary in Ultra HD, Kino Lorber Studio Classics took advantage of an existing 4K scan of the original camera negative made by MGM (and supervised by Tak Fujimoto – this is not the Master Criterion), now rated for high dynamic range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are included here). The resolution and detail show a significant improvement over the previous Blu-ray version of MGM, clearly noticeable in clothing, brick and stone, foliage, and facial detail. Even the optically printed transitions and titles reveal good detail – if anything, there’s just a little more grain visible. This grain is at moderate levels throughout the presentation, but it’s pleasantly organic. It’s always been a grainy film by design, and it’s reassuring to see that the grain hasn’t been cleaned up. The HDR quality nicely enhances the coloring of the film, while maintaining its deliberately understated and cool appearance. Still, the skin tones are natural and precise, and in the limited palette, the wider range reveals remarkable subtleties of blue, green, gray and brown. Shadows are often deeply black, and even when they aren’t, given the occasional use of atmospheres on set, they’re more detailed than ever. And the highlights are bold without sacrificing detail either, making the overcast sky appear more naturally oppressive. All in all, it’s a very nice picture. [Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, I don’t currently have the Criterion Blu-ray on hand to compare the two images, but I’ve ordered a copy and will add those details to this review when it arrives.]
The main audio on the 4K version of Kino is offered in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and it appears to be essentially the same mix that is available on the 2009 Blu-ray, perhaps with a slightly higher volume level. . The soundstage is moderately wide and facing forward, as you would expect from a movie of this type, with dialogue spread across the front but anchored in the center channel – it’s clean and clear to everything. moment. Surround channels are used almost exclusively for ambient lighting and music, giving the listening environment a bit of extra space, although there is a bit of movement every now and then. Dynamics are good overall, with Shore’s score presented with excellent fidelity – a solid bass base gives it a nice weight. An English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also available, which reproduces the original stereo theatrical experience (a nice touch, as the MGM Blu-ray did not include it). There are optional English subtitles only.
Kino’s 4K disc has just one special feature:
- Audio commentary by Tim Lucas
Lucas is a respected film critic and historian and, as always, does Yeoman’s job to provide a continuous stream of anecdotes, context, and production details.
The package also includes the movie in 1080p HD on Blu-ray (and luckily it’s absoutely mastered from 4K scan – looks fantastic), which also contains the commentary and adds the following:
- Inside the Maze: Making of The Silence of the Lambs (SD – 66:29)
- The Silence of the Lambs: from page to screen (SD – 41:18)
- Understanding the madness (HD – 19:36)
- Mark the silence (SD – 4:00 p.m.)
- Original featurette of the 1991 “Making of” (SD – 8:07)
- Jonathan Demme & Jodie Foster: the beginning (SD – 52:31)
- Deleted scenes (SD oversampled – 35:47)
- Output coil (SD – 1:46)
- Phone message from Anthony Hopkins (HD -: 35)
- TV spots (SD – 11 spots – 5:56 in all)
- Trailer (SD – 1:06)
- Theatrical trailer (HD – 1:52)
- Hannibal trailer (HD – 2:19)
Almost all of these extras are taken from the previous Blu-ray release and they are quite good despite their vintage. Some of these were produced for the original DVD version and some were new for Blu-ray. In a very nice touch, Kino Lorber Studio Classics included the Jonathan Demme & Jodie Foster: the beginning documentary that appeared on the original DVD but was omitted from the MGM Blu-ray. The Deleted scenes have also been improved; Blu-ray only included about 20 minutes in 4×3, but now they’re 16×9, have been oversampled, and they last almost 15 minutes longer. Kino also added the trailer for the Ridley Scott sequel, Annibal (which the company also released in 4K Ultra HD in 2019). Really the only thing missing here in previous versions of MGM is Break the silence (neither the original DVD featurette nor BD image-encrusted version are included) and DVD image galleries. Obviously, none of the Criterion-exclusive extras are included, which means their wonderful 1994 LaserDisc audio commentary starring Demme, Foster, Hopkins, Tally and FBI Agent John Douglas isn’t there. But then again, if you’ve got the recent Criterion Blu-ray, you’re unlikely to part with it anyway (and neither should you).
Thesilenceofthelambs is, without a doubt, an all-time movie classic. (Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for brief guest appearances from filmmakers Roger Corman and George A. Romero.) Luckily, Kino Lorber Studio Classics didn’t disappoint with the film’s first appearance on 4K Ultra HD. It’s definitely a record moviegoers will want to add to their video shelves. It is highly recommended.
– Bill Hunt (with Todd Doogan)