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THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine
Director: Jonathan Demme
Audio: DTS HD 5.1, Original 2.0 Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 118 Minutes
Release Date: February 13, 2018

"Is it true what they’re saying? He’s some kind of vampire?"

"They don’t have a name for what he is."

Film ****

The Silence of the Lambs is a film I’ve journeyed into time and time again over the last ten years. I use the word "journeyed", because that’s exactly what this masterful psychological thriller from director Jonathan Demme feels like. It doesn’t just show madness on the screen for you to observe. It brings you deep inside, and keeps you there far beyond the level of comfort.

Take the introduction to one of filmdom’s most famous villains, Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (Hopkins). Long before we ever see him, we are being fed information about him. The bold, blossoming young FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Foster) is being given an assignment to interview him in prison. To get to Lecter, she descends, descends, descends, until we wonder if her destination is no less than Hell. The hallways grow darker. The walls are coarser. Keep away from him, she is warned. A photo is shown to her of a nurse who didn’t heed that advice. We don’t see the picture; we see Starling’s reaction, as the doctor offers exposition about being able to save her jaw and one of her eyes ("His pulse never got above 85, even when he ate her tongue…").

This is the fundamental premise of true psychological horror that so many movies fail to grasp. It’s not what we see that scares us the most deeply; it’s our own imagination. I can still remember when this picture first came out, and thinking that Anthony Hopkins was far too nice a guy to ever play such a disturbing character. But the film gives him a proper introduction, and by the time we first see Lecter standing in the middle of his cell, waiting for Starling (waiting for us?), our minds have been prepped. We can’t look away from this man.

Jonathan Demme has always been an experimenter with "confrontational cinema", and it’s never been used more effectively than in Silence. Instinctively, audiences crave the security of the so-called "fourth wall" that separates us from the events on a stage or screen. By constantly filming his characters staring into the camera, and therefore at us, that security is stripped away. We know that Lecter and Starling are talking to one another, but we’re no longer merely observing. We’re involved. As Demme’s camera gets closer and closer to Lecter’s leering eyes, there’s no place for us to retreat to.

The style perfectly enhances the subject matter, which is the story of a young female trainee trying to coax information out of one serial killer in order to trap another. Clarice endures Lecter’s prying eyes, but in reality, she endures them from everyone. She is a woman in a "man’s world"…in situation after situation, she is forced to assert herself when in reality she must feel like the unwanted stepchild. Perhaps it’s no wonder that she becomes the perfect person to interview Lecter; perhaps also, it’s no wonder that Lecter is fascinated by her, and shows some willingness to help.

There is very little violence shown on screen…most of what we recoil from, we do because of the mere suggestion of violence. By the time we do see horrible events unfolding, we’re ripe for them, and they have much more potency than they would had they just been installed into some by-the-numbers slasher film.

The Silence of the Lambs is character driven. It works because of our affinity for the two leading roles. Starling is a complex mix of strength and vulnerability, of emotion and reason. She stands firm for Lecter’s psychological assault in one scene, yet in another, we see her break down in tears. She is in a constant state of having to prove herself…both as a trainee and as a woman. She has to prove herself to her boss, to Lecter, but mostly, to herself.

And as far as Lecter himself goes, Anthony Hopkins created one of the most memorable and popular screen villains of all time. He horrifies us with his psychosis, yet he attracts us with his charm. His intelligence is fascinating and frightening. In many ways, he comes across as the perfect dinner companion…provided you don’t end up the dinner.

Starling’s quest is a dark journey…there’s no way to ease herself into this kind of world. If she ever seems lost for confidence, though, it is only briefly. She reminds us time and time again that she has the resilience for this work, as well as the instinct and intellect for it. She constantly walks a high tight rope above an abyss of madness, but she always makes us believe her footing is sure.

Character, atmosphere and story all come together to culminate in one of the greatest climaxes ever filmed for a thriller. There are surprises in store, and long moments of almost unbearable suspense. This sequence comes like a fanciful dessert after an unbelievably satisfying meal. You know consuming it is going to hurt, but you can’t pass it up.

The Silence of the Lambs became only the third film in Academy Award history to sweep the top five Oscars (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and a Screenplay award), and it did so with many odds against it. In most years, the film with the most nominees takes home the top award, but JFK failed to pull off the feat, and almost never does a film released in February stay with the voters until award time, but these just serve to validate what an amazing movie this really is.

Creepy and satisfying, brilliantly acted and directed, and boasting an impeccable screenplay from a top selling novel, The Silence of the Lambs is a thriller that works on all levels. It helped re-establish psychology as a driving force in horror, and by giving emphasis to character over action, earned a spot as one of the best films of its decade.

Video ****

Simply impressive...Criterion has taken a film that is now closing in on 30 years old and has given it a wonderful 4K restoration.  There is some grain naturally inherent in the filmstock here and there; this is not avoidable, but images are very sharp and detailed in terms of definition and color.  Even the darker scenes play beautifully.

Audio ****

There’s nothing silent about Silence! The uncompressed 5.1 mix is bold, absorbing, and contributes as much to making a new experience out of viewing this movie as the visual transfer. Almost immediately, I was aware that the audio was wide open, with lots of subtle, ambient sounds emanating from all channels…again, having watched this movie repeatedly, I was really struck by the difference. Dynamic range is stronger than ever, with plenty of discreet channel usage in key scenes. Dialogue is cleanly rendered, and more full sounding than ever before. For purists, the original 2 channel surround track is also an option.  Make no mistake, this new offering of Silence is a complete treat for all the senses.

Features ****

This two disc edition from Criterion is loaded with features...some new, some missing from us for far too long.  The first disc starts with the excellent original commentary from Jonathan Demme, Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Tally and John Douglas, the FBI agent who essentially created their behavioral science team.  There are 38 minutes of deleted scenes and a new interview with critic Maitland McDonough on our fascination with serial killers in entertainment.

The second disc has modern interviews with Foster and Demme, four documentaries featuring cast and crew interviews, an original behind-the-scenes featurette showing some of the only production footage of the film, storyboards, and theoriginal trailer,  A nice booklet is also included.

Summary:

The day The Silence of the Lambs went out of print from Criterion was a sad day for fans, but today is a day we can rejoice.  If you loved this movie, you’re going to be captivated by the incredible video and audio quality of this 4K 5.1 offering, plus a features package worthy of such an important modern film.  This is one of the year's best offerings so far.

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