There’s no point rehashing the plot of Silence of the Lambs as it appears on Blu-ray, because the movie’s a classic and remains such even in high definition. In fact, it’s a testament to how well Silence of the Lambs has stood the test of time that I had to seriously nitpick to find anything to criticize. The only thing that contextually dates the film is the focus on Clarice as a woman in a man’s world. Other than that, the only disappointment is that Silence of the Lambs has arrived on Blu-ray Disc one year later than anticipated, yet MGM didn’t go to any extra effort to update the previously prepared MPEG-2 transfer.
That leads to the fact that not just the transfer, but virtually the whole Blu-ray package, is the same collection prepared two years ago, including an inefficiently produced extra that robs the main feature of space on the disc (more on that later). Before you dismiss this transfer on principal, I will say it is the best that I have ever seen the film look on home video. Compared to the previous standard-def releases, it is an improvement in clarity, detail, color, etc. Beneficially there is no print damage and the subdued color palette is solidly reproduced.
Yet is it the best the film could look in 1080p resolution? The answer is a definitive “No” and not necessarily because of the encoding used though there is some artifacting and noise that may have been reduced or eliminated. It is rather due to the intrusive use of Digital Noise Reduction filtering to reduce grain. I kept trying to convince myself that the picture, while fairly clear, came off too smooth due to the age of the negative or the shooting style. Nevertheless, the image is lacking in basic grain structure for being shot on 35mm, and too many close-ups are deficient in fine object detail. While there are obvious gains from Blu-ray’s increased resolution and many will not notice the deficits of DNR, seeing how many other catalog titles have been gloriously preserved in HD (grain and all) makes you realize a classic of this stature deserves better treatment than this.
For audio we get a lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio1 track that seems to duplicate the composition of the Dolby Digital 5.1 on the previous DVD editions. I wish the original stereo mix had been included to satisfy purists and for comparison, but the audio does not feel artificial or forced like many surround tracks reconstituted from mono or stereo sources. The rears are only used sporadically for ambient effect, and I do not think my sub ever kicked in so this really functions as a 3.0 mix to my ears.
Dialog is consistently clear and never gets buried under Howard Shore’s intensely creepy score or the environmental effects. While I wish the soundtrack could have been more dynamic and enveloping with better directionality and a larger scoundscape (I have been spoiled by modern soundtracks), this is most likely the best that can be done with the original sound elements, and I would rather not have a more aggressive mix fabricated where it cannot be supported. The movie is so absorbing that you likely will notice little deficit in the audio that does its job quite well.
The majority of the extras from MGM’s previous DVD editions are included with a few new features. Sadly the excellent commentary from the long out of print Criterion DVD is still absent.
Breaking the Silence: A new feature that replays the movie in standard-def with the hard-coded equivalent of a PiP (picture in picture) commentary in the lower right of the screen and some random facts that pop up throughout on the left side. While there is much informative input from Jodie Foster, Scott Glenn, Anthony Hopkins and screenwriter Ted Tally, this really should have been done with the more recent BonusView/Profile 1.1 functionality allowing for dual decoding of the inputs. This would have not forced the studio to duplicate the movie in DVD quality taking up space that could have been allocated to the bitrate of the main feature and not forced us to have to sit through the movie in standard-def to enjoy this.
Understanding the Madness (19:35, HD): A new featurette with interviews from members of the Academy Group Inc, a forensic behavioral science firm. They comment on the art of profiling and how the film mimics real life techniques to get in the mind of a serial killer. Somewhat short but very interesting.
Inside the Labyrinth (1:06): An excellent documentary originally on the 2001 DVD with input from the main actors, screenwriter, film critics, producer, composer and set designer. This covers all aspects of making the movie and is a must watch for fans.
Silence of the Lambs: Page to Screen (41:17): A Bravo Network production hosted by Peter Gallagher that chronicles the transformation of Harris’ novel to the big screen. A good background on the author is presented with input from book editor, producer and critics.
Scoring the Silence (16:00): Talk with composer Howard Shore (David Chronenberg films, Lord of the Rings) about creating the haunting musical score. The short runtime includes a number of clips to contextualize his musical contributions.
Deleted Scenes (20:29): 22 scenes that are vaguely interesting to watch but do not add much depth and are understandable why they were dropped. Video quality is fairly poor but still watchable.
1991 Featurette (8:07): This is basically a promo piece with a few decent interview snippets with the main cast.
Phone Message (:34): Joke answering message from Lecter.
TV Spots (5:55): Eleven television spots that are fairly redundant but may be enjoyed by some for historical reference.
Outtakes (1:46): Surprisingly funny outtake reel for such a dark movie. I would have really enjoyed more of this.
Teaser Trailer (1:05): The teaser trailer with poor video quality.
Theatrical Trailer (1:49, HD): The theatrical trailer is ironically encoded in AVC with mixed video quality. It does however show grain and detail that are absent from the movie’s transfer lending towards the evidence of unnecessary DNR use.
Silence of the Lambs may not be the best film ever but stands out as a classic and influential thriller that has held up over almost two decades with several iconic characters and precise tension inducing direction. My recent viewing was as enjoyable as first seeing it 18 years ago. I really would like to see a double-dip of this title on Blu-ray to maximize its quality but considering the two year delay to get this version, I would not expect it any time soon.
Buy The Silence of the Lambs on Blu-ray from Amazon.com for only $15.
- Score: 8.5
— Robert Searle