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08-13-2005, 03:26 PM
"I would like to chat some more Clarice, but I'm having an old friend for dinner......"
-Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

Now intermixed in a franchise which includes a prequel story based on written works, Jonathan Demme's Silence of the Lambs still shocks and entertains to this day, some sixteen years after its theatrical release; while I am preparing, personally, to add Red Dragon and Hannibal on DVD to complete the trilogy for my collection of the "Hannibal Lecter" tale, I do feel once Anthony Hopkins began stir-frying Ray Liotta's brain in a pan on a stove top and feeding it to him....well.....this first film in the trilogy (which is NOT the original story of Hannibal Lecter) just seems to shine even brighter, making the prequel and sequel seem downright silly in comparison to this narrative, atmospheric masterpiece.

Jodie Foster stars as a female FBI trainee who seems to get the chance of a lifetime as she wishes to work under the direction of Behavioral Sciences director Scott Glenn, called upon to help in a certain case Glenn and the FBI are trying to crack. It seems a serial killer dubbed "Buffalo Bill" has been skinning young, heavy set women to use these skins in a transsexual, horrific, nightmarish fashion; Glenn feels a solid lead to the Buffalo Bill murders lies within a brutal, psyopathic but absolutely brilliant doctor-turned-serial cannibal named Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (played expertly by Anthony Hopkins, in, what some film critics claim, is his best performance to date). Glenn's character sends Foster to interview Lecter in his cell at the Baltimore, Maryland-based facility he is being housed in to discover any leads he may have on the case. What ensues is a brilliant dialogue exchange (one of many) between Hopkins and Foster, giving us a glimpse into Hopkins' character and just how twisted, demented and yet absolutely brilliantly intelligent he is --- being able to make out what kind of skin cream Foster uses just from smelling her through the holes in his special plexiglass cell front, having insight to her family background, and just creeping into her psyche.....all with one visit. From the moment Foster arrives at Lecter's cell and sees him standing in the middle of it waiting for her, we already know how dangerous of a man this is. Calm and collected in his dialogue delivery, Hopkins' performance becomes downright chilling at times as he exchanges information to Foster about the Buffalo Bill case --- which he turns out to have information on because the killer was an ex patient of his --- in return for Foster providing childhood memories to him, just so he can torment her by making her relive those painful images once again.

Lecter doesn't want to make the catching of Buffalo Bill easy for the FBI for the way he has been treated over the years, so he provides subtle but cerebral clues to Foster who needs to figure out who's next on the killer's list and what kind of pattern is developing for the murders. Unfortunately, Buffalo Bill strikes again --- even though Foster's character is still receiving a history lesson of this transsexual killer from Hopkins --- this time kidnaping a senator's daughter as she arrives home one night. The plot takes many turns here, as we get shots of the girl being locked in a well in the basement of the killer's house, Foster and the FBI working out a fake deal for Lecter's release to a "secluded island" in exchange for more information regarding the whereabouts of the senator's daughter, Lecter's eventual brilliant escape from a caged-in cell he has been transferred to in a courthouse (where he brutally murders ONLY TWO policemen who come to serve his extra rare lamb chop dinner to him and uses one of the dead cops' face to cover his own so he is transported in an ambulance while the real dead cop has been left for dead on an elevator roof and the other disemboweled), some more chilling, cerebral dialogue between Foster and Hopkins, in which we understand the meaning of the film's title (based on a dream Foster's character had about screaming lambs from her childhood) and a final confrontation sequence between Foster and the real Buffalo Bill killer whom she stumbles upon after doing some investigating --- while Glenn and the FBI are investigating in a completely wrong area.

The significance of the butterflies on all the marketing material surrounding this picture since its release, and in the film itself, is as Hopkins describes it to Foster: to Buffalo Bill, the obsession he has with moths and butterflies, which infest his house, represents "change" --- from caterpillar into butterfly, hence his transsexual behavior which gets downright disturbing and difficult to watch at times. What has always been interesting about this film is that one would think there would be a great concentration on Hopkins' "Hannibal" character, but it focuses on his ASSISTANCE in catching another killer; the details about Lecter's beginnings as a killer are documented in the prequel, but not so successfully if you ask me (on second thought, I may not buy the sequel and prequel on DVD....).

Hopkins was almost born to play this role, and his onscreen presence can easily overshadow the other acting going on here --- but this is not to take anything away from Jodie Foster's delivery as Agent Clarice Starling, whom she portrays brilliantly as well as the wide-eyed "student" of Scott Glenn, eager to dive right into the FBI's Behavioral Science division and yet terrified AND at the same time willing to stand up to the mental assaults from Hopkins' character....which are mentally brutal. It's almost as if Hopkins' character knows everything about everyone just by looking at them; the cinematography is brilliant especially towards the end, where Foster is talking to Hopkins through the bars of a cage he is locked in, Hopkins teasing Foster with clues to cracking the Buffalo Bill case and yet at the same time delving deeper into her childhood memories, fears and pain; the shots of Hopkins' sneering, cold, lifeless eyes as they stare at Foster walking around his cage can get downright spine tingling no matter how many times you watch this picture, good for a chill up that same spine a couple of times. No doubt intended by Demme.

Two things I would like to mention in closing before I get to the technical specs of the DVD regarding this film; first, it is often asked many times by viewers and casual fans of this film HOW exactly Lecter got that pen clip into his mouth to pick the handcuffs off when he is transferred: after many discussions with absolute diehard fans of the film and my own conclusions agreeing with this theory, it is believed that after Doctor Childen leaves Lecter's cell informing him there will be no exchange to a tropical island as the FBI promised him, he also leaves his pen behind and once unmasked and "prepared" for his transfer, Lecter came in possession of the clip and hid it in his mouth that whole time. Now, you may say, where was the FBI to check his mouth, but then the question COULD be asked, maybe the FBI members didn't wish to get that close to this cannibal's mouth in order to check --- but that's just one theory. Also, there have been complaints about the fact that only TWO somewhat unarmed men are sent into Lecter's cage towards the end to feed him his lamb chop dinner, knowing Lecter is extremely dangerous and yet only these two men enter......wouldn't it have made more sense to send the whole S.W.A.T. team up there to guard this guy all the time instead of them being on the floors below?

Now, one thing, after discussing this picture with diehard fans (and they're out there), that couldn't be ascertained was this, and please feel free to share any thoughts you may have on what you think may have transpired: after "Miggs" in the cell next to Lecter flings his semen all over Foster, the next day he supposedly "swallowed his own tongue" courtesy of Doctor Lecter.....how exactly, we wonder, did Lecter manage to kill Miggs? Unless we missed something here; it had been explained to me from a fellow member on another site I am senior DVD reviewer for that Hopkins "talked Miggs into" swallowing his own tongue......

There WAS a Criterion version of this title available which was extremely hard to find and then went out of print, so what we have now is MGM's restored version of the film, taking it over from the vaults of the now defunct Orion studios; prior to this Special Edition, there was a more stripped-down edition of the title available, and still is --- because there was one on the shelf where I bought this Special Edition. If you read other online reviews of this Special Edition version (which claims to have been given a high definition transfer by MGM), this "remastered" edition received very negative press, with other reviewers claiming that the same soiled attributes of the original disc plagued this one. I found nothing wrong with this presentation, save audio usage.


My eyes told me this was a beautiful print to look at, so I donít know what other members of the DVD reviewing world were looking at; the ONLY "problem" I detected was in the colors --- for the most part, the colors in this transfer aren't leaping off the screen and indeed seem subdued and tame; however, there are moments when reds get shockingly red and green of grass sequences jump to life and really make you sit up and notice. But I detected little, if ANY, dirt, grain or artifacting of any kind that would distract from this transfer. For a film of this age, it sure does indeed seem like MGM gave the title a high definition anamorphic remastering. Due to the aspect ratio and my over scanning screen, there was no letterboxing present during my review of this title, and the image filled my 55-inch display proudly. This is the best Silence of the Lambs is going to look for now, folks, no doubt. I cannot comment on the Criterion version, as it is now out of print from what I understand, but MGM delivered a very nice presentation here, plus packed it with some pretty nifty special features, which I'll get to in a moment.


First of all, this is not the first time MGM has done this, and someone over there better hire someone with a bit more concern for quality control or perhaps good old fashioned proofreading; the audio track on the package is simply labeled completely wrong.....MGM claims this is a "5.1 SURROUND STEREO" track on the back of the box, which, we all know simply makes no sense. This is a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation, friends, NOT a 5.1 STEREO mix as advertised, as my DVD player clearly indicated as it ran the track in DOLBY DIGITAL 3/2.1 channel.

Moving beyond that, there isn't much to say about this mix except for the fact that I detected ABSOLUTELY NOTHING coming from the rear channels, and very little from the stereo mains, to be honest; there is good score support through the front soundstage, yes, and there were no problems, believe it or not, with dialogue levels, distortion or anything in that realm, but to call this a "5.1 Surround" track was stretching it because my system delivered NOTHING to the rears to add ANY kind of ambience even....no birds chirping.....no environmental audio support.....nothing. So that was a bit disappointing as the overall presentation sounded like, as I like to call it when reviewing, "glorified mono."

SPECIAL FEATURES on MGM's Special Edition release included:

-Brand New "Inside the Labyrinth" Documentary Including All New Interviews with the Cast Featuring Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster and More
-20 Minutes of Deleted Scenes
-Original 1991 "Making Of" Featurette
-Anthony Hopkins' Phone Message
-Never Before Seen Outtake Reel
-Photo Gallery
-Collectible Booklet
-Teasers, Trailers, TV Spots and More