Review: ‘The Silence of the Lambs’

Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins,

For those already armed with Criterion's 1998 DVD version of "The Silence of the Lambs," beware: This "special edition" is no improvement. Release, which is linked to the double-disc package of "Hannibal," contains its share of bells and whistles, but they are certainly not the substantial additions that would justify another DVD.

For those already armed with Criterion’s 1998 DVD version of “The Silence of the Lambs,” beware: This “special edition” is no improvement. Release, which is linked to the double-disc package of “Hannibal,” contains its share of bells and whistles, but they are certainly not the substantial additions that would justify another DVD, and the new high-definition transfer of the film doesn’t serve up a noticeably improved image.

The only genuine enhancement lies in the soundtrack, in which surround sound elements bring out more layers of pic’s densely layered aural construction, overseen by ace sound designer Skip Lievsay.

A section of outtakes consumes a paltry minute and 45 seconds, and is only memorable for an extreme low-angle shot of Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter doing Sly Stallone. A battery of eight TV ad spots is uselessly repetitive, though the theatrical trailer is interesting — if glimpsed after viewing a set of 22 deleted scenes — since it includes shots and dialogue, particularly of Scott Glenn’s FBI behavioral unit chief Jack Crawford, that were trimmed from the final cut.

It becomes clear when viewing these 20-some minutes of trims that Glenn became the prime victim of the judicious scissors of helmer Jonathan Demme and editor Craig McKay. What’s lost is much of the police procedural business, written by Ted Tally and staged by Demme in quite pedestrian, genre fashion.

Distracting business involving Jodie Foster’s FBI trainee Clarice Starling being suspended from the bureau academy for a foolhardy attempt to draw information out of Lecter was wisely removed, as were other bits which would have extended the film’s running time to nearly two hours and 15 minutes.

But the discard reel also reveals moments that should never have been left behind. Foremost is an extraordinary one-minute shot during the third Lecter-Starling meeting in which Lecter explains, more thoroughly and effectively than any equivalent scene in the final cut, the psycho-sexual background and makeup of Starling’s quarry, serial killer “Buffalo Bill” (Ted Levine). Intended at one point as a voiceover, the scene as shot is one of the most imaginatively stylized by Demme and lenser Tak Fujimoto, who have Hopkins turn from his back facing the camera into a medium close-up with the brick wall background of his cell glowing an incandescent red.

Of course, the decision to excise anything of Hopkins’ perf may now seem silly, and not only because his time on screen is a mere 34-1/2 minutes: His Lecter has any number of choice morsels in the deleted sections.

The package’s most glaring omission is an audio commentary track, even though one was recorded for Criterion’s 1994 laserdisc with Demme, Hopkins, Foster, Tally and consulting FBI expert John Douglas. As paltry compensation, a new, bland hour-long docu on pic’s making, “Inside the Labyrinth,” takes a cursory tour through the production. Then Orion exec VP Mike Medavoy reports that Gene Hackman was not only the original star attached to the project, but that he wanted to direct as well. Hackman exited after deeming Tally’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel as too violent.

Medavoy championed Demme as director, based on his past successes for Orion, including “Something Wild,” and also Robert Duvall for Lecter, while Demme’s first suggestion for Starling was his “Married to the Mob” star, Michelle Pfeiffer. Tally won out, since he says he always viewed Foster in the role.

The docu proves a poor reference point for anyone who wants to understand the literary and movie links for “Lambs.” There’s no mention, for example, of how Harris partly based the butterfly-loving Bill on John Fowles’ kidnapper in “The Collector” nor of how this marked the second Lecter movie appearance — preceded five years earlier by Brian Cox’s icy performance in Michael Mann’s clinical, fascinating “Manhunter,” now set for a re-make under Harris’ original novel title, “Red Dragon.”

An abrupt, truncated 10-minute making-of short is this package’s caboose, apparently attached because it features pleasant but hardly essential interview clips of Demme, Foster and Glenn — none of whom, incredibly, appear in “Labyrinth.”

The Silence of the Lambs

Production

An MGM Home Entertainment release of the 1991 Strong Heart/Demme production produced by Kenneth Utt, Edward Saxon, Ron Bozman. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Screenplay, Ted Tally. Release: August 21, 2001.

Cast

With: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Anthony Heald, Brooke Smith, Diane Baker, Kasi Lemmons.

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