A blu ray film review of The Silence Of The Lambs.
Dino De Laurentiis passed on the film rights to The Silence Of The Lambs because Manhunter which was an adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon had flopped at cinemas. He actually gave the film rights away for free to Orion Pictures, not a smart move and one he probably regretted.
Michelle Pfeiffer was director Jonatahn Demme's first choice to play Clarice Starling but she turned the part down due to nerves about the subject matter and the feeling the film may end up too violent.
Although Anthony Hopkins is only onscreen for 16 minutes he still won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Dr Hannibal Lecter, the film also won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director for Jonathan Demme, Best Actress for Jodie Foster and Best Adapted Screenplay by Ted Tally.
Jodie Foster was aided in her research for the role by FBI agent Mary Ann Krause, Krause told Foster that sometimes the work is so overbearing that a good cry can help with the stress the job brings. They show this in one scene where Starling cries while standing by her car.
The prequel is Red Dragon and Hopkins reprised his role of Lecter in that film but it had been made into a film back in 1986 called Manhunter, in that film Scottish actor Brian Cox plays Hannibal and it's certainly a different take on the character although personally i think Hopkins plays the part to perfection and his performance is much more memorable.
In the film the Death's Head Hawk Moth plays an important role and the movie posters featured a butterfly design which consisted of Salvador Dalí's In Voluptas Mors, this is a picture of seven naked women which was made to look like a human skull, at a distance it looks just like a butterfly but on closer examination you can see the women, i think thats fantastic poster artwork.
Gene Hackman bought the rights to The Silence Of The Lambs and had planned to direct and take on either the role of Jack Crawford or of Hannibal Lecter but after watching a clip of himself in Mississipi Burning he decided he did not want to take on violent roles and passed on the film.
Sean Connery was Demme's first choice to play the role of Hannibal Lecter, he declined.
A serial killer known as Buffalo Bill is abducting young women and skinning their bodies, the latest victim is a senator's daughter who is believed to be still alive but time is running out, the FBI's hunt to catch the killer has reached a dead end and the only hope lies in the mind of the brilliant but psychotic Dr Hannibal Lecter, Lecter killed and ate a number of people he disapproved of and is now imprisoned for his crimes, previous attempts to talk to him have proved unsuccessful but Jack Crawford who is in charge of the Behavioral Science Unit believes sending in a female may tempt Lecter into revealing what he knows and help in the investigation to find Buffalo Bill.
FBI rookie Clarice Starling is recruited for the task of interviewing Lecter, Crawford though warns her not to reveal anything too personal as she wouldn't want Hannibal Lecter inside her head, Lecter though wants just that and he offers her a deal, quid pro quo, something for something, Starling accepts the deal and the mind games begin. Clarice must piece together all the clues that Lecter gives her in the hope of finding the whereabouts of Buffalo Bill and all the while the senator's daughter comes nearer to death!
The Silence Of The Lambs is almost a perfect film for it's genre, the opening scenes with Starling running at the FBI academy at Quantico as the wonderfully atmospheric music plays sets the tone for what is to follow, it's a moody deliberate piece of film making that is never contrived and allows the audience to use their imagination. Films like this are so rare today.
In much the same way as Hannibal Lecter gets into the mind of Clarice Starling we the audience are allowed the priviledge of entering the minds of these wonderfully delicious characters.
The film makers had the help of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit and it shows onscreen with a far more realistic portrayal of FBI agent's than we have seen in the past, we see their training methods and it's things like this which make the film stand out, the screenplay by Ted Tally is fantastic, of course the source material of the novel that Tally had to work with is superb and so it would have taken a very bad writer to mess things up, Tally though is a great writer.
The acting by all is excellent, i especially enjoyed the performances from Foster, Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Brooke Smith and Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill, Anthony Heald as Dr Chilton was entertaining too, the interplay between Hopkins and Foster helps glue the film together and i felt the film was far more effective having the character of Lecter imprisoned and caged and using mind games than having him set loose as seen in the sequel Hannibal.
I must mention the amazing score by Howard Shore, it's a brilliantly orchestrated piece of music that blends perfectly with the images and helps create palatable levels of tension and fear that grow stronger until we reach the nerve jangling conclusion of the movie.
Jonathan Demme has never made a better film, his direction is assured and confident, he lets the actors do their stuff and he knows that the material is strong enough to play out without the need for quick edits or fancy tricks that other directors often choose to use to hide weak material.
The movie allows us to use our imagination and we think we see more graphic violence than we actually do, our imaginations are more powerful than anything that can be put on celluloid and thus it's a testament to all involved in this production that our imagination can be used so powerfully with this film.
This is one of those films where the negatives are hard to find, i am struggling to think of one bad thing to say or indeed a single moment that i disliked about this movie, of course the novel was cut down by a third which meant losing scenes like Jack Crawford's dying wife or Clarice meeting with Senator Martin, not really a negative but when the film is this good you sometimes want more although looking at it from a different perspective sometimes less is more and so i cannot really call the decision not to film those scenes from the novel a negative.
I originally felt image quality was a little disappointing, this was due to viewing the trailer which is available as an extra in high definition on the disc, the trailer though is likely to be from film stock that is several generations removed from the main feature and thus is grainier than what we have for the main feature, having said all that i was still displeased with some scenes such as the opening office meeting between Crawford and Starling, i felt those scenes were a little too smooth and a little too much degraining had gone on, i also feel a few individual scenes have had some minor degraining but not to the extent of that early office scene and on the whole it's watchable but i feel it could be better. Perhaps when MGM get sold we will see a better future release.
I feel they could revisit this and make a new AVC encode that would improve on this one, perhaps keep more of the film grain and this texture will help improve a handful of scenes that i think could be better, overall though this release is not as bad as i originally feared and it's better than a number of poor releases out there.
I saw this at the cinema three times in 1991, i cannot remember how it looked but this release has fleshtones that look good, black levels that are reasonable and the odd speck here and there on the print.
If you are simply upgrading from dvd then this is a big step up in quality, i saw no obvious compression artifacts or sharpening applied to the release and this pleases me, despite my earlier hesitation i am pleased i bought this disc. If you are a fan of the film it's a worthy purchase.
The mix is presented in 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio and is not the sort that will be used for demo purposes, i feel the remix opens the soundstage a little and the music score sounds especially good here, dialogue is important in this film and i felt it was clear and easy to understand, subwoofer fans should note that the film does not use any forceful low bass but the subwoofer does provide a little boost to the proceedings from time to time, there are a few moments in the rear speakers which sound good but mostly they are used for ambience.
The Silence Of The Lambs sound mix is effective and it works, it will not compete with films which constantly bombard you with rear effects and low bass but then it doesn't need to as it's dialogue that is important in this film. I had no complaints about this mix.
You return to some films after many years and find that the power has dimished, you find they no longer have the same impact they originally did and they can disappoint you, i did not find this to be the case with The Silence Of The Lambs, it's as powerful now as upon it's original release in 1991, it's a film classic that the stuff of nightmares are made, taken from a best selling novel that was brilliantly written they have condensed the novel but kept all the main ingredients intact and this has resulted in a superb piece of film making that will never grow old.
I think it's a real shame Thomas Harris felt the need to write Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, poorer books and also much weaker films, Hannibal saw Ridley Scott trying to place Lecter into the Grand Guignol setting of Florence, Italy while Hannibal Rising tried to explain why the character became who he is, both failed although both had some good individual setpieces, i felt Red Dragon which was by all accounts simply a remake of Manhunter ( since they both used the novel as their source that isn't surprising ) was a better film than either of those although Edward Norton felt miscast to me. I don't think they should make any more Hannibal Lecter films and for me The Silence Of The Lambs will remain the best film to feature the character.
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