The Silence of the Lambs: Special Edition
MGM Home Video
Starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins
Written by Ted Tally
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Review by Dawn Taylor
It's extremely rare for a movie to win all of the top five Academy Awards: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture. The Silence of the Lambs, a modestly budgeted thriller released in the middle of winter on Valentine's Day, 1991 took critics, audiences and the Academy by surprise by turning out to be one of the most mesmerizing stories of Good vs. Evil ever committed to celluloid, and swept the Oscars over a year later. A decade's passed, and it remains one of cinema's scariest and most entertaining offerings, neither horror nor suspense nor whodunit, but a stunning combination of all three.
Jodie Foster plays one of the screen's great heroines as Clarice Starling, a rookie FBI agent handpicked to help find a notorious serial killer by the Bureau's expert on the subject, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn). Her assignment is to visit the infamous killer Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant psychiatrist who has made a habit of eating parts of his patients.
Clarice's first glimpse and ours of Lecter is destined to become one of history's classic villain entrances: As we approach Lecter's cell, we find him standing perfectly still in the center of the floor, ready and waiting in his crisp (almost tailored) prison jumpsuit. Despite his smile, his glittering eyes are like that of a savage wild animal prepared to strike in fact, he leans forward, just slightly, as if prepared to do just that, should the opportunity arise. When he speaks, we hear the voice of a man who's so confident in his superior intellect that he can barely stand conversation with ordinary people, yet who is bored enough to toy with the new visitor as long as it suits him. It's an indelible first impression of evil, and Hopkins well deserved his Oscar.
Silence's other manifestation of evil is the serial killer she's hoping Lecter will lead her to, Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), his gruesome nickname bestowed upon him by the police because of his modus operandi: He skins his victims. Balancing Hopkins' lip-smacking performance as the diabolical Lecter, and Levine's turn as the terrifying madman Buffalo Bill is Foster's dead-on portrayal of Starling, a classic hero. The rare female action lead usually goes about her business in ass-hugging shorts and Wonderbra Clarice Starling is almost Arthurian, having devoted her life to the cause of justice and swallowing her terror to battle dragons without the aid of stiletto heels or a big strong man to save her bacon.
Thomas Harris' novel is a fine example of how to write a tight, economical thriller, and director Jonathan Demme's direction of Ted Tally's script brings the viewer into the story almost by force closeups, particularly of Lecter, are abundant; there's at least one shot in every segment of someone speaking directly to the camera; the film is shot almost exclusively from Clarice's eye level, or even a little below; the indoor scenes are cramped, bringing the camera in even closer to the actors and continuing the feeling of being right inside the story. The most important scenes in the film are long stretches of dialogue between Clarice and Lecter, yet these scenes never drag because of Demme's use of the camera, and his careful examination of Hopkins and Foster's facial expressions, capturing not just what they're saying but most notably with Foster what she's not saying. Establishing from the start of the film that we're seeing most of the film's events through Clarice's eyes, Demme then lets us see what she sees, no matter how painful. How fascinating and horrible it is for us to examine the bulletin board in Crawford's office, with its graphic photos of Bill's victims how uncomfortable we are when a roomful of cops look us over and dismiss us as a mere girl. By the time Clarice finds herself in Buffalo Bill's lair, we're so inside her head that it's us down there with him, too. And when the ending finally comes, it's almost as if we caught the killer ourselves.
Now that's a good movie.
- The 60-minute "Inside the Labyrinth" documentary visits with film critic Amy Taubin, producer Ron Bozman, and actor Ted Levine discussing America's obsession with serial killers, and the real-life madmen that Harris based Buffalo Bill on. Background includes the interesting tidbit that Gene Hackman originally bought the property as a starring vehicle for himself, but eventually decided to pass on it and that Demme's first choice for the role of Clarice was Michelle Pfeiffer, whom he'd just directed in Married to the Mob. Hopkins describes how Demme explained the character of Lecter to him: "He's a compassionate man, he's a humanitarian. He's a good man locked inside this insane mind. And for some God knows what reason, I understood the man and how to play him. I knew he was the shadowy figure that lurks inside all of us." Also includes behind-the-scenes information on the special effects, costuming, sets, props, and score plus an interesting look at the public reaction (both positive and negative) to the film on its release.
- A 10-minute"Making-of" featurette from 1991 is mainly notable for its inclusion of footage of Foster and Demme who are noticeably absent from the new, longer documentary. There's also no commentary track, unlike on the earlier Criterion release. Now, it's understandable that they wouldn't want to re-record their comments again. But not including them in a new feature on the making of the film, when they talk to Ted Levine and even Roger Corman, who had a cameo has the FBI director? It couldn't possibly be that MGM is holding a grudge over their backing out on Hannibal, could it? Nah.
- The Outtake Reel offers a small handful of bloopers, including Tracey Walter as the coroner, having trouble donning his latex gloves; Foster making a mistake, laughing and saying "I fucked up!"; Hopkins covered with blood, doing a bizarre imitation of Sylvester Stallone; and Foster saying "Put your hands on your hips!" (instead of "in the air") saying, "Put your hands on your hips?!" Then laughing, shaking her head and exclaiming, "And do the fucking hokey pokey!"
- A phone message by Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, which is sort of pointless and not really especially funny. Although if you'd called his house in 1991 and that was his actual message, that would have been pretty cool.
- "Deleted Scenes" Eleven scenes, most very short snippets including montages of lines cut from all three of the Clarice/Lecter scenes that were probably cut for pacing. Among the best are a quick glimpse at Buffalo Bill making a mistake while sewing, and yelling, "Fuck!" and the owner of the storage facility telling Clarice, as she crawls under the storage unit's door, "Might I suggest tucking your pants into your socks? To prevent rodent intrusion."
- Other stuff The theatrical trailer and eight different TV spots, mainly interesting in anthropological sort of way. I mean, how many different ways can you cut the same 30-second commercial?
- Anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1)
- Single-sided, dual-layered disc (SS-DL)
- Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby 2.0 Surround (French), Dolby 2.0 mono (Spanish)
- Subtitles in English, French and Spanish
- Documentary: "Inside the Labyrinth" (60 min.)
- 1991 "making-of" featurette
- 20 minutes of deleted scenes
- Outtake reel
- Phone message by Anthony Hopkins
- Photo gallery
- Theatrical trailer
- Eight TV spots
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