By Scott Weinberg
My favorite piece of trivia regarding Jonathan Demme's truly excellent The Silence of the Lambs is this: It was only the third film in history to win the Top 5 Oscar Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress). The other two were It Happened One Night (1934) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). Why is this my favorite piece of trivia? Because The Silence of the Lambs is a horror movie! How cool is that? I thought it was pretty great when Sigourney Weaver got nominated for Aliens, but this is truly amazing. Not since The Exorcist had a horror flick been this applauded! It was almost as if ... "horror" were its own legitimate genre! One worthy of attention and praise! Neato!
Oh sure you'll get some whiners who choose to call this movie a "psychological thriller," as if horror is a ghetto term and entirely unworthy of a true cinephile's attentions. Forget that stuff. Not only is Silence of the Lambs a true-blue horror movie, but it's also a deeply fascinating police procedural AND a deeply insightful character study as well. Toss in a bunch of thrills and chills, a pitch-perfect screenplay and a director who's firing on all cylinders, a flawless cast, a powerful score...
I feel like I'm preaching to the choir here. And let's not forget all those Oscars.
For most folks, Silence of the Lambs is where they first got to meet the now-immortal Hannibal Lecter (others among us remember the character from a brief-yet-memorable appearance in Michael Mann's Manhunter) and fell in love with his cannibalistic ways. The character has become as iconic as Freddy, Jason, Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster in recent years -- but Demme really knew what he was doing here. Jodie Foster plays the fledgling FBI agent who must match wits with the super-genius man-eater if she wants to track down a second psycho who skins his poor victims, but if that plot synopsis sounds a lot like an episode of CSI or Bones, then you probably haven't seen Silence of the Lambs yet. And if not, then shame on you.
I could go on and on, and it wouldn't all be praise for the usual suspects, either. Ted Levine as the horrific Jame Gumb, the role that turned him into one of the busiest character actors around; Anthony Heald as the wonderfully oily Dr. Chilton; and of course Scott Glenn as FBI veteran Jack Crawford. With lesser actors in these relatively smaller roles, The Silence of the Lambs simply wouldn't be the modern classic it is today. And a special parcel of praise to Howard Shore for his smoothly sinister musical score. Great, great stuff.
In this brand-new "Collector's Edition", the film is presented in a very fine anamorphic widescreen(1.85:1) transfer, with audio delivered in Dolby Digital 5.1 English or DD 2.0 French / Spanish. (Optional subtitles are available in English and Spanish.)
Released on DVD numerous times in the past (including a Criterion Collection release that still fetches a nice rate on eBay), Demme's Silence earns yet another MGM re-release (most likely thanks to the upcoming prequel, Hannibal Rising), but is this edition worth the double-dip? Depends on how big a Lecter fan you are. Returning from the previous release is the rather excellent 100-minute "Inside the
Labyrinth," which features all the delicious interviews and insights that us geeks demand. Also returning are the 1991 promotional featurette, all the deleted scenes, an outtake reel, some trailers and TV spots, etc., etc.
New to this set are "Page to Screen," which is an old Bravo special about, well, transforming Silence of the Lambs from a book to a movie, and a bunch of interview segments with director Jonathan Demme, lead actress Jodie Foster, and composer Howard Shore. Plus you'll get a bunch of recipes from good ol' Dr. Lecter, and who wouldn't want those?
Bottom Line: If you don't already own Silence of the Lambs on DVD, this new package is almost certainly your best bet (unless you're a mega-geek and you rrrrrreally want that old Criterion release!). Here you'll get the best extras from the first release, a small fistful of new goodies, and one of the best "mainstream" horror movies you're ever likely to see. If you already own the previous release(s), I'd say just stand pat. Unless you're an junkie for the supplemental features, in which case I'd say just go spoil yourself. This movie's worth it.