Silence Of The Lambs Review

The Film

Movies about serial killers may take one of two approaches. Some films decide to scare the audience with the idea that monsters are real, to tell them that crazies like Norman Bates are really out there. Such an approach confirms our own difference to the killer, that we are sane and that they are mad, quite mad. The other approach is to emphasise our similarity to the perpetrator of unspeakable acts, to emphasise that we are not evolved that far from beasts ourselves. The latter approach is unnerving and makes us doubt our own sanity and challenge our own prejudices.
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Michael Mann's Manhunter takes the latter approach with Will Graham getting too close to an evil that he learns to understand by sharing the perspective of his prey. In one set-piece, Graham runs and runs away from a meeting with Lecter, as the man behind the bars points out how similar the two men really are. Michael Mann's film did modestly at the box office, whereas Jonathan Demme's treatment of similar themes and the same characters was a huge hit and an Oscar magnet.

The reason for this, I believe, is that Demme's film leaves the pathology of serial killers as far away from the audience's own experience as possible. It even raises a heroic figure in Anthony Hopkin's Hannibal the cannibal - a chivalrous, tasteful righter of wrongs, and a punisher of the wicked. The audience even wants him to escape by the end, but interestingly he isn't the serial killer that the film is meant to be about. In Silence of the Lambs, Buffalo Bill's killings become secondary to the progress of Clarice Starling and the wit of Hannibal Lecter.
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In short, the centre of the film is given over to a vulnerable young woman whose desire to save a life is obsessive but most definitely sane and healthy. We are introduced to a male dominated profession that she will struggle to succeed in, and where she has to sacrifice her person and past to succeed in her goal. She is used as a prop, a pretty young thing to turn Lecter's head, patronised and stripped psychologically bare. Starling's sane psyche is the true topic of the film.

In comparison, Lecter is a repeating cameo who becomes an audience favourite. His intelligence and cunning, his amazing insight are celebrated and no real clue is offered as to why this man has done the things he has. In fact, the acts he carries out here seem almost justified - grumbling cops, lascivious shrinks, and well dressed politicians get theirs courtesy of some crowd pleasing one liners and carefully hidden violence.

Which leaves us with Buffalo Bill. A nutjob with no real backstory and a simple fetish for listening to bad pop music with his testicles tucked away. Lecter at least gets to be a musical hall act and visit some of the audience's unspoken desires on bad people, but Bill is simply a fruit loop that no one is in danger of feeling they may share characteristics with. If Lecter is an entertaining turn, then Buffalo Bill is the mad other - neither offers any reflection on the viewer and once they leave the film behind they can feel untouched and safe in themselves again.
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Personally, I would like to be a little more challenged. For all of it's focus on Starling the battling woman, the movie eventually resorts to genre sexism with the little ol' gal hunting the bad killer in the dark spooky house. No effort is made to really unsettle the viewer other than through gore and standard horror tricks and that's alright, but not quite the modern classic that some claim. Give me Will Graham staring at an ugly reflection fearing about what the beast within could do to his family any day.

Entertaining with a strong central performance by Foster, Silence of the Lambs does its job well but that's all.


Transfer and Sound

DVD treatments of this film have been quite ordinary, and I have to say that this hi-def transfer is not one that will stun you. Fine detail is missing from darker scenes, the image seems soft throughout and the black levels are far from strong in the exterior sequences. The better lit a passage of the story is the more likely that you will appreciate the extra definition, but this MPEG-2 transfer is a long way from stunning. The appearance of the transfer is not obviously artificial though and I'm not sure if DNR is the cuplrit here. The enlarged shot below is worth examining for strange blocky patches of shiny skin on Hopkins forehead and elusive detail all over the face.
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The soundtrack is a DTS master audio 5.1 treatment which offers a little in terms of sonic thrills and spills in the use of the rear and side channels but clearly evokes atmosphere and reproduces Howard Shore's super score very well. Outside of the score, this is a movie that I don't feel is particularly impressive in the sound department so I can only state that the track here is clear with dialogue, effects and music mixed well. There are other language standard def options included and a myriad of subtitles in text and full translation modes.

Discs and Special Features

The film comes on a dual layer disc and is region free. There is a picture in picture option which can be accessed in the documentaries section of the extras menu which allows you to watch the film with boxed interruptions from cast and writer, and occasional text based facts to take in as you watch the film through. There are two extras encoded in 1080p, the theatrical trailer, and a featurette looking at the FBI's profiling centre with real life FBI men explaining the setting up of the centre and the development of the science. It's not something that you wouldn't find hidden away on Channel Five, but it talks a little about the real life serial killers that inspired the figure of Buffalo Bill.

There is a much more substantial documentary dealing with the making of the film which follows the project from its extension of Thomas Harris' Red Dragon novel to his sequel, and then through the hands of Gene Hackman to Jonathan Demme and the eventual cast. The piece even carries on up to Oscar night and considers the success of the film. On its own this would be well made but it is rather ruined by having been previously chopped into lots of segments and then put back together as one documentary.

Next up is the same story told in even more glowing terms courtesy of a TV special called Page to Screen. Told with lots of references to "mysterious author" Thomas Harris, the only new elements in this feature are attempts to offer a mini-biography of Harris and some coverage of the anti-homophobia protests that the film received.

Howard Shore discusses his score and the importance of following Clarice Starling's perspective in the music featurette, and the final featurette in the documentary section is a short publicity piece from the film's original release. The deleted scenes include longer versions of the sequences between Starling and Lecter, lots more of Scott Glenn and Foster, and some more explanation of the film's final moments. The bloopers on the outtake reel feature Hopkins doing a Sly Stallone impression and Foster fluffing a few lines.

Lots of TV spots, 11 in fact, two trailers and the famous Hannibal Lecter phone message complete the package with about 70% of the BD50 used in total.

Summary

I may have been harsh on the video transfer here, certainly other reviewers have thought better of the Region A disc which I imagine is the same transfer as this one and probably the same disc(I watched this copy in a Region A player and FBI warnings came up!). I am hopeful that better treatments will come along but this may tide you over until they do

Film
7 out of 10
Video
6 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
8 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

Last updated: 12/06/2018 01:52:31

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