Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Review: Criterion Edition of 'The Silence of the Lambs'

The horror film had basically been around since the dawn of cinema—Méliès’s still-creepy Le Manoir du diable appearing just a few years after the Lumière Brothers’ earliest experiments—but it remained so disreputable that the fact that a true-blood horror movie such as The Silence of the Lambs could also be a prestige picture was still regarded as something of a novelty a century after Méliès. And Jonathan Demme’s film won all its critical, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and audience plaudits despite being a gory, grisly, transgressive adaptation of a pulp novel. Demme’s pungent Gothic style, Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins’s masterful performances, and a story with a pulpy surface and a pointedly feminist core were all suited to the art houses as well as the multiplexes. That the film’s gigantic artistic and commercial success didn’t actually manage to spark some sort of horror revolution—in fact, the nineties proved to be a really decade of doldrums for the genre—emphasizes how horror hadn't quite gone legit yet and what a lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenon The Silence of the Lambs was.

That doesn’t mean the movie is tragically dated, though the fact that the acronym “LGBQT” has become a household word in the ensuing 27 years means that members of that community will no longer be the only ones who take offense to the stereotypical antics of trans serial killer Buffalo Bill. The film’s legacy does not ignore that unfortunate reality, which is addressed in nearly every supplemental feature in the film’s multitudinous DVD and Blu-ray editions.

The Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray edition of The Silence of the Lambs gathers every substantial bonus feature from those various discs released by various companies (well, MGM and Criterion, to be precise), while also giving them a 1080p upgrade. Criterion’s latest also adds two significant additions, the most enticing of which will probably be an extra 20 minutes of deleted scenes (this includes eight full minutes with that obnoxious preacher Hannibal Lecter is forced to watch from his cell), though critic Maitland McDonagh’s discussion of serial killers in life and film and the way they pertain to the main feature is the most compelling new perk. She also speaks at length about the Hannibal TV series.

As for that main feature, Criterion’s 4K restoration is one of the best I have ever seen. The film’s muted tones may slightly mute the wow factor, but not by much. You don’t need an eye-full of brilliant colors to appreciate how powerful the definition and depth of this picture are. Some of the exterior scenes practically look 3-D. So those hours and hours of interviews and documentaries are really great, but the real reason to upgrade to this new Criterion blu-ray is the most potent representation of some of the most potent images of nineties cinema.
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