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Lambs’ DVD adds little to horrific, historic film

Brian Doxtader | Monday, February 5, 2007

Just in time for the upcoming “Hannibal Rising” comes a new two-disc “collector’s edition” of Jonathan Demme’s “Silence of the Lambs.” The film that made Hannibal Lecter the cinema’s most famous cannibal, “Lambs” was also a critical smash, winning all five of the major Oscars at the 1991 Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay).

The second film based on the novels of Thomas Harris – the first is 1986’s “Manhunter,” directed by Michael Mann and starring Brian Cox as Lecter – “The Silence of the Lambs” launched Anthony Hopkins into superstardom and solidified Jodie Foster as a major talent. It follows rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling (Foster), as she pursues the serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). Starling and her boss, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), employ the help of incarcerated serial killer Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter.

Lecter slowly leads Starling to the murderer, but through a series of mind games that threaten to break down the fragile agent.

“The Silence of the Lambs” is anchored by its strong performance and the sure-handed direction of Demme, who gives the film a stylish – and somewhat stylized – look and feel. Hopkins’ performance is one of cinema’s all-time greats, and he managed to take home the Best Actor statuette, despite less than 20 minutes of screen-time. Foster more than holds her own, and her strong-willed performance also won her a Best Actress Oscar.

“Lambs” is also a modern classic, and its plethora of awards helped make it a template for its genre – it is the only horror film that has ever won the Best Picture Oscar (though the term “horror” has to be used loosely). As a chilling and disquieting piece of psychological drama, it remains nearly unsurpassed, especially by its inferior sequels, “Hannibal” (directed by Ridley Scott, with Julianne Moore in the role of Starling) and “Red Dragon” (directed by Brett Ratner). It’s difficult to believe that “Hannibal Rising” will come close to matching the effectiveness of “Lambs,” especially without Hopkins, who was the life-blood of the series.

The two-disc collector’s edition is no less than the third DVD edition of “The Silence of the Lambs.” The first was the Criterion Collection edition, which eventually went out of print. MGM released its own “Special Edition,” which was intended to coincide with the theatrical release of “Hannibal.” Unfortunately, this new version isn’t as complete as it could be. It includes most of the special features from the special edition, with a couple of new documentaries and the teaser trailer. The documentaries are nice, interesting and informative, but the features from the coveted Criterion edition – a commentary track from the director, screenwriter and stars in particular – are nowhere to be found. The audio and visual quality haven’t been upgraded since the last release, which was more than five years ago, so there really isn’t a reason for anyone who already owns the film to upgrade.

“The Silence of the Lambs” deserves better than this edition, and it’s unfortunate that the Criterion is out of print (and its special features with it). Fans of the film might’ve hoped that Criterion would have reacquired the rights and released a new edition with upgraded picture and sound. As it stands, “Lambs” is a classic in its own right, even if the new DVD doesn’t do it justice.