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The Silence of the Lambs BD impressions


Over the last couple of evenings, we’ve been enjoying some cannibalistic fun by watching the BD releases of The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. Until now, I’ve always been of the rather unusual opinion that Hannibal is the better of the two, but I must confess that, now, I’m beginning to reconsider this. About half-way through Hannibal, my brother commented “This is good, but they’re not really using Anthony Hopkins as much as they did in the first one.” I asked him if he knew that Hopkins only actually appeared for about fifteen minutes in Silence, and he was astounded. Many people have just such a reaction when it’s pointed out to them, and I take this as a testament to how powerful Hopkins’ performance as Hannibal Lecter is: he overwhelms the movie, and is the element people are most likely to remember, but in reality is screen time is very limited. By contrast, he is all over Hannibal (appropriately so, given the title), but somehow makes less of an impact. I’m not sure whether to blame Steven Zaillian’s script or Hopkins’ more nudge-nudge-wink-wink performance, or a combination of the two, but watching the two films one after the other, I found myself both appreciating Silence’s strength and noticing Hannibal’s weaknesses more than in the past. I still consider the latter a film of great beauty and don’t really feel that it’s possible to directly compare the two (I think doing just that is why so many people found the sequel to be a let-down), but let’s just say it’s wobbling slightly on the pedestal on which I previously placed it.

As for the image quality of the two films on BD, I’ve already covered Hannibal here. For The Silence of the Lambs, 20th Century Fox and MGM have served up an MPEG-2 encode - probably the same MPEG-2 encode that was prepared for the film when the BD was originally going to come out in early 2007. This disc has been subjected to some degree of criticism online, but I personally feel that it’s not as bad as some have suggested. A degree of grain reduction appears to have been applied, but it’s a long way indeed from looking like a waxwork museum in the Dark City vein. Some comparisons have been drawn to the far grainier theatrical trailer found in the disc, but I think it’s unfair to measure the level of grain found in it to that of the film itself, as the elements used for the trailer are likely to be at least a couple of generations removed from those used for the film master. Detail is less than stellar, but I suspect this was always going to be the case. The encoding, meanwhile, is not bad, although a smattering of compression artefacts can be seen on occasions, and become quite pronounced in the “epilogue” showing Clarice’s graduation (see Example 15).

My biggest complaint is the same one that I applied to the MGM DVD releases: the colour palette has, apparently, been changed somewhat from the film’s original theatrical exhibition. The now out of print Criterion DVD, the transfer for which was supervised by cinematographer Tak Fujimoto and approved by director Jonathan Demme, has long been held up as a more faithful representation of these men’s intentions. The MGM master tends to look a little overlit, particularly noticeable in the scenes “down in the dungeon”, which on the Criterion DVD are darker and have a slight reddish tint (symbolic, perhaps, of entering the bowels of Hell). The lighting in the MGM version looks a little too bright for what is meant to be a dank and foreboding place, and the beginning of Clarice’s second conversation with Lecter, which starts with the lights turned out, reveals some wonky shadow detail as a result of the gamma having been increased (see Example 5). The debate will no doubt continue as to just how right or wrong the Criterion and MGM versions are, but I know which one I personally prefer and am somewhat disappointed by how the film looks here. 6/10

The Silence of the Lambs
studio: 20th Century Fox/MGM; country: USA; region code: A; codec: MPEG-2;
file size: 20.7 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 25.06 Mbit/sec

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Posted: Tuesday, March 03, 2009 at 1:16 PM | Comments: 8
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology



I suppose it could have been a lot worse, but it's annoying all the same that MGM couldn't take the time to treat what must be a real cash cow for them to as perfect a transfer as possible. Are there any other territories where this is not owned by MGM and where we might see a different encode?

Posted by: High Chaparral, March 3, 2009 7:11 PM


That's why I never liked Hannibal. It's visually and aurally stunning, yes, but it makes no dramatic impact. It feels smug and self-referential in its writing but it's directed in a totally different style.

Posted by: Tyler, March 3, 2009 7:31 PM


Tak Fujimoto also supervised the transfer for this but i also prefer the Cruterion colors and contrast levels.

I feel this release deserves as much criticism as possible because if you are going to delay a release for almost 2 years then at least treat those who have been waiting patiently to a new encode and the best possible stellar transfer.

This release is a major disappointment.

As for the movie well it is so much better than Hannibal. I felt Hopkins overacted in Hannibal and the script was just not as good although it didn't help that the book it was based on wasn't that good either and the character just feels more dangerous when he caged.

I also think the trailer might actually have the colors and contrast of the Criterion and cinema release.

You say detail is less than stellar yet seem to be defending the transfer and this release. I would have hoped you would not do this as i believe most reviewers are probably going to say this release looks just fine and i thought you might be pickier and more critical for this one.

Some scenes look very off and answer me this - Why does Scott Glens face look normal in the trailer yet in the actual film it looks like his face is proportionally wrong and distorted.

For those of us who love this movie and have been waiting patiently for it this is a major disappointment and it could be many years before it is re-released or two if they are going to do an ultra special edition for the twentieth anniversary.

I hope Jonathan Demme gets involved for the 20th anniversary and i hope they finally go back to the cinema and Criterion prints.

The more i see this release the more i hate it and i consider it below average.

Posted by: FoxyMulder, March 3, 2009 8:26 PM



It’s not so much a case of defending this transfer as simply reporting what I see, and in my opinion what I’m seeing is nothing like as hideous as what has been reported by some viewers. I can certainly understand you being disappointed by it, and I agree it’s far from perfect, but I certainly don’t see it as anything approaching a disaster.

As for Scott Glenn’s face, can you be sure that it’s the film that’s distorted? Looking at the two image side by side, my gut reaction is that the trailer is squashed, not that the film is stretched.

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, March 3, 2009 9:49 PM


For what it's worth, Scott Glenn's irises are closer to circles in the transfer proper.

Posted by: High Chaparral, March 3, 2009 10:18 PM


I did consider the trailer might be squashed but then look at the hairline on the trailer.

In that shot i also feel the actual Blu Ray shows that Glenns face is actually approaching waxy and certainly is lacking with regards to facial details.

Whilst there are worse transfers out there i am disappointed that this could have been amazing and it ended up being like it is.

I mean you have probably seen the MPEG2 edition of The Descent and then been able to compare to an AVC edition with grain intact and thats what i feel about this transfer - I feel it's going to please a lot of people who just don't know how good these transfers can potentially look on an HD format but it is lacking the absolute finest detail that the best transfers have.

I don't even think the codec is to blame it's the actual people doing the encode who took the decision to filter some of the grain and detail away.

I have never said in my posts at AVS that the transfer is a disaster but it is a major disappointment after the long wait to get it on Blu Ray and i sure hope when MGM release The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly in May that they have retained the grain structure rather than wiped it away and given it the clean look which so many online reviewers mistake for perfection. ( not counting yourself there )

Posted by: FoxyMulder, March 3, 2009 10:22 PM


The other thing about that trailer is apart from showing more on the hairline if you check the bottom part of the image and the sides of the image you will notice nothing is missing when compared to the other frame from the Blu Ray so the frame hasn't just been changed slightly and had the image opened up at the top as would happen with a Super 35 shot film. The trailer actually has more on the hairline but other than that the composition is identical so the trailer can't be squashed but the Blu Ray must have had something done to it.

If the trailer had less image at the bottom then it would simply be a different composition with the mattes opened at the top but losing some image at the bottom but that isn't the case if you examine it closely.

That suggests to me something is wrong.

Posted by: FoxyMulder, March 3, 2009 10:50 PM


I admire The Silence of the Lambs a great deal, though I'm always left with a problem. I prefer book-Lecter, but also film-Clarice. (I personally believe that of the two, acting honours lie with Jodie Foster ahead of Anthony Hopkins)

Overall, though, I think the film is better than the book. I don't actually rate Thomas Harris that highly as an author.

Posted by: Baron Scarpia, March 3, 2009 11:58 PM

Comments on this entry and all entries up to and including June 30th 2009 have been closed. The discussion continues on the new Land of Whimsy blog:


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