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Mediocre blu-ray for a five-star film... if you have this already on DVD, don't bother
on March 17, 2009
Pulp entertainment of the highest order, "The Silence of The Lambs" is terrific filmmaking. Entertaining, suspenseful and more than a bit hokey (albeit in just the right places), "Silence" at its core is a "B" movie thriller given an "A"-level film treatment. Fine direction, a crackling plot, iconic characterizations, perfect casting and superlative performances all adds up to a five-star film (out of five) that is worth owning for any self-respecting horror/suspense fan. Unfortunately, MGM's "Silence" Blu-Ray debut is sure to disappoint, as it looks strikingly similar to a finely upconverted DVD, albeit one with heavy doses of grain throughout. Yes, sharpness is slightly improved, but it's only really noticeable in a handful of scenes, and the difference is hardly impressive; the same can be said for the Blu-Ray's blacks and slightly-improved colors.
Some are attributing this to the MPEG-2 encoding, but really the problem lies with the film master source, which really needs a better clean-up. Another contributing factor is the cinematography and lighting of the film, which just doesn't lend itself all that well to hi-def. The underwhelming DTS-HD 5.1 audio fares no better, again probably due to the limitations of the original audio source; the overall sound is flat with the rear channels and sub-woofer barely used, if at all. To top things off, this Blu-Ray release includes most, but not all, of the extras found on the previous DVD releases, meaning if you're a hardcore "Silence" fan, you'll want to to hang on to your old DVD(s). Of course, the Blu-Ray edition does currently offer the best visual and audio presentation of this film, but the difference is decidedly unimpressive and contains far greater film grain than any of the previous DVD incarnations, to boot.
As a side note, I want to state that I have no problem with film grain per say, and will always take the naturally grainy-albeit-sharp look of film over a waxy-looking DNR "remastering" any day of the week. Yet, when the only appreciable gain of a Blu-ray upgrade over its (1080P upconverted) DVD counterpart is a barely perceptible upgrade in sharpness, slightly stronger colors and heavier doses of grain (stemming from a combination of a worn master, mediocre re-mastering, digital noise and the type of film stock originally used for shooting the film), then I say stick with the DVD, as the trade-off simply isn't worth it.
Regarding special features, while the majority of the bonus features included on the Blu-Ray are simply ported over from the 2007 DVD release, the Blu-Ray does contain one exclusive: a picture-in-picture commentary / trivia track called "Breaking The Silence", which has factoids mixed in with occasional snippets of new interviews from Jodie Foster, Scott Glenn, Anthony Heald, Anthony Hopkins, and screenwriter Ted Tally. Unfortunately, it sounds cooler than it really is; while the interview snippets are pretty good, there is no making-of footage of any kind included in the PIP, and the factoids mostly contain information that is recycled from earlier (more compelling) bonus features. Also, there are annoyingly long stretches throughout the film in which the PIP track simply disappears. Overall, a mediocre exclusive bonus feature at best, and decidedly inferior to Criterion's audio commentary track (or the previously made making-of docs, for that matter).
So, for those who DO NOT OWN any DVD edition of "Silence of The Lambs", this is what it boils down to:
- The Blu-Ray is currently reasonably priced here on Amazon.com and (depending on your tolerance for film grain) is therefore worth picking up;
- For hardcore "Silence" fans, they should seek out both the Blu-Ray AND the Criterion DVD, as the Criterion disc contains special features that are not contained in any other edition of this film on home video, particularly an outstanding (and exclusive) audio commentary track that includes Foster, Hopkins and director Johnathan Demme. As I type this, it's still the overall best making-of feature made for "Silence", IMO.
- Be advised that the Criterion DVD has the weakest visual presentation of the various DVD releases, as the picture on that disc is in non-anamorphic widescreen, which is why I recommend the Criterion version to Criterion collectors and hard-core "Silence" fans only;
- For the price conscious, the 2001 "Special Edition" DVD can be had for under $5.00, has good (anamorphically-enhanced) video and (5.1 Dolby Digital) audio, and a nice set of special features, including the same hour-long making-of doc ("Inside the Labyrinth") that is included in both the Blu-Ray and 2007 DVD edition; although it lacks interviews from Foster and Demme, it's probably the best making-of feature that's been produced for "Silence", outside of the superior Criterion audio commentary.
- As for those who ALREADY OWN "Silence of The Lambs" in either the 2001 or 2007 DVD incarnations, there really is no compelling reason to upgrade to the Blu-Ray edition, unless you can get this on the cheap, or are an obsessive-compulsive Hi-Def completest with money to burn. The fact is, both the 2001 and 2007 DVD editions contain respectable audio and visuals that competently represent the original look of the film (although the 2001 "Special Edition" DVD release has a slightly greener hue to its video transfer, while the 2007 transfer has a slightly redder hue) and both editions look perfectly fine upconverted via 1080P. Never mind the naysayers who hate DVD upconversions, as there are some of us who can settle for "good enough" with certain films and save our hard-earned cash for far worthier hi-def material.