SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
Director: Jonathan Demme
Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, Scott Glenn, Anthony Heald
A comparison between the Region 0, NTSC - Criterion Collection version,
MGM's Region 2 Special Edition version and MGM's Region 2 / 4 Ultimate Edition
UK division of MGM released an impressive two-disc Special Edition
Silence of the Lambs
coincide with the high-profile home video release of Hannibal.
Although this was its first appearance on DVD in the UK, many long-term
DVD junkies probably already had a copy of Lambs, since two
versions had been available in the US for several years.
The first, a
featureless version from MGM, is easily dismissed. The other, an early DVD
release by the peerless Criterion Company, was deleted several years ago,
as their rights to the title have expired. It features a non-anamorphic
1.85:1 transfer, the
relative merits of which have been endlessly debated elsewhere. It also
features a first-class commentary track (by director Jonathan Demme, stars
Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster, writer Ted Tally and FBI agent John
Douglas) and some other less vital features that were not replicated on
either the UK MGM Special Edition version or the UK MGM Ultimate
Edition. Criterion’s disc is, therefore, in no way superseded by
either of the UK MGM versions, and even casual fans are advised to hunt down a copy
if it is still available at a semi-reasonable price. (Watch out for bootleg copies, which have the DTS logo on the sleeve!)
Released in August 2001, MGM’s
Special Edition Region 2 disc boasted several added benefits, including a new 1.85:1
anamorphic transfer and a more spacious 5.1 audio mix (at 448kbps). (The
original sound mix was nominated for an Academy Award - does this mean
that MGM can't claim that the disc features Oscar-nominated sound?) More
deleted and extended scenes are offered (although these are sometimes no
more than scraps, and - like the Criterion disc - with mediocre picture
and sound quality); outtakes; stills galleries; a short promotional
featurette and an hour-long documentary Inside The Labyrinth.
Conspicuous by their absence from this otherwise comprehensive package were
key players Foster and Demme, who perhaps thought that their contribution
to the Criterion disc could not be improved upon.
Comparing the transfer quality of the three
discs, the first thing to remember is that the Criterion Edition's
transfer (which dates back to their laserdisc days) was a "new digital
transfer... made from the 35mm interpositive... in consultation with
cinematographer Tak Fujimoto". You might assume that
the MGM versions were also supervised by Fujimoto, or Demme, or someone
closely associated with the film, but that may not be the case.
Without further verification, we must conclude that
the Criterion transfer is a more accurate representation of the
cinematographer's intentions than either of the MGM versions, since they
are notably different in terms of hue and density (the MGM transfers are
similar to each other, and both are darker than the Criterion version).
The film's transitory
flaws (dirt, etc) are also present in both MGM versions (indicating
identical source materials for all three versions).
Silence of the Lambs fans who are
picky about replicating the theatrical look of the film will also be very
disappointed with another aspect of the MGM presentations:
the film's original X-Files-style captions
have been eliminated, and
replaced with hideous player-generated subtitles that don’t
even attempt to mimic the font or placement of the ones on the original
film (which, incidentally, fade gracefully in and out, something the
player-generated ones can't do).
These frame grabs demonstrate the differences (and also give some
indication how different the three transfers are!)
Note that it's not possible to
frame-advance and keep the player-generated subtitles on-screen, so the
following grabs are not of identical frames.
Top - Criterion Collection
Middle - MGM Special Edition Bottom - MGM Ultimate
The Criterion version of the film was a
single-disc (DVD-9), with a transfer with an average bit-rate of
5.88Mb/sec. It had a single 2.0 audio track (at 192kbps).
The MGM Special Edition version was a dual-disc edition,
with the film on a DVD-9, with a transfer with an average bit-rate of
7.74Mb/sec. That disc had a single 5.1 audio track (at 448kbps).
The MGM Ultimate Edition version is a dual-disc
edition, with the film on a DVD-9, with a transfer with an average
bit-rate of 8.65Mb/sec. However, the disc has a whopping five Dolby
Digital 5.1 audio tracks (at 448kbps each), and two DTS tracks (at
768kbps), so 1.9Mb/sec of the average bit-rate is accounted for by
additional audio information. The Ultimate Edition also has a
staggering array of foreign subtitle tracks. Therefore the UE version actually has
less video data information than the SE edition!
The Criterion transfer is certainly showing
its age. It's non-anamorphic, and nowhere near as detailed as either of
the MGM versions. However, it must still be considered as the
definitive version, because of
Tak Fujimoto's involvement, and because it has the
original film captions.
The Ultimate Edition features a
choice of a Dolby Digital 5.1 track or, for the first time, a DTS English
track. The Dolby Digital track is much loader than the DTS track, making
on-the-fly comparisons difficult. The difference between the two tracks
isn't marked, so it wouldn't be worth upgrading from the Special
Edition for this feature alone.
COMPARING THE TWO UK MGM EDITIONS
The two transfers are very, very similar. A
close - really close - examination of the two versions suggests that the
Ultimate Edition is from the same source as the Special Edition version, just
differently encoded. Framing on the two MGM versions seems to identical,
down to the pixel. If you have the Special Edition version, there's
certainly no reason to "upgrade" to the Ultimate Edition,
especially with HD formats around the corner.
The Special Edition contained some
excellent bonus features, notably Jeffrey Schwarz's excellent Inside The Labyrinth
documentary. The Ultimate Edition offers several new worthwhile
featurettes, bringing Jonathan Demme and Jodie Foster back into the
equation: The Silence of the Lambs - The Beginning (16m), Jodie
Foster and Jonathan Demme - Making The Silence of the Lambs (26m),
Jodie Foster and Jonathan
Demme - Breaking The Silence (9m), Scoring
The Silence of the Lambs (15m),
Page To Screen - A Wealth of Talent (19m) and
Page To Screen - Preparation &
Authenticity (21m). Several of the new featurettes were produced last
year (2005) by the estimable Laurent Bouzereau. The Page To Screen
featurettes were made by Bravo in 2002.
The Ultimate Edition features eleven
TV spots - the Special Edition only featured two.
The only bonus feature from the Special
Edition which isn't on the Ultimate Edition is the trailer for
Fans of the film will want to get hold of
the Criterion edition, for the cinematographer-approved transfer (which
features the original film captions), the excellent commentary track, and
the other bits and pieces (including a deleted snippet that isn't on
either of the MGM discs, storyboards, and FBI-related material).
The Special Edition will provide
casual admirers of the film with a decent version of the film (albeit one
that's possibly markedly different to how it's cinematographer
envisioned), and sufficient bonus features to sate most people (including
the solid Inside The Labyrinth documentary, and the deleted
Note that some copies of the UK MGM
Special Edition discs suffer from "sticky disc" syndrome, a problem
that affected several Technicolor-pressed titles at the time (including
copies of Rocky and The Terminator). Gently cleaning the
disc with a mild solution of detergent generally seems to cure the
If your copy is affected you might want to
consider that when you decide whether or not it's worth upgrading to the
The Ultimate Edition doesn't offer
any improvement over the Special Edition, as far as the transfer is
concerned. The DTS audio track is a bonus, but doesn't seem to be
Fans of the film will certainly want to
upgrade for the substantial new bonus features (about an hour and a half's
worth, much of it focussed on Jodie Foster and Jonathan Demme), and can do
so safe in the knowledge that the Ultimate Edition makes the
Special Edition redundant.