The Criterion Collection (Region 0, NTSC) edition - now out of print

MGM (UK)'s Special Edition version, released in August 2001

MGM (UK)'s Ultimate Edition version, released in February 2006

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

Director:  Jonathan Demme

Starring: 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

The UK division of MGM released an impressive two-disc Special Edition of The Silence of the Lambs to 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. Criterionís disc is, therefore, in no way superseded by either of the UK MGM versions, and even casual fans are advised to hunt down a copy if it is still available at a semi-reasonable price.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, MGMís 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 donít 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 Edition

 

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 Hannibal.

A SUMMARY

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 scenes).

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 problem. If your copy is affected you might want to consider that when you decide whether or not it's worth upgrading to the Ultimate Edition.

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 appreciably better.

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.

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