The Silence of the Lambs on DVD

Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1. Dolby Surround (3.1). One side. 118 minutes. 1991. Image Entertainment ID4069ORDVD. Rated R. Price: $29.95.

Let's say that, like me, you already own the superb Criterion Collection laserdisc of The Silence of the Lambs. Should you also pick up Image's new DVD of the same title? Mmmmmaybe, I waffle. Possibly. It all depends . . .

The Criterion LD is definitely the way to go if you value all the extras: scene-by-scene narratives and explanations, cut scenes, storyboards, etc. Image's DVD is just the movie---straight, no chaser.

The laserdisc also benefits from a superior telecine transfer. Much of the film takes place in darkened interiors, and you can see more detail in the Criterion laserdisc. A good example is when Clarisse Starling (Foster) first goes to visit Hannibal Lecter in the underground wing of the asylum in which he is imprisoned. She's greeted in the gloomy corridor by a helpful orderly, a dark-skinned African-American. In the Image DVD, his face is just a shadow engulfed by even darker shadows; no features are distinguishable. However, Criterion's LD allows you to see his eyes, nose, and mouth---dimly, it's true, but you can make them out.

On the other hand, the DVD is superior in all the ways that DVD betters LD. The lack of chroma crawl enhances the extraordinary accumulation of visual detail that Demme has packed into every frame. I can't think of any director who does a better job of filling every scene with specific, telling details. I found myself using the step function to examine many interior sets very closely; even in stop-action, there is more detail than I could easily take in.

For the most part, the DVD has better, more natural sound, although the LD has deeper bass response; this is particularly noticeable in the ultra-low-frequency synth tones that enhance the sense of menace when Starling interviews Lecter in the Baltimore asylum. (The Criterion LD is substantially better than the original laser release of Silence on this count as well, so it's possible that they exaggerated the deepest bass frequencies.)

However, the Criterion Collection disc is $99; you'll have to decide for yourself whether or not the additional material justifies the higher price. Criterion has demonstrated that there is more in the film print than Image has extracted for this release, but the overall picture quality of the DVD is excellent.

As things stand right now, I don't think any of the companies producing DVDs have plans to court the serious film buff in the way that Criterion has done on LD; DVD is being aggressively pitched as a mainstream format. But I really want such a series, as I'm sure most SGHT readers do. I wish I was confident that the software companies cared about those of us who care about film. Only time will tell.

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