Hello, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. Jonathan Demme’s grand slam Oscar-winning adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novel The Silence of the Lambs takes its first bite out of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber Studio Classics. For a film that has had numerous releases, this native 4K transfer with Dolby Vision HDR offers the most detailed view of the film yet. Two excellent audio options along with a pile of new and (but not all) legacy bonus features make this disc an excellent addition to the collection. Very Highly Recommended
Note: All images in this review were sourced from the 1080p Blu-ray included with this set. As soon as we can we'll add images from the actual 4K disc and hopefully be able to do a release comparison video.
Since he did an impeccable job reviewing this film already, I’m going to give a lot of this space to David Krauss’ review of the 2018 Criterion Collection Edition
"To date, how many horror movies have ever won the Best Picture Oscar? Just one. The Silence of the Lambs earned that distinction not because of its grisly subject matter, which includes murder, dismemberment, and cannibalism, but because of its brilliant direction, searing performances, and substantive script. Always riveting and endlessly fascinating no matter how many times you see it, Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’ acclaimed novel is a true work of cinematic art and that rare motion picture that combines expert storytelling with superior craftsmanship in every category. It may be scary and disturbing, but its dazzling style, layered narrative, and complex underlying themes temper the horror and transform a straightforward detective yarn about a frantic hunt for a serial killer into a richly textured journey into the dark recesses of the human psyche...
Yet whether you view The Silence of the Lambs as a searing drama with social and psychological overtones or merely an edge-of-the-seat popcorn thriller, its standing as a timeless classic cannot be questioned. It's one of only three films in all of Hollywood history to win the top five honors at the Academy Awards - Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Screenplay (It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest are the other two) - and it remains just as riveting, brutal, and fascinating as it was when many of us first experienced it a generation ago. For Foster, Hopkins, Demme, and writer Ted Tally, The Silence of the Lambs would mark the pinnacle of their respective careers, and their indelible work - as well as that of their gifted colleagues - will surely dazzle anyone who loves movies for many years to come."
For my take, it’s simply a perfect movie. Direction, the lead actress and actor, the adapted screenplay, the cinematography, the score - The Silence of the Lambs is a peak performance film for all talent involved. Demme proved he could make some great Roger Corman movies, some slick music videos, and a couple of solid 80s comedies - but he never made anything like this. Foster already had one Oscar in hand for The Accused, but she managed to make people forget that emotionally wrenching performance existed with another intense stand in front of the camera. With very little actual screentime Hopkins reestablished himself as a Hollywood-worthy leading actor with this screen-grabbing performance. Ted Tally found the core of Harris’ book and what made it cinematic and squeezed that essence out onto the page. Howard Shore may have only won his Oscars for The Fellowship of the Ring and The Return of the King, but his moody unsettling work here is one of my favorite pieces of movie music. To this day I’m shocked Tak Fujimoto has never had a single Oscar nomination. If The Silence of the Lambs wasn’t worthy, surely classics like The Sixth Sense, Philadelphia, or Devil In A Blue Dress are worthy accolades.
This was the one film my parents bought on tape that I was not at all allowed to watch. For a long time, I asked to see it and was always denied. Then one day when I was home alone from school with the flu and a lovely fever, I did what any normal kid would do and threw this on. Probably not a great movie to watch when you’re that sick, but I was captivated. Eventually, I dug our paperback out of the basement closet and devoured it. I soon discovered that Manhunter existed based on Thomas Harris’ “Red Dragon” novel. I quickly smashed through those - “Red Dragon” is one of my favorite novels.
The later novels and films Hannibal and Hannibal Rising and the 2002 Red Dragon all strained to keep Hopkins’ iconic cannibal alive on screen but they were pale efforts. They were all chasing the glory of Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs with the riveting interplay between Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. That’s the kind of cinematic lightning in a bottle that just can’t be recaptured. Two television series of varying success later and Hollywood is probably now trying to figure out how they can revisit everyone’s favorite cannibal and F.B.I. agent again. One thing will always be true, no matter how many times they revisit or reimagine the characters, there will only ever be one true The Silence of the Lambs. 30 years after its theatrical release, this film still has bite. It’s still a terrifyingly visceral experience.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
The Silence of the Lambs comes to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber Studio Classics in a two-disc 4K UHD and 1080p Blu-ray set. Both discs are housed in a standard 2-disc black case with o-card slipcover. The 4K disc is a Region Free BD-100 while the 1080p is a Region A locked BD-50 disc. Both discs load to static image main menus with traditional navigation options.
Right about the time Criterion was issuing their new and excellent Blu-ray release in 2018, The Silence of the Lambs appeared on streaming services like Vudu and iTunes Movies with a full 4K UHD Dolby Vision transfer that was damned impressive. I’m pleased to report that this 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray is easily the best this film has looked on home video with a robust bitrate, natural grain structure, strong details, and a measured HDR grading. Bitrate holds a lovely average in the mid 80mbps range with some peaks well over 100mbps.
The Silence of the Lambs is a film that has certainly had its run of releases on Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray, and now 4K. I’ve seen this film on every disc format and screened it twice in theaters with 35mm film prints and each time it’s looked a little different. Even the film prints were different - one was impenetrably dark and the other was intensely bright. Shades of red were either too bright or too dark. Skin tones were either sunburnt pink or washed out. Black levels were either too light or entirely too dark and crushed. Film grain has always been a sticking point sometimes looking like a swarm of insects or has been scrubbed out completely. For my money, this 4K transfer offers an even middle ground we’ve never quite seen before. Prior to this release, I would say that the 2018 Criterion disc was the best, but even that disc had a couple of issues holding it back from absolute perfection. I did a lot of disc flipping for this one and I’m confident stating this is an exceptional transfer - at least as close to perfect as is possible for this particular film.
Film grain retains its textured appearance from the 2018 release but offers extra refinement and is better resolved in 4K. It’s still there - it’s never hiding or difficult to see, but it never looks noisy or intrusive. As follows, details are incredibly robust. This movie loves its close-up shots and every facial feature is on display. Middle shots and the few wide establishing shots of the film look terrific as well. But so much focus is on character faces you get precious little time to focus on production design or background scenery.
Dolby Vision HDR (and HDR10) do what they’re supposed to by giving stronger color saturations, clean whites, and deep inky black levels. Primaries are subtle throughout this dourly colored film, but red certainly gets its time to shine with blood stains or lipstick. Blue F.B.I. jackets or the bright yellow coat of one of Starling’s instructors have lovely pop. Flesh tones are the healthiest I’ve seen for this film, not too pale, but not too red/pink either.
Black levels and contrast are in terrific concert with each other. Whites are crisp and bold without some of the troublesome blooming of past releases. The blooming that’s retained is purposeful for the flashback sequences. Spectral highlights are quite lovely. Black levels are deep and inky but you never lose sight of fine detail. Hannibal’s cell or Buffalo Bill’s underground lair are two excellent creepy examples of additional shadow refinement and light saturation for specific locations. When Chilton shows Clarice the picture of the nurse, the security light isn’t just a bath of red but offers tone and shade gradience. Even in the darkest scenes like the storage room scene, image detail and depth are retained.
At the end of the day, this is simply another terrific release for this film. This shouldn’t really be a surprise since this transfer used the previous restoration as a base and just enhanced all of its finest qualities. It’s also a much more stable and satisfying image than the 4K streaming release. While the streaming 4K is impressive, the low bitrate struggled to resolve the fine grain structure, and those shadow nuances we can now enjoy on disc never quite came to life. The 1080p disc uses virtually the same master as Criterion’s 2018 disc, I couldn’t detect any notable visual differences - the bitrate is a tad lower for this KLSC Blu-ray, but not much. Certainly not enough to be a perceptible difference.
In the audio department, both the 4K disc and the accompanying 1080p Blu-ray offer both the decent DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and the far superior DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix. The full 5.1 mix has always been alright, but it can sound overworked and unnecessary with little actual surround activity. The balance with dialog, score, and sound effects just feels more natural with the 2.0 track. Check out David’s thoughts from his review of the 2018 Criterion Collection release linked above.
DTS-HD MA 5.1 - 3.5/5
DTS-HD MA 2.0 - 4.5/5
Well, here’s where things get a little bumpy for this release. There are a lot of bonus features in this set, certainly enough to make most folks happy, but not everything that was included in Criterion’s incredible assortment from 2018. Virtually everything that’s on this disc has been available in previous releases. They're interesting, but they're also not ones exactly worth revisiting multiple times.
The newest addition is a new Audio Commentary from film historian Tim Lucas that’s pretty damn good. It’s a fine listen, but I wish the 1994 commentary was included here. Criterion evidently has kept a tight hand on that. That track alone is worth keeping your 2018 Blu-ray set for. What’s here is good, it’s just very familiar now and for a film that hit 30, some new materials would have been great. I can imagine COVID put some restrictions on trying to effectively gather and produce new material.
The Silence of the Lambs is a genuine classic. The third and to-date last film to win the Oscar Grand Slam of Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Picture. A classy drama/thriller wrapped up in the trappings of a slasher horror feature, this is a film that sequels and reboots simply can’t touch. After nearly a dozen home video releases later, The Silence of the Lambs makes its first impression on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.
Thanks to Kino Lorber Studio Classics - it’s an impressive first outing on the format! The 2018 disc from Criterion was a tough act to follow, but this disc takes everything that release did right and makes it even better. Details are sharper and more lifelike. Image depth is stronger. Black levels and shadows are deeper and creepier. Colors are more vivid and lifelike. Add in two audio tracks, including the superior DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix along with a host of legacy bonus features, and you have an amazing release. If you love your bonus features, it’s worth keeping the 2018 Criterion disc, but for the best overall A/V experience, this disc is it. Very Highly Recommended