Criterion’s Blu-ray edition of The Seventh Seal presents the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc. It is presented in 1080p and, unlike the DVD re-issue, has not been picture boxed.
The new DVD version was a sharp improvement over Criterion’s original DVD of the film and the same high-def transfer was used between it and this Blu-ray but there is a rather obvious, drastic improvement when one compares the Blu-ray with the new DVD.
The transfer on here is absolutely wonderful, presenting a sharp, crisp image with an incredible amount of detail. Everything is clean and smooth and grain is quite noticeable though never heavy. Contrast looks a little darker here with bolder blacks when compared to the DVD, but it’s still an obvious improvement over Criterion’s original DVD, which looked too bright at times.
Print condition is the same between the Blu-ray and new DVD. There was an extensive amount of clean up here and there is next to nothing in the way of damage, a couple of little flecks and some mild pulsating being the worst offenses. It’s again a sharp improvement over the original DVD.
In all quite impressive. I knew I was in for a treat but it still managed to surprise me. The quality is spectacular and probably Criterion’s most impressive Blu-ray presentation for an older film yet. Quite stunning!
(Screen grabs below have been provided by DVD Beaver. Grabs have been downscaled somewhat but should provide an idea of the image quality.) 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
The supplements found on this Blu-ray edition of The Seventh Seal are the same as the ones available on the 2-disc DVD reissue, all of them found on this single disc.
First is an audio commentary by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie, which is the same commentary from 1987 that was used for Criterion’s laserdisc version and their original DVD and of course the 2-disc re-issue. I’ve always liked this track, and usually like Cowie’s tracks in general. In it he gives a great scholarly analysis of the film, which did help in my understanding and appreciation of the film when I was exposed to it originally at a younger age. He also talks quite a bit about Bergman’s career as a whole, talks about various cast members, and even gets into the production details. It’s a very thorough track and comes dangerously close to being dry, but Cowie manages to keep it interesting and entertaining. Worth a listen if you haven’t come across it before.
The remaining supplements are found under the “Supplements” section on the pop-out menu.
First here is a 2003 introduction to the film by Ingmar Bergman, which was recorded while Marie Nyreröd made her three part television documentary about Bergman (which was then released theatrically as Bergman Island, a feature found on this Blu-ray and also available separately from Criterion on DVD.) It also appeared in the special features of both of Criterion’s DVDs of Fanny and Alexander (the box set and the lone release of the theatrical version.) It’s a brief 3-minute piece where Bergman talks about the film, where the idea for it came from, and how it does rank as one of his favourites. A nice short piece, and it’s a treat seeing the director talk about his work.
A rather nice addition, though not in its complete form, is the 83-minute documentary Bergman Island, which Criterion has not only included here and on the 2-disc DVD but have also released it as an individual DVD. This film first appeared as a three-part series on Swedish television running about 3 hours, each part concentrating on certain aspects of his career and life, the first part focusing on his films, the second part on his theatre work, and the third on his life on Fårö Island. There was interest in distributing it as a film theatrically but distributors were more interested in only the segments looking at his film work and his life on the island, so Nyreröd edited the film together into this 83-minute version. While both her and Bergman apparently approved of it there does feel to be a lot more and really 83-minutes isn’t enough to cover the man’s life and work. It’s especially disappointing since Bergman preferred his theatre work and considered it most important and this film version really only touches briefly on that part of his life.
Getting past that I rather enjoyed this documentary and find it a real selling point for this both the DVD version (which is actually $10 cheaper than the Blu-ray) and this Blu-ray. In it director Marie Nyreröd stayed with Bergman at his home on Fårö island over a period of a few weeks and got a collection of candid, personal interviews with the reclusive director. They talk quite a bit about his home, which he seems obviously very proud of, and they of course get into great detail about his film career, and touch somewhat on his theatre career. He’s very open, talking a lot about his childhood and his parents (who were both rather strict) and how he got into filmmaking. He talks about his deep regrets including one that was a major influence on Scenes From a Marriage, and also gets into the many loves he had in his life. He clears up some things he had said previously about some of his films, such as a comment about how Cries & Whispers was about his mother, which he now says was a lie and something he said just to say something. He gets into his fears, which played a big influence in his work, the story around his “tax problems”, and even talks about his hope of once again seeing his last wife, Ingrid, in what may be one of the more touching moments in the film. There are plenty of charming moments in it (like a story about how he got his first Cinematograph) and funny moments, and at 83-minutes it goes by very fast.
Following that is an Afterword by Cowie, which is supposed to be a video follow up to his original commentary. It’s 10 and a half minutes and Cowie adds in some things he learned after recording that original track like the fact that 95% of the film was actually shot on set, only a small portion of it being shot on location. He also touches more on Bergman’s reputation in Sweden, seeming to suggest most of the audience there couldn’t relate to his films, and that his death made them realize what a treasure they had there after the worldwide attention. The commentary track is excellent but it’s obviously quite dated since it’s about 22-years old. Yet there was still no real point to redoing the track considering how rather thorough it was but this little addition makes up for any dated feel to it.
Max von Sydow Audio Interview is a 20-minute audio presentation featuring excerpts from an interview Cowie did with von Sydow back in 1988. It’s an excellent interview with the actor, who gets into his childhood and how he eventually got into theatre, film, and then working with Bergman. He attributes his success to The Seventh Seal and admits he’s not fond of his acting in his “older” films, pointing out what he considers wrong with his early performances. Nice feature and those who admire the actor and his work will definitely want to listen to it.
A rather cool little feature, if short, is Woody Allen on Bergman, which was taken from a Turner Classic Movie segment. It runs a little over 7-minutes and has Allen talk about his admiration for the director, and how Bergman’s films influenced his own, and how every release of one of his films was a huge event to him. He also states that The Seventh Seal is his favourite of all of Bergman’s films. It’s no surprise to most that Bergman was a huge influence on Allen, and I actually have to acknowledge that it was Allen’s work that lead me to Bergman’s films (as a young’un one of my favourite films was Allen’s Love & Death nearly wearing out my father’s CED release, and that eventually lead me to see The Seventh Seal just to see one of the many original influences for that film.) While it’s not something Allen recorded exclusively for Criterion it’s nice that Criterion rounded it up: I rather enjoyed listening to Allen talk about his favourite director.
Bergman 101The Seventh Seal and is also found on both the new 2-disc DVD and on the separate DVD of Bergman Island. The feature was a quick crash course on Bergman’s career, going through a good chunk of his work and also looking into his style and techniques. That presentation was a text feature made by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie in 1987 for the original laserdisc release of that film, with photos and a couple of film clips mixed in, navigated through using your remote. It’s now a full video presentation with voice narration by Peter Cowie. In essence it’s the same, Cowie repeating a lot of his notes that appeared in the original presentation. But he does expand a lot, talking further about Bergman’s childhood, and getting into more detail about certain films and techniques (like Bergman’s use of mirrors.) There’s also more photos and more clips from films. The original “visual essay” presented clips from Wild Strawberries and The Magician, which had commentary by Cowie. Those clips appear again, though slightly different (and in much better shape, looking as though they come from newer transfers) but they also include clips from Summer Interlude, The Silence, Scenes From a Marriage, and Fanny and Alexander. The essay also expands on his films after 1987, all the way up to Saraband, and then his death. Running 35-minutes it’s an excellent expansion on the previous feature, which I considered a great introduction to the director. Most certainly worth viewing.
The supplements then conclude with the film’s theatrical trailer.
Unique to this Blu-ray is Criterion’s Timeline. You can open it from the pop-up menu, or by pressing the RED button on your remote. This is a timeline that shows your current position in the film and you can jump through it using the arrows on your remote. It lists the index chapters for the film and the commentary track, and you can also switch to the commentary track from here. You also have the ability to “bookmark” scenes by pressing the GREEN button and return to them by selecting them on the timeline. You can also delete bookmarks by pressing the BLUE button. This is pretty common on Blu-ray (also common on HD DVD) so it’s nothing new, but a nice presentation still.
The booklet included with this Blu-ray includes a rather lengthy essay by Gary Gidden, offering a nice analysis of the film, how it’s held up over the years, and its affect on its audience. Missing is the short essay by Peter Cowie found on the original DVD release. Also missing is the essay by Marie Nyreröd found in the insert for the separate Bergman Island DVD.
In all it’s a rather wonderful collection of supplements offering a great analytical look at the film and Bergman’s career. It’s still disappointing that the entire version of Bergman Island isn’t on here but the shorter version is still a rather wonderful feature. 10/10