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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Widescreen
  • 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Swedish Dolby Surround
  • Swedish DTS-HD 2.0 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • New conversation between director Erik Skjoldbjærg and actor Stellan Skarsgård
  • Trailer and TV spot

Insomnia

Dual-Format Edition
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By:
Starring:
1997 | 97 Minutes | Licensor: Westchester Films

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #47
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: July 22, 2014
Review Date: July 15, 2014

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SYNOPSIS

In this elegantly unsettling murder mystery, Stellan Skarsgård plays an engimatic Swedish detective with a checkered past who arrives in a small town in northern Norway to investigate the death of a teenage girl. As he digs deeper into the heinous killing, his own demons and the tyrannical midnight sun begin to take a toll. Erik Skjoldbjærg's chilling procedural anticipated the international hunger for Scandinavian noirs and serial killer fictions, and features one of Skarsgård's greatest performances.

Forum members rate this film 8.5/10

 

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

The film Criterion released as their first anamorphic widescreen DVD, Erik Skjoldbjærg’s 1997 feature Insomnia gets a surprising dual-format upgrade, which delivers the film in the aspect ratio of about 1.85:1. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer is presented on a dual-layer Blu-ray. A new standard-definition transfer based on the same master is presented in anamorphic widescreen on the included dual-layer DVD.

The improvements over Criterion’s previous DVD transfer are astounding and this is the first time in a long while where one of Criterion’s releases has truly shocked me. The original DVD, at the time, looked pretty good, though a recent viewing has exposed just how mediocre that transfer is. The old presentation had a soft, often murky look, making the film look muted and bland.

This presentation is far different on all fronts, and it’s for the better. Now coming from a 4k restoration (where the original transfer appears to be just a simple standard-definition restoration) not only is the image significantly sharper (you can now make out every single hair on everyone’s head, as opposed to the smushy blobs they were on the DVD) but the colours are far more vivid and better saturated. The image is significantly brighter, with near-blinding whites at times, and rich, bold blues, creating a very different look to the film than what I am used to. I admittedly assumed that the murky look of the original DVD may have been the film’s intended look, but after going through comments made in the booklet and by the director on a supplement in this release it appears this new, brighter look is more what Skjoldbjærg intended, giving a more white-washed look with the intention that brightness around the main character made it, figuratively speaking, harder for him to hide his secrets. It looks great, and so much cleaner than that original release. Some darker scenes present blacks that are a little too opaque and details get crushed out, but these types of sequences are few and far between.

Even the DVD’s standard-definition transfer is striking. I actually have very little to say negatively about it; upscaled it looks very good. It’s only weakness, when compared to the Blu-ray, is the detail just doesn’t pop as much; it’s just lacking that extra oomph. But on other fronts it’s very good: colours are strong, details are as strong as one can expect on DVD, and compression isn’t a real concern. Even comparing the old DVD with this new one presents a staggering and incredible difference.

Other than the opening, which was shot on 8mm to get a specific look, I can’t recall any abnormalities or any sort of damage. It’s been nicely cleaned up and restored. In all this new edition offers an incredible improvement in terms of video presentation. Far sharper with better colours, it’s worth upgrading to this edition for the new transfer alone.

9/10

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AUDIO

The film receives a 2.0-channel surround track, similar to the old DVD, presented in DTS-HD MA on the Blu-ray and Dolby Digital on the DVD.

There’s no comparison between either disc in this new release and the old DVD: both soundtracks clearly blow the old sound track away. Far sharper on all fronts, with crisp dialogue and far more range present in the film’s unique electronic score, it also delivers more surround activity, which actually drops out in the last bit of the film on the old DVD (or at least becomes less noticeable.) Here the surrounds are quite active, delivering plenty of ambient sounds such as crowds or road work in the exterior scenes, while nicely moving the music to the rear speakers as well. Audio quality is exceptional on both discs, rich with fantastic dynamic range. A 5.1 upgrade actually would have been probably welcome, but as it is it’s mixed quite effectively and still manages to deliver the goods.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Judging by the list of supplements it may not look like there is a lot here, but the supplements found here are still a vast improvement over the previous DVD, which only included a theatrical trailer and TV spot (the latter of which is oddly missing here.)

First director Erik Skjoldbjærg and actor Stellan Skarsgård talk for 21-minutes about the film and its origins, with Skarsgård acting more as interviewer and Skjoldbjærg as interviewee. Skjoldbjærg indicates where he got the idea for the film and gives some rather surprising details about how it developed up to the film we get now. Skjoldbjærg also talks about the characters, their motivations, the traits, and the secrets each one gets and the two also talk a little about the wave of “Nordic noir” that followed after the film’s release. Skarsgård chimes in on a few things, particularly elements about his character, but admits he originally hated the script (which leads to an awkward silence.) I was disappointed there wasn’t more from Skarsgård but what we get is a fairly enlightening and entertaining interview between the two on the film’s production.

The biggest set of features, though, were added to the release after the original announcement: two early short films made by Skjoldbjærg while he was attending film school. The two films are the ones mentioned by Peter Cowie in his essay for the original Criterion DVD: Near Winter and Close to Home. Both of these (looking to be transferred in high-definition) are wonderful surprises and I found both to be particularly gripping.

Near Winter was made in 1993 and revolves around the story of a young Norwegian man coming home from abroad with his English girlfriend, visiting his uncle on his isolated farm that he is currently prepping for winter. It’s a simple story on the surface but a tension starts to develop once it becomes apparent the uncle—who has obviously lived isolated from the outside world for a long, long time—is sick and his nephew tries to help him. It’s a nicely constructed film, quickly paced for its subject matter at 34-minutes, with simple but occasionally unsettling photography (Cowie’s essay for Criterion’s original DVD of Insomnia mentions Skjoldbjærg was trying to film the landscape in a not so majestic way, different than how other films seemed to present it and how he grew up with it.)

Close to Home, from 1994, is itself particularly gripping, and maybe has more in common with Insomnia’s themes than the former. In this one a middle-aged man comes across a young teenager ejected from a nightclub late at night. He offers to help her home, maybe even call her a cab, but following a possible come-on on her part (or at least that’s how he sees it) and a disagreement between the two the film then suggests the two part ways. The next morning the police show up at the man’s flat and question him about his meeting with the girl. After some dancing about on the part of the police it finally comes out that the young girl (who was actually 15) was raped that evening. As a police procedural of sorts (though its focus is on the man who is obviously now a suspect) it works but it also cleverly skews ones views of what’s going on as the film progresses. We have our first impressions but we then begin to question them as the film progresses, and then question those questions as it continues on until the end. It’s nicely structured with some solid acting.

Both films have elements that appear in Insomnia, the first’s photography and presentation of the landscape reminding me of Insomnia’s, and the latter film exploring guilt and what evil a generally good person could possibly let themselves do (plus its protagonist/possible rapist is a writer, just like the murderer in Insomnia.) Fantastic inclusions on Criterion’s part and I’m glad they were able to round these up just before the release.

The release then closes with the film’s original theatrical trailer, the same as the one on the original DVD, but it is missing the TV spot, which was found on that DVD. Jonthan Romney then provides an excellent essay on the film, Skjoldbjærg’s career, the Christopher Nolan remake, and “Nordic noir” in the included booklet. Cowie’s essay from the original DVD, which was short but a decent read, is missing from this release.

Ultimately it’s not a stacked but it’s still quite solid, delivering an entertaining interview and two short films that add a significant amount of value to the release. A nice upgrade over Criterion’s previous barebones edition.

7/10

CLOSING

With the addition of some excellent supplements (including two short films by Skjoldbjærg) and one hell of a new video presentation, this edition comes with a very high recommendation.


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