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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.66:1 Widescreen
  • Swedish PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • New introduction by critic and Swedish-film expert John Simon
  • New conversation between film scholar Peter Cowie and director Jan Troell
  • New interview with actor Liv Ullmann
  • To Paint with Pictures, a 2005 documentary on the making of the films, featuring archival footage as well as interviews with Troell, Ullmann, producer and coscreenwriter Bengt Forslund, and actor Eddie Axberg
  • Trailers

The Emigrants

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Jan Troell
Starring: Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann
1971 | 191 Minutes | Licensor: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #796
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: February 9, 2016
Review Date: February 7, 2016

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SYNOPSIS

This monumental mid-nineteenth-century epic from Jan Troell (Here Is Your Life) charts, over the course of two films, a poor Swedish farming family's voyage to America and their efforts to put down roots in this beautiful but forbidding new world. Movie legends Max Von Sydow (The Seventh Seal) and Liv Ullmann (Persona) give remarkably authentic performances as Karl-Oskar and Kristina, a couple who meet with one physical and emotional trial after another on their arduous journey. The precise, minute detail with which Troell depicts the couple's story—which is also the story of countless other people who sought better lives across the Atlantic—is a wonder to behold. Engrossing every step of the way, the duo of The Emigrants and The New Land makes for perhaps the greatest screen drama about the settling of America.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

In what will be a most welcome development for many, Criterion presents Jan Troell’s The Emigrants on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is presented on a dual-layer disc. The film is also accompanied by its sequel, The New Land, on another disc. This review will be specific to The Emigrants.

Both films have infamously been unavailable on DVD in North America, despite the numerous awards and Oscar nominations the films received. Why Warner Bros. never release the films is beyond me but thankfully they’ve seen fit to license the films to Criterion and finally, after only being available on VHS and LaserDisc in North America, the film (along with its sequel) comes to Blu-ray (there’s also a DVD edition being released).

Was the wait worth it? Yes but there is a tinge of disappointment. On the whole The Emigrants does look good, delivering fairly strong definition and detail, whether within long shots or close-ups, and the restoration work is fairly thorough. Unfortunately, despite this being touted as a “new high-definition digital transfer” created by Svensk Filmindustri (as the notes state) I suspect this is an older master, possibly the one created for the Swedish DVD release of both films. A majority of the time the image looks rather good: depth and textures are decent, and detail can be very impressive, colours look nicely saturated and rendered, and for the most part, it does have a filmic look. But how film grain is rendered is hit and miss: at times it can look pretty good but there are others where it’s noisy with macro-blocking evident, especially in darker scenes. In brighter scenes the issue isn’t as evident, though still there to an extent. Black levels are also a bit weak, and crushing is evident in places.

I assume Criterion has done their own work in touching up the image. In terms of dirt, debris, and marks, the image is really clean, with a few specs remaining. There are colour fluctuations at times throughout, and there can also be shifts or slight jitters in the frame, but the image is otherwise stable and clean.

Despite the criticisms I may have I’m still generally pleased but I can’t deny it really could be quite a bit better.

7/10

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.

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AUDIO

This sports a lossless linear PCM 1.0 Swedish mono track. I was actually quite surprised by this track, which manages to deliver ] crisp audio with a decent level of range and fidelity, and there is a nice sense of depth and detail present in the background sound effects, whether it be insects or birds chirping, or a slight breeze. Music can be a little flat in places, but otherwise I was quite impressed with what is a surprisingly immersive monaural soundtrack.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion releases The Emigrants and The New Land together in a two-disc set. Each film receives its own disc and each disc features a handful of supplements. For the purposes of this review I’m only focusing on the supplements that accompany The Emigrants on its disc.

We first get an introduction by theater and film critic John Simon. For 7-and-a-half-minutes Simon talks about The Emigrants and The New Land, Troell’s ability at presenting peasants and the lower class (comparing him to director Ermanno Olmi), and the film’s construction. He’s especially taken by how the film slowly reveals everything, which helps in captivating the viewer. It’s a fairly gushing introduction about Troell and his work overall, with Simon admitting if he was in charge (of the universe I assume) he would have Troell’s films shown every five years.

Criterion also includes the 2005 making-of documentary To Paint with Pictures, which looks to have been produced for another DVD edition. In terms of structure it’s a fairly standard DVD making-of documentary, complete with talking-heads and clips from the film, but its rich in content. Featuring interviews with Troell, actors Eddie Axberg and Liv Ullmann, composer Georg Oddner, and producer/co-writer Bengt Forslund, and covering both films, the documentary covers the adaptation process and the issues that came up with the author, Vilhelm Moberg, who could be very hotheaded at times, even managing to infuriate the usually calm and mellow Troell. It then moves on to the actual shoot, which called for some creative scouting since the budget didn’t allow them to shoot as much as they probably needed to in the States and also talk about its release and the edits that had to be made for the U.S. market to get a PG rating. There are a number of surprises here (John Ford had apparently wanted to make the film but Moberg wanted Troell after seeing Here is Your Life) and some moments of levity (when asked about the advantages of having Troell act as both director and cameraman Forslund jokes there was one less person to pay), which all help make this a better-than-average making-of. It runs a fairly brisk 57-minutes.

The disc also holds the film’s Swedish trailer and an insert features an essay by Terrence Rafferty, covering both films, the huge undertaking it was for Troell to make them, how they both fit into Troell’s filmography, and more.

The release also includes other features on the second disc, accompanying The New Land, including new interviews with Troell and Ullmann. Considering the enormity of the two films and their relative successes I was surprised there wasn’t a lot more in the way of supplements, but ultimately I was happy with what we got and it’s wonderful getting both films together.

6/10

CLOSING

There was a bit of disappointment that it looks like we’re getting what is probably an older high-definition transfer but the image, on the whole, was still pleasing enough. And the supplements may look light but I was rather surprised by the quality of the included documentary. But the most appealing aspect of this release is that we finally get both The Emigrants and The New Land together in North America, outside of the previous VHS and LaserDisc releases.


View packaging for this Blu-ray

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