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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • Swedish Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • Introduction by Ingmar Bergman, recorded in 2003
  • Audio commentary by Bergman expert Peter Cowie
  • A new afterword to the commentary by Cowie
  • Bergman Island (2006), an 83-minute documentary on Bergman by Marie NyrerŲd, featuring in-depth and revealing interviews with the director
  • Archival audio interview with Max von Sydow
  • A 1998 tribute to Bergman by filmmaker Woody Allen
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Bergman 101, a selected video filmography tracing Bergman's career, narrated by Cowie
  • Optional English-dubbed soundtrack

The Seventh Seal

Re-release
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: , Bengt Ekerot, Nils Poppe, Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Inga Gill, Maud Hansson, , Gunnel Lindblom, Bertil Anderberg, Anders Ek, , Gunnar Olsson, Erik Strandmark
1957 | 97 Minutes | Licensor: Svensk Filmindustri

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $29.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #11
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: June 16, 2009
Review Date: June 7, 2009

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SYNOPSIS

Few films have had as large a cultural impact as Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet). Disillusioned and exhausted after a decade of battling in the Crusades, a knight (Max von Sydow) encounters Death on a desolate beach and challenges him to a fateful game of chess. Much studied, imitated, even parodied, but never outdone, Bergman's stunning allegory of man's search for meaning was one of the benchmark foreign imports of America's 1950s art house heyday, pushing cinema's boundaries and ushering in a new era of moviegoing.

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PICTURE

Criterionís new DVD for The Seventh Seal presents the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on the first dual-layer disc of this two-disc set. The image has unfortunately been picture-boxed, a trend they donít seem too keen on stopping.

Iíve never had a huge problem with the transfer found on their original DVD of the film and have considered it one of their better early DVD transfers. But Iíll admit while nicely restored it still had a few issues, including some minor damage still present and some digital artifacts. Still it was watchable and the nicest presentation I had seen for the film at the time. I guess I shouldnít be all that surprised but this new high definition transfer (which is also being used for an upcoming Blu-ray) offers a sharp improvement over the previous DVDís transfer. Itís much sharper and crisper, the previous DVDís more obvious artifacts that could make the image look a tad fuzzy are now gone. Itís smooth with excellent detail. Contrast also looks to have been corrected somewhat and the print has been vigorously cleaned up. While the previous DVD looked rather clean it still had a few issues, some more obvious than others, but those issues appear to be gone now.

Itís a rather incredible looking transfer, a nice improvement and a fairly obvious one.

8/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The audio has also been improved. The Swedish Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track sounds much sharper than the one found on the previous DVD, with far better volume and range. Itís sharp and clear, with only a slight hint of damage such as a mild hiss thatís noticeable on occasion. The subtitles also look to be slightly different than the subs that appeared on the original Criterion DVD.

The English dub track is yet again here. Itís easily the weakest of the two, coming off incredibly flat and without much life. But it is an improvement over the English track on the first DVD, though not by much.

Of the two itís no contest: The sharper, crisper Swedish track is the one to go with.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion does an excellent job with the supplements on this DVD re-release giving the film a far more lavish special edition and all for an excellent price (it has far more on it and is actually cheaper than the first DVD edition.)

First is a 2003 introduction to the film by Ingmar Bergman, which was recorded while Marie NyrerŲd made her three part television documentary about Bergman (which was then released theatrically as Bergman Island, a feature found on the second disc of this DVD.) This director intro also appeared in the special features of both of Criterionís DVDs for Fanny and Alexander (the box set and the lone release of the theatrical version.) Itís 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 itís a treat seeing the director talk about his work.

Next is an audio commentary by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie, which is the same commentary from 1987 that was used for Criterionís laserdisc version and their original DVD. Iíve always liked this track, and usually like Cowieís tracks in general. In it he gives a great scholarly analysis of the film, which did help in improving my understanding and appreciation of the film. He also talks quite a bit about Bergmanís career as a whole, talks about various cast members, and even gets into the production details. Itís 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 havenít come across it before.

The remaining supplements on the first disc are found under the heading ďSupplements.Ē

First up is an Afterword by Cowie, which is supposed to be a video follow up to his original commentary. Itís 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 Bergmanís reputation in Sweden, seeming to suggest most of the audience there couldnít 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 an excellent but itís obviously quite out dated since itís about 22-years old. Yet there was still no real point to redoing the track, as I consider it quite good, 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. Itís 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 heís not fond of his acting in his ďolderĒ 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 Bergmanís 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 Bergmanís films. Itís no surprise to most that Bergman was a huge influence on Allen, and I actually have to acknowledge that it was Allenís work that lead me to Bergmanís films (as a youngíun one of my favourite films was Allenís Love & Death nearly wearing out my fatherís 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 itís not something Allen recorded exclusively for Criterion itís nice that Criterion rounded it up: I rather enjoyed listening to Allen talk about his favourite director.

The first disc then concludes with the filmís theatrical trailer.

The second dual-layer disc presents the remaining supplements. This disc is really the same disc used for Criterionís release of Bergman Island. That DVD release presents that film and then a newer version of Cowieís Bergman filmography feature found on the original Criterion Seventh Seal DVD. This disc found in this set is exactly the same as that one except for a few small differences. While the menu navigation is the same the actual menus differ, where the menus on the Bergman Island DVD present stills related to that film and the menus here reflect The Seventh Seal. Also, Bergman Island doesnít open with the Criterion logo like it does on its actual DVD release. In essence though the discs are pretty much the same.

So like that separate DVD release the 83-minute version of Bergman Island shown theatrically is included here. The quality is exactly the same, presenting a surprisingly decent, if interlaced, video transfer (for more a more detailed review of the quality of Bergmanís Island presentation you can read our review found here.)

I rather enjoyed this documentary, and find it a real selling point for this DVD. In it, director Marie NyrerŲd stayed with Bergman at his home on FŚrŲ 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. Heís 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 ďtax problemsĒ, 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.

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 FŚrŲ Island. There was interest in distributing it as a film theatrically, but distributors were most interested in only the segments looking at his film work and his life on the island, so NyrerŲd 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 isnít enough to cover the manís life and work. Itís 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.

Despite this itís still an excellent documentary, and itís great to have a newer interview with the man, along with the archival interviews scattered throughout. Itís worth viewing and goes by quickly, but the full version would have been a great treat.

And like on the DVD for Bergman Island you get Bergman 101, which is an updated version of the Bergman Filmography visual essay that appeared on Criterionís first DVD for The Seventh Seal. The feature was a quick crash course on Bergmanís 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. Itís now a full video presentation with voice narration by Peter Cowie. In essence itís the same, Cowie repeating a lot of his notes that appeared in the original presentation. But he does expand on it quite a bit, talking further about Bergmanís childhood and getting into more detail about certain films and techniques (like Bergmanís use of mirrors.) Thereís also more photos and more clips from his films. The original ďvisual essayĒ presented clips from Wild Strawberries and The Magician, which featured commentary by Cowie. Those clips appear again, though slightly different (and in much better shape, looking as though they come from newer transfers) but this new essay also includes 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 itís an excellent expansion on the previous feature, which I considered a great introduction to the director. Most certainly worth viewing.

The booklet included with this DVD includes a rather lengthy essay by Gary Gidden, offering a nice analysis of the film, how itís 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 NyrerŲd found in the insert for the separate Bergman Island DVD.

Also missing from this release is the restoration demonstration found on Criterionís original DVD, but since this is a completely new transfer I wouldnít expect it here.

In all itís a rather wonderful collection of supplements offering a great analytical look at the film and Bergmanís career. While Iím still a little disappointed the entire TV series of the Bergman documentary isnít included here, itís still hard to complain since this DVD release is actually quite cheap. The original DVD for The Seventh Seal went for $39.95. This new 2-disc DVD goes for only $29.95 making this an excellent bargain supplement wise.

10/10

CLOSING

As I said in my review for Criterionís first DVD this is a film most film buffs should probably have in their collection, and this DVD is the one to get. What really makes it hard to say no to is its price. Where the original DVD, which only included a couple of supplements, went for $39.95, this loaded, 2-disc DVD release of the film goes for only $29.95, only $10 more than the separate DVD Criterion issued for Bergman Island thatís also included as a feature here. All of that material plus a wonderful looking new video transfer and better audio make this an easy recommendation and an excellent deal. Well worth picking up, even if you own the first Criterion DVD.


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