Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Seventh Seal

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Jun 6, 2009.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    The Seventh Seal (Blu-ray)
    Directed by Ingmar Bergman

    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 1957
    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:11080pAVC codec
    Running Time: 97 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: PCM 1.0 Swedish; Dolby Digital 1.0 English
    Subtitles: English
    Region: A
    MSRP: $ 39.95

    Release Date: June 16, 2009
    Review Date: June 6, 2009


    The Film

    5/5

    Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal is one of international cinema’s most iconic films. Endlessly viewed, endlessly discussed, and endlessly parodied, this allegorical treatise on the meaning of life is a cinematic masterpiece, so brilliantly conceived and beautifully produced as to be a true world treasure. It’s a riveting viewing experience, as fascinating in its storytelling and its symbolic interpretations as it is a piece of pure cinema. This is unquestionably one of the greatest films ever made.

    Medieval knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) and his squire Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand) are returning home from the Crusades after almost a decade away fighting for the glory of their cause but achieving only a mordant sense of the futility of their efforts. As they make their way across the coastline being consumed by the plague, Block confronts Death (Bengt Ekerot) who has come to claim him. He stalls Death’s claim on him by challenging him to a game of chess which will be continued over the course of his travels homeward. By postponing his passing, Block hopes he can learn something of the meaning of life, knowledge all his years of fighting didn’t convey to him. Along the way, Block and Jöns meet up with a trio of traveling players (Nils Poppe, Bibi Andersson, Erik Strandmark) and an unhappy smithy (Ake Fridell) and his straying wife (Inga Gill), all of whom offer the insatiably curious Block divergent viewpoints on living life to the fullest and their differing views on all matters religious.

    Bergman’s inspired idea for this introspectively symbolic examination of life’s bounties and disappointments creates characters who immediately capture the viewer’s attention. Yes, some of the film’s world view is undeniably dark, but it’s never hopeless and always thoughtful and varied. We see some characters not consumed by profound consideration of questions of mortality or the afterlife; they’re much too involved with enjoying what life has to offer and refuse to knuckle under to depressing thoughts of imminent death or eternal damnation. Bergman piles on the death symbols: whether it’s in the frescoes of the church, the skull-like remains of the discovered monk, skull masks and real skulls scattered around the frame, Death himself skulking around the forest, the church, and the countryside claiming occasional victims, so the film’s preoccupation with life and death is never far from our thoughts, but it isn’t heavy-handed. Indeed, Death turns up unexpectedly in the story as he so often does in real life. And, of course, the fact that death is everyone’s ultimate end is prominent in the film’s themes. It’s what we do with our time before death comes calling that should occupy our thoughts. In Bergman’s virtuosic scenario, we see what many different types of people do with the time they’re given.

    The performances are amazing in their rich sparseness. Max von Sydow makes a haunting leading character in search of answers, and images of his chess matches and his final prayers before his end get burned into one’s consciousness. Gunnar Björnstrand has a marvelous time with his squire: feisty, brawling, commanding, qualities that his knight might well have emulated. Nils Poppe as the juggler and Bibi Andersson as his wife have a lovely, loving simplicity as the “Joseph and Mary” archetypes of the story. Ake Fridell as the simpletonish smith tugs at the heartstrings with his innocent decency. Bengt Ekerot’s Death makes for a truly ghoulish specter.


    Video Quality

    5/5

    The film is framed at 1.33:1, is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec, and is slightly windowboxed in Criterion’s usual style for Academy ratio pictures. This new high definition transfer is among the best Blu-ray encodings of a black and white film I’ve yet seen. Details in clothes, the knight’s chain mail, tree bark, and gravel are supremely rendered, and blacks are among the deepest and richest it’s ever been my privilege to view mostly due to perfectly realized contrast that delivers an image that is never less than natural looking. Shadow detail is exquisite. The white subtitles are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 15 chapters.

    Audio Quality

    4/5

    The PCM 1.0 (2.3 Mbps) audio track is clear and clean as a whistle with no hiss, pops, crackle, or flutter present, often the bane of foreign soundtracks of this vintage. There’s mostly excellent fidelity in this mono mix, too, as voices, sound effects, and music all blend into a satisfying whole and only occasionally sounding a bit on the tinny side. There is an English dubbed track for those who don't want to read subtitles, but I did not do anything more than check to see if it was there.


    Special Features

    4.5/5

    An introduction to the film by director Ingmar Bergman was filmed in 2003 and replicated here. It runs 3 minutes and is in 1080i.

    Peter Cowie’s 1987 audio commentary from the original laserdisc release of this masterpiece is ported over onto this Blu-ray disc. It’s a wonderfully illuminating track with background on the director, the actors, and the film’s dense symbols in a scene-by-scene manner, all scrutinized with accuracy by this Bergman scholar.

    Peter Cowie has filmed a new afterword featurette with additional comments some twenty years after recording his original commentary. It’s in 1080p and runs 10 ½ minutes.

    An audio interview with Max von Sydow runs 19 ¾ minutes. In it, he talks about his youth, his work with Bergman on numerous projects, and his work with George Stevens in America.

    A tribute to Bergman by Woody Allen was filmed in 1989 for Turner Classic Movies and is replicated here. This 7 ¼-minute tribute piece mentions some of Woody’s favorite Bergman films including Cries and Whispers, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, and Persona with film clips accompanying his audio commentary. It’s in 1080i.

    The film’s theatrical trailer runs 2 ½ minutes and is a wonderful illustration of the condition the film was likely in before it was so beautifully remastered for this release. The trailer gives away too much of the film’s plot, so first timers should wait to view it after seeing the film. It’s in 1080p.

    Bergman Island is an 83 ½-minute 2006 documentary on Bergman’s life and career originally filmed for Swedish television. It’s presented in 1080i. (A more detailed essay on this excellent documentary appears in the review for Criterion’s separate DVD release of the feature released concurrently with the new edition of The Seventh Seal. You can find it here.)

    “Bergman 101” is a 1080p video essay on the life and career of Ingmar Bergman by movie historian and critic Peter Cowie. Lasting 35 ½ minutes, this visual filmography uses many film stills and film clips to trace the remarkable career of the renowned filmmaker illustrating how many of the films grew out of personal experiences of the director and tracing some recurring themes and motifs through Bergman‘s entire oeuvre.

    The enclosed 25-page booklet contains a cast and crew listing, evocative stills from the movie, and a lengthy critique and appreciation of the movie by critic Gary Giddins.

    The Criterion Blu-rays are now including a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentaries that go along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.


    In Conclusion

    5/5 (not an average)

    Among the greatest movies ever made and a film every movie lover should experience at least once, The Seventh Seal achieves its definitive release on Blu-ray with this sensational Criterion high definition edition. Highest recommendation!


    Matt Hough
    Charlotte, NC
     
  2. Felix Martinez

    Felix Martinez Screenwriter

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    Wow...thanks for the review...this was not on my radar for some reason. Really looking forward to it now.
     
  3. Cees Alons

    Cees Alons Moderator
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    Thanks for the review, Matt!

    Although I realize now I was mostly a kid back then, I saw this movie shortly after it came out in the cinema and (understandably) loved it since.

    Criterion have lost most of its speciality since their laserdisc days. And the BDs of them I've seen sofar don't warrant a clearly higher price (as the first batch did), but I'm happy I didn't buy the European Tartan version more than a year ago.
    I ordered this Criterion version now. It's $25.49 at Amazon.


    Cees
     
  4. Vegas 1

    Vegas 1 Supporting Actor

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    Matt great review, looks like Criterion hit a home run with this title. Considering the film and the superb transfer $25.49 is a bargin.
     
  5. 24fpssean

    24fpssean Stunt Coordinator

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    There is one glaring problem with this disc: the "Det" of Det sjunde inseglet" is missing in the opening titles. Just watched a film print of the movie last week and the full title is there. On the blu ray, the "Det" is gone and "sjunde inseglet" is off center because the space for "Det" is still there. Again, on the beautiful, near pristine print I saw of the film, the full title was across the screen. It makes no sense why this one word would be missing, what kind of idiot mistake would remove a word from the Main Title and furthermore what idiot in QC didn't catch it?? Criterion cannot claim to represent these glorious films on home video if they are not delivering the film as intended. Jon Mulvaney hasn't responded regarding the issue.
     
  6. Craig Beam

    Craig Beam Screenwriter

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    Mr. Mulvaney probably hasn't responded because he had nothing to do with the creation of the print. Since you opted to post the same complaint in two different threads, I'll go ahead and repeat my post from the other thread:

     


    I highly doubt that it's a QC issue. The print you saw at LACMA is almost certainly not the same print used for Criterion's blu-ray. Interestingly, the Tartan blu-ray also has the "Det" missing from the title (I own both blu-rays; it's one of my favorite films of all time). Criterion didn't create the print.... Svensk Filmindustri provided it. Criterion didn't make a "mistake," nor are they "idiots." Jesus, what a tiny detail to bitch about. Dude, sell your copy and get Criterion's earlier DVD from 2001. It looks like shit by comparison, but at least it has your precious "Det" intact. The rest of us will continue to thank Criterion for their work, and not hurl unfounded insults at them.
     
  7. 24fpssean

    24fpssean Stunt Coordinator

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    Do you really think any living director would allow his or her film to go out like this on home video? Mulvaney and/or his crew should have questioned it and dug for an answer. But you know, you're right, we live in an age when it's okay to fail and no one is an "idiot". And after all it is only home video. Nobody clearly gives a shit about a film's original integrity.
     
  8. cafink

    cafink Producer

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    Did you even bother to read what Craig wrote? A response as thoughtful as his is a lot more than your ridiculous, slanderous post deserves.

     

    Talk about a lack of perspective! It's possible for a DVD or Blu-ray to have a minor defect, you know. Not every single tiny error constitutes a "failure," or qualifies the offending party as an "idiot"
     
  9. Craig Beam

    Craig Beam Screenwriter

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    I kinda think the film is sufficiently brilliant to maintain its integrity with or without the "Det" in the title.
     

    How do you know Mulvaney and/or his crew DIDN'T question it? Maybe Svensk Filmindustri didn't give them an answer, or didn't feel compelled to address the issue. Should Criterion have withheld the release over it? Should they have added the "Det" themselves? I say no to both questions.
     
  10. Brandon Conway

    Brandon Conway captveg

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    It could also be that some prints in its first run were called "Seventh Seal" and some prints were called "The Seventh Seal". Stranger variations between release prints have happened. Who's to say the other prints you've seen are the correct version?
     
  11. cafink

    cafink Producer

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    Also, changes to a film's title card aren't that uncommon, it's not considered a big deal. I guess Sean would consider it a big deal, but here are a couple other examples of films with different versions of the title:

     

     

    Deliverance (http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/dvdreviews8/deliverance.htm)

    American Graffiti (http://www.hometheaterforum.com/forum/thread/213387/american-graffiti-high-school-reunion-collection-different-transfer#post_2543417)

     

    And though I don't have screenshots of it, it's my understanding that Gladiator's title card was changed for its home-video release, at the request of director Ridley Scott.
     
  12. cafink

    cafink Producer

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    To be fair, the fact that there's an empty space where the "Det" goes indicates that this isn't the case. I'm actually kind of curious to know the reason for the change, myself.
     
  13. Martin Teller

    Martin Teller Cinematographer

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    Oh, this idiotic complaint has been lodged in TWO threads. Awesome.
     
  14. Robin9

    Robin9 Cinematographer

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    The "complaint" is not idiotic. It is based on an incontrovertible fact. Some people may feel it doesn't matter that the credit title is incorrect. Others may regret it but decide their enjoyment of the movie will not be affected; but no-one can sensibly deny that the credit title is wrong.
     
  15. johnSM

    johnSM Second Unit

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    Amazing isn't it.... all the postives that are there in this release - and it looks absolutely beautiful from what I can see - are automatically ignored for the sake of one extremely TINY flaw...

     

    Let's get some perspective here and praise the good points too! I get the impression that these days people LOOK for faults and then when they find one cannot wait to post it on the forums... It's almost turned into a 'race to find the faults and post first' sort of situation!

     

    I agree with Martin - the complaints pertaining to this release are idiotic, verging on OCD for nit picking!

     

    If only all classic films looked and sounded as good as this one does - we're spoilt these days!
     
  16. JohnMor

    JohnMor Producer
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    I'm with you John. But that seems to be what many HTF'ers love to do. And in two threads at once!
     
  17. johnSM

    johnSM Second Unit

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    Yikes! Stereo bitching! Would these same people be happier with a less than steller film transfer, but the subs intact?!

     

    It's NEVER been a better time to be a film collector - HiDef cleaned up/restored versions of films that in many instances look FAR better than old beat up prints shown at many cinemas (in terms of old classics), plenty of extras, AFFORDABLE (remember the cost of some laserdiscs?!)..... and people winge over one missing caption. Unbelievable...

     

    I wouldn't mind so much if it was balanced with praise for what they HAVE done right.

     

    I figured this forum was here to share the love of films, but it seems to be predominantly a 70% bias towards nit-picking every aspect of every release.

     

    Sorry folks - had to vent!
     
  18. Craig Beam

    Craig Beam Screenwriter

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    John, the subs aren't in question. The word "Det" (Swedish for "The") is missing from the on-screen title at the beginning of the film. The English subtitle DOES include the word "The." The problem lies in the film print.

     

    I don't mind intelligent and mature conversation over errors, whether they exist in the original print, the transfer, or the encoding... because let's face it, errors DO happen. Unfortunately, the comments made by "24fpssean" were neither intelligent or mature.

     
     
  19. johnSM

    johnSM Second Unit

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    Whoops sorry I said subs instead of title card - that'll teach me to reply too fast!

     

    I still don't think it's a big deal at all - and perhaps it was meant to be titled like that in some regions...

     

    It could be worse - they could have missed out the word 'Seventh' instead.....

     

    My only 'gripe' is I wish they'd release criterion titles like this in the UK as well. I guess I'm going to have to retire my PS3 from bluray duties and purchase a region-free player instead - not something I really want to do but there seems no other way of legally watching Criterion releases like this (I'm also really keen on seeing their The Man Who Fell To Earth).

     

    - John
     
  20. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    At the risk of overstepping, I'd like to speak up in defense of most people here. That 70% figure is way off. The vast majority of posters on this forum have a reasonable sense of proportion (even in disagreement) and are indeed here because of their love of films. The complaints about The Seventh Seal Blu-ray are all coming from a single poster who has been here for less than a year and, as of this writing, has 150 posts (and is, BTW, entitled to his opinion). To conflate that with "HTF'ers" strikes me as committing much the same sin of which you're all complaining -- namely, letting a single event that is insigificant to most people crowd out everything else that others might consider worthwhile and beneficial (starting with, above all, the Blu-ray review in the first post of this thread).
     
     

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