The Seventh Seal appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though not without some issues, the transfer usually looked good.
Few issues affected sharpness. Some wider shots were a smidgen soft, but they didn’t appear with consistency. The majority of the film demonstrated nice clarity and definition. Unfortunately, the flick could be somewhat unstable. It looked a bit jittery at times, and I also noticed light shimmering and jaggies. No issues with edge enhancement materialized, though.
Blacks looked deep and firm, while shadows were quite strong. Low-light shots demonstrated good clarity, and contrast appeared solid. Source flaws were reasonably minor for an older movie. I noticed a smattering of specks and marks as well as a prominent hair or two. Nonetheless, these remained within acceptable levels. A little more work might get the film to “A” level, but as it stood, this was a perfectly acceptable “B-” transfer.
As you may have already noticed, I issued two different sound ratings for The Seventh Seal. This is because it offers two different audio tracks: one from the original Swedish monaural and another from the English monaural dub. One might assume that the two tracks would sound essentially the same, but one would assume very incorrectly.
For the most part the Swedish mix sounded good. It seemed clean and relatively rich, considering its age. Dialogue, music and effects all came across as fairly natural and crisp, and decent low-end appeared for the smattering of louder bits.
My only complaint really stemmed from the nature of the source recordings. Clearly much – if not all – of the dialogue was looped, and this gave the proceedings an odd, artificial air. Nonetheless, the soundtrack replicated the original mix well.
The English track, however, was a disaster. It seemed exceedingly harsh and flat, with tremendous amounts of background pops and clicks and general noise. Overall, the English dialogue was usually comprehendible, but it could be tough at times. The English mix would be a disappointment under any circumstances, but the great contrast between it and the very nice Swedish track further exacerbated its poor quality. This was a nearly unlistenable mix that became utterly useless.
However, I will say that I think the subtitles of The Seventh Seal lost a lot in their translations. Since the only word of Swedish I know is "meatballs," I have no clue if the subtitles or the English dub remain closer to the original dialogue. However, I'd be willing to bet that the dub translates the speech more accurately. Although the DVD's case indicates that they're "improved", the subtitles seemed exceedingly basic; they appeared to offer the gist of the dialogue but without anything extra. The dub, however, seemed to provide more varied and more complete wordplay and I think they probably came closer to delivering Bergman's messages. Too bad the poor quality of the English meant the dubbed track was exceedingly difficult to tolerate.
In terms of extras, the main feature here is an audio commentary from film and Bergman historian Peter Cowie. He offers a running, screen-specific track that looks at the opening credits, inspirations and influences, cast and performances, historical references, and a few production elements.
Cowie occasionally offers good tidbits, but overall his chat doesn’t soar. For one, he often simply narrates the movie; some good introspection comes along for the ride, but the basic storytelling appears too frequently. I’d like more about the film’s creation and less reiteration of the tale and characters. Cowie gives us enough to make the track listenable, but it doesn’t go beyond that.
Other than the commentary, the DVD offers little in the way of extras. We also get an Illustrated Biography of Bergman. This includes a wide variety of photos plus two film clips. The latter pieces - from Wild Strawberries and The Magician - also feature commentary from Cowie. This supplement provides a perfunctory recap of Bergman's life and his films that’s neither insightful nor special. Still, it's worth a look.
Other than that, the main remaining supplements come from some nice booklet liner notes from Cowie and the original Swedish trailer. Think film ads that reveal far too much of the story are a recent problem? Think again. This trailer essentially gives away the whole point of the movie. It's an odd little piece of work.
For a look at the work put into the transfer, we find a three-minute and 20-second Restoration Demonstration. Text tells of the efforts put into the DVD and we see visual comparisons between this version and its prior state. These features always feel a little self-congratulatory, but it’s kind of interesting to see the improvements.
The disc also includes color bars. Why do we need color bars for a black and white movie?
While I expected a ponderous, pretentious piece from The Seventh Seal, I found something lighter and more engaging. “Lighter” doesn’t mean “fluffy”, of course, but the film manages to work on a number of levels. The DVD provides pretty good picture and audio; just avoid the awful English dub. The extras add a few decent tidbits but aren’t exceptional. Overall, this is a reasonably positive release for a classic film.
To rate this film visit the Blu-Ray Edition review of the THE SEVENTH SEAL: CRITERION COLLECTION