The Seventh Seal appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. I felt thoroughly impressed by this stellar transfer.
Virtually no issues with softness occurred, as the movie consistently exhibited terrific clarity and definition. Any instances of less precise delineation stemmed from the original photography, and fine detail was terrific throughout the movie; even in wider shots, the elements remained concise. No signs of jagged edges or moiré effects appeared, and edge enhancement remained absent.
Blacks looked deep and firm, while shadows were quite strong. Low-light shots demonstrated good clarity, and contrast appeared solid. Source flaws were absent during this clean presentation, and grain remained within expected levels. I doubt the movie ever looked this fine in the past, as the Blu-ray provided exceptional visuals.
As for the Swedish monaural soundtrack of Seal, it 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.
How did the picture and sound quality of this Blu-ray compare to those of the 1999 DVD? Both demonstrated improvements, though the visuals got the biggest boost. While the original DVD offered a good transfer, it couldn’t compare to the virtually flawless presentation found here. The two soundtracks were closer in quality, but I thought the Blu-ray’s audio seemed just a little more dynamic.
One other improvement comes from the quality of the English subtitles. When I reviewed the original disc, I thought the subtitles seemed insubstantial; though I didn’t know Swedish, I got the impression they didn’t cover the dialogue very well. I still don’t speak Swedish, but the Blu-ray’s subtitles feel more complete to me. They cover the material better and just convey the impression that they’re closer to the original dialogue.
The 2009 Blu-ray repeats most of the extras from the 1999 DVD and adds some new ones. I’ll mark fresh supplements with an asterisk, so if you don’t see a star, that component appeared on the old disc.
We start with 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.
Note that while the disc includes the same commentary from the old DVD – and laserdisc, for that matter - it adds a new “afterward” from Cowie. This lasts 10 minutes, 33 seconds as Cowie as he looks back on the film’s legacy and other reflections on the movie. Cowie adds some good insights here.
Recorded in 2003, we find an *introduction from Ingmar Bergman. In this two-minute and 50-second clip, the director chats about the famous use of chess in the movie and when he last saw Seal. This isn’t really an “introduction” to the flick, as it’s just a few comments about it. Bergman’s notes are interesting, though.
A 2006 documentary entitled *Bergman Island runs one hour, 23 minutes and 26 seconds. Created by Marie Nyrerod, the director reflects on his life and career. The show tends to get a little arty and ramble at times – which one might argue makes sense for a program about Bergman – but it still conveys some good information. We get a reasonably involving portrait of the director in this interesting piece.
For information from the lead actor, we go to an *archival audio interview with Max Von Sydow. Conducted by Cowie in 1988, this piece lasts about 19 minutes as Von Sydow talks about his childhood, how he got into acting, and aspects of his life and career. We get a good array of thoughts and notes in this tight, compelling interview.
Next comes a *1989 Tribute from Woody Allen. During this seven-minute and 13-second segment from 1998, the filmmaker discusses his love of Bergman films as well as some thoughts about a few specific flicks. Allen throws out a mix of nice notes.
Bergman 101 goes for 35 minutes, 22 seconds as it provides more information from Cowie. He takes us through a mix of stills and film clips as he discusses Bergman’s life and career. Cowie gives us the coherent biographical piece lacking in “Bergman Island”. This means it acts as a good complement for that more introspective program. While “Island” focuses on Bergman the Man, “101” gives us a stronger inspection of Bergman the Director.
In addition to a too-revealing trailer, we find a 28-page *booklet with an essay from Gary Giddins. He provides a good look at the film and offers some useful interpretation.
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 Blu-ray provides good audio, extraordinary picture, and a consistently interesting collection of extras. Criterion have produced an excellent package for this classic film.