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Ingmar Bergman
Gunnar Björnstrand, Bengt Ekerot, Nils Poppe, Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Inga Gill, Maud Hansson, Inga Landgré
Writing Credits:
Ingmar Bergman

Ingmar Bergman's best-known movie, The Seventh Seal is a masterfully executed medieval morality play in which a knight, disillusioned after his return from the Crusades, challenges Death to a game of chess in an effort to delay the hour of his demise. As the game progresses and the knight and his squire journey toward home, the former is reassured of the existence of human decency and spirituality in an often brutal world through his encounter with a family of traveling players. This highly symbolic elegy on mortality and religion is one of the most respected classics of contemporary cinema.

Box Office:
$150 thousand.

Rated PG

Fullscreen 1.33:1
Swedish Monaural
English Dubbed Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:
English (For Selected Supplements)

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 6/16/2009

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Peter Cowie
• 2003 Introduction from Ingmar Bergman
Bergman Island Documentary
• Archival Audio Interview with Actor Max Von Sydow
• 1989 Ingmar Bergman Tribute from Woody Allen
• “Bergman 101” Selected Video Filmography
• Trailer
• Booklet


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Seventh Seal: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1957)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 11, 2009)

If you've read many of my reviews, you've probably figured out that I'm not much of one for artier films. Too many movies of that sort tend to try so hard to be deep and meaningful that they simply come across as pretentious and absurd. (Rachel Getting Married, I’m looking at you.)

This didn't bode well for my first encounter with Ingmar Bergman through The Seventh Seal. After all, Bergman's pretty much the person around whom all the "art house" movie stereotypes revolve. His style has been - affectionately? - lampooned repeatedly and his name is synonymous with "dark and foreboding movies". I was willing to give the flick a shot, but I didn't expect much.

Much to my surprise, however, I found The Seventh Seal to be a rather entertaining and enjoyable film. I'd prefer not to spend much time in this review discussing the implications and meanings of the various parts of the film. While The Seventh Seal clearly is a movie that opens itself up for a tremendous amount of introspection, enough has been written on that subject in regard to it that I don't feel terribly compelled to add many opinions of my own.

Suffice it to say that The Seventh Seal essentially attempts to find and/or define the meaning of life. Somewhat surprisingly, I didn't think the movie really seemed all that "deep". In the end, Bergman basically implies that "love is all you need" and that the simple unity of a man, a woman and a child offer the greatest hope and joy in life. Plus, Death's kind of a jerk.

Anyway, while The Seventh Seal certainly offers itself up for all the dissection you might like, it also functions quite well as a basic piece of entertainment. Oh, it's all very ponderous stuff - the plague, the Crusades, women being burned at the stake, people flogging themselves, vain actors eating chicken - but Bergman does an excellent job of keeping the movie from becoming too somber. At various times, Bergman inserts comic relief into the story, but he does not do so in terribly obvious ways.

Somehow Bergman manages to have his cake and eat it too. The Seventh Seal moves seamlessly between light comedy - such as the Cyrano-esque battle of wits between a blacksmith and an actor - and dramatic scenes such as the aforementioned floggings, et al.

As in the case of something like Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, I normally don't care for comic relief. Too few movies have the guts to go all out and totally submerge the audience in a dark world that I enjoy it when it happens. Normally, I don't feel any need to have the tension lightened.

I enjoyed the lighter moments of The Seventh Seal not because I needed to "take a breather" but instead because they simply made the movie more interesting. While its heavy on issues, The Seventh Seal is light on plot; the only real story involves the knight's search for the meaning of life. I guess that's enough, but the tale unfolds largely as a series of random encounters. The humorous moments make the journey more interesting and they add zest to the characters so that the whole bunch doesn't seem just like a morose bunch of sots.

Lesson learned: Bergman movies can be introspective and entertaining all at the same time. Second lesson learned: if The Seventh Seal is historically accurate, I kind of wish I'd been alive and in Sweden during the Middle Ages. Yeah, I would have had to contend with the plague and the Crusades and all sorts of persecution and problems, but the women were babes! Virtually every woman in The Seventh Seal who's under the age of 50 is quite the looker.

And I'll bet even the older ones were hot in their time! Geez, hanging out in those medieval Swedish villages must have been just like lounging at the Playboy mansion. Anyway, while I can't say that The Seventh Seal will ever be at the top of my "favorite movies" list, I nonetheless found it to be compelling and interesting. It’s definitely more accessible than its reputation might lead you to believe.

The DVD Grades: Picture A/ Audio B/ Bonus A-

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.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.6 Stars Number of Votes: 15
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