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The Seventh Seal(1957)
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.
For more about The Seventh Seal and the The Seventh Seal Blu-ray release, see the The Seventh Seal Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on June 2, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Starring: Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Bengt Ekerot, Nils Poppe, Bibi Andersson, Åke Fridell
Director: Ingmar Bergman
» See full cast & crew
The Seventh Seal Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, June 2, 2009
Swedish director Ingmar Bergman's timeless "The Seventh Seal" (1957) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The disc contains a newly restored high-definition digital transfer of the film with uncompressed monaural soundtrack and optional English subtitles. The Blu-ray package also contains a number of interesting supplemental features, including "Bergman Island" (2006), the 83-minute documentary on the Swedish director by journalist Marie Nyrerod. Region-A "locked".
A knight (Max von Sydow) and his squire (Gunnar Bjornstrand) are returning home from the Crusades. Exhausted, they decide to spend the night on a desolated beach. On the morning after, the knight encounters Death (Bengt Ekerot), who tells him that his time is up. The knight isn't afraid, but before he accepts his fate, he asks Death to answer a few questions for him – Does God exist? Who is He? Is there life after death?
The knight also challenges Death to a game of chess. If he wins, Death will have to let him live. If he loses, Death could have his soul. Death quickly agrees and the two begin playing. Very soon, however, the knight realizes that he might have underestimated Death.
As they continue their journey back home, the knight and his squire encounter a group of actors. They also befriend Jof/Joseph (Nils Poppe) and Mia/Marry (Bibi Andersson), a young couple with a beautiful child, who join them. While passing through a village devastated by the plague, the knight and his squire witness the burning of a young girl (Gunnel Lindblom) who has apparently embraced the devil.
At his castle, the knight is greeted by his beloved wife (Inga Landgré) – everyone else has ran away fearing the plague; she is the only one left. The knight is moved and excited about the future. Suddenly, Death appears and declares that it is time that they finish their chess game.
Partially inspired by Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, The Seventh Seal is undoubtedly one of the boldest films ever made. It is dark and notably pessimistic, questioning morality and faith in a manner few films since its release have been able to replicate. Nowadays, it is rightfully regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.
The Seventh Seal, however, is not a universally praised film. During the years, some questioned its religious symbolism, pointing out how ironic Bergman's address of God and His existence is, countered only by the suspiciously clueless Death. Some also questioned the knight's pessimistic view on life (believed to be Bergman's) – was it fueled by his inability to accept reality, or was it His fault for not letting him rediscover the joy of life?
The film's rhetoric, however, remains as fascinating today as it was fifty two years ago. The fact that despite progress we are still struggling to grasp the same old complexities of life that Bergman's characters struggled with is very telling. We pretend to have become more tolerant of each other and respectful of our differences – religious and cultural - but we have only become better at disguising our weaknesses and bargaining our fears.
Technically, The Seventh Seal is a remarkable achievement. Cinematographer Gunnar Fischer's panoramic vistas are amongst the best ever captured on celluloid. From the opening scenes where we first encounter the knight and his squire on the desolated beach, to the passing flagellants carrying their crosses, to the incredibly effective close-ups of Death and the knight playing chess, The Seventh Seal is a notably beautiful film. The cast is also fantastic; Max von Sydow in particular is terrific as the disillusioned knight. Finally, Erik Nordgren's soundtrack blends exceptionally well with the film's dark and moody aura.
The Seventh Seal Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.34:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
This is another fantastic release by Criterion. Last night, I popped the disc in my player and was so overwhelmed by what I saw, I completely lost track of the time and could not publish my review. Contrast and detail on Criterion's Blu-ray release of The Seventh Seal are spectacular. The close-ups in particular look unbelievably strong. Furthermore, the color-scheme is the best I have seen on a Criterion disc thus far – the blacks are rich and unbelievably lush while the whites are gentle are natural looking. Additionally, film grain is fully intact. The actual print is also notably healthy – I did not detect any debris, scratches, dirt, or stains to report in this review. Finally, when blown through a digital projector, The Seventh Seal remains incredibly stable and tight to the frame. Simply put, this is a fantastic Blu-ray release! (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" release. Therefore, unless you have a native Region-A or Region-Free player, you won't be able to access the disc's content).
The Seventh Seal Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: Swedish LPCM Mono and English Dolby Digital 1.0. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The quality of the audio presentation is as impressive as the quality of the video presentation. The Swedish LPCM Mono track is notably stable and well balanced. The dialog in particular is crisp, crystal clear and very easy to follow. As expected, Erik Nordgren's soundtrack is exceptionally well balanced with the dialog - I personally never had to reach for my remote control to adjust the volume. Finally, I did not detect any disturbing pops, cracks, or hissings to report in this review. All in all, this is as solid of an audio treatment as anyone could have hoped for.
The Seventh Seal Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Audio Commentary – a commentary by film scholar Peter Cowie recorded for the Criterion Collection in 1987. An afterword to the commentary, recorded with Cowie in 2008, can be accessed from the supplements menu.
Ingmar Bergman Introduction – This introduction to The Seventh Seal was created in 2003 as part of a series of introductions journalist Marie Nyrerod recorded with Ingmar Bergman to many of his films. Shot in Bergman's screening room on Faro Island, these pieces were designed to precede the films when shown on Swedish television (1080i, 3 min).
Bergman Island – In 2004, Swedish television journalist Marie Nyrerod made a trilogy of revealing and intimate documentaries in which Bergman looks back on his long career in film, television, and theater. Those three films were edited into the feature-length documentary Bergman Island, released in 2006 and presented here for the first time on home video (1080i, 84 min).
Afterword – This afterword, made in 2008, features film scholar Peter Cowie discussing The Seventh Seal, in a follow-up to his 1987 Criterion commentary track (1080p, 11 min).
Max von Sydow Audio Interview – Film scholar Peter Cowie conducted several interviews with Max von Sydow in 1988 for his book Max von Sydow: From "The Seventh Seal" to "Pele the Conqueror". Presented here are excerpts from Cowie's audiotapes.
Woody Allen on Bergman – In this short 1998 piece for Turner Classic Movies, Woody Allen talks about his passion for the director (1080i, 8 min).
Bergman 101 – In this video piece, film scholar Peter Cowie walks us through Bergman's career by way of film stills, behind-the-scenes photos, and clips from many of the director's films and television productions (1080p, 36 min).
Trailer – (1080p, 3 min).
In addition to all of the supplemental features mentioned above, The Seventh Seal arrives with a lovely 26-page booklet containing Gary Giddins' essay "There go the Clowns" (the author's most recent books are Weather Bird: Natural Selection: Gary Giddins on Comedy, Film, Music, and Books; and Jazz (with Scott DeVeaux).
The Seventh Seal Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Unbelievable presentation! I am aware that many of you are weary of hearing how every other week there is a Blu-ray that looks nothing like the one before it; well, I have not seen anything like The Seventh Seal yet. Simply put, this is a perfect presentation. Very Highly Recommended.
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