Blu-ray Disc Review: "The Seventh Seal"

The Criterion Collection
Movie ••••• Picture ••••• Sound •••• Extras •••••

Criterion's 1999 DVD edition of The Seventh Seal is a favorite partly because of its wonderfully substantial extras. Now the company has upped the ante by releasing Ingmar Bergman's 1957 black-and-white classic on a stunning Blu-ray Disc and adding to those extras, all now in high-def.

Even in the shadows of cinematographer Gunnar Fischer's gorgeously lit images, you can now see detail in chain mail, tree bark, and paintings. Contrast is excellent, with Death's cowl an inky black and Bibi Andersson's dress a bright white - and a wide range of beautiful grays in between. This gives a solidity to people and objects, separating them distinctly in complex compositions.

Bergman loves silence, but he also uses sounds like tolling bells and crashing waves to create gripping atmospheres, and all are crisp and clear on the disc's uncompressed PCM mono soundtrack. Bergman expert Peter Cowie is at the helm of two of the extras carried over from 1999. In his commentary, he balances background information with analysis of the movie's cinematic language. And in Bergman 101, Cowie brilliantly examines, film by film, many of the director's themes and techniques, using copious clips to make his points.

Additional extras include an archival interview with star Max von Sydow, a 1989 Woody Allen monologue on his relationship to the master's movies (sounding just like Allen's Manhattan character), and a feature-length documentary in which Bergman walks around Fårö Island - where he lived with girlfriends, wives, and demons - talking about all the films he made there. The doc may be simple, but it's fascinating because Bergman speaks with the same truthfulness that made his work so absorbing.