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on June 22, 2009
It's safe to say that The Seventh Seal is Ingmar Bergman's most famous film judging by how firmly entrenched it has become in popular culture over the years. Key images and scenes from it, including Death, the chess game, and the Dance of Death, have been emulated and parodied countless times over the years. On a historical level, it has also been credited with helping launch art-house cinema in the 1950s, along with the films Akira Kurosawa and Federico Fellini. However, this has done little to diminish what a powerful meditation on man's search for purpose in the universe it is.

The first disc starts off with an audio commentary from the previous edition by film scholar Peter Cowie. He briefly talks about the impact that the first time he saw The Seventh Seal had on him. He points out where Bergman drew his inspiration for the look of Death. Cowie populates this track with production anecdotes along with an analysis of what we are watching as well as the film's themes.

"Afterword" is a follow-up by Cowie to the 1987 commentary he did for the Criterion Collection. He points out the film's rich humor, despite its reputation as a dark, brooding film about death. This extra gives him a chance to mention things that he failed to when he originally recorded the commentary.

"Max von Sydow Audio Interview" features excerpts of interviews Cowie conducted with the veteran actor in 1988 for a book about the man. He talks about his upbringing and his parents. He recounts his first experience with the theater and how it led to him becoming an actor.

"Woody Allen on Bergman" features a wonderful short film from Turner Classic Movies with Allen talking about his love for Bergman's films over a montage of clips from them. He says that The Seventh Seal is his favorite Bergman film. This is an eloquent tribute to the man and his films.

Also included is a trailer.

The second disc includes "Bergman Island," an impressive feature-length documentary about Bergman that was released in 2006. Bergman reflects on his life and career, coming across as a modest and humble man who tells all kinds of engaging anecdotes from his life. There are many clips from his films and excellent behind-the-scenes footage.

Finally, there is "Bergman 101," a crash course on the life and career of Bergman by Cowie. He narrates over stills and clips from the man's films. This is an excellent primer that traces Bergman's career arc and touches upon many of his films while also providing factoids and analysis.
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VINE VOICEon June 27, 2009
The film:

Bergman is one of those things. He won't appeal to everyone. It's arty, yes. It's high concept. But really, when you get down to it, many of his movies are not hard to watch at all. This one might be the most accessible. Max Von Sydow plays a crusading knight returning home wearily after a long campaign. With his servant, he encounters a country besieged by plague and despair. Against this backdrop, he encounters Death, whom he challenges to a chess match. Does he want to live forever? No. He wants answers to his soul-chilling skepticism about God and life.

The performances are all very good, especially Von Sydow and Gunnar Björnstrand as his squire. Dialogue is clipped and spare, but evocative. Sydow has some particularly good scenes in the chapel, confessing his doubts.

Overall, it's easy to see why this film is hailed as a classic. It's deep, but also brief enough and paced well enough to be enjoyable. The ending is a bit cryptic, but not in an off-putting way. It should definitely be viewed by anyone with an open mind for "world cinema."

The Blu-Ray:

This is a great transfer. This is what I'm sure we all hoped "Dr. Strangelove" would be. There is a fine, regular grain structure which allows us to see terrific detail, especially in foliage, facial features, and cloth textures. Black levels are solid and consistent, so objects in the shadows are always well delineated.

You MUST make sure your gamma and brightness are set well! This is a film in which a lot of stuff can be lost in the shadows - it is very high contrast. In the opening shot, if your display is crushing blacks, the mountains will look like one black blob, when in fact there is a huge amount of detail and shading on rocks. SO: if you do not have a disc like Digital Video Essentials, at the very least pop in a Lucasfilm disc to use the "THX Calibrator." It has a contrast/brightness pattern that should get you set right.

Extras include a LONG documentary/interview piece with Bergman in his later life, presented in 1080i. Commentary is provided by a film scholar.

***********

If you are a fan of Bergman or this film, this is a no-brainer. There is detail here you'd never see on a DVD, and the black levels (so important on a b/w film like this) are much deeper and more consistent than any SD presentation could allow. Extras are a nice complement, and for the price, you really can't beat this, especially compared to what Criterion releases cost just a few short years ago.

If you're more of a neophyte to this kind of cinema, you should rent first. See if you like this sort of thing. Don't be daunted by the reputation of this and other Criterion releases. Give it a good honest try. You might be pleasantly surprised.
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VINE VOICEon October 20, 2009
1957 was one of my favorite years for film, and `Det Sjunde Inseglet' is one of the many reasons why. One of Ingmar Bergman's finest films (and that is saying a lot, since he is one of the greatest directors of all time), `Det Sjunde Inseglet' is a startling glimpse at death and religion and the impact those two very important subjects have on life. With stunning performances (Gunnar Bjornstrand gives perhaps my favorite supporting male performance of all time) as well as crisp and engrossing black and white photography, `Det Sjunde Inseglet' is nearly as beautiful as it is powerful.

The films core is found on a desolate beach where Antonius Block meets Death and challenges him to a game of chess.

This game represents the game we all play, that of life. Death is an inevitable end, a course we cannot cheat (for there is no way that Block can actually `beat' Death), but one has the opportunity to give the game their best effort. Thus, one has the chance to embrace life while they have it. Block has seen a lot in his lifetime (war and plague to mention just two) and so his faith has begun to waver; his doubts surfacing about God and his concern for humanity. This theme of religion (or better yet, spirituality) is touched upon in the majority of Bergman's films, but the poignancy and emotional relevance has never been stronger than it is in `Det Sjunde Inseglet'.

I find hesitation in really explaining much more of the film, for it is an experience that one should walk into blind almost. There is so much to uncover here, but what is so wonderful about filmmakers like Bergman is that they present a message one has to really uncover themselves. There are many ways to interpret this film, and no which way is really correct. It all depends on how the film touches and or moves you. If I really elaborate on my own personal findings it could unfairly influence your interpretation of the film, and so I'll reserve my thoughts on the matter for those who have already developed their own opinions.

So watch the movie!

The acting, like I mentioned, is sublime. I easily fill my Best Supporting Actor ballot with almost everyone in this film. Like I mentioned, Bjornstrand is my favorite supporting male performance of all time, so he takes this in a cakewalk; but Bengt Ekerot is extremely effective as Death himself, and Nils Poppe is marvelously entertaining as Jof. All three are leagues above any other performance that said year; and 1957 is a stunning year in nearly every category (Lead Actress is also jam packed). I really enjoyed Max von Sydow's detachment here, but he is clearly out-acted by the supporting cast.

I wanted to take a few moments to really expound on my love for Bjornstrand here. He is utter perfection; quite possibly the most complete supporting performance ever recorded on film. He is witty, charming, genuine, engaging, stern, desperate, depressed, concerned, focused, heroic, dashing and even a bit scary. He covers all of the bases with effortless balance and not a single ounce of awkwardness. He is stunning here, no ifs ands or buts about it.

I am a huge fan of Bergman, and while `Det Sjunde Inseglet' is not my favorite of his films (I reserve that honor for `Scener ur ett Aktenskap') it is certainly one of his finest moments and one of the best films of all time. At the price listed here it is a steal, so for once you don't have to splurge to experience something special!
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VINE VOICEon October 30, 2013
Best film EVER!

pretty soon after this making movies overwhelmingly became for the writer director (the Quentin of his day) just ways of getting hot chicks

but this here is the best film ever

I like the way we are spared most of the gruesome details the camera would endlessly dwell on nowadays, burning up screen time.

Ok, so maybe there might be a few continuity questions (how come the seminarian we see get slashed in the face has NO face wound when we next see him dying of the plague, with NO boils after we heard so much about them?)

try this

put on both the English dubbed in voices AND the English subtitles and we might get SOMEWHERE near what the Swedish really says.

BUT WHATEVER YOU DO DO NOT PLAY THE COMMENTARY TRACK with Peter Cowrie, the unbearable, the pedant, the merciless, the self concerned, who HAS NO USEFUL INFORMATION WHATSOEVER to share, but only how he knew such and such an actor years later and ABSOLUTELY WRONG interpretations.

like on the rest of the criterion disks

all right supplemental material, but basically, just watch the movie. Yeah, the original voices are entirely the best (all of a sudden the head of the actor's troupe is not longer speaking with the range and strength of the original but that overly earnest cheapo english dub voice.

greatest movie of all time after GRand Illusion, or spike lee, get it and view it
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on May 10, 2014
This is a Bizarre movie. A knight, Max von Sydow, returning from the Crusades meets Death on a Beach. He challenges Death to a game of Chess. If we wins he lives and if he looses he dies. As he travels back to his castle he and his squire meet an odd group of people. Some join them is their travels, It's filmed in black and White, which is used to great effect to create a strange landscape that adds to the presence of Death following after the knight and his friends. The Criterion version looks great and restores the movie to is original state. There are few extras on the DVD, an Interview with Bergman that lasts about 2 minutes is interesting. It is in Swedish and you need to read subtitles so if you have a problem with subtitles and don't speak Swedish this movies in not for you. If you like great films with interesting Characters then this is a good movie.
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on October 5, 2014
The Seventh Seal is about a knight that returns home from the crusades to find that there has been an outbreak of the plague. He meets various people in his travels while playing chess with death. The film is well shot with stark imagery. There is a contemplative tone throughout the film that brings to question the meaning of life and death.

Overall, it is a film that tackles existential questions.
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on December 13, 2014
I grew up w. Art Film's as simply as - it's what my parents did - & that has always stayed with me - I first saw this at around 13yrs of age & it haunted me - & it continued to mesmerize me as I grew older & as I would see it again over the years- - i also attribute this film to a deeper spiritual sense that I feel in regards to all faiths - There are no words to describe this film accurately -
it washes over you & is a Masterpiece.
PS - Of all the films of Fellini-Truffaut -
Bergman-Renoir- Belmando- Fernandel-
LeConte etc-etc : a wealth of talent- - the
2 that just stayed so much a part of me
are The Seventh Seal & the films of
Jacques Tati - eclectic combo but so is
life & seems a sensible one after all.
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on May 5, 2011
This is only the 6th Criterion Blu-Ray release that I've seen after The Night of the Hunter (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray], M (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray], Modern Times (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray], Stagecoach (The Criterion Collection) and Seven Samurai (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] and although I liked the 3rd and especially the 5th on that list better this is still a very rewarding film to watch. This version of "The Seventh Seal" firstly comes with an excellent 24-page booklet containing a great essay by Gary Giddins. The picture quality is excellent having been very, very well restored and while not pristine perfect is still very good to watch and one cannot overstate just how much better black and white films look on 1080p. The sound quality is also good although personally I would have liked to have had a DTS HD MA lossless 5.1 surround option but perhaps this mono is the best they could do. The special features are also great with the interviews of Bergman being the standouts.

This is just great film-making from every possible angle of evaluation. I loved the theme of the film of finding God in the least obvious places and how death comes for all of us and that although we may delay the inevitable we can never cheat it. Even when Death plays chess with the knight I get the feeling I'm watching a cat playing with a mouse before devouring its prey. It's interesting how the knight goes through so much trouble and suffering not only for himself but also for his clearly not very happy and yet fiercely loyal squire in doing what others like the corrupted seminarian tell him is the way to please and hence to know God by killing Saracens - the very people who think it pleases God to kill clearly mentally unstable women by burning them at the stake and calling them witches - this very knight is left not knowing God and feeling empty while the lowly relatively innocent and trusting lower class performer Jof not only sees the Virgin Mary and the Infant Christ but he also sees Death and hence is able to run away at least for the present from the fate of the rest. Interesting how in the Bible the Beatitudes states how blessed the pure in heart are as they will see God explaining God's favour and blessings on the simple Jof and his family as they are spared the fate of the more complex and higher class knight and his squire. The "Seventh Seal" will now also make it to my very short annual classic film viewing list.

Very rewarding viewing and a must-have in any self-respecting movie fan's video library.

Very, highly recommended!
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VINE VOICEon August 10, 2009
Yes, the BD version definitely delivers.

As for the film itself, most of you probably have seen this film or some of his other work... so I won't comment much on the film, but rather the technical aspects of this film. I mean, a knight plays chess with Death, what's not to like about that?

Stunning image quality and sound. It's actually been a while since I've seen an older version, though I think it wasn't even the old Criterion edition. What I can attest to is that, like "Repulsion", the transfer is simply incredible. There is absolutely no way short of a projection of the film itself that will deliver like this one. The subtitles appear to have been modified a little, being translated probably better for today's modern age. The extras are not extensive, but a nice addition to the BD version of the film. Also included is a nice booklet with the film. It could be considered a "collectors" booklet, as it is nicely put together and informative... but to me it's just something that Criterion added as a bonus. Very nice, though.

Bergman's exposures and lighting come through so beautifully in every frame. There are some scenes that come across as "flat" but that has nothing to do with the Criterion transfer and was more than likely on the master print itself. I think this could have been adjusted slightly to get rid of the prominent grays, but it could have been Bergman's intention as well... that I'm not sure about, but it was certainly in the original film. What's gone from the original is a hissy, poppy audio track and there's not a single hint of dust or scratches anywhere. Amazing what Criterion has been doing with these old prints!

Keep in mind the aspect ratio is 4:3, (the ratio of what was previously the standard for TVs), not 16:9. It was common for films of that era to be presented in it's full frame form... if you have a projector setup or large enough widescreen television, don't worry it hardly distracts at all.

Also, you'll be glad to know that Criterion was smart enough to eliminate those ugly blue cases that most BDs are packed in. They have more specially made cases that are clear and just a couple millimeters deeper (the spine, presumably to make more room for the booklets). Much more attractive on your DVD case than a row of neon-blue cases.
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I happened upon this great film (in the Criterion, 2 disc release) at my local library, and thought I would give it a go. Lately I have been into Kurosawa, Goddard, and other icons of the 50s and 60s; so Bergman was on my short list of directors to delve into (their works).

For being filmed in 1957, this was amazing and truly breathtaking. I won't bore you with the details as included in dozens of other reviews. I will just point out some of the things I found interesting.

First, the two disc DVD set has a ton of great features, and these are well worth viewing. Second, the Criterion transfer was great. I don't think that the Blu-Ray will be able to improve upon it, but the picture is clear and the sound is masterfully restored. For purists, they might complain that the film lacks some of the roughness of the original (which was filmed with 10-20 year old equipment even then!); but I think that Bergman would approve of the purity and clarity of this version.

The backdrops are dramatic, even more so when realizing 95% was shot in the studio or on the backlot in Solna (with mid rise buildings just behind the trees). The acting is stellar, and the language really seems to mesh well with the theme and storytelling.

For those who are very religious, I might understand a little hesitancy to watch this; but note that the film never questions religion outright... Bergman makes a point that the film is questioning the 'silence of God'. Read some reviews, wikipedia, watch the extras, etc... before you make a rash judgement.

This is a film that rewards the view with multiple viewings. This was one of the original 'art house' films. Bergman was a film icon and deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as Kurosawa, Fellini, Truffaut, Kubrick and Goddard.

If you enjoy dramatic, intelligent movies from the 50s that eschew the Hollywood norms and take risks; then this is a must see.
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