Easily the definitive transfer of this title to date, albeit not perfect. I could write an essay on why I, and people like Kurt Vonnegut find this to be perhaps the best movie ever. It is certainly the most human-scale movie I've ever seen, and manages to be a masterpiece without overly contorted or improbable plot lines. An absolute gem! For the rest of this review, I'll focus on the technical aspects of this latest Criterion Collection Blu-Ray transfer.
The transfer was done from a 35mm interpositive and preserved in the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 On a standard 16:9 television, it will display the complete frame in pillarboxed format. Nothing seems to have been cropped out, in some scenes evidence of a slightly dirty camera gate can be seen, assuring the viewer that they are getting the entire frame contents. Colors are rich and excellent throughout most scenes, and very well timed. Bright scenes seem to have fared best in this transfer, and either due to the choices made by the operator, or the limitations of the equipment, dark scenes are at times plagued with poor contrast and what appears to be several stops of digital gain added in post-production. If I had to guess, I would submit that these scenes should have been scanned with higher analog gain to achieve the needed brightness, as it is the apparent digital gain makes these dark scenes rather noisy and artifact-ridden.
Several otherwise well transferred scenes suffer from pulsing and flicker, again if I were to guess I'd suspect that it was degradation of the film that caused this. It looks a lot like one side of the reel had an emulsion issue, but hard to say. I also suspect that in the post-processing they probably did the best they could in reducing it to whatever extent possible. Noise reduction is excellent, and reveals that this film, or at least this interpositive is quite a grainy affair, with few scene exceptions. I have no idea what the original film stock was (some sort of Fuji?), or if it was particularly fast film, but the amount of grain is truly surprising and really adds to the feel of this movie. I'm particularly glad that they did not allow this to be smoothed out or overly compressed, you really do get the feeling every last bit of detail in the film made it through the transfer.
Dirt, scratches, and other things seem to have been painstakingly removed and overall, this is a very excellent transfer. I think that with perhaps the exception of what I suspect to be poor digital capture of the dark scenes, and subsequent digital gain pushing it would be hard to do anything better than this effort, unless there is some other interpositive out there in better condition. I somewhat doubt that notion, as the director Lasse Hallström approved this re-release himself. And of course, there is the possibility that I am completely wrong about the cause of the poor dark scene contrast and gain. Either way, despite a few rough spots, you're not going to find a better transfer of this around. I wish I had my old DVD copy of the first release to compare how those dark scenes were handled.
Packaging of the disc is small, but fairly nice. A fairly hefty booklet is full of interesting tidbits and photos.
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