Autumn Sonata 3.0 (Criterion DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

This site needs more Bergman!  I can't be this much of a Bergman fan and only have one of his films covered here (Bergman Island doesn't count, as it's a documentary about him, not by him).  So, I thought I'd take a look at another Criterion reissue, where they brought one of their older DVD titles up to date not just by releasing it in HD, but with a brand new master and all new special features.  This is also one of my favorites: 1978's Autumn Sonata.

Update 11/20/18: Criterion takes their third stab at Autumn Sonata (fourth if you count the laserdisc), this time as part of their massive 30-disc boxed set of Bergman blus, Ingmar Bergman's Cinema.  It just came out today, and obviously that's a ton of discs to cover (especially since I have alternate editions for nearly every title in the box), so I'll be doing these films piecemeal over time, just like I've been doing with Shout's Werner Herzog Collection.  For today, I'm just updating the films I've already covered on this site, which means, not just this post but Cries and Whispers, Summer Interlude, and Bergman Island have all gotten updates today.  Check 'em out!
Autumn Sonata is best known for being the film where Bergman finally met Bergman.  That is to say, towards the tail ends of their careers, Ingmar Bergman finally directed the esteemed Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca, ever heard of it?).  And, no, they're not related.  I don't know about you, but when I first heard of this film, I was dying to see how this huge, celebrity actress from the typically stagey 40s era of filmmaking would be able to compete in a more contemporarily sophisticated art film, particularly one by the great Ingmar Bergman.  And holy crap did she rise to the challenge!  And Ingmar really threw her into the deep end, too; pitting her against Liv Ulmann at her peak.  It's an acting face-off for the ages.
They play mother and daughter.  Liv always felt she'd never had the love of her mother, a famous pianist.  But when Ingrid's husband dies, Liv invites her mother into her family home.  Things have gotten pretty dark there, as Liv's son has died as a small boy, and she and her husband are now taking care of her mentally handicapped sister.  It's another beautiful lighting experience courtesy of Sven Nykvist; but it has a warm natural look to it, as opposed to some of Bergman's more famous and showier films, like Seventh Seal or Persona, which feel almost overwhelmed by what could be described as trick shots.  This is a more subtle, down-to-Earth Bergman, enabling the drama to really hit home.  I don't place a lot of stock in the Academy awards, but it's worth noting both Bergmans were nominated for Oscars for this, which is particularly impressive for a foreign film.   Look for Bergman regulars Gunnar Björnstrand and Erland Josephson in all-too small supporting roles, as well.
Criterion first released Autumn Sonata on DVD in 2000, itself an update of their previous laserdisc edition from 1998.  But as the years rolled by, that transfer was looking pretty creaky, as you'll soon see.  It was released around the world over the years, most notably by Tartan in the UK, who did a fantastic job covering Bergman's body of work.  But the real revelation came in 2013, when Criterion returned to the film with a brand new, 2k scan of the original camera negative, which they released separately on DVD and blu-ray.  But even that wasn't enough for their huge Ingmar Bergman's Cinema collection in 2018, where they gave the film an even newer 2k scan of the 35mm original camera negative.  Can't say they're not giving us our money's worth, but let's see how much this additional pass actually improves things.
1) 2000 Criterion DVD; 2) 2013 Criterion DVD;
3) 2013 Criterion blu-ray; 4) 2018 Criterion blu-ray.
1) 2000 Criterion DVD; 2) 2013 Criterion DVD;
3) 2013 Criterion blu-ray; 4) 2018 Criterion blu-ray.
Wow, what a difference between the original DVD and blus!  That was no slim upgrade.  Perhaps, because it was 1.66:1 (and really more like 1.58:1), they figured they could get away with it, but the original 2000 disc is not anamorphic.  So the picture is small, on top of being fuzzy and heavily red-tinted.  The old DVD is also blocky and pixelated, though the softness covers that up to a degree.  It's not interlaced, though; that's one thing you can say for it, especially since it feels like the oldest editions in a lot of my comparisons lately have had interlacing problems.  The new scan corrects the aspect ratio, though, finding new information on the sides (we now see the "P" in what I presume to read "CHOPAN" on their music book in the first set of shots).  And with the redness corrected, colors looks so much more realistic and alive.  You can see a decided increase in detail, too, even between the 2013 DVD and and its twin blu-ray release.  Not only is grain clear and specific, but look at how much more you can make out of Liv's face in the close-up.

And the updated blu?  Well, it's another 2k scan of the same elements, so it's not really a leap in resolution.  Really, the story here is in the timing.  The contrast is lower (look at the white curtains in either set of shots, but particularly the second) and the colors are more muted.  Overall, it's a much more naturalistic look; the reds don't leap out at you like they did in the 2013 disc, which overall looks more realistic and less stylized.  The framing pulls in additional slivers on the sides, going from 1.67 to 1.66:1.  But really it's all about the more muted colors and contrast.  Should that white paper in Erland's typewriter shine out or no?  I'm inclined to say no and side with this new transfer, but I could absolutely see people going the other way and preferring the more shiny, colorful version from 2013, and of course we've lost our chance to get Bergman or Nykvist to weigh in with their original intentions.  But Autumn Sonata doesn't strike me as the sort of film that should beam like an Avengers movie, so I'm inclined to think Criterion's moved in the right direction here.

On all four discs, we're given both the original English and Swedish mono audio tracks (in LPCM on the blus), remastered for the 2013 editions, with optional English subtitles.
I wouldn't quite call Criterion's first pass at Autumn Sonata a special edition, but it did have one notable special feature, an audio commentary by their resident Bergman scholar, Peter Cowie.  It's a carry-over from their laserdisc, but Cowie's always great and really knows his Bergman.  Besides that, the first edition only has the theatrical trailer and a booklet with notes by Farran Smith Nehme.

The 2013 edition keeps all of that (including the booklet of Nehme's notes), but also fleshes things out to what I would label a loaded special edition.  First they've got another one of those great little introductions that Criterion recorded with Bergman for almost all of his pictures sometime in the mid 2000s.  Next, they've got a brand new, in depth interview with Liv Ulmann and a long, vintage interview with Ingmar Bergman.  But the most exciting inclusion of all is a vintage making-of documentary shot during the filming of Autumn Sonata that runs over three hours long(!), and shows you just about everything you could possibly want to see first-hand.  It includes a booklet with the same Nehme essay from the original disc.

The 2018 blu keeps everything from the 2013 edition, but doesn't add anything else, with the obvious exception, of course, for the fact that it comes packaged with all the other Bergman films, and the extras associated with those.  The set includes a bonus disc with several docs and features about Bergman in general, after all, but there's nothing else Autumn Sonata-specific.  The Nehme essay from the previous booklets is back again, too, in the box's massive 248 page book.
Autumn Sonata is a terrific film, and the 2013 blu-ray is a vast improvement.  I recommend every inch of it.  Even if you already have the old DVD, this is a time to replace.  Heck, they could've just released the 3-hour documentary by itself and I'd be recommending it.  But if you have the 2013 blu, is the 2018 blu worthy of a triple-dip?  Not by itself, I'd say no.  But the Cinema collection is absolutely worth getting as a whole, and it's great that they went the extra mile to give it an even fresher scan instead of just coasting with the blu they already had.

1 comment:

  1. Many thanks! I own the 2000 dvd, and will definitely upgrade to Blu, next time they do a Flash Sale.