The Kids In the Hall's Brain Candy: The DVD, Blu and Workprint

In 2002, Paramount finally released The Kids In the Hall's sole, under-appreciated film, Brain Candy on DVD. Unfortunately, it was as barebones as you could get. None of the terrifically entertaining extras you know the Kids comedy troupe could have provided, not even any of the famous deleted scenes. And we know there were deleted scenes, because in all their interviews, the guys always talked about the far out fry chef character Dave Foley played that got cut from the film, amongst other things. Plus, die-hard fans got to see some of these scenes over the years, because there was a leaked workprint version of the film.

Update 5/15/16 - 2/26/22: Well, now it's 2022 and Paramount have gone and released the most barebones blu-ray as you could possibly get.
Brain Candy Is the Kids In the Hall's Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Like that film, it's actually more consistent and "solid" than the show was. And while some characters (like the pair of cops who have odd conversations while sitting in their squad car) do recur from the series, the film almost works better if you completely discard any expectations or associations with the sketch show, and just take the film on its own terms. You're then left with a schizophrenic comedy film with an level of unbridled insanity we haven't seen since The Marx Bros' Duck Soup. It's both genuinely funny, which you can't always say about a lot of cult comedy efforts, but also delightfully cynical and dark. This film has a strong message and that's: look how terrible humanity is.
The story's about a group of scientists researching an anti-depressant that focuses patients' minds on their happiest memory. They wind up releasing the pill before its ready because the drug company they work for threatens to close their lab and fire them if they don't start generating profits right away. Everybody is lying to themselves and everyone around them about how awful they are inside as. The film shows us the lives of people in all walks of life whose lives are miserable and then damaged even further by the medication. But it's not until they start going into standing comas that anybody decides there's a problem and a cover-up is in order. Some of the biggest laughs come from things like suicide and the pathetic "happiest moments" we see in the supporting characters' sad lives. Scott Thompson's supporting character of a repressed family man who finally realizes he's gay thanks to the bill is about the only happy, upbeat line in the film, and even that features scenes of him alone masturbating to gay porn in an attic while his children listen, and getting arrested and dragged up his neighborhood lawn naked in handcuffs.
It's amazing the Kids had the balls to push this film all the way through to completion. And it's no wonder the studio wound up giving it the smallest possible token theatrical release (I don't think I've ever driven farther to see a studio released film on opening weekend), which was then tossed out on a quick and cheap home video release. If you want a film that's going to lie to you to make you feel better about yourself, sorry, the Kids were not interested in making that movie for you. But that's what's so great about this film. A silly cable television sketch troupe wound up making actual cinematic art. And it's still funnier than almost all of their contemporaries.
So about this workprint version. Obviously, it's unreleased, but as a big fan of this film, I have laid my hands on a bootleg copy of it. The first half of it isn't very different from the finished film, coming down to things like no opening credits and slightly re-edited scenes. But once you get to the second half, they really diverge. Dave Foley has a major character (the aforementioned fry chef) that's only seen in the workprint. Of course there are lines and gags only seen in that version. But more than that, Janeane Garofolo has been completely cut out of the final version, and the ending is very different. And, on the other hand, the workprint is missing a lot of scenes and elements that are in the final version. So I've documented all of the differences between the two cuts, but I'm bolding the points where the workprint specifically has something unique that's seen not in the final film, the parts fans who've seen the movie are missing.
A shot of Foley's fry chef character, taken from the trailer.
0:01 There are no credits, and the cab driver's monologue is longer.
3:20 There are different crowd/ band shots at end of the song.
10:05 The workprint has a cruder animation when Scott swallows the pill.
12:50 The workprint is missing establishing shots of the building.
14:10 The workprint doesn't have the "everybody back in" line.
16:30 The workprint is missing the "big table" joke.
16:50 Brendan Frasier's cameo is a little longer with some extra back and forth.
There's a new joke about "what would the great scientist Sigmund say to his class every day?"
21:10 The workprint loses part of the "flipper babies" gag.
24:10 The workprint has an additional line, "isn't that what you all want?"
24:50 The workprint cuts a lot of the "ready for another drink" gag.
28:30 The workprint puts the scene of Cisco naming the drug ahead of Chris coming to work hungover, instead of the other way around.
37:20 The workprint loses a shot of Scott lying naked on the ground.
42:30 The workprint skips an establishing shot of building.
44:55 The workprint's missing the joke when the drill sergeant looks down at Scott's crotch.
46:50 The workprint cuts the last few seconds of the gay musical number.
47:55 In the workprint, we see Cancer Boy's sedated parents.
48:10 The workprint doesn't have the line about Cancer Boy's marrow being low.
50:55 The workprint has the "this is the real party" joke before the introduction; the final film has it after.
51:05 In the workprint, we see a scuba diver standing at the swimming pool.
51:30 The workprint has an extra piece where Chris tries to tell his boss he's still worried about his drug going non-prescription and getting ignored.
51:50 There's a scene of Chris's girlfriend looking lost by herself, then we cut back to the real party. Cisco and the boss conspire, and then Chris meets Janeane Garofolo on a tennis court and they have a whole scene about her sexual conquests of many scientists ("Steven Hawking was an unconscionable pig in bed." "I've heard that."). But it doesn't have the scene where the other scientists see Chris at the real party on a monitor.
52:10 Only the workprint has a whole, weird scene at a church where Dave Foley plays a former fry chef. We flash back to him going berserk at his job, "no! the fries will never be ready!" He kills his parents, cuts his own hair, and we cut back to him at the church, where he delivers a poem about the drug being no good.
52:20 But the workprint doesn't have the "3 months later" transition and the dog audition scene doesn't happen 'till later. the two versions sync up again at the next scene, where the emo musician sings his happy song.
54:40 The "Happiness Pie" video is edited very differently. it's a longer, fuller song on the workprint.
56:20 The awards ceremony is edited with some different crowd shots.
56:40 Cleptor and Chris tell two more forced jokes on the workprint.
58:10 The crazy fry chef confronts Chris as he walks through the adoring crowd and gives him a poem he's written.
58:30 The workprint moves the dog audition to here.
1:00:40 The workprint loses an extra shot of Chris looking at the mouse.
1:03:30 Mrs. Hurdicure has a new happy memory, which we see is a false memory of her son doting on her, as opposed to the real, cynical one in the final film. Only in the workprint, it makes sense why she's whispering the word "tea" to herself, though.
1:04:00 Extra scene in the workprint: Chris calls an ambulance and is surprised it's already taken Mrs. Hurdicure away before he can even hang up the phone. there's also a very dramatic choral song on the workprint.
1:05:21 There's a totally different set of shots when they decide not to go to the media. only in the workprint, we see the family waiting at the bris behind them the whole time.
1:06:08 The workprint has extra music behind the "acceptable losses" talk.
1:07:38 The workprint moves the "Funky Town" memory to after the fight.
1:09:36 The workprint has an extra coma victim's happy memory, where she gives birth.
1:10:10 In the workprint, Chris goes to his girlfriend's apartment and finds out she and her "new special friend Gunther" are on the pill, and they have an... eccentric encounter.
1:11:30 In the workprint, Chris gets kidnapped on the street and taken to the fry chef who recites crazy poems to him while he's tied to a chair. He's confused when Chris agrees with him and accepts responsibility.
From here on The workprint is completely different. instead of seeing the sailors and his girlfriend's image inside the pill making him decide to go to the media, Chris leads a team of fry chefs to rescue Mrs. Hurdicure and bring her to the Nina Bedford show.
In the final film, Chris instead holds a press conference, but gets a paltry turn-out. His boss then takes him to "the real press conference," where they have the final showdown.
But in the workprint, the fry chefs take over the television studio and the police arrive, questioning Scott's homeless security guard character. we see that more cops didn't show up because most are at a funeral for a police dog. None of this is in the movie! Chris confesses to the studio audience while the lead fry chef has made himself up like an Andrew Lloyd Webber cat and dances to "Memories" for the police. But the crowd doesn't listen and begins chanting.
NOW, in the workprint, Chris sees the two sailors. we see their memory and the girlfriend in the pill like in the final film.
But instead of throwing it down and holding the press conference, he swallows the pill and we see that his happiest memory is when he invented the pill. Then the cab driving narrator comes back and Chris, in his coma, is being rode around as a float in a parade through the city streets "like a fucking astronaut."
They then announce a coma queen, like in the final film. But it ends there, without any of the stuff with Mrs. Hurdicure and the addendum that we get in the final film.
I've seen people saying so online, but I wouldn't actually call the workprint the superior version of the film. It's missing a lot of great stuff, and a lot of the unique things it has aren't as good as what we ultimately got. I'd say this is a rough first cut, and they finally made a better version of the film. But, with that said, there's certainly a lot of material here fans would get a lot out of, so it's a real shame it's not been released in any capacity. Again, all we got is a barebones DVD from Paramount that's now long out of print, until Warner Bros (who've been handling Paramount's back catalog for a couple years now) reissued it on DVD-R as part of their Warner Archives series, which is also, naturally, completely barebones. And finally, now, Paramount have released it on blu.  Interestingly, the label suggests it's a BD-R, but the packaging has the proper blu-ray logo and now that I've got my copy, I can safely say it is a proper, pressed disc.  Must've been a last minute change.  But it is still completely barebones.
2002 US Paramount DVD top; 2022 US Paramount BD bottom.

The DVD is, at least, anamorphic widescreen and free of interlacing. It's also fairly soft with smudgy compression, even by DVD standards.  I mean, it's not that bad, but even by SD standards, I'd rate it a B instead of an A.  So I'd've been ready to accept, and was expecting, the same old transfer slapped onto an HD disc.  Clear up the compressed encoding, be a little bit sharper and maybe even make out a spot of film grain or two.  Well, grain is still pretty soft on disc single-layer disc, but this is more than just6 the same master on a higher def disc.  The framing is still 1.78:1, but it's definitely shifted vertically, aiming a little bit higher than the DVD.  More importantly, the colors have been corrected.  Sure he's supposed to be somewhat flush, but Mark McKinney's face (along with everything else in every shot of the DVD) is pushed overly red, which has been fixed on the blu.  I'm sure this isn't nearly as good as the film could look with a fresh 4k scan of the OCN on a UHD, but the BD is definitely sharper and more attractive than the DVD.

Said DVD offered us the choice between a Dolby Stereo Surround track and a 5.1 mix. It also has optional English subtitles, both standard and HoH, and a French dub. The blu-ray just has the 5.1 mix, though it's bumped up to DTS-HD, and the one standard English subtitle track, also ditching the French dub.
And here's what the workprint looks like, for the record. It's just a bootleg I copped, so there's no point delving into the (terrible) video quality. But it's interesting that it's open matte with more vertical information in every frame. In some scenes we see boom mics, though, so there's no question that it was meant to be matted wide.
And like I said, barebones. No extras on the DVD or BD. They actually list "Menus" as a special feature on the back of the DVD. They don't even include the trailer. And that's especially disappointing since the trailer actually holds a lot of extra value with footage not seen in the film. It shows some of the original ending, including Foley's fry chef, and even more intriguingly, has other unseen footage of the prostitute and her boyfriend where she gets pregnant (which kicks so hard in her belly that it knocks the boyfriend on his ass), and they then have the baby. That stuff's not in either version of the film!

And just to add to the frustration, there was already a 'making of' promo featurette made for the film, including interviews with all five Kids (Foley even jokes that they'd better not cut his fry chef character), that aired on television during the film's minuscule theatrical release. Paramount could've not produced any new extras, but at least included that. And the trailer. But nope, nothing.
This film calls out for a special edition blu-ray like few others. It's developed a cult following over the years, and it has a loyal fanbase locked in from the show. The guys have already done interviews about the film online, so we know there's a lot to talk about and they're willing to get together and do the talking. There are some excellent features that already exist, like the promo making of, and a television special about the Kids that talks a lot about the film (actually, I think it mostly takes from the same promo featurette, but still). A commentary by these guys? It's too obvious not to do! They already did the series, so they know what to do. Oh, and maybe don't forget the trailer this time.
And as far as the workprint, I don't think a studio would have to spring for a 2-disc set or anything with both versions of the film. So much of the film is the same or even worse, that I think the best thing to do would be to just go through and snip out the best, unique moments and give us what would be a great deleted scenes package. Even if they don't have the original 35mm footage (which would be brilliant), I'm sure fans would shut up and be happy with the workprint quality if that's all there was. Heck, if Paramount needs it, I'll personally burn them a copy of my bootleg DVD. I can't believe this hasn't happened already. Somebody like Shout Factory should've been all up in this.

Still, at least we've moved forward rather than backwards.  Well, losing the original stereo mix is a bit of a step back, actually, but compared to the PQ and lossless 5.1, it's definitely an overall upgrade you'll want to make.  Just try to forget about what a blatant missed opportunity it is.

Update 7/2/22 - Pressed vs. Burned: It's been brought up in the comments, and other confusion has emerged online, that this may not in fact me a pressed disc.  And that I may, heavens forfend, be wrong.  Haha  No, of course I'm happy to admit I could be wrong about all sorts of things.  But in this case - though as I wrote above, I know the back cover says it's a BD-R and the disc label lacks the official blu-ray logo - Brain Candy is certainly a pressed disc.  Allow me to show you a couple of photos:
Exhibit A is the actual underside of the Brain Candy BD disc.  You can see the movie's UPC code (and some other numbers) in the inner ring of the disc, a definitive hallmark of a pressed disc.  Exhibit B is the underside of Sony's Marie Antoinette BD-R from their MOD "Choice Collection."  As you can see, the ring is blank (you may need to click through to the full-sized image).  And, more obviously, 1) the underside of the whole disc is a different color, and 2) the recorded data is visibly distinct from the "clear" parts along the edges, two more things that clearly delineate burned from glass-pressed discs.

But thank you for your comment, both for keeping me honest and giving me a chance to share some more DVD/ BD info that is definitely not common knowledge.  That's what this site is all about!  And hey, if you still think I'm mistaken and/ or misunderstanding something crucial here, please comment back.  The more we can get to the bottom of here, the better.

Ingmar Bergman Volume 1: The Only One You Need

Ingmar Bergman Volume 1 is one of four recent blu-ray box sets from the BFI.  Volumes 3 & 4 aren't out yet, but they've been announced and we know what's on them.  As you can guess, they're collections of his most famous and influential films, and if you already have Criterion's massive Ingmar Bergman's Cinema box set, you don't need any of the later sets, unless you're in it for every single exclusive special feature.  Every film in those is featured there, and they all seem to be using the same 2017 2k restorations by Svenska Filminstitutet, to the point that the transfers are virtually indistinguishable.  If you haven't got the Criterion box, these make for a perfectly reasonable UK alternative... although the BFI sets are missing some films and a bunch of extras Criterion has... unless a Volume 5 gets announced in future.  But for now, they're essentially redundant.  But not Volume 1.  Volume 1 is special, since it introduces four Ingmar Bergman films to blu-ray that aren't in the Criterion box or available anywhere else.  So it's a must.

Now this set has eight films all told, five of which were already featured on my previous Early Bergman post, which I've now updated to include the new BFI blus.  They are: Torment, Crisis, Port Of Call, Thirst and To Joy.  The other three have only previously been available on DVD from Tartan, all of which I also have, so let's see how they compare below.
We begin with 1948's Music In Darkness, one of the (semi) rare films Bergman directed but did not write himself.  It's based on a novel by Dagmar Edqvist, who also wrote the screenplay, about a soldier who goes blind in a somewhat silly scene, rescuing a puppy that somehow wandered onto a firing range.  Bergman regular Birger Malmsten - who in fact is in seven of the eight films in this set - plays the lead who finds life can get even bleaker than you might expect when he finds out how society treats the sightless.  His fiance leaves him, everyone takes advantage of him, even children steal money from him.  Through his love of music, he pushes on and even attempts a new relationship with a servant girl he once looked down on.
There's a lot of Bergman in this early work, from the boldly unsentimental story points to some creative visuals including a somewhat abstract dream sequence, though it leans a little more towards the romantic side, which is probably inherent in the source novel.  Everyone talks about the nude scene, which I guess was a big deal in the 40s; but now a small, early appearance by the great Gunnar Björnstrand as a fellow musician is much more noteworthy.  Sure this stuff is melodrama, but that's always elevated in Bergman's hands.
2006 UK Tartan DVD top; 2021 UK BFI BD bottom.
Tartan's release is pretty nice - strong picture, progressive image.  It's a little boxy at 1.30:1, something BFI corrects to 1.38, but for a DVD, it's pretty nice.  Of course, BFI's new HD scan from the 35mm duplicating negative is even better.  You're not going to discover new detail, per se, but it's sharper and now the grain is clear, giving us a properly filmic image, which also has slightly deeper blacks.  And while both discs present the original Swedish mono with removable English subtitles, BFI bumps it up to lossless LPCM.
Eva also came out in 1948.  But where Bergman wrote Music In Darkness, but didn't write it, this one he wrote but didn't direct.  That duty is handled by Gustaf Molander, best known for launching Ingrid Bergman's career with 1939's Intermezzo.  Birger is back as another former soldier, and boy, if you thought they put his character through the wringer last time...!  This guy's life is nothing but tragedy, built on the foundation of a lifetime of guilt he carries for the death of a young girl he accidentally killed as a young child.  As an adult, his uncle dies, and his only solace is the love he finds in the titular Eva.  That seems pretty ideal at first, but a swanky Eva Dahlbeck and her sleazy boyfriend Stig Olin are luring him into betraying her, and possibly committing murder!
This film's a little all over the place.  We follow our lead through two time-lines at first, his past as a young boy and his present, returning home from the army.  And the plot has us skipping to various locations and isolated casts of characters.  Wanda Rothgardt puts in a funny turn as Birger's aunt as they stay with his uncle during his final hours on his deathbed, and the section with Dahlbeck suddenly feels like a Tennessee Williams play took over the set.  Oh, and did I mention that at one point they move to a small island, but it's during the war, so dead German soldiers keep washing up on shore?  This one's more fun than Music, but still manages to be a rather compelling and serious-minded meditation on mortality.
2005 UK Tartan DVD top; 2021 UK BFI BD bottom.
So the situation's slightly different in this Tartan/ BFI comparison.  This time, Tartan's disc is still pretty decent, non-interlaced and all, but it has a slightly shifting AR, from about 1.34-1.37, and it has much greyer black levels, giving it a softer, gauzier look.  That effectively makes it feel more like an Nth generation dupe.  So BFI's blu, this time taken from an original 35mm interpositive, feels is an even more satisfying step up.  And it's another well encoded 2k scan.

Again, both discs feature the original Swedish mono, in LPCM on the blu, with optional English subtitles.
We go from bleak to bleaker to bleakest with this trilogy of films.  1949's Prison is both written and directed by Bergman, and it opens with an old man pitching an idea to a filmmaker to make a movie where the devil is some kind of understanding, sympathetic character as the world has become a sort of Hell on Earth.  This film's not really about that, except in a metaphorical way.  Instead of following the old man's idea, our director instead seeks inspiration from the story of a young woman who's trapped in a life of abusive sex work.  Things get so tragic, he winds up discovering for himself that the man was right, and we're all trapped in our own Hellish prisons anyway.
Bergman gets visually inventive with lots of prison bar imagery and an extended dream sequence.  With one of the major characters being a working filmmaker, there are lots of fun glimpses into the workings of a film studio, and when our young lovers hole up in an attic to watch a silent film on a dusty projector, we cut to the entire, original silent comedy created by Bergman for this piece.  You've seen it in a lot of Bergman documentaries and such; well, here's where it originated.  Birger Malmsten and Stig Olin are back, and acclaimed director Hasse Ekman cameos as the old man, but it's the young ingenue Doris Svedlund who steals the show.  Overall, this one's a bit of a mishmash, but a fascinating one.
2006 UK Tartan DVD top; 2021 UK BFI BD bottom.
This time, curiously, BFI's blu is framed at 1.33, and Tartan's blu is closer to 1.30, making them both slightly boxier than you might expect, with BFI actually zooming in a teensy bit tighter than Tartan.  Tartan's image is slightly vertically squeezed, too, which BFI fixes.  And after Tartan's milkier black levels on Eva, they're back to a good, deep level here, so it actually holds up rather well.  Of course BFI's blu, taken from an original 35mm interpositive, is still better.  But it's a smaller gap than some of the others.  But let's not get carried away - there are limits to SD, so this DVD can't help but be softer with grain only hinted at by random, smudgy clumps.  But when you're not looking at zoomed in screenshots, the difference is mostly just that the blu is a little sharper and more nuanced.

And of course, both discs provide the original Swedish mono with optional English subs, but only the blu is lossless.
There aren't many special features to speak of.  The Tartan discs are all barebones apart from a couple trailers for Bergman's more famous films and inserts with notes by Philip Strick.  BFI, meanwhile, as essentially come up with two extras.  One is a vintage audio interview with Bergman, which plays as an audio commentary on Torment, which I discuss more on that film's page.  And the other is a brief but thoughtful video essay by Leigh Singer, which serves as a nice introduction to Bergman's early films.  It also includes a 96-page book with essays on all eight films and additional notes on the transfers and extras.  It's all attractively packaged in a sturdy slip box and limited to 5,000 copies.  While it can be a bit annoying to double-dip on some of the films that are nearly identically presented in Criterion's box, the four exclusive films, plus the new bonus content, is more than worth the price for the full set.  And then we can give our wallets a break as BFI continues with the rest of their series.

Early Bergman - They're All On Blu Now, Thanks To the BFI!

As with the Werner Herzog collections' coverage, it's time to start bundling up these Ingmar Bergman posts, because this Criterion box is literally massive.  And I think a great way to do that is to start off with Criterion/ Eclipse's Early Bergman DVD set from 2007.  For one, it's just a neat little grouping of films that make sense to be covered together.  But it also includes an example of something else I'm very interested in going over here: Bergman films not included in Criterion's Ingmar Bergman's Cinema collection.  I just heard a famous filmmaker on a generally extremely knowledgeable movie podcast, refer to the set as "every Bergman film," so besides worming my way through the ins and outs of every single one of these transfers, I'd also really like to raise awareness of all the Bergman films still M.I.A. in HD, or even DVD.

Update 4/28/19 - 2/21/22: Criterion's set is wonderful, but happily it isn't the end of the story.  The British Film Industry has given us more Bergman debuts on blu-ray with their recent box set, Ingmar Bergman Volume 1.  It includes eight of his early films, including all five of the films covered here, plus three more that we'll be looking at in my next post.
To be fair, you can guess why this first film might've been left out of Criterion's box.  1944's Torment, a.k.a. Frenzy or Hets, is Ingmar Bergman's first produced screenplay, but he didn't direct it.  Now, I'd argue that Bergman's talents as a writer are at least as important to his works becoming masterpieces as his direction, probably moreso.  But okay, they're sticking with films he directed for their set.  Makes some sense; they're narrowly defining what constitutes "Ingmar Bergman's Cinema."  Still, it's odd considering Criterion already licensed this film for DVD.  Like, it's obvious the only reason Face To Face is absent from their set, for example, is that Olive Films beat them to the US rights.  But this is the only Bergman film already inducted into the Criterion catalog that didn't make the box.

I'm a lot less annoyed at them letting it slip through their fingers, though, now that the BFI has put it out on blu in the UK.
After all, it's certainly not undeserving.  The tense drama is more gripping than most of the other films in this collection.  Directed by Alf Sjöberg, the direction does feel a bit more static and boxy, more akin to other films of its period than Bergman's dynamism.  But some shots produce a real noir flair, and more importantly the story and the characters are certainly there.  Stig Järrel, who'd go on to play Satan himself in Bergman's The Devil's Eye, plays a headmaster nicknamed Caligula who's all to happy to live up to the moniker.  He delights in terrorizing his students in the classroom, but things come to a head when a twisted sort of love triangle develops between him, one of his students and a young woman who works in a campus shop.  It all becomes dangerous to the point that this film shifts from drama to thriller.
UK 2004 Tartan DVD first; US 2007 Criterion DVD second;
UK 2021 BFI BD third.

Criterion may've given all these films their US DVD debuts with their 2007 Eclipse set, but Tartan had already issued them in the UK on region free discs back in 2003 and 2004.  So those were the editions I originally acquired, and as you can see, there isn't a world of difference between the US and UK DVDs.  They seem to be using the same basic, fullscreen transfers with indistinguishable levels of detail, brightness and contrast.  But they're not strictly identical.  The aspect ratios are just slightly different - Tartan is 1.34:1 and Criterion is 1.33:1 - but Tartan actually displays slightly extra picture information around all four sides.  The BFI, meanwhile, was restored in Sweden with a fresh 2k scan of the interpositive - the same set of restorations used for the Criterion box.  But this is the first time we get to see it for Torment, and as you'd expect, it looks terrific.  Framed now at 1.37:1, the blu reveals more along all four sides, and looks much crisper in HD, with a strong encode of very clearly captured grain.  All three discs include simple, but happily clean mono audio tracks (in LPCM on the blu) with removable English subtitles.

Both DVDs are also completely barebones, though Tartan sticks on a couple other Bergman trailers (Persona and Autumn Sonata) and includes a nice 4-page insert with notes by Philip Strick.  But BFI has actually come up with something pretty great - a 1982 audio interview with Bergman that plays over the film like an audio commentary.  Now, if you've played your way through the entire Criterion box and other special editions of his films, you might be feeling pretty tired of Bergman interviews, where he often told the same anecdotes about his life over and over.  But this one, which is over an hour long, is all about Sjöberg, so it's entirely fresh content and full of great insight into this film and the director's whole career.  The BFI set also includes a video essay, which is pretty good but generalizes about Bergman's early film career rather than focuses on this film, and a 96-page booklet, with essays on every film, including this one.
Next we come to Bergman's directorial debut, 1946's Crisis.  The camerawork is more fluid, and the powerhouse melodrama is still there, but this time it crosses the line and veers into corniness at times, particularly by the conclusion.  It's the story of a young girl living in a idyllic small town who finds out she's adopted, and who's birth mother wants to take her back.  Her adoptive mother objects, but her real mother seems to have come up in life and now owns a fancy beauty salon on the city.  Unfortunately for everybody, however, she still has ties to her earlier, criminal life, particularly in the form of her boyfriend and possible pimp (early Bergman regular Stig Olin), who takes an immediate shine to the new young lady who just got delivered into his life.
UK 2004 Tartan DVD first; US 2007 Criterion DVD second;
US 2018 Criterion BD third; UK 2021 BFI BD fourth.

So, again, the US and UK DVDs are pretty similar.  Again, the US is 1.33 while the UK is 1.34, but this time there's no extra information, the US disc is just slightly vertically stretched.  Or the UK disc is slightly vertically squashed.  The difference is so minute, it's hard to judge which is correct.  And the only other difference is that the Tartan DVD is slightly brighter.  But both DVDs are far too low contrast and look washed out.  Thankfully, the blu-rays come in and makes everything better with a fresh 2k scan.  Yes, all the BFIs and Criterion blus down the rest of the page use the same scan and look virtually identical.  The updated 1.37:1 framing reveals a little more image all around, contrast is great with true blacks, and detail is a lot more refined, if a little soft, as this one is taken from the interpositive, where the subsequent blus in this post were all from a duplicate negative.  But we can finally see the film grain, and it's very clearly captured.  It's still a huge boost.

All four discs include the original Swedish mono, but the blus bump it up to LPCM, and all three include removable English subs.  There are no special features at all, except for the same Persona and Autumn Sonata trailers on the Tartan disc, and of course, all the other movies and stuff on the other discs in the boxed sets.  But the only thing that's Crisis related are the notes in the Criterion and BFI books.  Oh, and the Tartan DVD has another insert with notes by Mr. Strick.
1948's Port of Call is next.  This one starts out strong, with some powerful performances and insightful writing, but like Crisis, things get a little too elevated.  It's the story of a young woman dealing with depression who tries reaching out one last time to a local sailor.  It can be a little hard to relate to the pre-feminist values of this 40s film, the way women are demonized for having a past boyfriend and outcast from society for having had an abortion.  But it's not just a question of changing times with the campy ways this film deals with reform school girls, which is a little too reminiscent of those cheesy Arkoff films from the 50s, including a cast easily pushing 30 playing teenagers.  But it's important to note that even when some scenes in these early Bergman films induce a little eye rolling, they're surrounded by terrific characters far better than you'll find in the work of almost any other filmmaker.  There's also some great, atmospheric locations thanks to the debut of Bergman's first longtime DP, Gunnar Fischer.
UK 2004 Tartan DVD first; US 2007 Criterion DVD second;
US 2018 Criterion BD third; UK 2021 BFI BD fourth.

This time, the Tartan DVD is 1.32 and Criterion is 1.33, and again, it's just a question of some very slight vertical squishing.  Otherwise, they're virtually identical.  But the 1.38:1 blus look leagues better than both.  The framing looks less cramped and the corrected exposure brings way more detail to light.  Again, the new 2k scan is so much sharper and clearer, it brings detail to life and finally looks like film rather than video tape.  All four discs just give you the original Swedish mono, in LPCM on the blus, with removable subtitles.  It's possibly worth noting that none of the discs subtitle the brief moments where characters speak English towards the end of the film.  And the only extras are trailers and Strick notes on the Tartan, and the notes in the books of the boxed sets.
1949's Thirst, a.k.a. Three Strange Loves, finds Bergman getting a grip on his compulsion to go over the top.  We're easing out of that brief "early Bergman," and into his more consistently mature work already.  The biggest weakness of this film, for me at least, is that nothing really stands out.  Thirst wasn't written by Bergman, and while he clearly still brings his sensibilities to the characters' intimate scenes to make it fit into his oeuvre, that makes it less memorable.  It's the one that I've watched a couple of extra times just because I couldn't remember if I'd seen it before.  Like the Three Strange title suggests, the story is fairly disjointed, apparently because the book it was based on was actually a collection of short stories.  It has some moments and definite qualities, and like I said before, doesn't quite embarrass itself like some of his previous efforts did in their most heightened moments, but it also never reaches their peaks.  It's cursed with just being all around average.
UK 2004 Tartan DVD first; US 2007 Criterion DVD second;
US 2018 Criterion BD third; UK 2021 BFI BD fourth.

Once again, the only real difference between the two DVDs is a very slight vertical squish.  Criterion and BFI's new 2k scan of the duplicate negative, then, pulls out lots of fine detail and gives us a film-like HD presentation of this film for the first time ever.  The slightly wider 1.37:1 framing reveals some extra slivers, but nothing major this go around. The audio is also again bumped up to LPCM, and all four discs offer removable English subtitles.  As ever, the only features are the trailers and Strick insert on the Tartan and the notes in the books of the boxed sets.
And we end with probably the best of all these films, 1950's To Joy.  Stig Olin is back as Stig, a violinist who winds up marrying the only woman in his orchestra, Martha.  They get married and have children, and the film chronicles the utterly relatable ups and downs of their life together.  Wild Strawberries' Victor Sjöström is excellent as their conductor who winds up taking a father figure role in their lives, and if you blink, you'll miss one of Erland Jospehon's earliest roles.  I'm not sure he even has a line.  To Joy feels like an effective forerunner to Scenes From a Marriage, but with the added element of Bergman paying homage to the power of classical music.
UK 2003 Tartan DVD first; US 2007 Criterion DVD second;
US 2018 Criterion BD third; UK 2021 BFI BD fourth.

Tartan's and the Criterion DVDs again look almost the same, except for Criterion being ever so slightly taller and skinnier.  Brightness, detail, everything else all look the same.  Flipping back and forth between screenshots feels like I'm just ever so slightly resizing them.  The blu-rays, on the other hand, are another 2k leap forward.  Their 1.37 framing pulls in more on the sides, but it's really all about the boost in clarity, clearing up both fine detail and film grain.  The contrast also adds more nuance to the shading, which is too contrast-y and blown out on the DVDs.  Again, the audio is lossless on the blus in LPCM, and all four discs off removable English subtitles.  The only downside is that, again like all the previous examples, Neither Criterion nor BFI cooked up any new extras except for the liner notes in their books, while yes, Tartan has those same two Bergman trailers and the insert with notes by Philip Strick.
The take-away here is that none of Bergman's work is to be overlooked.  His worst films still out pace almost all other filmmakers', and not all of his earlier films rank among his worst at all.  While we've seen that all five of these films had perfectly serviceable DVDs for their time, Criterion and BFI's blu-rays take it to a whole different level.  You'll have to buy both sets to get all five on blu, but both also offer enough exclusive films to justify the redundancy and cost.  And while the 'Early Bergman' set includes his very earliest films, these five aren't strictly speaking his first five.  We've actually skipped six other films on our way to 1950's To Joy, six more films that are absent from the Bergman box, but three of which BFI tackled.