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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.37:1 Standard
  • Swedish PCM Stereo
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Interview with director Ingmar Bergman recorded in 1974 for Swedish television
  • New interview with film scholar Peter Cowie
  • Tystnad! Tagning! Trollflöjten! (1975), a feature-length documentary produced for Swedish television about the making of the film
  • An essay by author Alexander Chee

The Magic Flute

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Ingmar Bergman
1975 | 135 Minutes | Licensor: Svensk Filmindustri

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #71
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: March 12, 2019
Review Date: March 15, 2019

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SYNOPSIS

This scintillating screen version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s beloved opera showcases Ingmar Bergman’s deep knowledge of music and gift for expressing it cinematically. Casting some of Europe’s finest soloists—Josef Köstlinger, Ulrik Cold, Håkan Hagegård, and Birgit Nordin among them—the director lovingly recreated the baroque theater of Sweden’s Drottningholm Palace to stage the story of the prince Tamino and his zestful sidekick Papageno, who are sent on a mission to save a beautiful princess from the clutches of evil. A celebration of love and forgiveness that exhibits a profound appreciation for the artifice and spectacle of the theater, The Magic Flute is among the most exquisite opera films ever made.


PICTURE

Ingmar Bergman’s The Magic Flute gets an individual Blu-ray update from the Criterion Collection, who present the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode comes from a new 2K restoration, scanned from a 35mm interpositive. The film was initially shot on 16mm but was transferred over to 35mm prints for theatrical distribution.

Criterion’s original barebones DVD edition for the film had a fairly mediocre presentation. Other than some noticeable damage and some trailing artifacts there wasn’t anything abhorrent about the final image but there was also nothing worth praising. The Blu-ray does offer a significant improvement, with colours probably being the most substantial upgrade. The colours on the DVD were, of course, nothing to write home about, with them either being washed out or too red. Here they offer better saturation and are quite a bit brighter, with reds toned down to a more acceptable level. Colour filters have also been applied to a number of sequences (blue or green in most cases), which were missing from the DVD. This version of the film has a few other differences in comparison to Criterion’s old DVD: the old DVD seemed to be using an English language print, which had an English language opening title and even an English title card for the “Intermission,” both missing here.

Outside of the improved colours the image is also sharper, though still with a bit of a haze to it, and I think that comes down to source elements. Grain is visible and looks fine, no digital issues showing up. The restoration work has also cleaned up any of the damage that was still present on the DVD: all marks, scratches and mold stains have been removed. It can still be a wee bit hazy but it is significantly better than the old DVD.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Criterion’s old DVD is one of a couple of releases from them that offered a 2.0 PCM soundtrack, which is what is also offered here by this Blu-ray edition, but the old DVD track (which had an error in its first printing that switched the left and right channels around) was weak, flat, and unimpressive.

The Blu-ray’s audio provides an enormous upgrade over that DVD edition. The track sounds far more dynamic, with wider range between the highs and lows, and a better spread and improved movement between the speakers. A few scenes also offered some more sound effects that don’t appear on the DVD. Voices are cleaner, the music sounds terrific, and the track is free of distortion and noise. It’s the sound presentation a film like this really needs.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criteiron’s old DVD was barebones, offering no features outside of a short essay by Peter Cowie. There are only a few features here but they are all pretty significant. There is a wonderful 29-minute television interview with Ingmar Bergman, which aired December 27th, 1974, a few days before The Magic Flute aired on television. Here Bergman talks about what attracted him to making this production (something he has wanted to stage in some way since he was younger), the process of casting, the set design, and the staging. He also talks about Mozart and the story behind the musical, and whether audiences at the time would enjoy something like this now. There is some behind-the-scenes footage mixed in here as well (looking to have been taken from a making-of also found on this disc).

Peter Cowie next shows up for a new interview. He covers some of the same backstory behind the production that Bergman went over in the previous interview, but Cowie talks a bit more about the backstory behind the original piece, changes Bergman made, and looks at how Bergman blends the stage and film together. He also explains some of Bergman’s fun little touches (like showing backstage during the intermission) and also talks about its airing and then theatrical release. It runs around 18-minutes.

The previous interviews do a decent job going over the film’s production, but Criterion expands on that by then providing the 65-minute making-of documentary Tystnad! Tagning! Trollflöjten! (translating to Silence! Cameras! The Magic Flute!), which aired on television a few days after the film was shown on television. Covering just about every significant point of the film’s production (from casting to round tables to costume tests to rehearsals and etcetera!) the film takes a step back and just watches the proceedings. Bergman is also pretty hands on with every aspect of the production, even down to the orchestra. It’s pretty interesting to watch him work as he is, at heart, directing a stage production, but then every once in a while he has to put on his film director cap, and work with director of photography Sven Nykvist in how to get the cameras involved. It ends up being a surprisingly engaging making-of.

Author Alexander Chee then provides a short essay on the film in the included insert, offering his own insights into Bergman’s adaptation of Mozart’s work.

Not a stacked special edition but the material ends both informative and entertaining, offering material around the film’s making, Mozart’s original work (to a small degree anyways), and Bergman’s adaptation of it.

7/10

CLOSING

Criterion’s Blu-ray improves upon their original DVD in every way: significantly better picture and sound, and a decent selection of engaging supplements.


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