Fanny and Alexander
Through the eyes of ten-year-old Alexander, we witness the delights and conflicts of the Ekdahl family, a sprawling bourgeois clan in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Sweden. Ingmar Bergman intended Fanny and Alexander as his swan song, and it is the legendary director’s warmest and most autobiographical film, a four-time Academy Award–winning triumph that combines his trademark melancholy and emotional intensity with immense joy and sensuality. The Criterion Collection is proud to present both the theatrical release and the original five-hour television version of this great work. Also included in the box set is Bergman’s own feature-length documentary The Making of “Fanny and Alexander,” a unique glimpse into his creative process.
Criterion presents two versions of Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, the 320-minute television version and the 188-minute theatrical version. Both are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and each receives their own dual-layer disc in this three-disc set. The transfers are presented in 1080p/24hz.
In terms of condition of the source materials the two look relatively the same. There’s very little in the way of print damage with a few specs here and there. Colours also look pretty good in both versions but there are some subtle differences.
Unfortunately the digital transfers themselves greatly differ between one another and in this regard this otherwise nice edition will disappoint many.
The theatrical version looks great, rendering a fairly brilliant, film-like picture. Though there are some moments where blocking and pixilation is noticeable film grain is otherwise natural and clean, but never heavy. There are some mild strobing effects in a few places but in general motion looks clean and natural, and I didn’t notice any other artifacts. Sharpness and detail is strong, with this version actually presenting more of the finer details a I felt.
The 5+ hour television version on the other hand, the one most people will more than likely be viewing, is a bit of a mess in comparison. Motion artifacts and strobing are fairly rampant throughout. Quick movements of the camera (which are thankfully few) present a distracting blur, and even some of the milder movements can present some choppiness. The transfer here is also far noisier, and film grain doesn’t look as natural. I could get past this for most of the film but darker sequences are an absolute disaster; pixilation and blocking is heavy and there’s no way to ignore it. I also swear that some scrubbing has gone on here. Despite the fact that details are pretty good I actually feel the theatrical version just came off a little bit sharper and had more in the way of finer details. Blacks also come off a little weaker presenting more crushing, and the reds aren’t rendered as nicely.
Based on the theatrical version the television version could have looked great if Criterion spread the film over two discs instead of slapping it all on one. The DVD edition spread it over two discs and because of that the standard definition transfers of the theatrical and television versions on the set looked pretty similar. Here, because they decided to compress so much on one disc, the differences are obvious and frustrating. A big disappointment.
Fanny and Alexander (19820): 8/10 Fanny and Alexander (19820): 5/10
Both films present Swedish linear PCM mono tracks, and the theatrical version also presents an English-dubbed Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track. It’s a quiet film (both versions) but the Swedish tracks for both versions come off fairly strong and crisp with some range to them. Dialogue is clear, music sounds clean, and there’s no damage or distortion of note.
The English track on the theatrical version has an obvious dubbed sound to it and is a tad bit hollow in comparison but it is also not too bad in overall quality. Still, I would suggest sticking with the original Swedish track.
Most of the supplements make it over from Criterion’s box set but one fairly big feature (which was also available on the individual DVD edition of the theatrical version of Fanny and Alexander) is missing. Also Criterion has changed the spine numbering for this Blu-ray edition in comparison to the DVD edition, which may cause some annoyance to the hardcore Criterion collectors. The DVD presented four spine numbers: 261 for the set, 262 for the television version, 263 for the theatrical version (which was the same for the individual edition) and 264 for The Making of Fanny and Alexander. The Blu-ray set uses only the one spine number for the entire set, 261.
The first disc contains the television version and wisely nothing else since the 320-minutes of video was already pushing it on there. The second disc, which contains the 188-minute theatrical version, has a couple of supplements starting with a rather long-winded audio commentary by film scholar Peter Cowie. Other than a couple of his other offerings I usually do enjoy Cowie’s commentary tracks but this one is a middling one and a bit of a chore. He has a wealth of information to share about the film’s production, themes, and how it fits into Bergman’s career, and most of the time it’s interesting. But it does feel like he’s stretching it out to fill the 3+ hour running time and it gets increasingly dry as it goes. Thankfully he didn’t feel the need to supply his commentary over the 5-hour version. It’s ok but I would suggest skipping through it and shutting it off if it does nothing for you.
The disc then concludes with the film’s theatrical trailer.
The third dual-layer disc brings the bulk of the supplements starting with the 108-minute documentary The Making of Fanny and Alexander, which was put together by Bergman himself. This is a great observational documentary, the camera just moving around the set capturing various moments from the production with text notes by Ingmar Bergman explain the sequences. Here we watch the director direct the children who all seem to love him and then work with the adults. We see he and cinematographer Sven Nykvist mildly argue about how one scene should be shot and we also see them pull off some complicated camera shots, namely the many takes of a tracking shot involving the large film camera to quickly move through a narrow doorway. There’s also footage of a stunt that goes wrong, though it primarily occurs off screen. Overall it’s a very pleasant and engaging documentary, one of the better of its kind that I’ve seen. And pleasantly the film, shot on 16mm, receives a nice high-definition upgrade, looking quite a bit better I would say than what was found on the DVD. It’s also, sadly, a far better looking transfer-wise than the television version.
After this we get a 40-minute documentary originally made for the original DVD set, A Bergman Tapestry, featuring interviews with members of the cast and crew including but not limited to producer Jorn Donner, art director Anna Asp, production manager Katinka Farago, actors Bertil Guve, Erland Josephson, Ewa Froling, and Pernilla Wallgreen. The group reflects on the production, talking about how it came together, and then the various technical aspects that went into it, such as costumes and sets. There’s talk about how Bergman came to cast the film, what it was like to work with the director, and then finally there’s some mention of Nykvist’s work on the film. It’s a typical Criterion talking heads feature but it’s very brisk as it covers about every facet of the production.
We then get a 59-minute interview with the director in a piece called Ingmar Bergman Bids Farewell to Film, filmed in 1984. Mixed with behind-the-scenes footage for Fanny and Alexander, which all looks to come from The Making of Fanny and Alexander, Bergman talks a little about the film, which was to be his last one before moving to theater and television, covering how it parallels with his childhood and his memories, though it’s not an exact representation, and then he talks generally about his career and his work, which includes his theater material. In all it’s a very engaging and occasionally humourous open discussion with the man, though an hour is obviously not enough time to cover everything.
Criterion then includes a few small galleries, including a general stills gallery and a costume gallery, the latter of which shows the artwork that went into the design of the costumes mixed in with photos from the film for comparison’s sake. Criterion then includes a short 7-minute video piece showing the set models made by Anna Asp giving a layout to the various settings in the film, including the apartments and the Bishop’s house, as well as other locations including exteriors. I particularly liked this one as I always had trouble gauging the layout of the vast apartments where most of the film takes places.
The booklet looks to have been ported over in its entirety starting with an essay by Stig Bjorkman that includes a quote by Bergman where he explains the basic theme of the film, followed by author Rick Moody’s essay about the theatrical version’s release and reception. Paul Arthur then writes a short piece about The Making of Fanny and Alexander.
Unfortunately the Blu-ray is missing one significant feature. The box set contained a fifth disc (which was also the second disc on the individual DVD edition of the theatrical version) that contained 45-mintues worth of film introductions by Ingmar Bergman which were recorded by Marie Nyerod in 2003 while she was filming what would become the documentary Bergman Island. These pieces were eventually used as intros to the films when they appeared on television or as (possibly) features for DVD editions for his films. We got 45-minutes worth of material featuring the director talking about quite a few of his films including The Seventh Seal, Sawdust and Tinsel, Wild Strawberries, Smiles of a Summer Night and others. Though they do appear on other DVD/Blu-ray editions from Criterion for the respective films, they all aren’t available elsewhere so their loss from this edition is actually rather significant I would say at the moment. I also can’t see any reason why they weren’t included as they would have fit with no problem on the third disc.
Though I do consider the commentary a bit dry and the excision of the Bergman introductions a big loss, the remaining video content is great, especially the making-of documentary. The entire third disc is worth going through and the inclusion of both versions of the film is still a treat (though I’m sure most will stick with the longer version.) Overall a fairly comprehensive edition.
It was a nice DVD edition but it’s made a bit of a frustrating move over to Blu-ray. I’m a little disappointed about the removal of the Bergman introductions, which were great brief pieces with the director talking about his various films, but the most frustrating aspect comes from the digital transfer we get for the television version. It had the potential to be great (as evidenced by the far better transfer for the theatrical version) but falls short because it has just been compressed far too much on the one disc and it really should have been spread over two. The theatrical version at least looks strong but I have a feeling more will be viewing the longer version only (it’s my preferred version.) Despite some strong aspects this release may be one of the more disappointing editions I’ve come across this year.