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Blu-ray Review: The Phantom Carriage (Criterion Collection)
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Criterion Collection: The Phantom Carriage Blu-rayThe Phantom Carriage
DVD | Blu-ray
Directed by Victor Sjostrom
Written by Victor Sjostrom
Starring Victor Sjostrom, Hilda Borgstrom, Tore Svennberg
The Criterion Collection
Release Date: September 27, 2011


When it comes to the greatest of great in the world of film, it may not always be how well received a film is at its given release date.  For many classics, the spanning of time has done wonders, and will continue to do so, for their legacy and their cultural relevance.

Look at something like The Phantom Carriage from writer/director/star Victor Sjostrom.  A huge influence on the works of people like, primarily (as pointed out by this brand new stunner of a release from The Criterion Collection) Ingmar Bergman, Carriage has become an increasingly popular film within the world of cinephiles, and genre nuts alike.  And frankly, the love for this masterpiece hasn’t gone far enough.

The film itself has a pretty simplistic narrative. For the final person to die on New Year’s Eve each year, there is a year-long road of taking on the role of Death’s chariot’s driver, and for our lead, that is his new duty. At its core a story of morality and fate, the film itself is not only a groundbreaking effects piece, but is also the foundation from which the house of Bergman had been built, making its relevance even more palpable.

When discussing the film as a film, one must start and stop any conversation with its breathtaking visuals.  Featuring stunning photography and some fantastic filmmaking from Sjostrom, the film’s visual effects, as well as its art direction from Alexander Bako and Axel Esbensen, is breathtaking.  The use of superimposed images to create the ghost effect used throughout this feature are some of the best of its era, and are still superb even when looking at it through today’s CGI-heavy lens.

Narratively, The Phantom Carriage may be quite simple, but it’s one hell of a thrilling morality play.  The performances here are top notch, particularly Sjostrom, who gives a towering performance here as the man doomed to be Death’s physical manifestation.  The idea of a palpable position for Death to hold within the world is something that weighed heavily on Bergman throughout his career, and plays as the biggest inspiration he had sparked from seeing this film.  Other directors, most noteably Kubrick with a specific beat from The Shining, have found much inspiration in this film, and Sjostrom’s work as a whole.  With a script based off of Selma Lagerlof’s novel, the film is a fantastically brooding piece of dramatic filmmaking, that leaves one as intellectually stimulated as one is absolutely riveted through the film’s thrilling narrative.


Audio and video wise, Criterion has really outdone themselves here.  With the recently released Complete Jean Vigo set already proving that there is no better company to deal with older, silent materials (even their all-time great release of People On Sunday which is from the same era), films this old really shouldn’t be allowed to look this good.  The scores, from both Matti Bye and trance duo KTL (which steals the show as almost a Penderecki-type score, seemingly ripped right out of a Kubrick feature) pop right out of the speakers, as does the transfer, right out of the screen.  It proves that no matter how old a film may be, visually, a classic of this stature will never lose its luster.  It’s just one of the best transfers around.


This release is absolutely stacked.  As with any great Criterion release, the commentary here is fantastic, featuring historian Casper Tybjerg.  It’s not only insightful, but also engaging to listen to, as it really adds some re-watchability to a film that will, and frankly should, be a go-to watch come this Halloween.  There is an interview with Bergman, who chats about his love of the film, and there is also footage from the construction of the Rasunda studio, where this film was the first true-blue production.


This spot goes to two features, actually.  First, the KTL score.  As mentioned above, it really steals the show, as it not only plays like a great thriller score, but really adds a great depth to the film’s sense of brood and overall atmosphere.  Not that the film needed to feel any darker, but the KTL score definitely does that.  And then the final feature, a short video essay from Bergman scholar Peter Cowie, not only talking about the film, but particularly its influence on Bergman.  It’s a great bit of insight into the influence the film played on one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time, and proves that 90 years later, the film is still as fresh and relevant as it has ever been.


Overall, while this may not be as out-of-nowhere as something like Criterion’s People On Sunday release, or as extensive as their Complete Jean Vigo and The Times Of Harvey Milk sets, this is absolutely a must own for cinephiles.  A perfect film for the fall season, this is a release that is easily one of the ten best Blu-rays you’ll pick up this year.  This writer can’t say enough good things about it.


  1. I’m probably going to pick this up today, can’t wait!

    Comment by — September 28, 2011 @ 6:37 pm

  2. But did you like it? LOL!

    Comment by Alex Rude — September 29, 2011 @ 9:55 am

  3. I had this pre-ordered the day it was announced by Criterion.  The KTL score is fits the images on the screen so well that I don’t see myself ever listening to the default track. (though I did sample the Bye score and found it to be very well done)

    Bring on Island of Lost Souls on the 25th!

    Comment by Monty — October 3, 2011 @ 8:17 pm

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