Sissi: The Young Empress Blu-ray Review

Romy Schneider Returns As Everyone’s Favorite Teenage Empress

Sissi: The Young Empress is the second film in the Sissi trilogy, returning the characters that made the first Sissi such an international sensation in 1955. The German film by director Ernst Marischka picks up its narrative soon after Sissi’s epic climax, the royal wedding between Princess Elisabeth and Emperor Franz Joseph. Whereas Sissi was a romantic fable for young girls everywhere, this sequel sees more family and royal melodrama concerning Princess Elisabeth (Sissi) and her marriage. Its plot focuses on the stresses of a royal marriage on the sweet-natured teenage girl and the birth of her baby. Actress Romy Schneider continues to shine in the titular role that first made her a star in the 1950s.

What was a minor conflict in manners between the controlling Archduchess Sophie (superbly played by Vilma Degischer) and Sissi in the prior film heats up to a serious disagreement in Sissi: The Young Empress. Now Empress of Austria, Sissi grows upset when Sophie decides on her own to take Sissi’s baby away to raise herself. Even the Emperor agrees that Sissi will be too busy attending matters of the state to raise their child. The implication is that Sophie doesn’t think the young Sissi, still a teenager, is ready to mother a child. While still in love with Franz Joseph, the realities of the royal court and its formal etiquette make Sissi yearn for her family back in Bavaria.

It doesn’t stray too far from delivering a satisfying, enjoyable journey

Peppered into the melodrama is some historical window dressing involving Austria’s evolving relationship with Hungary under Emperor Franz Joseph. Hungarian Count Andrassy becomes enamored of the Empress. Sissi helps play a diplomatic role uniting Hungary under Austrian rule with her charm and appeal. She averts a major international incident with some quick thinking at the Emperor’s ball when the Hungarians feel insulted by Sophie.

Sissi: The Young Empress largely repeats the winning formula from Sissi, including comic relief from the Major Bockl character and Sissi’s return to her pastoral home in Bavaria. It doesn’t stray too far from delivering a satisfying, enjoyable journey once again with these characters. Filmed in the same locations that made the first Sissi such an eye-catching film and introducing new settings like the Alps, the beautiful scenery of Austria is practically a character unto itself. The smooth plot and appealing characters make it a solid sequel that should win over anyone that enjoyed the first Sissi.

Video

Filmed in Agfacolor, a color film technology produced in Germany, all three Sissi films are presented in both their original Academy Ratio and 1.78:1 widescreen transfers. Agfacolor was used in a few Hollywood productions, including a slew of musicals in the 1950s such as Brigadoon and Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. While not quite on par with the more familiar Technicolor process, these Agfacolor films offer a rich palette and tight saturation that suits their stunning location photography. Each of the films gets their own BD-50, encoded in transparent AVC at decent parameters. Film Movement has done a great job bringing these films to Blu-ray in quality presentations.

The Sissi movies and Victoria In Dover have all been given new 2K film restorations by ARRI Film & TV Restoration Services in conjunction with Taurus Media Digital. This is fine work from strong elements. The film transfers include a hint of mild processing, most notable in the blown-up 1.78:1 widescreen transfers taken from the original 1.37:1 elements. The new scan captures the film grain off guard in a few scattered moments, looking processed. It’s most evident in the opening reel of Sissi, offering a glimpse of edge enhancement that thankfully disappears soon after. Call me a videophile heretic, but the widescreen transfers perform an excellent job translating the original 1.37:1 compositions.

Sissi: The Young Empress receives a slightly inferior film transfer to the first Sissi due to one significant difference. While the film elements continue to be presented in remarkably pristine condition without significant wear, there is far more visible video processing in this presentation. The sharpening is evident in many scenes, leaving ringing and halos around sharper edges. It’s the only negative in what is otherwise a solid, film-like transfer of vintage celluloid. The colors remain tightly saturated with excellent contrast and penetrating black levels.

The beautiful costumes and production design sing in nigh perfect clarity. The Sissi film trilogy offers bold colors with a slightly pinkish hue. Detail is excellent, even considering the overall softer cinematography. It’s possible a touch of filtering was applied but generally the results are consistently loaded with fine detail. A pleasing contrast and clean visuals produce crisp definition and lively picture quality.

Film Movement’s first attempt at a major restoration of classic filmmaking is an unqualified success. The films included in the Sissi Collection represent fully restored transfers from the negative. It’s doubtful more could have been done with these films in 1080P video.

Audio

The German audio is heard in adequate 5.1 DTS-HD MA and a lesser 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Originally released in stereo, Sissi is an odd choice to remix into surround. The 1955 film has serviceable audio fidelity, albeit some distortion and harshness is evident during the more active musical passages.

There are surround elements in this mix, surprisingly enough. Not everything is kept to the front soundstage. The sound design isn’t particularly balanced, awkwardly placing some cues to the detriment of other elements. It provides a decent listening experience but the lack of the original stereo mix is unfortunate.

Optional English subtitles play in a white font.

Extras

The Sissi Collection represents Film Movement as a label entering the big time with a five-disc set (4 Blu-rays, 1 DVD) that captures the entire Sissi film trilogy in beautiful HD. The bonuses are few but significant. The box set also includes actress Romy Schneider’s first film, Victoria in Dover, a precursor to the Sissi films that appeared in 1954. She plays Princess Victoria in that role. This is an appealing package in a sturdy Blu-ray case designed to hold each disc without problem.

Each of the movies are included in both their original 1.33:1 aspect ratios and tasteful 1.78:1 widescreen conversions.

A well-done 20-page commemorative booklet has a lengthy new essay by film critic Farran Smith Nehme.

The special features are confined to the included DVD. Forever My Love is taken from an unrestored transfer in presentable but dilapidated condition. So its inclusion in standard definition is better than nothing.

Forever My Love (145:20 in 1.33:1 SD; 2.0 Dolby Digital) – Paramount released this edited “compilation” of the Sissi film trilogy in 1962, taking scenes from all three entries. The movie is shown with its original English dub. The theme song was written by Burt Bacharach.

From Romy To Sissi (19:22 in SD; in German with English subtitles) – This vintage making-of featurette from 1956 is narrated by Romy Schneider herself with very interesting behind-the-scenes footage. It’s really quite fascinating to watch as the young actress describes the footage from the set being played. It includes footage from Sissi: The Young Empress. This has to be one of the earliest featurettes made for the purposes of film promotion. You almost never get a glimpse like this behind the camera from the 1950s.

Sissi’s Great-grandson At The Movies (04:21 in SD) – An excerpt from the 2006 documentary Elisabeth: Enigma of an Empress. An actual descendant of the historical Princess Elisabeth compares his relative to the Sissi character depicted in the movies.

Film Movement Trailer (01:26 in HD) – A sizzle reel of Feel Movement releases advertising the boutique video label.

The Best Intentions Trailer (02:33)

Pelle The Conqueror Trailer (01:41)

Antonia’s Line Trailer (01:48)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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