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  • Widescreen 1.78:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Norwegian: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • Theatrical trailer

Insomnia (1997)

Umbrella Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 92 mins . M . PAL


Swedish detective Jonas Ergstrom (Stellan Skarsgard) travels to northern Norway to investigate the brutal murder of a teenage schoolgirl. He is accompanied by fellow detective, Erik Vik (Sverre Anker Ousdal), his detective partner of little over a year. Finding the murdered girl’s schoolbag but not announcing it publicly, they use it as bait to trap the killer who so far has been very good at covering his tracks. The investigators believe the bag contains clues that the killer would wish it didn’t, and that he'll try to recover it.

The trap backfires, and in the foggy conditions, Ergstrom makes a real mess of things. Through a misunderstanding during his admission of guilt, the blame is foisted on the girl’s murderer, and Ergstrom is left to carry his secret and sets about covering up the clues, as well as continuing to investigate the girl’s murder.

Two major suspects emerge, being the murdered girl’s boyfriend, Eilert (Bjorn Moan), and local crime-novelist, Jon Holt (Bjorn Floberg), with whom, it is established, the murdered girl had been in contact after reading one of his novels. The novelist seems reluctant to talk to the police, naturally enough, but when Ergstrom finally corners him, Holt tells Ergstrom he witnessed what happened on that foggy day they set the trap for him. Stalemate.

A pact is quickly arranged to corroborate their stories and frame the boyfriend, but that is not as easy as it sounds. The whole investigation becomes a mess of cover-ups, lies, suppressed clues, corruption, evidence tampering and deceit. With Ergstrom’s guilt consuming him, and his inability to sleep (hence the movie’s title) in the land of the midnight sun, he starts to fray at the edges, and it becomes increasingly more difficult to stave off the truth.

Most film-buffs will recognise the title of this film and possibly the plot, but not the names of the actors. This is the original version from 1997 directed by Erik Skjoldbjaerg. It is in Norwegian and therefore subtitled, which can be a little frustrating at times as the action heats up, when trying to keep up and catch every nuance of the actor’s performance gets quite difficult.

That aside, it is still an engrossing murder thriller, well acted, well scripted and well directed. There is some very sharp editing that helps maintain the chaotic mess that the main character is creating for himself. There's also some very bleak scenery, but at the same time it manages to be quite beautiful.

I cannot offer a comparison to the recent remake starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams, as I am yet to see it, but can recommend this version anyway. If only it wasn’t for the incredibly annoying technical faults as discussed below...


Let's examine the technical specifications first. Insomnia is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16:9 enhanced. The image is relatively sharp and certainly nothing to be concerned about. Colouring is quite muted and bland, but deliberately so. Skin tones are fine, as are black levels. The image appears to be slightly over-exposed, but this too may be deliberate to emphasise the fact that there is no dark of night in Norway when this film takes place.

There is some mild evidence of shimmer, some minor grain and a few dirty marks, but nothing to be concerned with. There are no white specks, or examples of edge enhancement, present.

However, there are numerous problems with the actual disc itself. Firstly, I have never had a problem with any disc in my player (other than a rental that was smothered in greasy fingerprints), but this disc was a nightmare. It completely froze on seven different occasions, the screen pixellated on at least 22 separate occasions, and combined with an audio dropout, it has been my most frustrating DVD experience in the last three years, and all on a single layer disc. However, subsequent playing on an ‘el cheapo’ player proved to be much more fluid, with only a handful of instances of milder pixellation and no screen freezes.

(Editor's note: Quite possibly we received a faulty disc, we'll look into this and provide an update as soon as possible...)


The only option is Norwegian Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. Naturally subtitles are provided (containing several spelling errors), so audio-synch is impossible to judge, but it appears to be fine.

Generally this is quite a good audio track, with a decent fidelity range. Low-level sounds are pleasing and lend the film some extra menace, while the trebles are likewise good, most noticeable in the score that is minimal though appropriate.

Dialogue is clear, though being a film most of us will ‘read’ this seems largely irrelevant.

Sound effects are fine, and there is some noticeable separation and minimal panning of sound. There is nothing to be heard from anything other than the left and right front speakers, though the track does sound quite expansive.

There is some very audible hiss that seems to increase in the second half of the film to a point where it becomes quite distracting.


The only extra on offer is the theatrical trailer that is in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16:9 enhanced, suggesting the feature has had some butchery performed on it.


The movie itself is quite engrossing and tells several stories at once. The remake will no doubt be the version of choice for most due to the big name cast, greater exposure, bigger budget and English language for those of us who speak nothing else. Do not dismss this version too quickly though, for it is more than worthy.

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      And I quote...
    "The original foreign-language version of a not-so-typical psychological thriller…"
    - Terry Kemp
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
    • TV:
          TEAC CT-F803 80cm Super Flat Screen
    • Receiver:
          Pioneer VSX-D409
    • Speakers:
    • Centre Speaker:
    • Surrounds:
    • Subwoofer:
          Sherwood SP 210W
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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