The Werner Herzog Collection review

The BFI celebrates the work of Germany's most important contemporary filmmaker with style

For more than four decades German filmmaker Werner Herzog has been one of the most fascinating figures in European cinema. Working in the worlds of both fiction and documentary (even if he's notorious for staging scenes in his non-fiction films for the benefit of what he calls an 'ecstatic truth') Herzog has produced countless beguiling movies that run the gamut from historical adventures and studies of mirages to a Nic Cage cop movie and 3D portraits of ancient cave paintings.

This eight-disc set focuses on the first half of Herzog's career and brings together no less than 18 feature films, shorts and documentaries made between 1967 and 1987. It takes in The Unprecedented Defence of Fortress Deutschkreuz (1967), Last Words (1968), Precautions Against Fanatics (1969), Handicapped Future (1970), Fata Morgana (1971), Land of Silence and Darkness (1971), Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972), The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner (1975), Heart of Glass (1976), How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck (1976), Stroszek (1977), Nosferatu, the Vampyre (1979), Woyzeck (1979), Huie's Sermon (1980), God's Angry Men (1980), Fitzcarraldo (1982) and Cobra Verde (1987).

While there are some notable omissions (such as his debut feature, 1968's Signs of Life), this boxset remains an indispensable addition to a cinephile's disc library.

Picture: As you can probably tell from the fact that it includes just eight discs, the 18 films here frequently share a hi-def platter. However, no matter whether the disc in question is a housing two-and-a-half-hour epic (Fitzcarraldo), two versions of the same film (Nosferatu, the Vampyre), one feature and several shorts, or even a couple of features, the image quality remains strong.

As good as the restorations are, though, the real hero is the disc authoring, which ensures that no sacrifice has been made in transferring material shot using a variety of film stocks. It all looks utterly authentic; a fantastic effort from all involved in what was clearly a mammoth undertaking.
Picture rating: 4.5/5

Audio: All of the films in the set are presented with LPCM versions of their original mono audio (except Cobra Verde, which was made in stereo), in both German and English where separate tracks exist. All have been cleaned-up and are free from any notable hiss or other distortion.

Four films (Aguirre, Wrath of God, Nosferatu the Vampyre, Fitzcarraldo and Cobra Verde) also include DTS-HD MA 5.1 remixes of the original German soundtracks, although don't expect too much in the way of surround effects.
Audio rating: 4/5

Extras: Herzog is joined by critic Norman Hill (and Crispin Glover on one occasion) for commentaries for all but two of the feature films in the set (Land of Silence and Darkness and Woyzeck).

Also on offer is Burden of Dreams, the feature-length doc about the making of Fitzcarraldo; a South Bank Show special about the filmmaker; trailers; stills galleries; a video of Herzog eating his own shoe after he lost a bet(!); and an 82 minute audio recording of a Guardian Lecture interview with Herzog.
Extras rating: 4/5

We say: A stonking boxset for a great filmmaker. Here's hoping that we don't have to wait too much longer for even more Herzog on Blu-ray.

The Werner Herzog Collection, BFI, Region B BD, £80 Approx