Invincible was the first dramatic work by Werner Herzog in a decade. He assembled a typically eclectic cast – including Tim Roth (Meantime), Udo Kier (Exposé) and two-time World’s Strongest Man Jouko Ahola – and blended the lives of three equally eclectic real-life figures – Jewish strongman Zishe Breitbart, Austrian clairvoyant Erik Jan Hanussen, and German chief of police Count Wolf-Heinrich von Helldorff – to blend fact and fiction in his typically idiosyncratic way. This Indicator Blu-ray edition presents the film in a new restoration from a 4K scan with both its English and German soundtracks.
Werner Herzog’s Invincible receives a Blu-ray edition from Indicator, who present the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode. Despite this being a UK release the disc is region free and should play in all Blu-ray players.
Sourced from a 2K restoration performed by Farbkult, the presentation has some rough edges, but the results are still more than pleasing when all is said and done. In general, it’s a sharp looking image, rendering grain admirably enough; there is some minor noise around a few objects, like the sign above the entrance of Hanussen’s (Tim Roth) Palace of the Occult, but hey’re minor enough and not all that intrusive. Despite this, textures are perfectly rendered, and the finer details of the costumes and setting really pop.
The film is dark and dreary in places, taking on a green hue during these portions, while other portions, like those taking place in Berlin, are brighter and bolder with sharp looking reds to boot. The film’s look is covered in the disc’s supplements featuring Herzog and director of photography Peter Zeitlinger, who indicate they wanted the film to look like an old photograph. The look has been nicely pulled off here, so I have no doubt this is the intended look (I admittedly can't recall what the New Line DVD looked like), and the high-def image renders it well. Black levels come off looking rich and deep, nicely aiding those darker shots in the theater, allowing a clean rendering of details in the shadows. The source materials are in excellent shape, though a few blemishes—bits of dirt and scratches—do pop up on occasion.
Despite some of its rough spots I still found it to have a good film-like look and it's a strong upgrade over what I remember of New Line's DVD.
Indicator includes three audio tracks: two English tracks, one in PCM 2.0 stereo, the other in DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround; and then a German DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround soundtrack. I watched the film with the 5.1 English soundtrack and then sampled the German one.
The track is more front-heavy, little activity going to the rears (I only caught some music going back there), but it’s still nicely mixed, delivering wide range and excellent clarity. Hans Zimmer’s score sounds crisp and sharp, and dialogue is mostly clear; Jouko Ahola can be a wee bit hard to understand on occasion. There is also no damage to speak of.
The German track’s mix sounds about the same, but it’s an obvious dub, lips rarely matching what is being spoken since Invincible was filmed in English. My understanding is some of the German actors dubbed their own lines for this soundtrack.
Indicator throws together a small selection of supplements but they’re a solid bunch, starting off with a terrific audio commentary featuring director Werner Herzog and moderated by a Markus Ölshlänger, recorded back in 2002 in German and presented here with newly translated English subtitles. The two jump right into things, the track focusing primarily on the production. Herzog can move through those details at a lightening pace, but he seems to hit every aspect of the film's making, from initial location scouting to the actual editing process. This film gave him the opportunity to use long takes and he talks about how those were accomplished, and he of course also talks about the original script and the actual story and man (Siegmund Breitbart) the film is based on, though Herzog did make a number of changes to better flesh out the story he felt was there. He even comments on the use of music through the film and proudly points out his son doing magic tricks. What caught me off guard a bit was how packed the track is, Herzog talking about everything under the sun without missing much of a beat; I didn’t even notice the track was playing over the German language soundtrack until well into the film. He also likes to throw in praise for his crew and cast (calling Tim Roth “one of the greatest actors”), talk about how some came to work on the film (Zimmer ended up working for free while Roth took a large pay cut), and he also throws in some funny little stories, though it’s hard to comment on whether some of them are true (like Zeitlinger apparently passing out during the hypnotism sequence).
Ölshlänger also manages to get Herzog to share some of his thoughts on filmmaking: when Ölshlänger brings up Kramer vs. Kramer as a possible influence for one moment, Herzog admits he’s not familiar with the film (so that would be a “no” to it being an influence) but that ends up leading to a discussion around “copying” and/or being influenced by other works, Herzog even bringing up his own take on Nosferatu. It’s a wonderful track that so far appears to have been missing from English-friendly releases up to this point (it seems to be only available on a German DVD), so I’m more than happy Indicator felt inclined to carry it over to this release. It’s great and I highly recommend admirers of the director giving it a go.
Indicator next includes two interviews with director of photography Peter Zeitlinger, one new for this release, the other from around the time of the film’s release. For the 13-minute archival feature, Zeitlinger explains how the film's looks is influenced by old photographs, even getting into the lighting that was required to pull it off. He also talks about how Herzog keeps the bureaucracy that comes with filmmaking off of his set. The newer and longer 26-minute interview is more along the lines of a career retrospective, Zeitlinger recalling how he first discovered film, got into film school despite not being that much of a film buff (coincidentally first film he saw in a theater was Herzog’s Heart of Glass), and then how he managed to come to work with Herzog. He talks a bit about Invincible, expanding on some things covered in the archival interview (like lighting), but found myself more intrigued by his discussion around the documentary work he did with Herzog, particularly Little Dieter Needs to Fly, which then nicely segues into his work on Herzog’s Rescue Dawn.
The disc then throws in a few more features around the film, starting with 3-minutes worth of location footage that is literally just standard definition footage shot around the location used for (I think) the main character’s home. The disc then features an image gallery containing photos, publicity materials (including scans from a press book), and posters, and then follows that with three trailers. Though all of the trailers have a sort of award bait vibe to them, the UK one comes off especially pandering. The US and German trailers are a little bit better but effectively the same, the US one just feeling a little more polished in its voice overs.
In an interesting touch, Indicator closes the disc off with three short films by Zeitlinger. All three are animated, the first two stop-motion, though with live subjects (Zeitlinger in both cases I believe). The first, Katharina Blum (2 min, 1978), was apparently inspired by the film The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum and features a protagonist reading a newspaper only to be attacked by it, I assume in reference to how the media attacked Blum. The second, Experiment Rayner’s Garden (2 mins, 1978) is—as Zeitlinger explains in the included booklet's notes around the film—a “purely aesthetic experience” featuring a its protagonist sort of flopping and sliding around a garden in increasingly more complicated ways. The last film, Geburtstag (Birthday) (8 mins, 1979) is what could be called classically animated, though done on paper. Of the three this one has more of a narrative, featuring a blob of some sort getting himself into an extreme situation to (I think) get the money to purchase flowers for a significant other for their birthday. The films are clearly more experimental in nature and because of that they can look a little rough (focus, especially on the last one, goes in and out constantly) but they’re impressive, nonetheless. They all look to be sourced from 8mm film and are in decent shape all things considered.
Indicator then, as usual, includes one of their outstanding booklets. There’s a nice essay on the film by Jason Wood that examines Herzog’s take on the material and how it led to a less-than-enthused critical reaction, which is then followed by a reprint of a great interview between Paul Cronin and Herzog, excerpted from Cronin’s 2002 book Herzog on Herzog, the filmmaker addressing how needed to change details around Zische and the period to get at the heart of the story he felt was there (he does indicate that the Hanussen in the film is closer to reality because there was more known about him). This section also features a quote from Herzog about his fascination with strongmen along with a reprint of a letter he wrote to Russian pianist Anna Gourari. In it heasks her to appear in his film, explaining exactly what he had in mind for her. This is then followed by a reprint of another excellent interview, this one with actor Tim Roth, who talks about taking the role, working with Herzog, and what it was like working with two non-actors in lead roles. This is then followed by some great material around the real Siegmund Breitbart, notes by Zeitlinger on the short films found on this disc, and then finishes off with a collection of excerpts from reviews for the film, featuring luke-warm to somewhat positive reviews from Richard Falcon, Stephen Holden, and Kevin Thomas. Somewhat surprisingly, there is no reference to Ebert’s 4-star review, one of the few I recall from the time offering real praise for the film.
Altogether it may not look like there is a lot here but what Indicator has included is terrific, Herzog's commentary being great all on its own.
Featuring a sharp looking presentation and an excellent commentary by Herzog himself, Indicator's new Blu-ray edition for Invincible is an easy recommendation.