Errol Morris's War Trilogy (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparisons)

This isn't necessarily an "official trilogy" demarcated by director Errol Morris, but three of his more recent documentaries do make a pretty neat little, wartime-themed tried of films: 2003's The Fog of War, 2008's Standard Operating Procedure, and 2013's The Unknown Known.  Strictly speaking, they didn't all come out in a perfect row, with his curio Tabloid breaking up the run in 2010.  But never the less, these three films hang together pretty well, with Unknown Known playing like almost a sequel to Fog Of War and Donald Rumsfeld, the focus of Unknown Known, having cast such a looming shadow over the players of Standard Operating Procedure.  In fact, you could get even more pedantic about it if you wanted to, and instead of calling these Morris's war film trilogy, you could call them his United States Secretary of Defense trilogy.
We begin with The Fog Of War, where we see Morris continue in the direction he'd started off with in Mr. Death and developed in First Person: basing an entire documentary around a single interview.  We see glimpses of archival footage, vintage photos and snippets of important audio recordings, but 99% of this film is just former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara talking to the camera - or, for those of us in the know, The Interrotron.  The Interrotron is Morris's unique invention that allows interviewees to look directly into the camera and look the interviewer (Morris) square in the eye at the same time.  It hides the camera directly behind and filming through a screen that projects Morris's face, who is being film by a second camera hidden behind a another screen of the interviewee's face.  I want one, and it allows for a unique style of filming interviews where the subject can feel completely natural in a fluid conversation while consistently looking into the camera.
But what's important here isn't the technology, but the humanity.  This is a fascinating look into the man who saw us through both the Cuban Missile Crisis and The Vietnam War.  McNamara is famous for having come from the world of business rather than the military, and had a bit of a reputation as being a number cruncher rather than a traditional strategist.  One thing this documentary does is use recordings that had just been released to challenge the long-standing historic theory that McNamara had pushed president Johnson to throw hard into the Vietnam conflict.  In fact, it seems he had been on the side of pulling out, but was unable to convince the administration.

So, you know, that's interesting I guess.  But I'm no history buff or politics junkie.  What makes a great documentary is the ability to fascinate audiences regardless of whether the viewer has a preexisting interest in the subject matter.  For instance, I've very into Hip-Hop music, and I've watched and enjoyed some pretty mediocre documentaries, just because they were giving me information I wanted to know and insight into artists I was a particular fan of.  But I wouldn't recommend them to a country/ western fan; they'd be crawling up the walls twenty minutes in.  But Morris is one of the great documentary makers who will rivet anyone.  From the Phillip Glass score, to the editing and just the masterful way Morris mines his interviewees, this is just a great film.  Hell, it won the Academy Award that year.
And that's what makes it all the more disappointing that The Fog of War has never been released in HD.  Sony Pictures Classics released it as a new release DVD in 2004, and it was issued in nearly identical editions in other regions all around the same time.  But that's been it.  No updated transfers, no Criterion commentaries, no blu-rays.  We've still just got the original DVDs.  Fortunately, at least, there's nothing wrong with those.
2004 Sony US DVD.
Sony presents Fog Of War in a nice, anamorphic 1.78:1, although things get a tiny bit fuzzy in the overscan edges.  There's no interlacing or other issues.  Maybe the blacks could be a smidgen deeper, but that may be more of a creative decision on the part of the filmmakers than the DVD itself.  At any rate, it's all fine.  It's a DVD, so it's in standard def, and a crisper HD upgrade would be sweet.  But again, for a DVD, it's perfectly fine, like an A-.  The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is nice and clear, with additional French, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and English HoH subtitles.
This isn't exactly a "special edition," but there is some good bonus stuff to be found.  Primarily, what we get are the deleted scenes.  But there's almost 40 minutes worth of deleted scenes; it's practically a sequel.  Unfortunately, the deleted scenes are non-anamorphic and heavily interlaced, as you can see above; and some of the additional anecdotes are a little underwhelming and you can see why they were cut.  But there's still some really good stuff there.  Also, The Fog Of War is structured in a way that break it up into 11 chapters, labeled as lessons.  Well, apparently that was all Morris's invention, and McNamara wants us to know those aren't his.  So he came up with his own ten life lessons, which is basically just a text-only extra, but McNamara does provide a very brief audio introduction.  There's also the trailer, two TV spots, some bonus trailers and an insert advertising a companion book and teacher's guide for the film.  But don't let that ward you off.
Next up is 2008's Standard Operating Procedure, Morris documentary on the infamous photographs of prisoner abuse from Abu Ghraib.  There were several documentaries out about the huge Abu Ghraib scandal around that time, including Alex Gibney's Taxi To the Dark Side and the HBO documentary Ghosts Of Abu Ghraib, which even interview a couple of the same people.  They're all good.  Certainly Taxi is very engaging and informative.  But none really cross the line to a higher art like SOPTaxi is a film you should definitely see, and Ghosts is a film worth checking out if you're interested enough in the subject matter.  But SOP is the only one that really belongs in the film lover's collection.
Now, if you've been following Morris, including his articles and books, you could probably guess that Morris is particularly interested in the photographs and what truths they show and which they obscure.  That, and it really winds up delving into the day to day reality of being in that environment and looking at the world outward from the lived experience of the "bad apples."  SOP does go there to some degree, but this isn't political expose about who knew what all the way up the chain.  That's addressed, and it's certainly shocking at the end when you see which photos were eventually deemed by the military as criminal and which were "standard operating procedure."  But SOP really seeks a deeper understanding of those moments in the photographs and to question what they tell us beyond our initial impressions.

For the record, this one isn't a single interview documentary.  It interviews many people, from the most infamous guards, their peers, those who were supposed to be in charge, and contractors who were also on-site.  Conflicting details are allowed to counterpoint each other.  The only conspicuously absent players are one of the key "bad apples" who was still in military prison, the detainees themselves (although Morris talks about how hard he tried to find them in the special features), and Donald Rumsfeld... which might hint at why we would later get The Unknown Known.  And on a more technical level, SOP features some amazing, ultra-high speed photography and an elegant score by Danny Elfman.
Like The Fog Of War, Sony Pictures Classics released Standard Operating Procedure as a new release in most regions around the world, and the film has never since been revisited on disc.  Fortunately, however, by 2009, blu-rays were a thing, so this time we got the film in HD.  In fact, this was the time when Sony was really trying to push blu-rays, so they wound up including a bunch of additional, exclusive material to the BD that they left off the DVD copies.  So if, like me, you weren't buying blu-rays yet in 2009, this is a serious one to consider going back for and double-dipping.
2009 Sony US DVD top; 2009 Sony US blu-ray bottom.
As a concurrent, dual release, naturally the DVD and blu-ray feature the same master.  The very wide 2.39:1 framing is identical, the brightness levels and colors are the same, etc.  And thankfully, neither is interlaced or otherwise troubled.  The difference between them is simply the fundamental difference between an SD and HD release.  But yes, that HD does make a difference.  Look at the full-size shots and you'll see the blu is noticeably sharper and clearer.  There's an inescapable softness when you get in close to the DVD, so you'll appreciate the blu on an large screen set.  There is so much extra footage packed onto the disc, and it's an early blu-ray release, so it was a little bit of a worry that the blu might be overly compressed and not much of an upgrade on the DVD.  But no, it's a very clean, genuine boost to high def.

Both releases feature the same audio options: a strong 5.1 mix, with French and Portuguese dubs also in 5.1.  The only difference being that the blu is able to deliver them in TrueHD.  Both discs also include a whole ton, but slightly different, subtitle options.  I'll bold the ones that are unique to each disc.  The DVD has English, English subs for the commentary, French, Portuguese, Portuguese subs for the commentary, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Thai, while the blu has English, English SDH, German, German subs for the commentary, French, Portuguese, Portuguese subs for the commentary, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Thai and Turkish.  I'm not sure if that's going to be of huge importance to anyone, but it's an interesting little detail.
The much more noteworthy distinctions lie in the special features.  The DVD isn't bad, it gives you some good stuff including another insightful commentary by Errol Morris and almost half an hour of deleted scenes.  They also throw in the trailer, a couple bonus trailers, and an annoying commercial for blu-rays on start-up.  The blu includes all of that (even the annoying commercial on start-up, unfortunately), but also has a whole lot more.  Besides the deleted scenes from the DVD, there is also almost two hours of "additional interviews," which basically just amount to a metric ton more deleted scenes.  A few scenes to repeat, but only a few minutes worth.  98% of it is all new material, including some very compelling and dramatic stuff that was surprisingly left out of the feature film itself, and even one or two interviews with people not used in the film at all!  Then you've got two festival Q&As with Errol Morris (one also with his producer), which add up to another 45 minutes.  They're pretty distinct, and only repeat a little bit, although they do cover some ground mentioned in the commentary as well.

And finally, there's a 45 minute panel discussion... If you're keeping track, that's like 4+ hours of bonus content, not counting the commentary, packed onto one disc, with a whole bunch of language options on there, too - you can see why I was concerned that it might be a compressed nightmare.  Anyway, the panel was recorded at the Berlin Film Festival, where a small, fairly random bunch of journalists and politicians discuss the politics addressed in the film.  It's a bit superfluous, and rarely reaches the level I'd genuinely consider an "important" discussion, so it's pretty skippable unless you're a die-hard fan hungry for every drop of content.  But everything else?  Including all those deleted scenes and extended interviews?  Those are essential viewing.  So, unfortunately, the DVD really isn't good enough.
And finally, we end with The Unknown Known.  It took him a while, but he finally got Rumsfeld in the hot seat.  Morris described interviewing Rumsfeld as "one of the strangest things I've ever done, certainly one of the strangest interviews I've ever done," which is really saying something when you remember films like Vernon, Florida.  Like The Fog Of War, this is a single-interview documentary, and to a limited degree, I might concede that this is a slightly misguided attempt to repeat the success of Fog.  It didn't win him his second Academy Award, even though it does feel a little like it's trying to recapture the same magic.  But it certainly stands up as its own film, more than worth watching on its own terms: a unique perspective of an outlandish series of events.
After all, even though they might've shared the same job title, Rumsfeld is a very different man than McNamara.  He's slippery, and you only have to drop by the film's Amazon page to read plenty of annoyed viewers' frustrated reactions to Morris failing to nail him down.  But if you're prepared to read just a little below the barest surface-level of the exchange, it's a fascinating portrait.  "Ask yourself, what he's saying here," Morris says in the audio commentary, "is he lying?  Confused?  Self deceived?  It's at the heart of this movie; that very question."  If you're just looking for a documentary to point a finger and nail Rumsfeld to the wall, well, you should've known by now that Morris really isn't that kind of filmmaker.  He certainly challenges Rumsfeld again and again, but he never falls for the false satisfaction of quick and easy answers.   His subjects are real people and his films are real art, which is why The Unknown Known is more than just a failed replica of Fog.
Morris was no longer making films with Sony by this point, and this one was actually produced by The Weinstein Company (whoa, I felt my traffic rise just typing that name), and surprisingly enough, the home video release wound up falling to Anchor Bay.  They gave it separate DVD and blu-ray releases in 2014.  And unlike SOP, we're back to the traditional method of having matching extras on both versions, so you only need the blu-ray instead of the DVD if you want the HD transfer.
2014 Anchor Bay US DVD top; 2014 Anchor Bay US blu-ray bottom.
Once again, the film is framed at 2.39:1.  In 2014, it would be pretty shocking (although not completely unheard of!) if the DVD was non-anamorphic or interlaced or anything, and thankfully everything's fine.  Get in close, and naturally the DVD is softer and tiny detail is smudged compared to the crisper, more satisfying HD blu-ray.  Both both are perfectly up to snuff, first class transfers for their respective formats.

And both discs feature a robust 5.1 track, in DTS-HD on the blu, plus optional English HOH and Spanish subs.
If you're still not convinced that Unknown Known is something more dramatic and compelling than a quick political puff piece, just listen to the commentary track, where Morris gets pulled right back into the arguments, becoming snarkier and more sarcastic than I've ever heard in an audio commentary.  I'm a fan of this film, so I don't appreciate people selling it short, but I'll concede that the film with the commentary on might be a more rewarding experience than the film with the commentary off.  I'm not sure I've ever felt that way about a film I've owned before.

Besides the commentary, there's a brief on-camera interview with Morris, which works as a nice introduction to the commentary, and an hour-long television piece: The Third Annual Report Of the Secretaries of Defense from 1989.  It's a great historical document, and great to finally see McNamara and Rumsfeld in the same room (as well as five others who've held that position) after this trilogy; but it's a pretty dry viewing experience if you're here as a film fan rather than a politico.  There's also a text-only article by Morris, which contains some interviews; but it's asking a lot to have viewer read pages and pages of on-screen text off the disc... this should've been a booklet, but I guess that would've been too costly.  Unfortunately, there's no trailer, except for a couple of random bonus trailers.
So the good news is two of these three films already have pretty ideal releases.  And the Standard Operating Procedure blu was released in the early days when pictures like this were over-produced, so you can get a copy super cheap if you don't already have it.  It was a very painless double-dip for me.  The only fly in this ointment is that The Fog Of War, is most successful film of them all, still isn't available in HD.  It's a fine DVD, but it's lacking in features compared to most of Morris's other films.  Really, it's calling out for a Criterion re-visitation, with an upgraded transfer and some retrospective insight from Morris all these years later.  I love it that totally bonkers, under the radar craziness like Demon Wind is getting glorious 4k restorations; but at the same time, it's crazy how the major studio catalog and even some of our most important films are getting ignored, by the labels and fans alike.  Come on, guys, it can't all be cult horror and tent-poles 24/7.

Extra Rare: Herzog On Music

Now this is the kind of release I really made DVDExotica to cover.  Yeah, I'm following up my last post with some more imported Werner Herzog, but features some even rarer films, on this very cool, widely overlooked release.  It's a little boxed set called Herzog On Music from 2008, only released in Australia, and at this point out of print and a little hard to find, but a must for serious fans. It's a two-disc set of three Herzog films, one of which isn't particularly rare at all.  But the other two?  That's where things get exciting.  No, they're not in Shout's big boxed set, or BFI's, or even the one Herzog sells directly from his own website.  They've only ever been released by Shock.
So let's start with the not-so-rare one.  The main feature on disc one is a 1995 documentary called Gesualdo: Death for Five VoicesCarlo Gesualdo was a 16th century Italian composer who was apparently an insane murderer as well as a musical genius.  Herzog spends most of the time exploring the Gesualdo castle, interviewing locals, filming concerts and yes, pursuing a woman who claims to be Gesualdo's wife resurrected.  Sure, you'll enjoy this documentary more if you have a real interest in this centuries old music, but you know Herzog infuses a lot that will be of interest anyway.
Gesualdo was originally released on DVD in the US back in 2002 by Image, a disc I used to own.  Unfortunately I sold it off long before started this site, but from memory it was essentially the same as the Shock disc: anamorphic widescreen and barebones.  Then Shock released it in 2008, of course.  And more recently, Art Haus released it on DVD and blu in 2016.  It's a blu I was seriously considering getting myself until DVDTalk revealed that it was an upscale and that the audio commentary promised on the packaging doesn't actually exist and it's as barebones as ever.  Apparently, it has better audio options, but in this economy, that ain't enough.
The packaging lists this film as 1.33:1, but happily, it turns out to be properly anamorphically widescreen at about 1.73:1 when you actually play the disc.  I never did a proper comparison, but I did stick the Image disc and the Shock disc in my player one after the other and concluded at the time that they looked identical for all intents and purposes.  This disc is not interlaced or anything like that.  It does look soft and compressed, just like the Image disc, which is why I had high hopes for the blu-ray.  But if it's an upscale of the same transfer, might as well just stick with this disc set.  Especially since you'll want to get this release for the other two films, anyway.
Also like the Image disc, Shock's DVD features just the English audio track, with Herzog oftentimes translating the Italians' spoken dialogue as part of his narration.  That's where Art Haus apparently excels, including the English track, the German track where Herzog does his narration in German, and a third track that leaves off his narration and lets you hear the original speakers uninterrupted.  The subtitles are only in French and Spanish, though, so really the additional audio choice is more of a novelty than a worthwhile way to view the film.

Oh and no, none of the releases of this film ever had any extras, not even a trailer.
Well, unless you consider the fact that it has the second film of the set, a never before or since release Herzog documentary called Pilgrimage on the same disc as an "extra."  Then it has one of the greatest extras of all.  And before you get concerned about two films taking up too much space being on the same disc, Gesualdo is only an hour long, and Pilgrimage is a short, clocking it at just over eighteen.  So that's not a problem.

Pilgrimage is what it sounds like, a documentary look at people going on religious pilgrimages in Mexico and Russia, made for the BBC in 2001.  True, it has nothing to do with music, so if you're wondering why it's in a set called Herzog On Music, it's because this is an entirely word-less film, and all we hear is the music of BBC Symphony Orchestra.  But there's some gripping footage of people crawling across lakes of ice and traveling miles on their knees, and you know Herzog is a master at marrying image and music.  It's definitely reminiscent of pilgrimage sections he'd later capture in Wheel Of Time.
Pilgrimage is widescreen at 1.77:1, but unfortunately, as you can see in the first shot above, it's not anamorphic, so it's a small SD image floating in a sea of dead space.  But what're you gonna do?  Watch this on another company's release of Pilgrimage?  It doesn't exist, so like it or lump it.  Otherwise, the picture's not too bad.  Some scenes have interlace combing throughout every frame, as you can see in the second shot, but other scenes don't have any at all.  This leads me to believe it's just a question of cheap, low quality camcorders having been used to capture some of the footage on location.  It's a documentary shot on the spot in some far corners of the world back in 2001, so you're gonna get that sometimes.  Still, there's no reason the footage couldn't have been encoded anamorphic.

Anyway, there's just one basic audio track and no subtitles, since, again, there is no spoken language in the movie at all.  Also, there are zero extras.  It's almost more of an extra in itself.
Finally we come to the third film, a feature length film that hasn't been released anywhere else in the world.  It's called The Transformation Of the World Into Music, a 1996 documentary made for German television.  It's a behind-the-scenes look at the production of three Wagner operas at the Bayreuth Festival.  You can see Herzog is a great enthusiast as he interjects himself behind the scenes, interviewing the actors and directors, intercutting rehearsal and performance, snooping around the theater after dark with a flashlight and even surreptitiously whispering with the crew hunkered down in the dark during major productions.  It almost feels more like a Wiseman documentary, except intrusive with a healthy dash of Driving Me Crazy thrown in.  Even if you're not fussed about opera, the impressive set-pieces and Herzog's enthusiasm will keep you entertained.
The back of the case again claims to be 1.33:1, which I guess this time is technically right if you count the non-anamorphic dead space.  But really the film presentation here measures an unusual 1.62:1.  It's a bummer this one's non-anamorphic, but otherwise it's not bad for DVD.  It's not interlaced or anything, and the picture looks like a fairly faithful capture of the original film image.  The film is presented in the original German with optional, removable English subtitles.  A few scenes, where the interviewees speak English, have burnt in German subs, but those moments are few and far between.  Again, there are no special features.
Now, as I've said, Pilgrimage and The Transformation Of the World Into Music are only available on these OOP, region 0 discs from Shock.  But, strictly speaking, they're not only available in this Herzog On Music set.  In 2009, Shock released a big, 10 disc boxed set called Werner Herzog: Documentaries and Shorts, which included these two discs repackaged along with 8 other discs worth of Herzog docs.  But that's equally out of print, plenty more expensive, and you'd mostly only be adding a bunch of other Herzog films which have seen much better releases.  So it's certainly not a bad set - very much like the box Herzog sells directly from his site, but with a slightly altered selection and fewer international language options.  It even has a couple of unique special features.  So you might want to spring for that if you're a completist.  But for most people, especially anyone who already owns a lot of the other films, I'd recommend picking up the smaller, cheaper Herzog On Music box for the exclusives, and then getting the other films via other releases.  But either way, to get Transformation and Pilgrimage, these Shock discs are your only option; and they're really good films, so it's worth the trouble.

Curious Imports: The Werner Herzog Edition (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Here's an unusual Werner Herzog blu-ray boxed set available for import from Germany.  It's called the Werner Herzog Edition, and it's got six of his films on blu on five discs, plus a bunch of extras.  And it seems to have some worldwide HD exclusives... maybe, sorta, kinda?  The language options listed online are a might bit confusing, too.  One of the films is just listed as an extra, despite being a full-length Werner Herzog film that's been released on DVD around the world.  Does that mean it's in standard definition or something?  How are the transfers?  Are any of the extras subtitled?  Herzog fans have been speculating about it online for a long time, but you know, we're never really going to get to the bottom of it until one of us dummies just bites the bullet and gets the damned thing in-hand.  Well, lucky for you guys, Momma ain't raise no geniuses.

Update 11/7/17 - 11/22/17: Yes, a big update just a week later.   Can you believe I tried to pass these comparisons off without having Shout Factory's Herzog: The Collection's discs?  Me either!  I printed out this post just so I could spit on it.  😜  But seriously, almost immediately after making this post, I wound up getting an Amazon gift card, and guess what I sprung for?  Yep!  So now we're going to have some proper blu on blu comparisons for this post, and you can definitely expect more comparisons of other Herzog flicks from that set over time, including one that was previously requested in the comments.
One thing that makes this Werner Herzog Edition weird is its seemingly arbitrary collection of films.  Apart from being directed by Werner Herzog, they have almost nothing in common.  Oh, and they don't even all have that in common.  We've got movies from the 70s, and movies from the 2010s.  We've got dramas, and we've got documentaries.  There's no over-arching thematic connection as far as I can tell.  It's like someone just threw a few darts at Herzog's IMDB page to decide what to package together.  It's not even like these just happen to be the only Herzog films Art Haus had the rights to; they've released plenty of his other flicks, from Nosferatu to Scream of Stone.  It's just baffling.  And speaking of baffling, what better film to start us off than 1974's The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser?
Enigma is the first of Herzog's films starring the genuinely enigmatic Bruno S. (he later brought him back to star in 1977's Stroszek).  Bruno S. was a self-taught musician painter living in the streets, who Herzog had seen in a documentary.  Despite having never acted before, Herzog gave him the starring role in a strange, true story about a 19th century stranger who appeared in town one day after having been trapped alone in a basement for seventeen years.  He's made into a circus attraction until a professor teaches him to speak and write after which he becomes a bit of a mysterious celebrity.

This is Herzog through and through.  A deliberately told, off-beat tale with heart and eccentricity to spare.  Helmut Doring of Even Dwarves Started Small appears as the "little king," the camera regularly turns away from the action to follow the local wild life, and what little score there is was provided by Popol Vuh.  The viewing audience is even taught how to hypnotize a chicken, a trick he repeats from his first feature, Signs Of Life.  In short, it's pretty great, but mainstream audiences new to Herzog's work will probably throw up their hands in frustration and bewilderment.
Anchor Bay first released The Enigma of Kasper Hauser on DVD back in 2002.  They repackaged it a couple times and it came out in other regions; but it was pretty much always that one SD transfer.  When the Werner Herzog Edition came out, this was an exciting inclusion, because it was the film's HD debut.  But before any of you get too drawn in, I'll let you know right now, this film does not include the English subtitle track or any other English language options.  So unless you're a native German speaker, this disc won't do you much good.  Fortunately, the disappointment from that has been washed away by Shout Factory, who included Enigma in their big Herzog: The Collection box set in 2014.  So this is one of the least interesting discs in the set for us, but let's cover it properly anyway.
2002 US Anchor Bay DVD top; 2013 German Art Haus blu middle;
2014 Shout Factory blu-ray bottom.
Thank goodness Shout picked up that dropped ball, because look what a massive improvement the blu-rays are.  This isn't the same master slapped onto a higher def disc with a little less compression; this is a whole new image.  The blu-rays are pillar-boxed to 1.66:1, while the DVD goes for a fuller 1.77:1, but the blus still manage to reveal more picture on all four sides.  They've corrected the colors so skies are blue instead of pin, and dialed back the excessive contrast and whatever kind of edge enhancement they used to pull the image out of all that artifact noise.  Between the two blus, they're clearly using the same master, but they're not strictly identical.  The Shout definitely has deeper blacks, which on first glance was more pleasing with slightly richer colors, but on closer scrutiny, does actually crush the detail out a bit.
2013 German Art Haus blu left; 2014 US Shout Factory blu right.
Look at the barker's coat in the second set of shots, or better yet the dog in the lower right-hand corner.  He's practically been erased on the Shout disc; it's just a sea of solid black.  And the black crush occurs throughout the film; it's actually fairly severe in other scenes.  I'd still say the US blu is leaps and bounds above the old DVD, but with that black crush, the Art Haus disc wins out.

Except, like I said, for the no English subtitles thing.  The Anchor Bay DVD just gave us the original German audio with English subtitles, and this is what Shout provides, too, though boosted to DTS-HD.  And the Art Haus blu has that same DTS-HD German audio, but this time only with optional German subtitles. 
Don't worry; he's just hypnotized.
Extras-wise, Anchor Bay came up with a great audio commentary by Herzog along with moderator Norman Hill.  They recorded commentaries for a whole ton of Herzog's films and they're all great.  Herzog fans would be doing themselves a favor by seeking every single one of them out (hint: Shout's Collection rounds them up quite nicely).  They also included the trailer and a fold-out insert with notes by Jim Knipfel.  Shout retains the commentary and the trailer (now in HD), and handily trumps the insert with their impressive looking 45 page book, with notes by Stephen J. Smith, Chris Wahl and Brad Pager.

Art Haus didn't retain the commentary, but instead recorded a new one with Herzog... in German.  They also included the trailer, some bonus trailers, and a new photo gallery.  I have to admit, I'm a little curious about that new commentary and wish it could've gotten subtitled for Shout's release (which just has the Norman Hill one), but hey.  Long story short: this is all very interesting if you're German, but for the rest of us, this all rates a big "who cares?"  Hang in there, though; later discs in this set are decidedly more English friendly.  ...English friendlier?
First though, let's burn through the rest of the German-only stuff.  Lessons of Darkness is our next film, and it's a bit of a short one: a 1992 documentary clocking it at five minutes short of an hour.  It's all about the amazing footage Herzog was able to get of the burning oil fields in Kuwait immediately after the Gulf War.  It's also quite famous among documentary filmmakers and enthusiasts because it's one of a very rare breed: a fictional documentary.  Mind you, I don't mean a mockumentary, like Drop Dead Gorgeous or Dadestown, where a bunch of actors are pretending to be in real scenes being shot for an imagined documentary.  This is real documentary footage of an actual situation, but then Herzog provides completely fictitious narration, imaging a whole new story behind what you're seeing.  I once got to ask Alex Gibney about it as he was what distinguishes a documentary filmmaker is the obligation to tell the truth and I said, "so does that mean Lessons of Darkness isn't a real documentary?"  Ah well, no, you see... it's one of those examples that really challenges how we understand the form.  So you can nerd out to that debate, or just zone out and let Lessons' incredible combination of stunning footage, classical music and Herzog's imagination just wash over you and carry you away.
So like Enigma, Anchor Bay first put Lessons of Darkness out on DVD back in 2002.  Since it's a shorter film, they included another Herzog doc, Fata Morgana, on a bonus disc.  And have you ever wondered about that giant DVD box-set Werner Herzog sells directly from his personal website of 24 of his documentary and short films?  Well, I bit the bullet on that one, too, and Lessons of Darkness is one of the films in it (so's Fata Morgana).  But of course, also like Enigma, the excitement wore off this Art Haus blu as soon as Shout Factory included it (and again, yes, Fata Morgana, though this time Lessons shares a disc with Little Dieter Needs To Fly) in their Collection with English language options.
2002 US Anchor Bay DVD first; 2006 Herzog self-release DVD second;
2013 German Art Haus blu third; 2014 US Shout Factory blu fourth.
So, not a lot of surprises here. The Anchor Bay DVD describes itself as 1.77:1, but it's more like 1.73:1 with very subtle pillar-boxing.  Werner's box set version is pretty much identical across the board except, as you can see in the first set of shots, it has interlacing frames.  The blus just barely shift the aspect ratio to 1.78:1.  They present another solid upgrade with increased detail and some subtle but welcome color correction.  Like, look at the second set of shots.  It's not a huge boost in fine detail, but it's just nice to see it shed that softening compression around her eyes and nose and all.  And thankfully, Lessons does not have the black crush problem that Enigma has.  In fact, it's actually slightly (though you'd never notice it outside of a direct comparison) brighter.

Again, the Art Haus blu only has the German audio.  Anchor Bay gives us both audio tracks, the English and the German, but no subtitles, so it's a kind of pointless choice.  Here is where the big Herzog box shines, because it gives us both the German and English audio, plus English and Italian subs.  And finally, Shout's Collection only gives us the English audio track, despite including optional English subtitles.
I remember being surprised and disappointed that Anchor Bay didn't record a Herzog/ Hill audio commentary for Lessons of Darkness.  They did record one for Fata Morgana (in fact, they even got Crispin Glover to join him on that one), which in itself I suppose could be considered an extra.  But that's about all we get for this flick.  No trailer, no nothin'.  And that's true across the board: nothing in the Werner box (unless you count a general documentary about Herzog, which is part of the set but doesn't talk about Lessons at all) and nothing on either blu.
And I guess that kind of explains why they this is the disc the stuck the sixth film on, The White Diamond.  And yes, folks, The White Diamond has English language options!  We're finally getting into the stuff one might actually want to consider importing for now.  This one's not in the Shout set and has never been released on blu-ray in the US.  And despite concerns that because it was included as a bonus feature, it might just be in SD; I'm happy to report that it's not.  The White Diamond is here and in high defintion.
The White Diamond is a 2004 documentary that follows a scientist on an expedition to fly his untested diamond-shaped helium balloon creation over the rain forests of Guyana.  This is his second attempt, after his first try with a similar balloon years ago killed his partner.  So tensions are high, but as a Herzog film, you can expect a lot of the film's attention to be directed towards the beautiful landscapes and wildlife, excelling in capturing footage few filmmakers ever get the chance to, perfectly marrying image and music.

Wellspring released this one here in the US, as a DVD only in 2005, both separately and as part of a 2-disc set with Wheel Of Time, another Herzog doc we'll be coming to shortly.
2004 US Wellspring DVD top; 2013 German Art Haus blu bottom.
The big story here is that they're both interlaced.  Yuck.  It occurred to me that this might have something to do with the film itself.  Assuming the IMDB is to be believed, it was shot on 16mm - and you can see the cameras in the film at a few points) and then finalized in HDTV format.  So maybe the filmmakers unwittingly allowed interlacing into the final product?  But the interlacing is different, and considerably worse, on the DVD than the blu-ray, so I think both transfers are just flawed.  The 1.78:1 framing is identical on both discs, right down to the ugly edges on the left and right sides of the frame.  But make no mistake, the blu is still a huge improvement over the DVD, which is terribly compressed.  It's worth noting, though, that The White Diamond has also been released on blu in the UK by Revolver and in Australia by Shock, so there's reason to hope one of those is free of any interlacing and superior even to this edition.
Because it's listed an extra feature, the back of the Werner Herzog Edition doesn't tell you anything about this film apart from its running time.  So I'm happy to report that they actually did right by it in the language department.  We get both the German and English audio track, plus optional German subtitles, and a secondary German subtitle track that only translates the native English speakers.  Wellspring only has the English audio with no subtitle options and no special features of any kind apart from a bunch of bonus trailers.  So this Art Haus blu is fully English friendly and far superior to anything we have in the US; but it's possible you could do even better in another region.
My bad.  I thought we were past the non-English friendly flicks, but there's one more.  Art Haus presents 2003's Wheel Of Time in German only.  Still, serious completionists may consider importing this one anyway, because it seems to be the only blu-ray release of this film anywhere in the world.  Yeah, there are DVDs, but this is the only HD transfer.  So most of us will dismiss it because it's not English-friendly, but a few of you might want to look at it anyway.  You could always mux it with an English audio rip on your computer or something I guess... But whatever.  I won't pretend this isn't another disappointment.
Wheel Of Time is a 2003 documentary about an ancient Buddhist ceremony where thousands of believers congregate to create some beautiful, temporary artwork (it is traditionally destroyed at the end of the ceremony).  So Herzog is able to capture their work with his cameras before it is erased, but follows the long, grueling pilgrimage many of the Buddhists make for this event.  He also interviews The Dalai Lama and naturally captures plenty of colorful - and sometimes dire - images.

As with The White Diamond, the only US release is a 2005 Wellspring DVD, released separately or in that 2-disc set.  And like I said, this time there are no foreign blu-ray alternatives.
2005 US Wellspring DVD top; 2013 German Art Haus blu bottom.
Wheel of Time is not interlaced like The White Diamond was.  At least in terms of the blu-rays.  Wellspring's DVD still is.  But let's face it, Wellspring were never a top-of-the-line outfit.  If a movie you were waiting for to come out on DVD was announced by Wellspring, it was a disappointment.  There disc is interlaced, poorly compressed and has some weird framing issues (see the second set of shots).  Art Haus's 1.78:1 blu is a very strong upgrade in all fronts. 

So the blu-ray only has the German audio, plus German subtitles for the Native English speakers captured on camera.  The US DVD only has the English audio with no subs.
Did I mention that this disc is frustrating?  Art Haus has even produced an exclusive, on-camera interview with Werner Herzog about this film.  And of course it's in German with no subtitles.  They also include the trailer, which is more than I can say for Wellspring who have nothing to offer but some generic bonus trailers.  Dammit, this would be a must-have disc with a few additional subtitle tracks!  😡
Okay, I just took a break to kick some office furniture, but now I'm back and it all really is English-friendly from here on out.  And on disc four we have 2009's thoroughly eccentric My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done.  This, of course, is the famous collaboration between director Werner Herzog and producer David Lynch.  And admittedly, for all us film fans who've waited decades for these two artistic titans to come together, it's a disappointment.  It feels cheap and quickly thrown together.  But, if you can step back from the massive expectations the pairing engenders, it's a decent, quirky little flick.  If you haven't watched it since it first came out, I recommend a revisit.
Herzog has described My Son as a horror film, and while I don't know if I'd quite go that far, it is at least horror adjacent.  It's based on a true story of a popular Californian high school student who, in 1979, killed his mother with a sword after having been theoretically driven mad by playing the lead in a student production of OrestesOrestes is an ancient Greek play where the titular character also kills his own mother.  So they've got a heck of a story to work with (and it holds up a bit better if you remember that what you're watching is based on actual events), and a great cast, including Willem Dafoe, Michael Shannon, Chloë Sevigny, Ant Man's comic relief sidekick Michael Peña, Brad Dourif, Udo Kier and Twin Peaks' Grace Zabriskie.

Now, My Son has never been released on blu-ray in the United States, so there's good reason to check out this release.  Here, we just got a DVD from First Look in 2010, though at least it's a special edition.  Plus, as you may've already noted from the above screenshot, this movie has kind of a digitally over-processed look, so will the blu improve much? 
2010 US First Look DVD top; 2013 German Art Haus blu bottom.
Well, one thing's for sure, the DVD has a serious problem with milky blacks, which the blu-ray goes out of its way to correct.  And while it looks dangerously close, I don't think they've actually crushed much (there's just not a lot of dynamic range in this film to begin with).  If you can look past that, the transfers aren't too different.  Both are slightly matted to 1.85:1, and yes, the blu is a little sharper and clearer for being in HD.  But it actually appears like they've used the same root master, it just looks heaps better because they pulled down the blacks.  Apart from that, it's an upgrade, but a slim one.  That one thing just makes all the difference.

The US DVD gave us a choice between English stereo and 5.1, plus optional English and Spanish subtitles.  The Herzog Edition case claims to give us three audio options German and English 5.1 tracks, and the English stereo track, all in DTS-HD, plus optional German subtitles.  But they actually only have two audio tracks, leaving off the English stereo mix.
Art Haus gives us some decent special features here, too.  Primarily, we get a 28-minute 'making of' (which, yes, is in English), two trailers, a photo gallery, and a massive collection of bonus trailers.  However, the US DVD has that same 'making of,' and the trailer, but also plenty more.  First there's a short film called Plastic Bag, which has no connection to My Son, except that Werner Herzog acts as the narrator.  Basically, if you remember that student film the kid in American Beauty was making, this is that fully fleshed out in the real world.  Frankly, I could take or leave that.  But much more importantly, the DVD had an audio commentary by Herzog, screenwriter Herbert Golder and co-producer Eric Bassett.  That's a noteworthy loss.  And it's worth noting that there's a Canadian blu-ray with all the special features; but I've never seen it and can't say for sure whether it has the milky or deep blacks.
Finally, we come to Happy People: A Year In the Taiga.  This one's interesting, because it's not exactly a film by Werner Herzog.  It's a four-hour documentary by Dmitry Vasyukov made for Russian television, that Werner Herzog and his editor Joe Bini cut down to about 90 minutes and added Herzog's narration over.  You can actually find the complete original - four hour long chapters, divided by the four seasons - subtitled into English online.  Frankly, I find it deliberately misleading how it's consistently marketed as "a Herzog film."  That's not to say he contributed nothing of value with his (and Bini's) creative input.  But honestly, what we have here, the only version released on disc anywhere around the world, is Herzog's much shorter "international version" of Vasyukov's film.
Happy People is a 2010 documentary that closely examines the day-to-day lives of the small group of indigenous people living in Bakhtia, Siberia.  Cut off from society, they live in very rough conditions.  I mean, holy cow, the sections of this film where the people and their animals are just covered by insects is frightening.  It feels a bit like watching a tiny culture from centuries ago until one of them breaks out a modern convenience like a chainsaw.  Herzog puts his spin on the material, compared to the original Russian version, which feels more like a standard television production; but it still feels more conventional than a "true" Herzog documentary.  At the end of the day, the strength of this film comes from the fact that they've got tons of great, on location footage of people living this tough outdoors lifestyle.  So it's a compelling watch; no documentary fan is going to come away wishing for their time back.  But it's not the same experience as something like Encounters At the End Of the World or Little Dieter Needs To Fly, where you can feel Herzog on the ground shaping what we see with his distinct perspective.
So Happy People actually came out first exclusively in the UK from Second Sight in 2011.  Finally, in 2013, it started to get a little broader recognition and appear on DVD in the US from Music Box Films and of course on blu-ray from Art Haus in their boxed set.  As far as I can tell, this is the only HD option available anywhere in the world to date.
2011 UK Second Sight DVD top; 2013 Music Box DVD middle; 2013 German Art Haus blu bottom.
But maybe there's a reason for that.  This footage looks like it was shot on VHS or some low definition camcorder.  So the difference in bumping it up to HD is practically imperceptible.  Every single one of these films presents the film as 1.78:1 - all clearly coming from the same master - but Vasyukov's original television version was fullscreen 1.33:1, with considerably more vertical information [left], which every one of these discs has cropped.  I'm guessing it's a creative decision on Herzog's part, though, so I won't fault it for a Happy People release.

Happily, Art Haus has given us both the English and German audio, in 5.1 DTS-HD.  The original Second Sight DVD only gave us the English audio.  But the US DVD actually gave us the best audio options: the English track, the German track, and a track of the original Russian voices with optional English subtitles.  Still, at least all three are English-friendly.
But let's talk extras, because that gets interesting.  The Second Sight DVD has nothing, not even a bonus trailer.  It's completely barebones.  But the other discs provide. The German blu has four sets of deleted scenes, broken into the four seasons and adding up to almost an hour, compiling a lot of what was cut from the original film, including use of the original narration.  And yes, these are English friendly.  That's about it, though, except for a boatload of bonus trailers.

The US DVD, on the other hand, cooked up their own little oddball edition.  They include a brief interview with Herzog, taken from an introduction he did for the film at a festival, and they show a lower quality, seven minute clip of the original Russian version of the film, without subtitles, just to give "the viewer an inspirational reference point to Werner Herzog's role as co-director and narrator on the final film," as an on-screen prologue explains.  They also include the trailer.  But most surprisingly, they also throw in a whole other Russian television documentary about life in Siberia (not by Vasyukov) called Chasing Spring In Siberia.  This one's focused on the wildlife, though, not the people.  It's about seventy-four minutes long, and no, Herzog doesn't interfere with it at all.
So, is the Werner Herzog Edition worth importing?  For the most part no, unless you speak German.  If you do, it's a pretty great set.  But if you're a serious Herzog fan, even if you don't speak German, there are legit reasons to add this to your collection, being the only HD editions of a couple of his films.  But that really only applies if you're the sort of person to spring for multiple editions of the same films.  There is something to get out of this set, but it just won't be enough for most of us.  We'll just have to keep our fingers crossed that another label will put the remaining films out on English-language blu-ray some day.  I mean, it turns out it doesn't much matter for Happy People, but at least Wheel of Time and White Diamond.