Abrahams & the Zuckers Week, Day 3: Police Squad!

Today's entry may not be in the Paramount Presents line like Airplane!, but it's still an unexpected release from their back catalog I was delighted to see.  2020 has also turned out to be the year Police Squad! debuts on blu, the television project Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker tackled directly after Airplane! in 1982.  Of course, their entree to America's small screens didn't turn out to be the success their smash hit on the silver screen had set them up for.  But thankfully reruns and home video have allowed us to reevaluate.
Because this series certainly was soundly rejected upon its first arrival.  ABC cancelled Police Squad! after only four episodes.  The final two episodes, already filmed, eventually aired with summer reruns.  But besides the anecdotal evidence that I happen to think it's brilliant (although that should be enough for everyone), I think the fact that it was still nominated for two Emmys, and went on to spin off into a series of beloved feature films, speaks to the fact that there's something special happening here.

Leslie Nielson is back, this time in lead role of Dt. Frank Drebin of Police Squad, "a division of the Los Angeles police department," parodying M Squad and similarly stiff cop shows of the 50s and 60s.  It's Airplane! except instead of airport disaster movies (and a lot of Zero Hour!) it's cops, with the exact same style of puns, sight gags and non-stop one-liners.  But here I think it's even a little stronger, perhaps because it's more focused, tackling individual 25-minute mysteries rather than having to stretch to an entire feature with outside film parodies (i.e. the Saturday Night Fever, From Here To Eternity material, which feel like mismatching sources), or maybe it's just the inherently satisfying "murder of the week" formula that's been the appeal of countless police procedurals for decades.
Of course, what really matters most is that the writers consistently pack a wealth of clever material into each episode and the cast is ideal.  And fun fact: two of the episodes are directed by none other than Joe Dante, which yes, also means you can expect a fun supporting role for Dick Miller.  They also took on additional writers to help keep the ideas flowing, including regular collaborator Pat Proft, their frequent producer Robert K. Weiss and most surprisingly, Batman's Robert Wuhl.  Even with all the extra hands on deck, the show does rely on a lot of recycled gags in its very short lifetime (there's running gags, and then there's just recycling the same ideas over and over), so one wonders how well the series would've borne out had it lasted for multiple, full seasons.  But (un)fortunately, we'll never find out.  We've just got these six strong episodes.
Police Squad! debuted on DVD back in 2006 as a fairly decked out special edition, making it a compelling reason to replace your VHS tapes or laserdiscs.  It was repackaged in a DVD boxed set with the Naked Gun films not too long ago, but there's only been the one, basic disc.  And if you'd asked me to name a series that was likely to languish on DVD forever, Police Squad! might not have been my first pick, but it would've been up there.  So I was pleasantly surprised to see it hit blu-ray in 2020, first in Australia via Via Vision, and then here in America, direct from Paramount and CBS.
2006 US Paramount DVD top; 2020 US Paramount BD bottom.
I've read complaints that they didn't restore the series and create new masters.  This means we're essentially looking at the same thing, except in HD instead of SD.  The 1.33:1 framing is exactly the same, the color timing's all the same, etc.  There is a very slight vertical stretching that's corrected, which means the blu has slivers more information along the top and bottom, but it's literally two pixels difference each.  I'll take it, but it's not exactly a mind-blowing enhancement.  More noticeable, at least, is the increase in clarity that comes with the high definition.  The image is distinctly sharper, detail like small print is easier to discern, and we can actually see the film grain.  It's a little blocky, but looks surprisingly good given the presumed age of the master.  Perhaps the biggest benefit, though, is that the DVD was interlaced, which the blu-ray handily fixes.
Surprisingly, the DVD actually gave us the choice between the original mono tracks and new 5.1 remixes.  Seems a bit excessive, but as long as they've preserved the original audio, hey why not?  They also included optional English subtitles, so there was really nothing to complain about.  And happily, the blu-rays have kept everything from the DVD: both sound options and the subtitles; they even bumped the 5.1 mixes up to DTS-HD.  But the mono tracks, unfortunately, are lossy.  According to online specs, however, both audio tracks are lossless on the Australian Via Vision discs, so it might be worth considering the import.
Speaking of keeping everything from the DVD, the Paramount blu-ray also hangs onto all the extras (and for the record, so does the Via Vision).  Three of the episodes have commentaries: two by Abrahams, the Zuckers and Robert Weiss, and one by Robert Wuhl.  There's a just under ten-minute interview with Leslie Nielsen, amusingly clearly shot at the same time as his Airplane! "Long Haul" interview, as he's sitting in the same airplane seats.  And there's a neat collection of fun, short odds and ends, including a brief look at some footage shot to tie the episodes together for a planned Police Squad! movie (not to be confused with Naked Gun, this would've just edited the episodes together into a feature-length film), audition footage, a gag reel and a photo gallery.
So it's far from cutting edge, but this is still a very welcome and unexpected upgrade.  And believe it or not, this and Airplane! aren't even the only Abrahams/ Zucker catalog titles to get revisited in HD in 2020.  But before we get to that, I've gotta talk about these Naked Gun movies...

Abrahams & the Zuckers Week, Day 2: Airplane!

Speaking of "uplifting activity recently," did you know that this season, among all the mess that's going on around the world, Paramount has started a new Paramount Presents label, giving new, superior blu-ray editions to some of their biggest catalog titles?  And one of the titles we've already gotten is, hey, Jim Abrahams and David & Jerry Zucker's Airplane!  They've given it a new 4k remaster, fancy new packaging and fresh special features.  So let's see just how much better it is.
You might be surprised to know that Airplane!, as we know it now, was originally intended to play as the centerpiece to another Kentucky Fried Theater-style movie, where it would essentially be a short parody film surrounded by more sketches.  But I think history has shown they made the right choice.  Even though nobody watches Airplane! to get caught up in the drama of a commercial flight in danger of crash landing, having a central narrative to hang everything on does keep the viewer engaged.  With constantly rotating sketches, any joke that falls flat feels like dead air.  Here, the ride is at least smoother until the next bit, that'll hopefully be funnier.  And of course if Airplane! is known for anything, it's known for being packed to the brim with non-stop gags, so it's never a long wait.
Part of what makes Airplane! work so well is that it really nails its target.  It's full of great character actors who were in so many of these dry 70s films as legit straight men, not comic actors.  Veterans like Robert Stack, Peter Graves, James Hong, Barbara Billingsley, Lloyd Bridges... and of course Leslie Nielsen wound up becoming a comedy icon after his pitch perfect performance here.  Then, of course, they packed the film with outrageous cameos and great comics in tiny roles all around them, including David Leisure, Jimmie Walker, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ethel Merman, plus their own Kentucky Fried people, like Stephen Stucker and, of course, themselves.  What's more, their two leads, Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty, turned out to be brilliant discoveries.  And while I can't of course vouch for the veracity of every line and sight gag in a feature film that's carrying a record number of them, the writing overall holds up surprisingly well, especially compared to the litany of similar films it inspired, even most of those by its own creators.
Paramount initially released Airplane! as a pretty nice, anamorphic widescreen DVD in 2000.  There have been plenty of repackagings and arbitrary reissues over the years, but the next version with an actually updated disc was the 2005 'Don't Call Me Shirley' special edition with additional extras.  In 2011, Paramount put it out on blu, and that's been our sole option until now.  Again, there have been reissues, double-features and alternate packaging, but it's always been the same old blu.  Until this summer, thanks to the new Paramount Presents line, which has restored the film in 4k for their new latest 40th Anniversary Edition, available in standard packaging or steelbook.  As you can see in the scan above, I chose the latter.
1) 2005 US Paramount DVD; 2) 2011 US Paramount BD; 3) 2020 US Paramount BD.
For whatever reason, Paramount perpetually insists on releasing Airplane! in 1.78:1, even though it surely should be matted to 1.85:1.  But oh well, whatever.  It's been that way since the earliest DVD... although with a smidgen of pillar-boxing in the overscan areas, the DVDs have technically been 1.77:1.  But while the framing stays virtually the same (The DVD actually shows slivers more around some of its edges, but a bit less along the top), the picture quality keeps on improving from generation to generation.  It goes without saying that the DVD is softer than the blus, but let's say it anyway, because it really looks fuzzy by comparison.  The BD is sharper and pulls out more detail (look at Graves' hair in the second set of shots, for example) that was washed out of the standard def transfer.  It looks lightly tweaked, perhaps with some kind of unsharpening tool, but honestly, by 2011 standards, it was quite good, not a blu calling for an upgrade.  But as the age of 4k rolled around, we began to see how much better blus could look, and now it's Airplane!'s turn.  Grain is much more natural and the entire experience feels more film-like, as opposed to the waxiness of the DVD and tinniness of the old blu.  Whatever digital tinkering they did in 2011 is gone, and the colors are deeper and more authentic.  Black levels, too.  It's just a more attractive, satisfying watch.

One drawback of these new editions, I suppose, is revisionist audio.  The original 2000 DVD gave the film a new 5.1 remix, and part of the benefit of the 'Don't Call Me Shirley' DVD was they inclusion of the original stereo mix, along with the 5.1.  It also had optional English and Spanish subtitles and a French dub.  Well, for whatever reason, the blu-rays have dumped the stereo track, only giving us the 5.1.  They bumped it up to DTS-HD (on both the 2011 and 2020 editions), but that's all we get, at least for English.  The 2011 also had French, Portuguese and Spanish dubs with English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles, while the 2020 has a German dub with English, HoH, French, German and Japanese subs.
Special features complicate matters, too.  The 2000 DVD started with an excellent audio commentary by the Zuckers, Abrahams, and producer Jon Davidson.  It also had the trailer.  The 'Don't Call Me Shirley' edition added a "Long Haul" branching option, where you could watch the film with pop-up videos interviewing the cast and crew.  It was pretty fantastic, talking to nearly everybody, from the biggest stars to the non-professional bit players, as well as showing otherwise unavailable deleted scenes and outtakes.  But "Long Haul" was right, it turns the movie into a 4-hour viewing experience.  It also came in a slip cover and included an option to get your own inflatable Otto autopilot.  And the initial blu just ported all of the extras over in SD to their HD disc.

I was wondering how Paramount Presents would treat the Long Haul footage, and disappointingly but unsurprisingly, they dropped it.  And it's a shame, because it's terrific, although the "haul" was tiresome, especially if you'd just watched the film normally first.  But here's the thing I found.  You could easily just rip the disc (DVD or blu; it's all SD either way), stick the interviews files into an editor like Windows Movie Maker, and it plays wonderfully as a roughly 75-minute documentary.  Even without the context of the feature, and each clip just playing in the order they're found on the disc, it's very enjoyable and coherent.  I ripped it to a blank disc and called it "The Direct Flight."  😉
The Long Haul documentary
And I'm especially glad for that DVR now that the 40th Anniversary Edition let it go.  I've just slipped it into the left-hand side of my nifty new steelbook, because to me it's really essential.  The other extras are great, but don't include all the great material found here.  But, to be fair, I have to point out that the 2020 blu came up with some new special features.  There's a roughly 35 minute Q&A recorded at a screening with Abrahams and the Zuckers, which is good though a bit redundant.  There's also a new, retrospective featurette with Abrahams and the Zuckers, which is nice but completely redundant.  I'm happy to get them, but they don't hold a candle to the Long Haul.  Also, just a final, niggling disappointment, they dropped the trailer, which is a shame, because it had a funny Jaws bit unique to the trailer.
But none of that changes the fact that this is good news.  The new transfer is great and hey, I'm happy to take those new extras even if they're not amazing.  I'm a little disappointed we still didn't get the original audio track, but it's a sweet upgrade either way (especially since it's not like the 2011 BD had it).  I'd just say that, in addition to getting this, you should still hang onto or track down an older edition with the Long Haul.  The good news there is the market has been flooded with them, so they're easy to find and super cheap.  And this new Paramount Presents line itself is good news.  I just love to see a major studio show renewed interest in their catalog titles; I hope this is an indication of the future, not a brief blip on the radar.  But either way, I'm grabbing what I can right now in the moment.

Abrahams & the Zuckers Week, Day 1: The Kentucky Fried Movie

The struggles physical media has been going through these days can be disheartening.  But there's been some really uplifting activity recently in the combined works of Jim Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers, David and Jerry.  So I thought I'd make a "Week" out of their best films and their current state on home video.  And what better place to begin than at the beginning: their first film together (or separately), The Kentucky Fried Movie?
Their debut is the only film the trio didn't film themselves.  They just wrote this one, with the one and only John Landis taking over the Kentucky Fried directorial duties.  That strange title, by the way, is easily explained; it comes from the filmmakers' origins with The Kentucky Fried Theater.  So while this film plays in some ways just like their better known later work - silly parody - it's unique in that it adheres to what they used to do on stage.  It's a sketch movie.  But there's a particularly long sketch that comes up in the middle of the film, a kung-fu parody with Evan C. Kim as their version of Bruce Lee in a send up of Enter the Dragon.  It takes up about half of the running time, giving this film a very unusual structure.  It's like: a bunch of quick sketches and then forget the sketches, here's a movie, until just when you've forgotten about the sketches at the beginning, here's some more.  They do link it all together with the loose premise that we're watching all of these otherwise disconnected scenes as programming broadcast on a local cable channel.  But after this, they realized their material plays stronger in a single, coherent narrative, which is the form all of their following films would take.
Besides being Abrahams and the Zucker's first film, it's only Landis's second, after his scrappy Schlock.  There is definitely the clumsy feel of creators finding their footing throughout this movie, and it doesn't play nearly as strongly as their more accomplished works afterwards.  But there's still song good laughs and more than enough amusing bits to make Kentucky Fried worth the watch, even if it's not a masterpiece.  Like any sketch show, there at least as many clunkers as successes, but some work, and others are at least cheerful.  And the kung-fu parody is the strongest piece, so it's actually a good thing that devoted so much of their running time to it, despite how out of balance it throws the film.  There are lots of fun cameos and appearances to look out for, including Abrahams and the Zuckers themselves, George Lazenby, Donald Sutherland as the quintessential clumsy waiter, Airplane's scene stealing Stephen Stucker, voice over by Shadoe Stevens, and beloved horror icon Forrest J. Ackerman
The Kentucky Fried Movie was released twice in America.  Anchor Bay gave it its DVD debut in 2000, with a combination widescreen/ fullscreen special edition.  There have been plenty of editions in other regions since, including a noteworthy 2-disc set by Arrow in the UK.  But it's been all standard def DVDs until Shout Factory brought it to blu-ray in 2013, which is pretty much the definitive edition; although it should be noted that a barebones German blu from Koch that came out in 2015 preserves the fullscreen framing, if for some reason you've grown attached to that version.
1) 2000 AB fullscreen DVD; 2) 2000 AB widescreen DVD; 3) 2013 SF BD.
So the fullscreen edition is 1.33:1 and largely open matte, but it also seems to shifting its framing a bit.  Note how the first shot is almost the same but with extra vertical information.  But the second set of shots is clearly panned further to the left.  Curious.  Still, it's decidedly boxier and the extra along the top and bottom seems to be a lot of excess space, so I can't imagine it's actually an AR worth preserving.  The widescreen editions are matted to 1.85:1 (technically, the DVD is 1.84) and appear much more pleasing and correct.  Aside from that, well, the blu is definitely a genuine HD boost.  Colors are mostly similar, though I picked that first set of shots to highlight that it does vary at times, too - the blu's consistently warmer with stronger colors, but there it's really extreme.  Grain is patchy and inconsistent... this is a 2013 blu, not a 2020 one, but it's definitely a sharper, clearer HD boost over the fuzzy DVD.  There's also a lot of artifacting on the DVD that the blu cleans up.  The movie itself seems to be comprised of film elements of varying quality, so it's hard to lay any particular fault on this blu's feet, but I bet a fresh scan of the original negatives, if possible, could yield some big, further improvements.  But as it is, it knocks the DVD out of the park.

The DVD just gives us the basic original mono in Dolby Digital with no subtitles on both the full and widescreen versions.  The blu bumps that mono up to DTS-HD and includes optional English subtitles, so again, another satisfying step forward.
Put now we take a step backwards.  Not a huge one, but it's annoying enough.  See, the DVD had some great extras.  There's a boisterous audio commentary by Landis, both Zuckers, Abrahams and producer Robert K. Weiss.  There's also the trailer, the stills gallery and most interestingly, almost 20 minutes of "home movies" showing us the filming on location.  The blu-ray keeps the commentary and the trailer, but loses the home movies (and the gallery).  Now, it does offer us something nice in its stead: an hour-long on-camera conversation with the Zucker brothers, which repeats some info from the commentary but is still fairly illuminating and entertaining.  That interview was originally created for the Arrow DVD, but Shout brought it here, which is nice.  It's just annoying that we had to lose one good extra to gain the other.  There's probably some complicated ugly licensing business tying it up behind the scenes, but it doesn't seem like too big an ask to not have lost any of the extras.  Oh well.
So hang onto your DVDs if you've got 'em.  But if not, the home movies aren't so compelling that it's worth retroactively double-dipping.  Again, a new 4k edition would be nice, but for this movie, which isn't really as well-loved or objectively good as the later films, I wouldn't expect anyone to tackle the project anytime soon.  This is probably the best we'll get, which happily, is pretty good.  And come back tomorrow for a new 4k comparison you're probably eager to see.

That Australian DVD of The Keep Everyone's Buzzing About

There haven't been many more frustrating cases of films on home video than Michael Mann's The Keep (though I can think of a few).  There has been no DVD release in the US and no blu-ray release anywhere in the world.  It wasn't until 2017 that we got any kind of non-bootleg release, only in Australia, in 2017.  But it was an old fullscreen rip, and even the legitimacy of that disc is highly questionable (it has a UPC and is listed in the usual catalogs, but doesn't credit a distributor anywhere on its packaging).  Only now in 2020 do we at least have something in proper widescreen thanks to Via Vision finally taking hand of Paramount's unreleased catalog titles down in Australia.
And it's worth caring about, because The Keep is pretty neat.  It reminds me a lot of Michele Soavi's The Church and The Sect, from its "dreamlike" logic to its vibrant score (in this case, famously by Tangerine Dream).  It's a wildly ambitious tale, based on a novel by F. Paul Wilson, about Nazis who set up base in an ancient Romanian keep inhabited by an ancient evil.  The oppressed locals start see the being in the castle as "a hammer" to eradicate the Nazis, although they have no way to control it once it's set free.  And to further complicate matters, Scott Glenn plays a sort space alien who lives to battle the being in the keep and he's got a laser staff.  Yeah, it's an odd story, in that it attempts to deal with very heavy, deadly serious content like the holocaust and the morality of war, but does it with space vampires and Ghostbusters-style special effects.  Meanwhile, Mann's shooting the thing like a music video with lots of dry ice and slow motion.  Photographically, it's a weird dark fantasy... again, very much like Soavi's work.  The advantages Mann has, though, are major studio production values and a terrific cast including Das Boot's Jorgen Prochnow, Gabriel Byrne, Ian McKellan.  You can feel the ideal blend of high and low-brow that Mann is shooting for, but it just gets so damn silly.
A lot of the blame for that is typically laid at the feet of Paramount, who forced Mann to heavily cut down the theatrical cut.  Fans have spent decades crying for a decade, fueled by photos and low quality footage of deleted scenes from alternate TV edits, the trailer, and a supposed director's assembly cut.  Another blow was that, even before these cuts, visual effects artist Wally Veevers died during production, so a number of effects sequences are compromised and a final dramatic showdown couldn't be completed.  Plus, anyone who's read the book knows there's a lot left out.  But honestly, I'm not so sure a director's cut would help all that much.  Much of what I've seen described online seems to be mostly additional exposition explaining what's already evident in the film if you're paying attention, and a couple more fights that would've done more to hurt the pacing than anything.
For one thing, I've seen the extended ending, and while I understand it's closer to the book, it doesn't fit as well with the alternate version of the story that is Mann's film.  In the movie, Glenn's character is just an unrelatable third party who detracts from the more meaningful climax between McKellan and the monster.  As it is, he interacts so little with the plot so little that when he does, it feels like an arbitrary deus ex machina breaking up the drama.  And the idea of all the additional scenes, which fans hope would flesh his character out and make the film gel more, and feel more coherent, I feel would really just take the film further off the rails.  The fact that Glenn's giving a detached, robotic performance in order to seem alien saps the life out of all his scenes anyway.  Honestly, they should've cut his character out right from the scripting stage, but I guess they didn't have the nerve to veer that far from the novel, which was much better suited for sustaining a character like his.

Oh well.  Ultimately, I think this cut, flawed as it is, is pretty much the best cut (or at least, an ideal director's cut would only make minor changes, and still leave a lot of the famously missing sequences as "deleted scenes"), which may somewhat explain Mann's continued reluctance to go back and re-edit the film all these years.  Plus there's the question of which film elements still exist, if any, and apparent difficulties licensing Tangerine Dream's music.  All together, it leads to this weird little Australian DVD being the best we've managed to get in 2020.
2020 AU Via Vision DVD.
A quick glance at the screenshots and you can immediately see why Via Vision couldn't, in good conscience, release this on blu.  But it is nice to have this on an anamorphic DVD, at least, after all these years.  The Keep had a couple of laserdisc releases; a fullscreen one in the 80s and a widescreen one in the 90s.  I suspect this is taken from the same master as that second master (also the one I believe Netflix once streamed), which isn't thrilling, but still the best release going to date.  The picture is presented in 2.36:1, and looks good in motion.  Colors (when there are any) are bright and attractive.  You mostly notice the restricted resolution when you struggle to read the on-screen captions, but even before clicking through these screenshots to view size, you can see the soft edges around everyone and everything.  Looking up close, then, is when the compression artifacts, digital noise and haloing really jump out at you.  Even for a DVD, this feels like an old master.  But honestly. we'd all be thrilled if this came out in 2001.
The trailer.
Audio is just the one basic stereo mix, which is mostly clean, but you'll notice a little hiss if you pump up the volume.  The sound mix itself can be a little rough, with lines of dialogue not quite matching, or volume dipping a bit low, but I suspect that's more to do with the film's rough cut nature than an issue with the disc... although if the blu-ray we all hope for ever happens, I wouldn't flag anyone for revision if they fixed it up a bit.  Anyway, it's clear enough for DVD.

There are no subtitle options, and the only extra is a fullscreen trailer, which you may want to check out if only for the glimpses at alternate takes and scenes.  One pleasant little surprise is that Via Vision included reversible cover art that hides the ugly blue ratings logos slapped all over the outside.
So it's a bummer that a director's cut, or even just a proper HD transfer of the theatrical version, seem to be as out of reach as ever.  But I do have a more optimistic outlook for the documentary A World War II Fairytale: The Making of Michael Mann's The Keep.  It was started independently way back in February 2011 and put up for crowd-funding support on IndieGoGo in late 2015.  Well, after all these years you may've assumed it withered on the vine, but I've looked into it and it's still kicking.  They've posted on Facebook as recently as last month that they're now in post production and working through Covid lock-down to finally finish their film.  So we'll probably get to see it after all, and at least in 2015, they said they'd be releasing it on BD.  So hopefully by 2021, we'll be able to combine that with this and we'll finally have the compelling Keep special edition we should've had twenty years ago... if not the boutique blu-ray we deserve today.

Werner Herzog's Invincible, Only On Blu In France

In 2001's Invincible, Werner Herzog tells the more or less true story of "the strongest man in the world," Zishe Breitbart (no relation to Andrew Breitbart or his conservative news oped site), whom Superman was actually inspired by, and his time with the infamous Nazi occultist Erik Jan Hanussen.  Body builder Jouko Ahola plays Breitbart... he's since gone on to appear in a number of films, but this was his acting debut.  Herzog recreates the most famous moments of Breitbart's life, including the tragic way he passed.  Tim Roth has the much more dramatic role of Hanussen, who yes, is the same man depicted in Istvan Szabo's Academy Award nominated Hanussen from 1988.  Naturally, Herzog extrapolates historical details and conversations we'd have no way validating today, but his biggest liberty is bumping Breitbart's experience forward in time about a decade, and amplifying his conflict with the Nazi party as Hitler was seizing power in the 1930s.  In real life, Breitbart died in 1925, and Hanussen's fall came many years after, rather than due to the strongman's noble influence.
So yes, this is the story of a Jewish folk hero, and they're pumping up the heroism.  Breitbart has a little brother who looks up to him with wide-eyed idealism, as much for his I-cannot-tell-a-lie purity of character as his physical strength.  He naively wanders into the employ of the most unambiguously evil Nazi ever to twirl a mustache and his incorruptible topples a corrupt institution.  But Herzog's artistic flourishes (yes, there are abstract dream sequences with hordes of crabs, and Roth's secret chamber is surrounded by angelic jellyfish that go well beyond the fish tanks the real Hanussen surrounded himself with) break this film out of Hollywood's typical trappings, and there's enough fascinating truth to the these men's stories to keep things touching and fascinating beyond conventional expectations.  Udo Kier has a perfectly nasty supporting role and Hans Zimmer provides the score.  This definitely isn't a film to casually write off.
New Line first put it out as a widescreen but barebones DVD in 2003.  Warner Brothers reissued it in their Archives line as a DV-R more recently, 2017, but of course still barebones.  In the meantime, there was a 2014 DVD with an audio commentary by Werner Herzog, which I'd be fascinated by, but I don't believe it's English friendly.  If any boutique labels are reading this, that sure would be an ideal thing to license and subtitle for a new blu-ray edition.  We know there's already a respectable HD master available, as it's already been released in France by Rimini Editions.
2003 US New Line DVD top; 2013 FR Rimini BD bottom.
Both aspect ratios are a little off, with the DVD at a slightly windowboxed 1.81:1 and the BD in a lazy 1.78:1.  The DVD's mattes would've basically been hidden by older televisions' overscan area, but the blu lifts them away revealing more picture mostly along the top and bottom.  It also removes some murky color casting and cleans up New Line's unfortunate compression smudging, giving us a distinctly sharper and cleaner HD image.  Grain's a little light; I won't say a fresh 4k scan wouldn't yield an even better picture, but this is an attractive blu and a substantial improvement over the DVD.

New Line's DVD gave us choices between the original English audio in stereo and DTS or Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, with optional English subtitles.  Rimini's blu isn't quite so replete, but thankfully, besides two French dubs (stereo and 5.1), it features the original English 5.1 audio; and its French subtitles are removable.  Those French dubs are lossy, but the original English mix is in DTS-HD, so unless you need English subs, this is pretty ideal.
Again, the DVD is barren apart from the trailer and some bonus ones.  Rimini's blu, however, isn't actually barebones; it has two interesting-sounding featurettes where three experts discuss the film and its historical roots.  I say "interesting-sounding," though, because disappointingly they're spoken in French with no subtitles.  D'oh!  Woulda been nice.  As far as English-friendly extras, all we get is the trailer, looking worse than the old DVD's, and with burnt in French subs.
So we've gone from no extras to no extras, but upgrading to this blu also takes us from a funky old SD transfer to a nice HD print with lossless audio.  You can't shake a stick at that.  I would've loved to see this in Shout or Arrow's Herzog boxed sets, with that German commentary translated.  But as things stand, I feel lucky we at least have this option.  Importers won't be disappointed.