Sony and Universal Don't Make It Easy For Christine

Here's a situation I've been meaning to cover for a while now (can you guess? It's a 2017 movie), and now that I've finally come around to it, I'm surprised to find even more discrepancies than the expected ones I planned to write about.  The film in question is Christine, where Rebecca Hall portrays the very real television news reporter Christine Chubbuck who famously took her own life live on air in 1974.  And the gist of the situation is that, despite being an excellent, critically acclaimed new (at the time) theatrical release, Sony put it out as a DVD-only release here in the US.  Universal, on the other hand, saw fit to give it a blu-ray in the UK and other overseas regions, but (gah!) it's missing the extras from the American DVD.  So the only way to get a proper edition of this film is to import and buy a second, alternate copy as well.  Fun!
I think Christine is a film that caught a raw deal, and I don't just mean the no blu-ray in the US market thing (though I think that's a symptom).  Christine is the second film about Chubbuck to come out at the same time - in fact, I think they both premiered at the same 2016 Sundance Festival, but Christine seemed to take longer getting out of the gate after that.  That other take, Kate Plays Christine, wasn't entirely meritless, but it felt like an under-cooked project by a couple of very indie artists still mastering the fine art of filmmaking.  And so it generated some buzz, taught audiences who Christine was, and then sort of killed interest in her story before Christine even got out of the gate.  You know, like how 54 killed any hopes of Whit Stillman's Last Days of Disco becoming more of a break-out success; thwarted by an injustice of distribution.
And it's a shame, because while Simon Killer was an interesting exercise in technique, Christine actually gives us a return to the exciting artistry Antonio Campos displayed in his earlier days as a rising film festival star, where the characters once again resonate.  I think people get a little misdirected by the question of likability... Ezra Miller's character was unrepentantly awful in Afterschool, but he embodied a disturbingly relatable truth that made his story fascinating, whereas Simon and his fellows just felt like Sims going through the motions because their director wanted to watch a certain type of plot unfold in a particular, stylized fashion.  Here, probably helped by the fact that we're back to exploring a very real woman's tragedy (a la Buy It Now), but also clearly thanks to the Rebecca Hall turning in an Oscar-worthy tour de force, Campos's drama is once again heartbreaking.
And there are superficial delights, too.  Campos is clearly having fun replicating or maybe even slightly parodying the 70s television aesthetic, and we're introduced to a charming cast of supporting players including Dexter himself, Michael C. Hall (no relation), Maria Dizzia, Tracy Letts, Veep's Timothy Simons and Jayson Warner Smith (Gavin on The Walking Dead).  A running subtext of the film also brings to mind 2014's equally engaging Nightcrawler, or even 1976's Network.  But it's the humanity that Hall reveals in Christine that will have you returning to the film over the years, wanting to soak up more.  But you'll be returning to it in standard definition as long as Sony has its way.
2017 US Sony DVD top; 2017 UK Universal BD bottom.
First of all, yes, Universal's dual layer blu-ray is a true, HD upgrade to Sony's DVD.  Christine was shot digitally, but it's clear on the blu that they've added some light, fake film grain to the image (a common technique with modern digital films wanting to look "authentic," but it has an additional motivation here, with an attempt to evoke the 70s period).  The DVD, however, is too low res to capture that "grain;" and generally has your standard, SD softer look.  But here's the first of those disparities I mentioned in the first paragraph that I wasn't expecting to find.  Despite being a modern digital film that the studios theoretically should've been given an identical DCP to slap onto their discs, the DVD and blu actually have different aspect ratios.  The DVD is 1.78:1, while the blu is given a more theatrical 1.85:1.  Well okay, so far that isn't all that uncommon; often times studios will have differing ideas on whether it's worth matting a 16x9 to a slightly more accurate 1.85 ratio at the cost of exposing luddites to their dreaded "black bars."  But the blu hasn't just been matted to slightly hide horizontal slivers of picture to give it the most accurate framing... actually the blu has more picture... on all four sides!  So, bizarrely, the DVD has decided to zoom in and crop off picture all around.  I'd love to know exactly who made that call.

Anyway, both discs just have the proper 5.1 mix, but of course only the blu has it in lossless DTS-HD.  The two differ further in their subtitle options, where Sony has English, English SDH, French and Spanish, Universal has English SDH, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish.
The next big point of departure, as I mentioned, is the special features.  Frustratingly, the DVD has a lot more, so you can't just say the BD is the definitive version and forget the rest.  And we're talking good content here, not just little EPK stuff.  First and most importantly, there's an audio commentary with star Rebecca Hall, director Antonio Campos and screenwriter Craig Shilowich, which gives you a pretty well-rounded view of the process behind the picture.  Then, there's a collection of four deleted scenes, a couple of which I felt were so good, I wish they'd been left in the film; but I'm at least glad to have here.  Then, the DVD also throws in a little over six minutes of the news pieces Hall filmed as the film within the film, and a look at the opening credit animation of the fictional news program.  These last two things are pretty self-indulgent and probably of interest only to the filmmakers enthralled with the fun they had capturing the 70s aesthetic.  But hey, it's better to err on the side of more than less.

Now Universal's blu, on the other hand, only has the deleted scenes.  No commentary, and no news segments or credit animation.  But, here's the second little discrepancy I was surprised to find when doing the full comparison: the blu-ray has an extra, fifth deleted scene not on the DVD.  It's not as compelling as the other four, but it's at least a nice extra little bonus reward for double-dipping on this title.  I'm also happy to report that, yes, the deleted scenes are in HD on the blu.
So, yeah, it's another one of those annoying "build your own special edition" situations where you have to buy more than one release to get the full experience.  And it's additionally insulting that a major studio has decided to relegate such an impressive, high quality film to DVD only; though moving forward, I think we're going to have to get more and more used to that experience.  But the good news is that, so long as you're to willing spring for the same movie twice, the materials are out there to create a pretty satisfying little combo-pack (the blu is even region free), which is more than you can say for a lot of great movies, which still don't have DVD extras or a decent HD transfer.

A Pair of Code Reds #2: Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker

I remember first seeing 1982's Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker's iconic cover on the Pocket Books paperback as a kid and thinking this must be some wild Nightmare On Elm St. type story, with this astral gateway or whatever opening up out of the boy's chest revealing a giant evil eye floating inside.  Turns out it was just a bad drawing of a knife being held in front of the kids, with the killer's eye in the reflection, and this is a completely non-supernatural thriller.  And God only knows how the title's meant to connect to the story.  But, hey, it's still pretty interesting.
I guess you'd say Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker, a.k.a. Night Warning - let's just call it Night Warning - is a character study/ slasher.  Billy Lynch is just a baby when his parents die in a spectacular car accident that was later ripped off in the Final Destination films.  So he's raised by his aunt (Susan Tyrrell, Academy Award nominee for Fat City), who's just a little too over-protective... to the point of homicidal psychosis.  Tyrrell is fascinating to watch, and as the film builds to its demented climax, it's a blast.  It's got a minimal, effective score.  The closing credits mention a proper theme song called "Little Billy Boy" with lyrics and everything, but we don't seem to ever hear it in the movie.
Unfortunately, the film putzes around a lot in the middle.  Bo Svenson's a police detective who's constantly barking up the wrong tree, including persecuting Billy's gay basketball coach.  This whole subplot stumbles clumsily over the line between preachy after-school special and offensively politically incorrect and barely has any connection to the central story either way.  You've got a pretty interesting supporting cast, though, including Julia Duffy from the Newhart show as the girlfriend and Bill Paxton in one of his earliest film roles as Billy's rival.  Horror fans will also immediately recognize Britt Leach, Mr. Sims from Silent Night Deadly Night, as a police officer with more of a clue.
No Code Red release felt more conspicuously absent from this site than this one.  Like Witchmaker, Night Warning had never been available on DVD until CR finally brought it home in 2013 (after having originally been announced back in 2007).  At the time, it was a DVD-only release with CR swearing up and down it would never be re-issued on BD, but we all knew they'd break down eventually.  And in 2017, they finally did, releasing it as a "Diabolik Exclusive Blu-Ray" (in quotes, because you could also get it from sites like Code Red's bigcartel and the Dark Forces Superstore 🤷).
2014 Code Red DVD top; 2017 Code Red BD bottom.
The DVD tells us its transfer comes from a "brand new HiDef master from the original camera negatives (that were reported lost by basement dwellers)."  And the blu-ray's transfer comes from a "brand new 2017 2k scan from the original camera negatives (the vault finally found it after misplacing it years ago!)."  And yes, this bears out, because the DVD transfer was a revelation compared to the previous VHS rips and junk fans had been living with for so many years.  The DVD case says it's 1.85:1, but it's actually 1.78.  Regardless, though, it looks great in a surprisingly clear anamorphic widescreen edition.  When the blu was finally announced, I didn't expect anything more than to have the same transfer slapped onto a higher resolution disc.  And I would've been fine with that, just tightening up some of the fuzzy compression of standard definition.  But no, we've got a fresh scan (also 1.78:1) which looks even better, revealing more picture along all four sides, with much sharper and cleaner detail, and even more notably, some very attractive color correction.  The colors weren't bad the first time around, but now this looks like the work of a major studio.
2014 Code Red DVD top; 2017 Code Red BD bottom.
There wasn't much damage on the DVD, but even that has been cleaned up on the blu.  There's still a tiny bit, but this film feels refreshingly clean now.

Both discs just feature the original mono track with no subtitle options.  It's bumped up to lossless DTS-HD on the blu, but it still has a core background hiss, with the occasional crack and pop.  A little noise reduction would've gone a long way, but it's never loud enough to become bothersome.
Code Red's DVD is an impressively endowed special edition.  But if you only see one DVD extra in your life, and I mean on any DVD ever, you've got to watch Susan Tyrrell's on-camera interview.  She tells us right off the bat that she "hated every damn minute of it" and has "a lot of horrifying stories to tell."  It looks like she started out recording an audio commentary, but they wound up with just this perfect, eleven minute piece where she goes from "I'd fuck anybody to get out of this picture... except Bo" to "brilliant!  That's a great scene!"

And if you're disappointed to've missed out on a potential audio commentary, don't worry; we've got still got two.  One by Billy himself, Jimmy McNichol, and one by co-writers Steven Breimer (who also produced) and Alan Jay Glueckman.  We also get on-camera interviews with McNichol, Steve Eastman who played the coach, Breimer and effects artist Allan Apone, plus the original theatrical trailer.  Thankfully, the blu-ray carries over absolutely everything from the DVD and also has reversible cover art with the Night Warning artwork.
I - as I'm sure many of you felt - was quite reluctant to double-dip on this title.  After all, most of us who bought the DVD edition in 2014 only did so after being flat-out guaranteed repeatedly that a blu-ray was impossible.  So seeing a replacement roll out after that felt a bit like being conned.  But looking at the top notch work put into this title, I'd say the second price of admission is perfectly justified.  So I don't regret having this blu in my collection for a second, even if that is just a phony drawing of a knife instead of the cosmic doorway I always imagined.

A Pair of Code Reds #1: Witchmaker, Witchmaker, Make Me a Witch

1969's Witchmaker is one of those great, but definitely not for everybody, little off-road horror movies.  I originally encountered it at an Exhumed Films screening in 2005 (lovingly sandwiched between Night Of the Bloody Apes and When the Screaming Stops), and was excited when Code Red gave it its official DVD debut in 2011.  It was even a bit of a special edition, so to my mind at least, it became a real Code Red staple title... One of those films the bigger labels weren't hip to even though it was better than a lot of stuff they were putting out.  And so it was only natural when, in 2017, Code Red revisited the title on blu as a "Ronin exclusive" (in quotes because that's what they called it, though you can also purchase it from sites like Diabolik and Grindhouse Video 🤷) with a brand new edition.
2011 Code Red DVD top; 2017 Code Red BD bottom.
The reason I say Witchmaker is not for everybody is that it's very 60s.  So, for one thing, the characters just look a bit silly, overdressed in this case for trekking out in the swamps of Louisiana.  It's not quite as bad as the lady in the short pastel dress, beehive and bright white go-go boots from It's Alive, but those are the sort of vibes you'll be getting.  It's also somewhat corny and very talky, with plenty of wooden acting from the days when doing multiple takes was a serious expense.  And while it's a fairly dark, serious horror film in some aspects, it's from the days before real gore effects, so the most gruesome moments were just depicted by pouring more red paint over clearly unbroken skin.  Guaranteed your kids will spend the whole time on their phones complaining your dumb old movie is boring and not scary.  And, you know, they're not objectively wrong.
2011 Code Red DVD top; 2017 Code Red BD bottom.
But if you're open-minded, the pros outweigh the cons.  It's a fun little story about a professor and his students who travel deep into the swamps to study local legends about a series murders being the work of witchcraft.  Of course, they turn out to be right and in for far more than they bargained for.  Luther the Berserk is out there murdering nubile young women like there's no tomorrow (why they keep wandering off on their own into remote swampland is never questioned).  The stakes are raised when Luther learns that one of the pretty blonde co-eds is also a "sensitive" that the professor brought along to take his research to the next level.  Luther thinks she'd make an excellent addition to his coven, because, oh yeah, he's got a whole army of witches out there in the swamp with him.  And so it's war between modern man and ancient magicians, with both sides using every trick in the book.  Seances, mind control, shooting fire balls and a special garlic that allows the wearer to wander in and out of Luther's cave invisible to all witches.
2011 Code Red DVD top; 2017 Code Red BD bottom.
Yeah, with a little patience, there's lots to be entertained by.  While all the good guys are giving those stiff, clunky performances I mentioned, all the witches are having a blast creating their crazy characters.  The leads are great, and the background ones all have fun gimmicks, coming from different ages (a Spanish conquistador, a black cat who turns into a sexy lady, a mad monk, an Egyptian belly dancer, etc) and played by a heck of a collection including Seymour, host of the real Fright Night show, and several Playboy bunnies.  The story's inventive and fairly outrageous; well shot, with atmospheric locations and moody music.  This isn't one of those fly-by-night flicks made by hacks doing the bare minimum to qualify for the B spot at drive-in theaters.  I mean, they might've been hacks, but they clearly put in the effort and dedication to make a fun, quality film.
2011 Code Red DVD top; 2017 Code Red BD bottom.
So, you may've noticed I've been including more than the usual number of comparisons in this post.  That's because the differences between the two are a bit complicated and raise questions.  Although, right off the bat, before anybody gets the wrong idea, yes, the blu-ray is a worthwhile upgrade over the DVD.  But some of the changes are curious.  Both the backs of the DVD and blu-ray case simply promise a "brand new 2.35:1 (16x9) transfer."  That alone was a big deal in the case of the original DVD, since previous grey market tapes, VHS tapes and online rips were always in the wrong aspect ratio, non-anamorphic, etc.  So Code Red were the first ones to really do this film right.  Clearly, their transfers are based on prints, and damaged ones at that.  We see dirt and specks, hear pops in the soundtrack, and most noticeable are the vertical, green chemical lines appearing sporadically throughout the picture.
2011 Code Red DVD top; 2017 Code Red BD bottom.
But one of the questions I have is whether both discs are sourced from the same print.  Some obvious signs point to no.  The DVD's on-screen title card actually reads The Legend of Witch Hollow, while the blu now reads Witchmaker, and some of the damage is different.  So two different prints, right?  But some of the damage is exactly the same.  Look at the very first set of shots.  That red mark appears on the old man's mouth at exactly the same frame and only that frame.  Yet on the DVD, it's bigger, extending farther across his face.  Are we seeing the partial results of some kind of automatic clean-up?  Are the differences in color timing the result of two differently aged prints or some attempt at correction?  Is this another case of CR Frankensteining the scans of multiple prints to get the best of several, like they did with Redeemer?  If so, then why do the colors stay consistently warmer on the DVD and cooler on the blu?
2011 Code Red DVD top; 2017 Code Red BD bottom.
I guess only the hairdresser knows for sure.  And at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter.  All we need to know is what we've got on screen before us.  And what's that?  Well, the DVD is actually closer to 2.31-2.32:1, slightly squishing the image horizontally, which the blu corrects to an exact 2.35:1.  The framing's a bit lower on the blu, and sometimes shifts side to side, which I generally prefer on the updated scan; though in a few shots, like that one of Luther stabbing his paper, I think the DVD is right not to clip off the top of Satan's head.  Color-wise, the DVD is clearly to red and has a hue wafting over the whole thing, but the blu feels like they've over-corrected a bit to being too blue.  I'd say the blu's colors beat the DVD's, but the ideal is probably somewhere in the middle.  Most importantly, though, is just the blu's resolution.  We're obviously not looking at a fancy, high-end restoration, but what we have been given is a clearer, bolder HD scan with sharper image and some natural grain the DVD couldn't hold.  And we've also had the mono track, which is still a bit hissy and worn, bumped up to a lossless DTS-HD.
2011 Code Red DVD top; 2017 Code Red BD bottom.
And Code Red didn't just give us the first proper presentation of this film on home video, they made it a pretty nice, little special edition.  The DVD features two main extras, the first of which is an on-camera interview with producer L.Q. Jones.  This guy is a lot of fun and quite forthcoming; he'll tell you whatever you want to know about this movie.  And whatever he doesn't get into the interview he provides in the film's audio commentary, where's he joined by the DP, John Morill and moderator Bill Olsen.  The guys are enthusiastic and remember a good deal; Morill has a lot to add.  Jones does get sidetracked a lot, talking about his past meetings with Sam Peckinpah to the point where even Morill gets frustrated.  But even that lengthy derailment is fairly interesting.

Besides that, the DVD just has some bonus Code Red trailers.  And the blu-ray carries all of that over (though they update to a different batch of Code Red trailers), which was a relief, because I really enjoyed the DVD extras.  Unfortunately, the only new addition they come up with is the actual Witchmaker/ Legend Of Witch Hollow trailer, but it's nice to finally get that.  The blu also includes reversible cover art an a supposedly limited slipcover, but I don't think any copies have been released without it yet.
2011 Code Red DVD top; 2017 Code Red BD bottom.
This is classic Code Red: an obscure cult film that turns out to be surprisingly rewarding for fans dedicated enough to take the plunge.  They released the definitive DVD at the time, and then boosted it to blu that's a distinct improvement.  Sure, you could imagine what Arrow might do with this if they ever found the original negatives and a generous budget, but you'll turn blue if you hold your breath waiting.  This is a cult film by a cult label who did right by it.  Most people will never see this, and they wouldn't appreciate it if they did.  But a handful of us are delighted to have been welcomed into the coven.

Dueling Werner Herzog Collections

Okay, it's time to wrap all of this.  With these following six Werner Herzog films, I will finish comparing every film in both Shout Factory's massive 13-disc 16 film 'Herzog: the Collection' blu-ray set and BFI's equally impressive 8-disc 18 film 'The Werner Herzog Collection' blu-ray set.  Each set covers many staple films from Herzog's body of work, and each has a sizeable amount of exclusive films.  I've already covered a number of these films on this site, which I'll link to below.  This post will contain all the rest, plus some overview discussion on how the sets compare as wholes (i.e. extras, packaging, etc).  I've also got at least one DVD edition of every single film here, so we'll throw all those in, too.  So, to start, let's look at exactly which films are in which sets, and then start with movie #1.

Herzog: The Collection (Shout Factory) 
So we begin with the very eccentric 1970 drama, Even Dwarfs Started Small.  The film is set in an isolated mental hospital staffed and housing only dwarfs, and as in all good mental hospital stories, the inmates take over.  What might be a simple tale of revolt and self-liberation quickly gets dark and complicated, however, as the residents immediately descend into chaos and self destruction, indulging sadistic whims and taking advantage of a lower cast subset of the community who are all blind.  And once it gets going, it never stops; EDSS is a constant, unsettling celebration of humanity running rampant.  There's talk of authority returning and stamping down the uprising, but it never arrives.  The people are left to make of their oversized environment whatever they will.

Even Dwarfs Started Small debuted early on DVD, coming from Anchor Bay back in 1999.  I've still got mine, so we'll be looking at that here.  The same disc was later repackaged as part of AB's 2004 Werner Herzog Collection boxed set.  To date, its sole HD release is the blu-ray in Shout Factory's 2014 Herzog Collection.  And, like almost all the discs in that set, it is not sold separately.
1) 1999 AB DVD; 2) 2014 SF BD.
If you don't click through to look at these screenshots fullsize, you could be forgiven for thinking the DVD holds up pretty well.  So on a small set, maybe you could still get away with it.  But once you give it some genuine scrutiny, you can see how smeary and artifact-ridden it is.  The contrast is washed and detail is smudged away, whereas the blu-ray brings it all back, giving us a crispy and grainy image.  Detail really is lost on the DVD, like buttons on shirts, and the blu brings it back.  The framing is also slightly corrected, going from 1.30:1 to 1.33 and revealing additional picture around all four sides.  If you've been following along with my coverage of Shout's Herzog blus, you know black crush has been an intermittent issue in them, but here they actually restore information that was lost in the DVD's shadows.  The book speaks a bit generally about the transfers, so we're left to guess whether most of their blus were scanned from the original negatives or the original CRI (camera reversal intermediate).  In this case I'd guess the former, however grain is a somewhat patchy; you can tell this predates our recent years where everything is either a fresh 2 or 4k scan, but for a 2014 release, it still holds up rather well.
In both cases, the sole audio option is the original German mono, though it is noticeably clearer on Shout's DTS-HD version, with removable English subs.  And the only extra, again in both cases, is another great Herzog/ Norman Hill audio commentary, except in this case they're also joined by actor Crispin Glover.  No, Glover was not involved with this film at all, but he's quite an enthusiastic fan, and does help liven the discussion even further.
Next we have Fata Morgana, Herzog's 1971 quest for mirages.  Yes, Herzog treks out to the Sahara dessert on a mission to capture actual mirages on film.  And while he's out there, he winds up exploring the lifestyles of its various, disparate residents and fellow travelers.  The whole thing is then edited into a strange, three part Creation story of sorts, though I'm not sure how much that all adds up to. Ultimately, it winds up working simply as a fascinating document of Herzog's travels through an exotic dessert locale.  I'm not sure it comes together as whatever it was intended to be, but packed with beautiful images, eccentric characters and an eclectic soundtrack, it still adds up to an essential viewing experience.

Fata Morgana debuted on DVD as a bonus featured on Anchor Bay's 2002 Lessons of Darkness DVD, which yes, also wound up in their 2004 Werner Herzog Collection.  Except it's a 2-disc set bby itself, while they're crammed onto the same disc in the set.  Anyway, Werner Herzog also included it in his massive Documentaries and Shorts boxed set he only sold directly through his own website.  And on blu, Shout and BFI both included it in their massive boxed sets.  This time however, it is also available separately, again as a bonus, this time on BFI's Aguirre blu-ray release.
1) 2002 AB DVD; 2) 2006 Herzog DVD; 3) 2014 SF BD; 4) 2014 BFI BD.
At a slightly overly skinny 1.31:1, the two DVDs seem to share the same core transfer.  The only substantial difference between the two is that the Herzog box's disc is interlaced, which seems to be a problem with every single film in that set.  The two blu-rays, then, also seem to share a same core transfer, but not the same one as the DVDs.  They correct the aspect ratio to 1.33:1, and the image is naturally more focused and cleaner in HD.  The blacks are deeper on the blus, allowing the colors to pop more, though you'll notice in some scenes, like the second set of comparison shots, the image is brighter, giving a paler look.  Between the two, Shout's is paler than BFI, which maintains a bit of middle-ground and generally looks the most pleasing.  Thanks to this brightness, however, black crush is again avoided... in fact, Shout actually reveals a bit more in the shadows than BFI.  So deciding between the two will be a bit of a personal judgement call.  BFI's encode is also slightly cleaner, with slight hints of pixelation on the Shout, but it's a very slight distinction you'd never spot in motion.

All four DVDs give you the choice of the English or German mono tracks, in DTS-HD on the Shout and LPCM on the BFI.  All of the discs also include optional English subtitles except the Herzog boxed set DVD, so in that instance you really don't have much choice but to go with the English audio.  And speaking of something every disc except the Herzog box has, the other three all feature another great Herzog/ Hill/ Glover commentary.
The same year, Herzog made the more traditional documentary, Land of Silence and Darkness, a personal look at how the German government takes care of its handicapped citizens.  We do this chiefly by following a single blind and deaf woman who works as a caregiver to the similarly afflicted, traveling from institution and institution, and making house calls to more patients in their homes.  If you're looking for a dose of Herzog weirdness, you'll be disappointed.  But it's still a powerful and touching documentary by any right.

Anchor Bay never got around to releasing this one, though New Yorker Home Video got around to it eventually.  Personally, I skipped right to the Herzog box for this one.  Then, of course, both Shout and BFI wound up including it in their blu-ray sets.
1) 2006 Herzog DVD; 2) 2014 SF BD; 3) 2014 BFI BD.
Here, the Herzog box finally gets their fullscreen transfer to 1.33:1, and the blus wind up going a little extra wide to 1.35:1, and actually reveal more along all four sides with their fresh scan.  They've also done some corrective color timing, too, assuming the sky behind them in the first set of shots is supposed to be blue as opposed to a neon-like green.  And, of course, the DVD is severely interlaced, which both blus are free of.  Surprisingly, BFI actually crushes a little bit more information out of the blacks than Shout does here, but the DVD preserves the most of all.  I certainly wouldn't recommend opting for the DVD over one of the blus just for that, but it is one thing it got right over its HD counterparts.

Options are very simple here.  Across all three discs, we just get the original German mono, in DTS-HD on the Shout and LPCM on the BFI, with optional English subtitles across the board.  And none of the releases include any special features for this film whatsoever.
We jump ahead a few years now to 1976's Heart of Glass.  If you were disappointed by the lack of strangeness in our previous film, a film where Herzog had the entire cast hypnotized so they'd always act in a trance.  The story's set in 18th century Bavaria, where a prophetic shepherd travels to a small glassblowing town that's gone mad because they've lost the secret to making their famous, ruby glass.  He predicts that their town will be destroyed in a massive fire and, well, the people aren't great sports about it.  This is a film sure to test the patience of any young person in the room - they're all in a melancholic trance the whole time, after all - but it's full of beautiful imagery and an alluring air of despair.  By the end of this film, you'll probably feel like you've been put under a spell yourself.

And we're back to our Anchor Bay DVDs with this one from 2002, which yes, was also included in their 2004 collection.  It's also featured in both blu-ray sets.
1) 2002 AB DVD; 2) 2014 SF BD; 3) 2014 BFI BD.
We've got some weird aspect ratios with this one.  The DVD is 1.68:1, whereas the blu-rays are 1.63:1.  The framing is slightly shifted between the two (as always, the two blus share identical framing), but a big part of the difference can be accounted for by the DVD being slightly horizontally smushed (i.e. it's a little too narrow).  The BFI has noticeably deeper blacks, even compared to the other blu, but it doesn't really crush much - although I had to crank the gamma to confirm it was all still there - it just gives the film a darker, more contrast-y look. I'd say it's the most attractive by far, with Shout's blu looking a little too pale, and the DVD being too red, not to mention softer and lower resolution.  And in a film like this, where the ruby red is meant to be lush and absorbing, BFI definitely pulls that off the best.

All three discs provide the original German mono, in DTS-HD on the Shout and LPCM on the BFI, with optional English subs.  Then Herzog and Hill are back for another audio commentary, which you'll definitely want to listen to because the story behind this film is so unusual.  This time, all three discs also include the trailer, and BFI even throws in an additional photo gallery.
In 1977, Herzog made Stroszek, his second collaberation with Kasper Hauser star Bruno S.  He again plays the title role as an impoverished street performer.  He, his prostitute girlfriend and their elderly neighbor get on the wrong side of some local pimps, and wind up fleeing their native Germany to live in America.  But it turns out the American dream might actually be more soul crushing and unbearable than the crime-ridden streets of his native land.  The film is at turns charmingly funny and desperately bleak, but always all too-relatable.  This is also the film with the famous ending scene that appears in 24 Hour Party People and Control when they depict the suicide of Joy Division's lead singer Ian Curtis.

Anchor Bay released this one on DVD in 2001, and then inserted in their 2004 collection.  Both Shout and BFI included it in their sets... it's really quintessential Herzog.
1) 2001 AB DVD; 2) 2014 SF BD; 3) 2014 BFI BD.
The biggest improvement you'll probably notice here is that the blu-rays again have fixed the DVD's white balance.  Of course they've also really smartened up the smudgy artifacting of the standard defintion compression, though retaining a little more grain would've been nice.  All three discs do a fine job preserving the film's 1.66:1 aspect ratio, though you'll notice the blus continue to have a little mroe around all four sides.  And now, so far, Shout's been doing pretty good in the black crush compartment, but here's one where they really start to go overboard and push out too much information.  Just look at Bruno's hair in the first comparison, which is a very bright, well lit shot.  And you'll see BFI doesn't have that problem making it a clear winner this time around.

All three versions offer the same German (though there's some English spoken, too, once they get to America) mono tracks, in DTS-HD on the Shout and LPCM on the BFI.  All three feature optional English subtitles for the German language, but only Shout gives you two options: subtitles for just the German audio or for all of it.  All three discs also include the always excellent Herzog/ Hill commentary and the theatrical trailer, with BFI going that slight extra step to throw in another photo slideshow.
Finally, we end in the 80s with 1984's Where the Green Ants Dream, Herzog's Australian film.  If you guessed that Herzog would surely concentrate on the inherent conflict between the European settlers and the Aborigional natives if he were to tell an Australian story, you'd be right.  But here he manages to handle some heavy poltical subject matter in a surprisingly light-hearted way.  It's based, very freely, on a real case where natives went to court against a mining company that wanted to take over their land.  In this version, they warn that this particular plot of land is where green ants come to dream, and disturbing that dream means the end of the world.  It's certainly on the side of the natives rather than the west, though it protrays both sympathetically; however I suspect the somewhat silly way Herzog presents the tribe's beliefs and behaviors might be a little offensive to actual Aborigines.

Anchor Bay never released this one, and for a very long time I had to rely on a 2005 German import DVD from Art Haus to see this film at all.  Fortunately, it's a pretty good disc: anamorphic widescreen with some bonus features, but it's only English-friendly because the film itself is spoken in English.  Otherwise, it's essentially German-only, as we'll get into further below.  In terms of HD, this is a Shout Factory exclusive, as BFI did not include it in their set, and nobody else has released it on blu-ray either.
1) 2005 AH DVD; 2) 2014 SF BD.
The DVD here was pretty good.  It may've been a little too red, but then I feel like Shout may've over-corrected going a little too blue (though not as badly as they did on Little Dieter Needs To Fly).  They've also widened the picture a bit, from 1.81:1 to 1.86:1, which equates to more image almost entirely on the right-hand side of the frame.  The HD of course clears up a lot of fuzz, and the colors and contrast are certainly stronger.  Yes, they do seem to brush the blacks a little here, but it's very mild, and I probably wouldn't have even noticed if some of the previous discs we've looked at hadn't made me hyper-sensitive to it at this point.  You know by this point, they've got seeking it out.  Overall, it's a pretty satisfying blu that I can nitpick, or see looking better if anyone ever wanted to lay out the dough for an updated 4k scan; but I'm perfectly happy with it as-is.

Now, this film is shot and best seen in English, and both discs give us that option (in DTS-HD on the blu).  But there is also a German dub, which both discs also include.  Unfortunately, Art Haus only bothered with German subtitles though, whereas Shout has English ones.  Furthermore, there's a German audio commentary with Herzog and moderator Laurens Straub.  Well, both discs include it, but only Shout translates it into English subtitles, so the DVD left non-German speakers in the cold there.  Art Haus also included the short film Wodaabe: Herdsmen Of the Sun, which I've covered on my Herzog short film page.
And with that, we've finally completely covered all of the Shout and BFI Herzog sets.  Neither set has a "bonus disc," or any other special features that weren't already completely spelled out with their associated films.  As you can see in the photo above, the BFI set is a foldout digibook housed in an external slipbox.  It comes with a 36-page booklet with notes by Laurie Johnson.  Shout's set, on the otherhand, is itself a book, with 46 pages (not including those that house the aactual discs) with notes by Stephen J. Smith, Chris Wahl and Brad Prager.  Curiously, the booklet for the BFI set claims that "[a]lternative 5.1 sound mixes were also included" for all of the films in its set, despite that being true for none of them.  I guess that was the plan, and then they cut a few corners at the last minute?

So which set do I recommend?  Unfortunately, there's no easy answer.  First of all, if you want all of his work in HD, you pretty much need both, despite the overlap, because each set has a bunch of exclusive films.  They also have a few unique extras, although in that regard, they're pretty evenly matched.  In terms of picture quality, BFI usually has the edge, but not always, and there's only one or two (see: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser) where I'd say the difference is strong enough for it to be an important distinction.  It would be great if either company would create a part 2, debuting more of Herzog's catalog on blu and eliminating any exclusivity in the process; but unfortunately, I don't see that happening anytime soon.