Werner Herzog's Invincible: NOW We're Talkin'!

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), who 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.

Update 7/21/20 - 8/10/21:  This one caught me by surprise!  Forget the French disc, PowerHouse/ Indicator gave Invincible a proper special edition.  Read on.
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 would've been fascinated by, but unfortunately, it isn't 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," I wrote, "we know there's already a respectable HD master available, as it's already been released in France by Rimini Editions."  Well, holy crap!  Indicator/ Powerhouse have now licensed and subtitled that commentary.  And that's just the beginning.  Rather than using that old HD master I referenced, their version has a new 2k restoration.
1) 2003 US New Line DVD; 2) 2013 FR Rimini BD; 3) 2021 UK Indicator BD.


Both previous aspect ratios are a little off, with the DVD at a slightly windowboxed 1.81:1 and the Rimini's 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 scan wouldn't yield an even better picture, but it's an attractive blu and a substantial improvement over the DVD.

But that's all academic now, thanks to the new UK BD.  It's a way more attractive image, where detail really pops.  Grain is much clearer and sharper, and the colors are much better defined.  Look at Jouko's wig in that second set of shots; the boosted contrast really brings it, and his whole face, to life.  Indicator mattes the image to a proper 1.85:1, pulling out further to reveal more information along the left hand side.  The framing's been adjusted a little, too, shifting vertically towards the top.  It's a tough call whether that's an improvement or not (in that second set of shots, the old lower framing actually seems to make more sense), but we're told the DP supervised this new transfer, so it's presumably more accurate.  And it certainly blows the previous editions out of the water in every other regard, so...

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, it's all good.  Even better, though, is the Indicator blu, which gives us both the English and German dub audio tracks in 5.1 DTS, plus an English LPCM stereo mix.  And this time, English subtitles are an option.
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.

But who cares about those experts now that we've got proper special features from the filmmakers themselves?  First and foremost, again, that Werner Herzog commentary is here and subtitled into English.  As any fan should know, Herzog's commentaries are always great, so this is very exciting.  Still, Indicator's taken things substantially further with cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger.  There's a new, almost half-hour commentary with him, a vintage 2001 interview with him, and a short clip of his on-set footage.  And an extra treat for Zeitlinger fans: this release includes his three early short films from the 70's.  They've also got the trailer looking much better in proper HD widescreen.  Three versions, in fact: the US, UK and German (with optional subtitles) theatrical trailers.  And there's a stills gallery of promo images.  The booklet is a substantial 36 pages with notes by Jason Wood, vintage written interviews with Herzog and Roth, and more.  The artwork is reversible, too.
That French blu was a neat find; it was great not to be stuck with that out of date DVD anymore.  But it's a whole new story now.  This isn't just the best edition going by some narrow margin, it's a must upgrade, even if you went to the trouble of importing the previous blu like I did.

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