Herzog: The Collection, Volume 2 and Echoes From a Somber Empire

Eight years after Shout Factory released their impressive Herzog: The Collection boxed set, we're back with Volume 2!  This time around, we get five discs and eleven films (seven shorts and four features), six of which are debuting here in HD: Dark Glow of the Mountains, Wild Blue Yonder, La Soufrière (technically, this was released on blu by Revolver as a bonus for their release of White Diamond, but it was just a standard def extra), Echoes From a Somber Empire, Signs Of Life, Herdsmen Of the Sun.  And one more, Wheel of Time, has been released on blu before, but this is the first with English language options.  The other four are at least Region 1 BD debuts.  So even if you already have The BFI's Werner Herzog Collection and every other English-friendly Herzog release from around the world, you're getting seven upgrades here.  We'll be taking a look at Echoes From a Somber Empire below.  Every other film in this set has already been covered on this site, so I've updated their corresponding pages with fresh comparisons from this set:

A quick summation to save you the trouble of clicking through all those links: All of the blu-ray debuts are obviously superior to their previous DVD-only releases, but this set has no extras, including any pf what was on past DVDs, like the Signs of Life commentary or the Wheel Of Time interview.  So while these are upgrades, you'll still want to hold onto any old discs you have with extras.  And for the four shorts that were already included on the BFI set, there are slight differences, in terms of brightness or contrast, but they're fairly equivalent even when they're not strictly identical.  But they have one advantage: Shout has added optional English subtitles for the English language audio, where BFI didn't bother.
And that brings us to Echoes From a Sombre (here spelled Somber) Empire, the 1990 feature-length documentary making its blu-ray debut here, and previously only available on DVD in the Werner Herzog Documentaries and Shorts boxed set (primarily sold exclusively on Herzog's own website starting in 2006, though there was a variant, Australian version available from Shock in 2009).  This is a heavy one.  In fact, the film opens with a worried Herzog reading a letter from journalist Michael Goldsmith, who he's been unable to reach after they were arrested and expelled from Africa.   ...We don't learn it in the film, but I looked it up, and Goldsmith passed away the same year as Echoes' release, in a hospital in Southern France after suffering a stroke, which explains Herzog's inability to contact him.
Anyway, we then enter the body of the film, where Herzog follows Goldsmith as they research the life and trials of Bokassa I, former president and emperor of Central Africa.  Goldsmith interviews his former wives, lawyers and others, while also revisiting key locations of his reign, during which time Bokassa was accused of a myriad of horrible crimes, from cannibalism to massacring school children.  Goldsmith had actually been imprisoned by Bokassa himself, so he has a real connection, and Herzog himself remains a mostly silent witness throughout the film.  A good third of this film is also made up of vintage press footage, and at one point, to illustrate a dream Goldsmith had, we see the crabs later depicted in Invincible.  In fact, having revisited this film for this review, I've realized some of it is actually the exact same footage.
2006 .com DVD top; 2022 Shout Factory BD bottom.
This is a huge jump in quality.  Where to start?  Well, the AR has been corrected from 1.29:1 to 1.33:1, but even beyond that, the image has been pulled back to reveal more picture around all four sides.  Like everything in the .com set, this DVD is also interlaced, which of course the BD fixes.  The colors have been strongly corrected, looking way more natural and attractive.  The SD softness has been cleared away in the jump to HD and detail is much clearer now.  Look at the pattern on Goldsmith's jacket which has been smoothed away on the DVD.  Further information that was crushed in the DVD's shadows are back in view now, too.  Grain is soft to invisible, which suggests an old scan, poor encode and/ or possibly even DNR.  But regardless, it's a revelation.
Both films include the original mono audio (which is mixed, but mostly French), in DTS-HD on the blu and optional English subtitles.  The DVD also throws in optional German subtitles.

And again, there are no extras, so that's easy.  Not even a trailer.  Neither set has any extras for any of its films.  So hang onto your old DVDs of Wild Blue Yonder and Signs Of Life.  Shout's set at least comes in a slipcover.  Their Volume 1 was a big, fancy mediabook with large, full-color pages.  Volume 2 you're buying for just the movies.  But when it's a collection of important works from one of the world's greatest filmmakers, that can easily be enough.
Now, here's my wishlist for Volume 3, all of which are still lacking blu-ray releases: Jag Mandir, Wings of Hope, Scream Of Stone, Christ and Demons In New Spain, Les Gaulois, No One Will Play With Me, Pilgrimage, Bells From the Deep, The Transformation Of the World Into Music, Ten Thousand Years Old, Herakles, and Game In the Sand if Herzog ever relents (he said he'd never release it because some of the footage was too disturbing).  Plus, a bunch of his newer releases are still absent on blu, including Family Romance LLC, Meeting Gorbachev, both seasons of Death Row, Fireball and Into the Inferno.  I don't want to sound greedy; we've just gained some great ground today, but there's still a lot of work left to do, so bring it on!

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