Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (27th February 2024).
The Film

"Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer" (2022)

With a career in filmmaking lasting over a half a century and still continuing strong to this day, Werner Herzog has become an iconic figure by influencing generations of filmmakers and audiences. Stepping his toes in fiction features, documentaries, television programs, directing theater and opera productions and writing books, Herzog has left an unmistakable mark in popular culture over the years by being himself. An uncompromising auteur that goes to fearless lengths in capturing something that would dazzle and amaze audiences while sometimes even putting his own life at risk. At the same time, he is a well recognized figure by his unmistakable voice and cadence in speaking, leading to memorable cameos in film and television programs including voice work in animation. Each of his works has a stamp of his style, yet none of his films seem to be anything remotely like his other works. He has somehow escaped being pigeonholed in a singular genre and continues to defy convention in his filmmaking process. It’s impossible to sum up his life and career in a short timeframe of an hour and a half, though “Radical Dreamer” is a documentary that tries to do just that, through interviews with coworkers, admirers, family members, as well as Werner Herzog himself alongside clips of his films and behind the scenes footage.

Director Thomas von Steinaecker follows Herzog around Hollywood, his home of over twenty years as well as time visiting his childhood home in Bavaria, piecing together the director’s life story in somewhat of a chronological order. Herzog is shown seeing his old home but he is not keen on stepping foot inside it again. He visits a waterfall from his youth but he is reluctant to find out the origin of the water’s flow. His art is a reflection of his life, as he is a man that looks forward to challenges and not backward in doing the same thing over again. It is not about revisiting old memories but making new ones. Yet he is still eager to share stories of his past including how he was inspired to make his films and the days of German filmmaking in the 1960s that was followed by a stagnant and boring period of German cinema following the war’s end. There are some great words from fellow German New Wave filmmakers Wim Wenders and Volker Schlöndorff about the era and their thoughts on Herzog and his unique process.

In addition there are kind words from a number of contributors including actors Christian Bale, Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, who have shared time being directed by Herzog, as also the recently passed Carl Weathers who performed alongside Herzog in the Star Wars series “The Mandalorian”. Many of their shared memories are from time with Herzog while there were some questions to the myths surrounding Herzog, such as him being shot by an air rifle during an interview (which happened) and if he ate his own shoe (which also happened). Clips of the incidents, with the interview with Mark Kermode during the air rifle incident as well as clips from Les Blank’s legendary “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe” are included in the documentary. There are also comments from filmmakers such as Chloé Zhao and Joshua Oppenheimer discussing Herzog’s challenging techniques and how his works inspired them and others, and also musician Patti Smith, who fans over Herzog’s works and recalls the time that “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” caused a sensation on its release.

“Radical Dreamer” has a lot of great clips and information, but it doesn’t quite have anything of a wow factor for fans of Herzog. Many of the stories told and clips that are seen are in some sense common knowledge and there isn’t much to go fully in depth as it could have. Documentaries like “I Am My Films” (1978), “Burden of Dreams” (1982), “Jack Reacher” and one of the most acclaimed in the Star Wars spinoffs with “The Mandalorian”. Others might know him from cameo appearances on “The Simpsons”, “The Boondocks” and “Parks and Recreation”. Some might know his documentary works while others are more in tune with his narrative features.

“Radical Dreamer” tries to tie everything together as works from a singular mind, though it only scratches the surface. Yes, there is great information on works like “Aguirre, the Wrath of God”, “Fitzcarraldo” (including legendary footage shot with Jason Robards and Mick Jagger for the abandoned incomplete version of the film), and surprise documentary hit “Grizzly Man”, while works like his first 3D documentary “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”, the fairly mainstream yet unique pseudo-sequel “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”, the harrowing survival documentary “Wings of Hope”, his take on technological advancements in "Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World" are a few that are not mentioned or glossed over. Granted to have a complete overview of Herzog’s life and work cannot be condensed in a short and sustainable runtime if every work was dissected. Herzog has challenged filmmaking conventions, traveling around the world from dangerous jungles to the freezing poles to desolate deserts as well as modern cities the world over, and even now in his 80s, he is far from being drained of creativity. For “Radical Dreamer”, it is a nice look at the auteur’s unique life, though it could have been much more.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray


The BFI presents the film in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4. The documentary runs at 25fps and is encoded in 50Hz. The production was shot digitally and the newly shot interviews are all shot in crisp clear high definition with rich colors, excellent depth, and great clarity throughout. There are many instances of clips from Herzog features interspersed as well as behind the scenes footage of some of those productions. The vintage clips are taken from the best available elements and look great for the most part in the documentary. Some clips are in differing aspect ratios, such as 1.33:1 and 1.66:1 which are preserved with black bars on the sides of the frame. The worst looking parts are the unused clips of the original version of "Fitzcarraldo" with scratches, murky colors and rough looking mattes. But for other clips, they are taken from preserved HD masters in excellent condition (as Herzog's filmography has always had great presentations on home video since the early days of DVD). Overall it is an excellent looking documentary from start to finish.

The film's runtime is 90:02.


English/German DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English/German LPCM 2.0 stereo

There are two audio tracks included with a lossless 5.1 track and an uncompressed stereo track. As the documentary is mostly of spoken interviews, the 5.1 track is not particularly utilized well in this regard, as the rear surrounds have little to do during the film. There are some instances of separation with music cues, though it is minimal. On the plus side, the dialogue is always clear and well balanced against the music and there are no issues of imbalance to speak of.

There are burned-in English subtitles for the German portions and optional English HoH subtitles for the film, both in white. They are well timed and easy to read.


Additional Interview Footage (15:38)
Presented here are extended footage from interview sessions with Volker Schlöndorff, Chloé Zhao, Wim Wenders, Carl Weathers, Eva Mattes, Joshua Oppenheimer, Patti Smith, Christian Bale, Nicole Kidman, and Robert Pattinson. Some of the interviews are framed in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio like the film’s framing, though some of the interviews are strangely in the 1.20:1 aspect ratio and one portion of Mattes' interview is in the square 1.00:1 aspect ratio, cropping quite a lot from what was originally framed.
in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4, in various ratios, in English/German Dolby Digital 2.0 with burned-in English subtitles for the German portions

"The Colonist" 2022 short film by Robert A. Smith (9:36)
This short film was produced through the Werner Herzog Film Accelerator programme, and shot on the Spanish island of Lanzarote off the coast of Morocco, which was also where Herzog shot his feature "Even Dwarfs Started Small" in 1970. Smith's short film centers around a lone protagonist (played by Bradley Joshua Ibrahim, voiced by Paris Wharton via narration) on a remote desert planet and his thoughts and memories told through narration. While the short is great visually, it is lacking a bit with context as there is much more that could have been explored.
in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Poster Gallery (2:20)
A series of promotional posters of Herzog directed features in an automated slideshow gallery without narration or music.
in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4

Trailer (2:21)
The original trailer is presented here, curiously in 1080p so the framerate is slowed down 4% compared to the feature film as presented on the Blu-ray. Some portions are in 1.78:1 while some vintage footage is presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The trailer has been embedded below, courtesy of the BFI.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in various ratios, in English/German DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 / English/German Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with burned-in English subtitles for the German portions

The first pressing also includes a 20 page booklet. First is the essay "Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer...or What?" by film critic Geoff Andrew on the film and on Herzog himself. Next is "The Many Faces of Werner Herzog" by Deutsche Kinemathek curator Kristina Jaspers and translated into English by Corinna Reicher, which looks at the varied career of Herzog. There are also full film credits, special features information including notes by Robert A. Smith on his short film, transfer information, acknowledgements and stills.

This is the only release of the film on Blu-ray at the moment, though Shout! Studios has the North America rights and their release on Blu-ray has not been announced as of yet. The extras are a little sparse, with the additional interviews being quite short and interestingly there isn't any input from the director himself in terms of interviews or in written form in the booklet.

Other notable clips:

Mark Kermode introduces "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" for the BFI Player

Mark Kermode introduces "Fitzcarraldo" for the BFI Player

MArk Kermode introduces "Nosferatu, the Vampire" for the BFI Player

Herzog Q&A at the 2016 BFI London Film Festival

Herzog conversation with Asif Kapadia for BFI At Home from 2020


"Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer" is a good introduction to the iconic and unique filmmaker and his works through interviews and clips, though for cineastes looking for something more in depth, it feels like a small dip rather than a deep dive. The BFI's Blu-ray release has a great transfer and but the selection of extras seem a bit lackluster.

Amazon UK link

BFI Shop link

The Film: B Video: A Audio: A- Extras: C+ Overall: B


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