Fitzcarraldo (1982)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Klaus Kinski, Claudia Cardinale
Extras: Commentary Track, Theatrical Trailer, Still Gallery

The love for opera, determination and a degree of obsession is what defines Anchor Bay’s latest release, "Fitzcarraldo". As much as these elements determine the film’s main character, they also manifest themselves in the film’s creator, Werner Herzog, quite a bit. Herzog is a German director with an attitude who has never bowed to audience or critics’ expectations and in the course of it created a series of truly remarkable and highly individual films. Next to "Nosferatu", "Fitzcarraldo" is certainly Herzog’s most renown film, and it is making its debut on DVD now through Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski) is an avid lover of opera, and the Italian singer Enrico Caruso in particular. While that may not be anything out of the ordinary, it is notable because Fitzcarraldo is living in the Peruvian jungle. In the beginning of the film we see him arriving at the opera house of Manaus after having gone through a torturous trip through the jungle that took him and his wife Molly (Claudia Cardinale) days to complete. He is obsessed with the thought of getting to see Caruso live at the opera house, no matter what the price may be, and after the performance he decides to build an opera house in the jungle so that everyone could enjoy the enchantment of opera music Fitzcarraldo has not surprisingly trouble finding financial support for this idea. The entire community is laughing at him. After all, he was the same man who created ice for sale in the jungle, and who lost a fortune on a daring railroad project. The people just can’t wrap their brains around his daring ideas and no one has faith in his abilities. Using his wife’s last savings, he decides to get into the rubber business like everyone else to make the riches he needs to fulfill his dream.

By that time, most of the jungle has been split up between the rubber barons already, and all that is left is a remote, almost inaccessible piece of land no one really wants. Fitzcarraldo buys it and sets about to take his ship up the river through dangerous Indian territory to begin harvesting his rubber. When his crew abandons the ship in fear, the visionary seems to run out of luck once again, but then he decides to use an age-old prophecy of the Indians for his own good luck. In a never-before seen effort he manages to pass through the Indian territory and sets about to pull the entire ship over a mountain ridge in the jungle to reach his goal.

"Fitzcarraldo" may start out a little slow, with the viewer at first shaking his head at the protagonists spleeny ideas. It takes a little to get familiar with the lush jungle setting of the film where completely white-dressed white people live among natives in the dirt. After a few minutes however, the story builds and the viewer finds himself curiously intrigued by the mocked at character of Fitzcarraldo, and the thought if he could possibly succeed.

The late Klaus Kinski has been well known as being an overly eccentric character actor throughout his career, adding to his enigmatic and manic perception with delirious TV appearances and comments that made TV history to the point that he was removed from TV shows while on the air. "Politically correct" has never been a phrase in his vocabulary and it made hi mmany critics and fans alike. Not surprisingly, Kinski is carrying most of "Fitzcarraldo" as the titular character. Although there are a number of other important characters in the story, the film almost solely focuses on Fitzcarraldo and his obsession.

From the initial moments where even the viewer believes that Fitzcarraldo is a clueless daydreamer, Kinski and writer/producer/director Werner Herzog slowly and continually work on the way we see the character. Gradually they carve out new sides and add new shades to his personality until we are eventually convinced that if someone is capable of doing this ever, it has to be Fitzcarraldo. In the early scenes of the film, we smile when he pulls out his phonograph to play his dusty and scratchy Caruso records, but in the end, we applaud him for doing so, for pulling all his strength and self-esteem out of his opera-fuelled conviction that anything is possible. This external transformation of the character’s perception through our eyes is mesmerizing to behold, especially since the character himself does not change, and the highly visual style of the film pulls us into the world of the jungle, filled with life, danger, mosquitoes and sweat.

Anchor Bay Entertainment is releasing "Fitzcarraldo" in a brand-new transfer that has been completely supervised by Werner Herzog himself. It is presented in the film’s original theatrical <$PS,widescreen> 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs.
There is quite some grain visible in the film, especially during the opening scenes, but it fades after a few minutes and is clearly a result of the film stock that had been used for these scenes and optical treatment they have undergone to superimpose the credits and opening subtitles. The film transfer itself is beautiful and without major defects, restoring all of the movie’s highly cinematic beauty that the cast and crew went to significant lengths to achieve. Color reproduction is fabulous with absolutely natural looking colors and fleshtones. The compression on this disc is also top notch, without artifacts of any sort. However, since the film itself exhibits quite a bit of grain and noise, the DVD transfer contains much of that noise, too.

The disc features 5 different audio tracks. Completely newly re-mixed <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> versions of the film in English and German, the original monaural soundtracks in English and German and also a <$commentary,commentary track> by Werner Herzog himself. "Fitzcarraldo" looks absolutely gorgeous and has certainly also never sounded any better. The <$5.1,5.1 channel> remix is a great addition to this release, although it is very restrained, without overly aggressive use of the surround capabilities. Only in a handful of scenes do we really get to hear the full glory of discrete surround sounds, but for the most part, the surround channels have been used to create the breathing atmosphere of the jungle, which ultimately adds greatly to the film’s value and immerses the viewer in its world through its own subtlety.

The <$commentary,commentary track> found on the disc, featuring Werner Herzog and producer Lucki Stipetic is also very enlightening, revealing much of the ideals the filmmakers had when making this movie. Especially in the case of the rather reclusive Herzog, it is quite interesting to hear how he feels about his work in general, and certain scenes from "Fitzcarraldo" in particular. It is evident however, that he is not entirely comfortable talking about his film in such explicit detail for such an extended amount of time and moderator Norman Hill has to raise certain questions here and there to keep the discussion going. Altogether however, this <$commentary,commentary track> is a must of all fans of the film or the director. The disc also contains a still gallery with images from the set of the film, as well as promotional images and mostly German lobby cards.

If you think "Fitzcarraldo" has a lot of intensity, you are absolutely correct. After all, Herzog and his crew made sure to actually pull the real ship over a real mountain in the jungle for authenticity reasons. It is an effort that may seem ridiculous and out of proportion to some, but the result is a reproduction of the willpower and the conviction it would take to do such a thing with subtle nuances that add to its impact. Anything else would be considered cheating by director Werner Herzog, and this upright attitude can be found throughout the film. He recaps events in film, as opposed to staging them for their own sake. It is an element that is not found very often in today’s films and adds a notable freshness and unique feel to the film. "Fitzcarraldo" is not an ordinary movie, but then again, it was never intended to. It is a film about dreams, obsession and the determination to achieve the impossible. The DVD now gives all of us the chance to see just how meticulously the filmmakers have created this story. If you want to see something completely different for a change, "Fitzcarraldo" is a first-rate choice!