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Anchor Bay presents
Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes) (1972)

"And I say, we can conquer without Pizarro."
- Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: November 23, 2000

Stars: Klaus Kinski, Helena Rojo, Del Negro, Ruy Guerra
Other Stars: Peter Berling, Cecilia Rivera, Dany Ades, Armando Polanah, Allejandro Repulles, Edward Rowland
Director: Werner Herzog

Manufacturer: Crest National
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, language, brief nudity)
Run Time: 01h:34m:21s
Release Date: October 24, 2000
UPC: 013131109993
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Aguirre, the Wrath of God struck me as one of the most intense portrayals of madness and obsession ever when I first saw it twenty years ago or more. I was pleased upon putting in the disc to see that it has lost not one bit of its impact over the years. It takes a little getting used to Spanish conquistadores speaking German, but soon the momentum of the film and the performances makes one forget that little point quite completely.

The film begins in 1560 with Pizarro (Allejandro Repulles) leading his men and slaves down the Andes of Peru into the jungles of South America on the eastern side. Seeking the fabled city of El Dorado and its gold, Pizarro and his men reach the point of desperation. Pizarro finally decides to send 40 men on rafts down a river, with instructions to report back in a week as to whether they have found El Dorado or hostile indians, which will determine whether the main band will turn back or proceed. Don Pedro de Ursua (Ruy Guerra) is put in command of the rafts, and as second in command, Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski). When disaster strikes and one group of men are slaughtered by invisible natives, and the rafts are lost, Aguirre mutinies, setting up Don Fernando de Guzman as the new Emperor of El Dorado. Instead of going back to Pizarro, the little band will venture forward, to claim all this new land for themselves. As the jungle, natives and fever wear the band down, the expedition becomes a trip into madness that can only end in doom.

Kinski is nothing short of incredible as the mad, megalomaniacal Aguirre. His intensity is present at every moment, even when he says nothing. Kinski communicates more with an icy stare and a curled lip than most actors could do with their entire repertoire. The supporting cast is excellent as well, from the gold-mad monk Gaspar de Carvajal (Del Negro) to Don Pedro's betrothed, Dona Inez de Atienza (the beautiful Mexican actress Helena Rojo). Also striking is the black slave, Okello (Edward Rowland), who acts as commentator and philosopher in the motley band.

Herzog shoots the film entirely with a handheld camera, documentary style. This gives the picture an intense immediacy and realism; at the same time, contrasting elaborately staged set pieces make for a visually unforgettable film as well. As the band continues down the river, the almost entirely invisible natives make this seem a delusion of madness, set to cannibalistic chants of "Meat! Meat! Meat is floating by!" The visions become increasingly bizarre until the final shots of a ship in the top of a hundred-foot tree and the raft overrun by spider monkeys seem perfectly normal, as if we are sharing the mad fever dream of Aguirre.

There's plenty of social comment as well; the Catholic Church doesn't come off well in the least. When some friendly natives approach the raft, Brother Gaspar presents one with a Bible, saying it contains the Word of God. When the native cautiously puts it to his ear and says he hears nothing, Gaspar runs him through with a sword for his blasphemy and says, "These savages are hard to convert," completely disregarding the man's horror-stricken and sobbing wife. We also see the opulence and elegance of the two women (Usala's betrothed and Aguirre's daughter) as they are carried through the jungle by slaves in a massive sedan chair. They remain clean and elegant even as the men around them decay and starve (including, to a lesser extent, the nominal Emperor), as if they belonged to a class even higher than royalty.

Kinski's performance is, however, why this film made Herzog an international name, and it is to him that one must always return in thinking of this picture. Far more restrained than he often is in films, he gives a powerful performance nonetheless up to the last, when he discloses his plans for a pure incestuous dynasty (even as his daughter lies dying and dead) and demands that his annihilated force follow him on into the steaming jungles. Aguirre is a masterful and unforgettable picture.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The full frame image (the original aspect ratio, shot with a handheld camera)is quite striking. Colors are natural and blacks are excellent. The reds and blues of the women's sedan chair are gorgeous against the many different greens of the Amazonian jungle. The picture is somewhat soft and grainy, but this is how the film looks at its best, given the circumstances under which it was shot. This was intended as part of the commando photography style which is used by Herzog. It's not a perfect picture, but compare it to the image of the theatrical trailer and you'll be impressed. This is as good as this film is likely to ever look. Zero speckles and frame damage are visible, and there is no jitter. Another excellent transfer by Anchor Bay.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0German, Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: A very good 5.1 remix is coaxed out of the original German audio tracks. The sounds of the jungle become ever more claustrophobic through the surrounds. The roar of the rapids early on is very well-defined, making for a captivating soundstage. The LFE track is only heard occasionally, such as in cannon blasts. The subtle score by Popol Vuh comes through nicely and without distortion, though it is never in the foreground. There is a slight hiss to be heard, but it's not distracting. A German Dolby Surround track is included but doesn't quite have the ambience or the depth of the 5.1 track. Finally, an English dub is presented in 2.0 mono. It is serviceable but doesn't have the power of the German tracks.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Werner Herzog
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The principal extra is an excellent commentary by Werner Herzog, detailing the origins of the script (written in a white heat on a typewriter on a bus with a soccer team; several scenes were thrown out the window when a drunken player vomited on them), the difficulties of filming and his mad relationship with Kinski. He relates all the different ways that he tricked and manipulated Kinski in order to wear him out and produce the restrained performance we see on the screen, as well as Kinski's behind the scenes shenanigans (such as blindly firing a rifle into the tent of drunken extras). The problems of making a film in the middle of nowhere, from Machu Picchu to the flats of the Amazon tributaries, are related in detail. It's astonishing, when one hears the problems, how this film was made for a mere $360,000. Herzog also notes which scenes (some of the most affecting) are completely improvised on the spot because of being able to capture a circumstance fortuitously with the camera.

A trailer is also provided, with options for English dub, and German with or without subtitles. Although they're presented as three trailers, it's really only a single trailer. Wrapping up the package are biographies and selected filmographies for Herzog and Kinski, which are nearly identical to those found on the Woyzeck disc from Anchor Bay.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

A highly intense and effective film, which looks better on this DVD than I've ever seen it before. A marvelous performance by Kinski and masterful direction by Herzog as well as a highly informative commentary make this disc a must-buy.


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