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Wings of Desire (4K UHD Review)

REVIEW OVERVIEW

The Film
The Video
The Audio
The Supplements
Overall

SUMMARY

Two angels look over the humans of Berlin two years before the wall comes down, one falls in love with a woman and longs to become human, in this dreamlike film from Wim Wenders, newly restored in 4K for this release from Criterion Collection.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Wings of Desire is Wim Wenders poetic ode to love and humanity. Two angels in a bifurcated Berlin, Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), long for human connection. They loom over the city in on rooftops and spires wearing their long, dark trench coats, only sometimes showing their wings. They can hear the inner thoughts of the citizens of the city, including Peter Falk who plays himself and eventually reveals a secret we never knew about the actor. Damiel eventually wanders into a circus where he sees Marion (Solveig Dommartin), a high-wire artist, practicing her act; he is infatuated with the lithesome beauty. When the circus falls into financial troubles and announces to the staff they are shutting down, Damiel decides he wants to become a human and help Marion.

The film flows forward live a river in a dreamlike manner. Wenders does not necessarily infuse the film with a strong story arc, but the various long, flowing takes and beautiful visuals of a pre-unification Berlin is a visual poetry that captures the zeitgeist, of the era. This is mostly captured in stark and crisp black and white, with smooth and easy motion until the angels enter the world of humans and we are shocked with the color imagery and rougher camera movements.

  • Solveig Dommartin in Wings of Desire (1987)
  • Otto Sander in Wings of Desire (1987)
  • Peter Falk in Wings of Desire (1987)
  • Wings of Desire (1987)
  • Wings of Desire (1987)
  • Bruno Ganz in Wings of Desire (1987)
  • Wings of Desire 4K Ultra HD Combo (Criterion Collection)
  • Wings of Desire 4K Ultra HD Combo (Criterion Collection)

The Video

The restoration on the 4K Ultra HD disc was created and graded under the supervision of director Wim Wenders. The source material was Wim Wenders Stiftung’s theatrical 4K restoration, undertaken in 2017 from the color and black-and-white 35mm original camera negatives, using an ARRISCAN film scanner. The optical visual effects were all rescanned at 4K from the original negatives, restored and recreated. It is a beautiful restoration that has the film looking more immediate and vital than it has in many years, since it has been hindered by versions far removed from the original negatives and duplicated several times.  

The transfer is presented in a 1.66:1 HEVC 2160p (4K UHD) SDR encodement. Despite not having HDR, the stark black-and-white imagery looks strong in contrast and the film grain is organic. I cannot say the HDR is missed. The textures are very crisp and shadow detail exceptional given the palette’s more greyish rather than black overall look. The color sequences likely miss the HDR the most, given the colors, while they look natural and shock after such a lengthy time looking at the black-and-white, are just a bit reserved.  

The Audio

The film’s soundtrack was originally in Dolby Stereo. Here on 4K Ultra HD there is a German DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that was also overseen by Wim Wenders. It was remixed and remastered from the 35mm original magnetic tracks at BASIS BERLIN Postproduktion. The sound is airy, clear, and dynamic, with the score sound lush and true to an orchestral arrangement. The dialogue is clean and comes through well. Placement of sounds has a good spread across the front and the surrounds bring in a more than adequate amount of spaciousness and atmospherics for the din of the city and reverberation for the score.

The Supplements

While Criterion Collection provides a good slate of extras for this release, they are all from their 2009 Blu-ray restoration (included in this release). Unless you are new to this Criterion title, there will be nothing you don’t already have on here.

  • Audio commentary featuring Wenders and actor Peter Falk
  • The Angels Among Us (2003), a documentary featuring interviews with Wenders, Falk, actors Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander, writer Peter Handke, and composer Jürgen Knieper (1080i; 00:43:09)
  • Episode of Cinéma cinémas from 1987, featuring on-set footage (1080i; 00:09:24)
  • Interview with director of photography Henri Alekan (1080i; 00:10:16)
  • Deleted scenes and outtakes – Nine deleted scenes are presented with audio commentary by director Wim Wenders; the outtakes are presented only with music.:
    • Deleted Scenes (1080i; 00:32:13)
    • Outtakes (1080i; 00:06:50)
  • Excerpts from the film Alekan la lumière (1985) (1080i; 00:27:11)
  • Excerpts from Bruce Ganz and Otto Sander’s 1982 film about actor Curt Bois (1080i; 00:29:42)
  • Gallery of Notes and photos by art directors Heidi and Toni Lüdi (1080p)
  • Trailers:
    • German Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 00:02:11)
    • “Wen Wunderts” Promo Trailer (1080i; 00:02:05)
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Michael Atkinson and writings by Handke and Wenders
  • Cover by Michael Boland

The Final Assessment

Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire is truly one of the rare films that is pure art, but also one that is watchable despite its loose narrative. The dreamlike atmosphere, poetic dialogue, and strong performances make this one a cinephile’s delight. This 4K release from Criterion Collection immediately rises to the upper echelons of visual and audio quality for films on the format.


Wings of Desire is out on 4K Ultra HD Combo May 2, 2023, from Criterion Collection.


  • Rating Certificate: PG-13
  • Studios & Distributors: Road Movies Filmproduktion | Argos Films | Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) | Wim Wenders Stiftung | Criterion Collection
  • Director: Wim Wenders
  • Written By: Wim Wenders | Peter Handke | Richard Reitinger | Bernard Eisenschitz
  • Run Time: 127 Mins.
  • Street Date: 2 May 2023
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
  • Video Format: HEVC 2160p (4K UHD)
  • HDR Format: SDR
  • Primary Audio: German DTS-HD MA 5.1
  • Subtitles: English
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Two angels look over the humans of Berlin two years before the wall comes down, one falls in love with a woman and longs to become human, in this dreamlike film from Wim Wenders, newly restored in 4K for this release from Criterion Collection.Wings of Desire (4K UHD Review)