Apocalypse Now (UK - BD RB)
Marcus is not seeing the horror in this amazing release of Coppola's classic...
Apocalypse Now (149 mins) Apocalypse Now: Redux (196 mins)
Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) is sent into the jungle to assassinate once model officer, Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who has taken up a life in a Cambodian temple, training the locals as his troops and is believed to have gone insane. As the journey goes on Willard witnesses the madness of the war and upon meeting Kurtz realises his own sanity may be in question.
Well, what is there to say about Apocalypse Now or indeed the Redux expanded re-release that hasn’t been said already. Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece has it all. Incredible visuals, characters whose complexities never fail to fascinate (honestly calling Brando's performance captivating doesn't seem nearly strong enough praise), the sort of storytelling that is barely even glimpsed at in modern cinema and both versions legitimately deserving the status of “classics”. All this and more still really doesn’t begin to sum up the full wonder of Apocalypse Now, but with this three disc edition the celebration of the film's greatness has never been so enjoyable.
Despite my admiration of this film (in both incarnations) I have to say Apocalypse Now isn’t a film I remember the ins and outs of (even when I think I do). I’ve seen it a lot over the years yet every time I watch it I have those moments of “I forgot all about this” or “that is not how I remember this scene playing out”, or even more extremely, totally re-evaluating my feeling towards certain moments or characters. This has a lot to do with the different ages I’ve seen the film (as well as the two versions). I think I was about twelve or thirteen the first time through and I’m pretty sure its deeper meanings were lost on me. Properly revisiting the film around the Redux release was like seeing the film for the first time, despite having rewatched it a number of times since seeing it the first time and if I’m honest I felt like it was still a movie I wouldn’t really pick on a whim to rewatch despite being in awe of it. Around about the 'Full Dossier' DVD release was when I truly fell in love with the film and after coming away from the film in my darkened living room I honestly felt like I’d wasted too much of my life not being in love with Apocalypse Now.
Talking about Apocalypse Now here in lots detail seems fruitless as lovers of the film don't need me to sing its praises and newcomers should go in blind and discover what the fuss is about for themselves. Plus there’s been so much written about this masterpiece over the years that I wouldn’t even skim the surface of what makes it so great. Instead I’ll concentrate more on the disc itself and exactly what makes this three disc edition the first absolute must have release of the 2011. Starting with the inclusion of the documentary that's about as well respected as Apocolypse Now itself...
Heart of Darkness(135 mins)
“My film is not a movie; it’s not about Vietnam. My film is Vietnam.”
With an opening statement like that, you know you are in for a documentary that isn’t here to tip toe through a movie production. The warts and all approach from Francis Ford Coppola’s wife Eleanor Coppola is such a fantastic insight into the filmmaker's vision that it makes most regular movie documentaries feel as if we aren’t seeing the big picture, the real goings on and the struggles that go into filmmaking. But then not all movies are Apocalypse Now are they?
With a 238 day shoot, a change in the movie lead, dealing with Marlon Brando’s demands and of course the weather, this 1991 documentary is filled with on-set footage, private recorded interviews that Eleanor had taken for her diary of the Apocalypse Now shoot and of course retrospective interviews from all involved including George Lucas, to a very Super Mario Bros. era looking Dennis Hopper, a very open Martin Sheen, all the way up to Coppola himself.
There’s a reason Heart of Darkness is so highly regarded and to be honest it's almost worth buying this new Apocolypse Now Blu-ray set just for its inclusion. It’s literally ninety or so minutes worth of stuff you just don’t see in regular movie documentaries. Yeah there’s the on-set footage, but we’re getting the inner workings of Francis Ford Coppola’s mind for the most part and this really does feel like a personal insight. Sound bites from the time, big talk press conferences or press junkets, personal conversations between husband and wife about the epic problems they are dealing with (studio’s lack of faith and money, Martin Sheen having a heart attack mid shoot, Marlon Brando being Marlon Brando) it’s all here and it feels a world away from the safety of almost entirely risk free modern filmmaking.
In all honesty the documentary doesn’t really give us all that much of an insight into the making of the movie like you’d expect. There are no prolonged sub sections on elements of the shoot or anything (though there is a very good segment filled with Marlon Brando reeling out perfectly delivered adlibbed dialogue), there’s none of the usual making of fluff about how positive everything was. This is more a film about the day at a time approach to a movie that was on the brink of insanity from pretty much the get-go, from the pressure of being Coppola’s production company, American Zoetrope’s first movie, to the struggles to find an ending for the film or indeed the many, many rewrites. This shows Francis Ford Coppola as an artist struggling to get it how he wants it and that angle alone makes this fascinating. There’s no committee, no studio notes, just Coppola and his own choices dictating the entire process, in the middle of a jungle, for a very long time. No wonder everyone went a bit insane.
Well other than the unavoidable softness and grain in the multi layered opening shots, Apocalypse Now, in both versions, looks absolutely stunning in HD. Colours are the first things that sell the upgrade. The warmth of the orange sky in that opening sequence feels brand new and with the extremely deep blacks of the shadows on Willard’s face contrasting that the image is incredible striking in its vibrancy.
Meeting up with Harrison Ford, the level of detail is quite amazing for a thirty plus year old film. Beads of sweat on Martin Sheen’s face really show and the table full of plates and shrimp looks almost 3D in sharpness. That said there is still the odd fleck of dirt here and there, though nothing consistent or distracting.
Getting out on the river and the exterior shots are really where the HD upgrade shows its power. The warm glow of the sun on the boat crew is almost enough to consider putting suntan lotion on. The green of the river foliage pops off the screen and the cloudy water looks incredible natural. Once again detail shows off, beads of sweat pop all over little Larry Fishburne’s teenage torso and the stubble on the crew’s faces is so sharp that you could pretty much individually count the strands when the sunlight hits their faces. However it’s when we first touch down with Robert Duvall that the transfer starts showing off. The warmth of the image is simply staggering. Sure, there is softness in the wider shots, but the closer shots simply glow and the sharpness of the image is a joy. With the background fires, the helicopters, the overbearing green of the jungle and the smoke in the air Apocalypse Now has simply never looked this amazing.
Speaking more generally now, the transfer here just consistently impresses. Every variation in lighting simply works in making the jungle feel alive and even the foggy scenes doesn’t hinder visuals. Night scenes all look great and any import of colour (usually fire) just glows against the deep black backgrounds. The end of the film in the Kurtz compound really is full of striking dreamlike imagery anyway, so with the power of HD behind it there are literally dozens of moments that have never looked so good. This transfer really is amazing and you can really sense the love and care that’s gone into its production.
Well I may as well state the obvious first, the sound design on Apocalypse Now is simply one of the best there is and is reference quality. Doing the film justice across the board and has so much going on in certain places it makes most other films feel lazy in their sound design.
Dialogue is strong and clear but doesn’t lose that ever so slightly muffled quality that Sheen’s voice-overs offer. Coppola also does quiet incredibly well with the ominous sounds filling the rear speakers creating that mood Apocalypse Now is so good at. The ambience of scenes is full of little effects that each speaker seems to take a part in and of course there’s also the battle scenes.
My god do they punch. Bass is heavy, sweeping helicopters and firepower blend through speakers like you’re actually there and absolutely nothing feels lost in even the most chaotic of moments. The score and general creeping sound design literally holds you in the palm of its hand in the track and its presence is so well presented it lures you through the story like never before really.
Apocalypse Now is a prime example of the perfect unison of visuals and sounds and both elements are stellar on this Blu-ray release.
Sadly I only got the review discs to look out and missed out on the boxset itself with the booklet and postcards, so let’s delve into what's actually on the discs shall we.
As both versions of the film are on disc one the only extras we get on this disc are the commentaries from Francis Ford Coppola. The Redux version is all the same stuff as the original ’79 cut with the extra scenes having the extra elements covered for the commentary. This really is a fine commentary, with Coppola giving a structured thought about track that covers everything about the film’s production. However considering how much of it is covered in the other features you may want to decide what you hit first to avoid the repetition. Though even if you do decide to hit the documentaries and featurettes first make sure you do come back because this commentary is well worth your time.
We begin Disc 2 with ‘An Interview with John Milius’ (49:45 HD) which was shot in April 2010 and the interview is actually with Coppola. The conversation hits the ground running and doesn’t really let up. Coppola talks with lots of respect for Milius’s work on the screenplay and the two of them seem quite willing to talk about the ins and outs of the entire collaboration and how Millius developed his screenplay after being told “The Heart of Darkness” concept had beaten many a filmmaker previously and was an impossible task. Honestly it’s a joy to watch for anyone with a love of film, let alone anyone with a love of Apocalypse Now, so we’re already in great extras territory.
‘A Conversation with Martin Sheen and Francis Ford Coppola’ (59:26 HD) is again a newly shot interview and seeing these two together in the recording studio where Sheen recorded his voice-overs for the film is quite a feel good affair. Sheen and Coppola seem genuinely fond of their time on the film (despite some of the darker tales) and what with this combined with the Milius interview we really get an even further fleshed out look at what most of the documentaries on this set cover but from a more personal angle. Great stuff.
‘Fred Roos: Casting Apocalypse’ (11:43 HD) is a pretty raw discussion with Roos in an office. It’s packed with rehearsal clips (from the 1975 casting) and photos plus it features a look at another star not cast in the film, Nick Nolte.
‘The Mercury Theatre On The Air: Hearts of Darkness – November 6 1938’ (36:34 HD) is the original radio reading from Orson Welles. The sound is scratchy but beyond that incredibly clear. My only issue here is the static image of a black and white radio (as opposed to some artwork or photos of Welles or something but none the less, anyone wanting to hear the original Heart of Darkness story now has the opportunity.
‘The Hollow Men’ (16:56 SD) is a number of unclean/unused shots of film with ominous music and Marlon Brando readings.
‘Monkey Sampan – Deleted Scene’ (02:51 SD) is a deleted scene with Kurtz’s tribesmen singing The Doors' 'Light my Fire' intercut with some more boat footage. It’s trippy to say the least.
‘Additional Scenes’ (26:08 SD) is twelve very raw scenes in very early format, while the ‘Kurtz Compound Destruction With Credits’ (06:02 SD) is again very raw footage but this time it's of the Kurtz compound blowing up with Coppola’s voice over explaining the misunderstanding of there being two different endings of the original release. He explains that this footage is more for editing purposes and a possible credits sequence idea and goes into his view of the films ending (while we get many, many shots of explosions).
‘The Birth of 5.1 Sound’ (05:51 SD) is where I started remembering how good the old DVD features were. The amazing idea Coppola had to build a cinema in the centre of America (Kansas seemed to be the plan) that would be the only place to see Apocalypse Now and it would be screened for ten years, as he intended it to be presented, is him at his megalomaniac best. What we then get is a history of surround sound and how we got from mono to 5.1 and how each of the evolving sound systems worked in a cinema screen. Absolutely brilliant stuff despite the shortness of the extra.
‘Ghost Helicopter Flyover’ (03:35 SD) is an explanation of the sound effect used for the opening of the film and how the multi channels are used to great effect and exactly how those sounds were structured. Of course this ends with the effect on show and demonstrates how its split in the speaker system (just a shame the feature wasn’t actually in 5.1).
‘Apocalypse Now: The Synthesizer Soundtrack by Bob Moog’ is actually a text article used in a 1980 issue of 'Contemporary Keyboard' magazine. It’s an okay read but not all that friendly an extra.
‘A Million Feet of Film: The Editing of Apocalypse Now’ (17:55 SD) is more greatness from the DVD release and is a fantastic look at the art of editing a movie (and the struggles involved when you have with Coppola’s million and a half feet of negatives to work with). This really shows off how important editing is and includes a handful of interesting alternative takes on assembling scenes.
‘The Music of Apocalypse Now’ (14:44 SD) opens with footage of the original score recording and Coppola trying to explain his intentions to some baffled looking musicians. It then goes into The Doors music that was being used in the entire film and why they decided to pull it out and then into where we got with the final version.
‘Heard Any Good Movies Lately? The Sound Design of Apocalypse Now’ (15:17 SD) is Coppola’s decisions with the feel and scope of the film's sound and musical choices (as well as a bit of history into sound design). 'The Final Mix' (03:07 SD) wraps up the sound section with the mix decisions and the work that went into that.
‘Apocalypse Then and Now’ (03:42 SD) starts with a snippet from a 2001 interview with Coppola at the Cannes Film Festival and goes into how important the festival was to the film's history before getting us into Redux territory. This links into ‘2001 Cannes Film Festival: Francis Ford Coppola’ (38:34) which is the entire interview at the festival and it’s great stuff covering the movie's importance and history.
‘PBR Streetgang’ (04:07) is a collection of interviews of the boat crew from the 2001 Redux press junkets, ‘The Colour Palette of Apocalypse Now’ (04:05 SD) is a brief look at Technicolor and how the dye transfer system works in restorations and the disc credits show off all involved in extras here and by golly everyone deserves a pat on the back because even with one more disc to go this is already contender for the most thorough collection of extras in home format history— phew!
Well not only do we get Heart of Darkness included but we get a commentary from Francis Ford Coppola and Eleanor Coppola about Heart of Darkness. Now this really is a great track to listen to because the couple expand on stories and give even more insight into this period in their lives. This is such a great inclusion and is really the cheery on top of the Apocalypse Now three disc boxset cake.
After the commentary we’re greeted with even more extras but this time it's goodbye to featurettes and hello to a more text and photo based approach, starting with ‘John Milius Script Excerpt with Francis Ford Coppola Notes’. This is copies of the screenplay with hand written notes jotted all over them. Unfortunately there’s no zoom function and while the text was okay on my 60” screen, anything smaller might be a struggle if you really want to study the screenplay.
The ‘Storyboard Collection’ (11:14 HD) is a series of quick firing pieces of art depicting many of the film's key scenes all in colour and more than mere storyboards in my opinion. Some of them are amazing.
The ‘Photo Archive’ is split into ‘Unit Photography’ (01:37 HD) and ‘Mary Ellen Mark Photography’ (00:30 HD). Both sets have some great shots but are not all that long.
Lastly we hit the ‘Marketing Archives’ which offers up the 1979 Theatrical Trailer (03:56 HD), the 1979 Radio Spots (02:05) which sound a little bit like the opening of the A-team TV series, the 1979 theatrical program, lobby cards and press kit photos and the post gallery—and that folks wraps up a collection of extras that will take a whole lot of beating.
Simply put this Apocalypse Now release is a must have. Every element is astounding. The features are so thorough and enjoyable to watch they cast a shadow over most if not all of the Blu-ray catalogue and honestly not having this one in your collection is just a crime. What are you waiting for. Go get it.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 13th June 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 2.0 English
Extras: Commentaries, Documentaries, Featurettes, Trailers, Galleries
Easter Egg: No
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Cast: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper
Genre: Drama and War
Length: 196 minutes
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