Apocalypse Now (1979) - The Complete Dossier

Genre(s): Action / Drama / War
Paramount || R - 202 minutes - $19.99 || August 15th, 2006
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2006-08-16


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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

S P E C I A L
.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

A U D I O &
.:: V I D E O ::.

Audio and Video

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Overall
.::MOVIE INFORMATION::.
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writer(s): John Milius (screenplay) and Francis Ford Coppola (screenplay)
Cast: Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne, Harrison Ford, Dennis Hopper


Theatrical Release Date: August 15th, 1979


.::DVD INFORMATION::.
Supplemental Material:

  • Director Commentary
  • The Hollow Men
  • "Monkey Sampan" Lost Scene
  • Additional Scenes
  • A/V Club Featurettes
  • The Post Production of Apocalypse Now
  • Apocalypse Then and Now
  • PBR Streetgang
  • The Color of Apocalypse Now
  • Redux Marker


Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Widescreen (2.0:1)
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.

IMAGE

Plot: The story follows Captain Benjamin Willard (Sheen), a member of the special forces or possibly CIA who’s latest mission is to track down and assassinate decorated Green Barret Colonel Walter Kurtz (Brando) after he goes renegade and has seemingly lost his mind. As Willard makes his way to Cambodia and possibly sinking deeper into his own madness as he gets closer to Kurtz.

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning... The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like... victory. Someday this war's gonna end...”

No other film in history has the impact as Apocalypse Now does between the message of morality and war or the superficiality of memorable dialogue and scenes. I am ashamed to say that up until the other day, I had never seen Apocalypse Now. I owned the Redux version but shied away due to its 3 hour plus run time, the fact many didn’t like the scenes added back in (or it took away from the film on the whole) and I like to watch the original if at all possible before moving onto a director’s cut or what have you.

Unfortunately, for some reason, either I accidentally selected the Redux version or something went wrong with my DVD player and I ended up watching that version and not the original. While it was good, I personally prefer the original as it flows better and the French plantation scenes really bogged down the pacing a little.

In any case, be it the original or Redux versions, both feature a complex story that has no real answers to tough questions, one being the morality of war and how the government sends a man to get the job done, kill if you will, and while he does it very well, almost to perfection, he utilizes barbaric techniques. So what do they do? They send their own assassin to take out the original. And the cycle continues.

Francis Ford Coppola already proved with The Godfather Part II that he wasn’t a one hit wonder and when Apocalypse Now came out in 1979, he somehow made another leap in his career with direction of a film that so easily could’ve been like any other. Here, he presents the brutality of war but with substance behind it, showing the mental anguish of these soldiers. He could have easily have shocked us with blood and gore, but instead put it in context with the overall message.

Beyond the masterful direction (easily top five of all-time just in that department), Coppola also highlights top talent. Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall -- who utters that memorable line I quoted at the beginning --, a young Laurence Fishburne, a post Star Wars but pre Star Wars trilogy Harrison Ford and Marlon Brando, turning in a brilliant performance, even though he doesn’t appear until the last 25-minutes or so.

From the opening of the chopper blades synchronized with a ceiling fan to the “Flight of the Valkyrie” sequence to the final act with Marlon Brando, Apocalypse Now transcends beyond just another war movie and has become a classic in its own right.



.::SPECIAL FEATURES::.

While there is certainly a ton of great material, I’ve learned of the "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse" is a great documentary that for some odd reason, Paramount chose not to include. Hope they do so in the future as I would love to watch it. I have read online that this stems from some legal issues, but I wish they would get the ball rolling a bit quicker...

Director Commentary - Like he had done for The Godfather trilogy, Francis Ford Coppola sits down to recount his memory of the film providing far more tid bits than any director I have listened to. On this track, he remembers how agonized he was on how to end the film and actually did not come up with it until the last couple of weeks in which he still had Marlon Brando to use. Coppola also mentions that he never considered Apocalypse Now as an anti-war film per se, instead he considered it a movie about morals and the hypocrisy of the government. For some, this could come off as dry, but I find just about every word fascinating and any fan should enjoy it just to hear from the man himself.

The Hollow Men (16:55) - This is the full version of Marlon Brando reading “The Hollow Men”, intercut with behind-the-scenes footage of the film. There is nothing like hearing the voice of Brando, hell, I could probably listen to him reading out of the friggin phone book...

“Monkey Sampan” Lost Scene (2:52) - A truly bizarre scene showing a bunch of monkeys on a boat with a body hanging from the masse. The crew on the PBR also in confusion over the sight.

Additional Scenes (26:37) - 12 deleted scenes are offered up, some of which were in the supposed five-hour version. Unlike some deleted footage, most are well acted and there are two that stood out for me. “The Tiger Cage”, a scene between Sheen and Brando as he explains his actions and the guys in Washington (“They want to win this war, but they can’t bare to be thought of as cruel”; the other scene, “Special Forces Knife” is an extended one in which The Photojournalist comes back to tell Willard he’s leaving, he then gets shot by Colby after which Colby commits suicide by stabbing himself in the heart. Before he dies, he pleads with Willard to tell his wife about him (but not everything) and to kill Kurtz.

A/V Club Featurettes (9:37) - This section contains two featurettes, “The Birth of 5.1 Sound” and “Ghost Helicopter Flyover”, “The Synthesizer Soundtrack” article and a “Technical FAQ” text.

- “The Birth of 5.1 Sound” is fascinating for those interested in a quick history in how we’ve come to the Dolby Digital surround as we know today in theaters. In the beginning, movies would only be presented in mono and as black and white TVs became prevalent, they needed to up the ante.

- “Ghost Helicopter Flyover”, while not as interesting, does show how the opening scene was done with a synthesized chopper blade used to overlap with the ceiling fan.

- Of the two text articles, the “FAQ” is excellent answering a few questions including whether or not there was a five and a half hour version as has been purported on the Net. The answer? No. Coppola had compiled a bunch of footage to watch but that it was never intended for public release.

The Post Production of Apocalypse Now (51:03) - This is 3-part featurette/documentary covering different elements of the post-production on the project. I’ve split up these sections:

- A Million Feet of Film: The Editing of Apocalypse Now (17:54) - An extensive look that features both archive and new interviews with those involved in taking such an extreme amount of footage, and condensing it down to a reasonable length. The “Flight of Valkyrie” sequence was in itself over 100,000 feet of film and as someone mentions, about the length of a feature film! This featurette shows how much work had to be done in order to put together the movie. Also featured is some of the voice-over recording session with Martin Sheen while Coppola overlooks giving direction on voice inflection and such.

- The Music of Apocalypse Now (14:43) - Delves into how the music came to be, from Francis Ford Coppola working with his father, Carmine, to hiring the top five musicians in the synthesizer field. With a great amount of archive footage, never has a featurette about composing a score been so fascinating. Also revealed is the use of a previously unreleased track from Jimmy Hendrix used after “The End”, during Sheen’s opening montage.

- The Sound Design of Apocalypse Now (15:19) - The first part of a section called “Heard Any Good Movies Lately?”, a slogan used by Dolby to promote the new sound and it was during this era that people became interested in new and better surround sound. Where the previous featurette goes into the actual music and score, this is about mixing explosions, weapon fire plus the music intercut with those things.

- The Final Mix (3:07) - November 1978 to August 1979, nine months (and 12 hours per day on average) to mix the entire film and according to the post production recordist, is three times as long by Hollywood standards.

PBR Streetgang (4:10) - The four members of the streetgang (Laurence Fishburne, Albert Hall, Frederick Forrest, Sam Bottoms) have new interviews recalling their experience on the film, with working with Francis Ford Coppola and with the film itself and certain scenes.

Apocalypse The and Now (3:40) - A look at the debut of Apocalypse Now Redux at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001 that starts out with a question from Roger Ebert to Coppola and then Coppola explains being forced to show the film at Cannes in 1979 to quash rumors that it was in trouble. Where we got to see archive footage of the original, this also has footage with one of the original editors working with Coppola to reinsert the footage.

The Color Palette of Apocalypse Now (4:05) - Detailed featurette on the dye transfer system to give film more pop, color, highlight and depth. Not sure where some of these interviews were taken, but seems like a conference on Technicolor or perhaps part of the 2001 Redux promotion.

Redux Marker - You can watch Apocalypse Now Redux with the marker on to see where the new material begins and ends. Helpful for those who have not seen the film 30 or 40 times and a feature that should be available for any extended version that comes out.



.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.

IMAGE

Both versions of Apocalypse Now are presented in its original 2.0:1 aspect ratio and is anamorphic. Given the film is nearly 30 years old, it looks damn good and probably on par with anything released even 10 years ago (hell, some newer films haven’t transferred that well). The rich colors seen throughout from yellow, orange to purple plus the striking contrast through the “Flight of the Valkyrie” sequence is magnificent. I assume this is not a new transfer since the Redux version I owned (but never watched) looks about the same.

The only option you have is Dolby Digital 5.1 that, like the picture, doesn’t feel that old. At the opening with the chopper blades to Jimmy Hendrix’s “The End” to the gunfire, this sound mix is incredible and shows some depth, even during dialogue.



.::OVERALL::.

This two-disc set has some great features with the headliner probably being the Coppola commentary with maybe the deleted scenes coming second. It’s not the most complete set I’ve seen, but Paramount has done this film and the plethora of fans justice, finally. Although a commentary track with Martin Sheen and a few others would’ve made it more complete, I can’t complain too much with what we’re given. Even though I despise double dips, I do hope they work out the legal issues before the 30th anniversary.