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Category:    Home > Reviews > War > Drama > Vietnam > Comedy > Literature > Large Frame Format > Apocalypse Now – The Complete Dossier

Apocalypse Now – The Complete Dossier (1979/Paramount DVD Set)


Picture: B+/B-     Sound: B     Extras: B     Film: A- (2001 Redux cut)/B+ (1979 cut)



PLEASE NOTE: This film has been upgraded with more extras and issued on Blu-ray in the three-disc Full Disclosure Edition, which you can read more about at this link:





Now, the original detailed review….



During the Vietnam fiasco, the only films that were made were about the soldiers that came home.  The best of them was Bob Clark’s Deathdream (reviewed elsewhere on this site) which added a dark, honest twist to the horror from afar.  By 1978, Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (also on this site) broke the silence and dealt with the actual experience.  A cycle, often lying and revising the truth about the ordeal, followed into the 1980s and most of the films were awful.  Along with Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987, on this site as well), Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) honestly captures the deeper truth about what happened using Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness as a reference source.  Orson Welles, a filmmaker Coppola has often been compared to, almost made the book into a film at RKO in the early 1940s before his ugly break with that studio.


The story begins with the hazy conscious of Willard (Martin Sheen), a C.I.A. agent in waiting who is so out of his mind waiting as an almost sleeper agent that he is getting bored to the point of it being a threat to his health.  Suddenly, visited by two soldiers who bring him to official operatives of the agency, he is told about a brilliant soldier and leader named Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who has become a rogue operative.  Far away from the main conflict, but deep inside enemy territory, he is told to eliminate Kurtz whose approach to warfare is the kind that would “win” Vietnam but the U.S. Government is not interested in.  Kurtz knows this and that is why he has achieved what might be considered the greatest act of going AWOL in cinema history.


On a small boat, he takes the long journey and as events unfold, we learn from his “eyes only” top secret dossier that Kurtz was a very exceptional solider who was one of their best in picture and classic voice-over narrative throughout.  It becomes a brilliant parallel narrative in itself, psychologically propelling the audience further into the world of the film.  Coppola at this point may have been puzzled during the making of the film on how to do it, but the results betray that fact.  Besides a brilliant performance by Robert Duvall as a surf-loving Lt. Colonel, Harrison Ford, a young Laurence Fishburne, Frederic Forrest, Dennis Hopper, Scott Glenn, Bill Graham, R. Lee Ermey and Colleen Camp as one of the Playmates visiting the troops.


As for the two cuts, yes, the original cut is strong and will always be the cut that was the hit.  Coppola reportedly went four times over the original budget, but it was his money, yet the press complained as if it were theirs.  When the film was part of a huge slate of hits at United Artists in 1979, critics then turned to destroying Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate a year later, which their ignorance and cinematic illiteracy killed along with United Artists as an independent studio.  That film too is now recognized as a classic.  With the longer Redux cut, this critic feels the film has added depth and gives the classic even more cinematic space.  In this restored version, the visual experience is more deeply cinematic in color, depth, detail and especially warmth rarely seen in any film made after its original release.  The extra scenes enhance the narrative and purists might try to say they are “unnecessary” or the like, but they just prove the greatness of the film by smoothly and effortlessly fitting into the storyline.  This set gives you both options, but the Redux cut gives the film a more realistic trajectory and also offsets the film’s sometimes disturbing pop trivialization.  If you have never sat through that cut, now’s the time.


Previously, the anamorphically enhanced 2 X 1 image on the basic Apocalypse Now Redux DVD was the best, based on the three-strip dye-transfer Technicolor prints that looked so stunning in theaters.  This time, you get two transfers.  The 1979 version still looks worse than the old Redux DVD, while the new Redux cut is the best yet.  It not only has more clarity and color fidelity, but has a little more picture area than the old Redux DVD did and is the preferred version until the film arrives in the new HD formats.  The genius cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (A.S.C., A.C.S.) had the luxury of 70mm blow-ups for the 1979 release, which at the time was the only way to show off its early 5.1 soundtrack mix via magnetic stereo striping with Dolby noise reduction.  For the 2001 version, he took advantage of Technicolor’s sadly short-lived dye-transfer revival (1997 - 2001) creating stunning prints that are some of the best ever projected in a movie theater.  The film was shot in the Italian anamorphic Technovision scope format and various aspect ratios were thought out as it was shot.


The film was one of the very first ever 5.1 films, with Coppola pushing the envelope of film sound like few had ever done before.  It followed Richard Donner’s original 1978 Superman as the second-ever 5.1 sound release as we know the configuration today.  Needless to say it went further and remains one of the all-time great film sound mixes.  Francis’ father Carmine did the music, while the editing of the film and sound mix were by the genius Walter Murch.  As compared to most 5.1 mixes of today that are gimmicky, annoying, lame, silly, pointless and infantilized versions of amateur hour, this is a mix with a point that is imaginative, innovative and more than ever, ahead of its time.  There are points where there are as many as 100 tracks in the mix and even the use of The Doors’ The End is an amazing use of a multi-channel music track well into the arrival of several music-only formats (DTS CDs, DVD-Audio, Super Audio CD, etc.) that al had their winners and losers.  The point is that there is very serious consideration and deep thought about all the uses of sound and how they cohere to the narrative.  It is here in Dolby Digital 5.1 and note that the center channel is dead center to the point that you can set a home theater system to it!


The combination is excellent and the restoration work was well worth it.  After subtle sound use on his first two Godfather films and complex use of sound and narrative in The Conversation, Coppola and Murch went all out here in a way he never would again, though his uses of sound would continue to be among the most interesting of any filmmaker.


Extras include another terrific audio commentary by Coppola and visual markers for the Redux scenes on both discs, Brando reading T.S. Elliot’s Hollow Man, 12 additional scenes not used in either version, the separate Monkey Sampan scene and a four-part A/V Club Featurette on DVD 1.  This includes a text essay by synthesizer inventor Bob Moog (see the Moog documentary reviewed elsewhere on this site), 6-min Birth Of 5.1 Sound segment, a Technical FAQ (frequently asked questions) section and a great demo of the opening of the film which shows sound bars to demonstrate the opening of the helicopter fly-over effect.  That alone is a must.  DVD 2 adds 4 minute segments on the PBR boat actors reuniting for the Redux theatrical release, a “Then & Now” segment of Coppola at Cannes with Redux and a great piece on the three-strip Technicolor printing process with Storaro.  Also, a four-part post-production piece in included.  The only thing missing is the documentary everyone keeps asking for and Coppola even notes, the excellent Hearts Of Darkness – A Filmmakers Apocalypse.  [It was released later on DVD and is included in the Full Disclosure Blu-ray edition linked at the top of this page.]


Years ago when Gene Siskel was still alive, he and Roger Ebert picked their favorite film over a period of what would now be nearly 30 years.  Siskel picked Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull and Ebert picked this film and does the Cannes interview in the supplement.  Why does this film hold up, endure and is quoted (and too often badly misquoted abusively) all the time?  It is because this film starts off with one of the most memorable, purely cinematic openings ever and just builds and builds.  Rivaled only by The Conversation, this is Coppola’s greatest achievement.  It was the peak of his movement towards a naturalistic cinema before switching gears to smaller and studio-bound projects like the underrated One From The Heart (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and smaller projects that still contained his sense of experimentation and risk.


Apocalypse Now is the epitome of great big screen cinema about something and still remains a personal film he funded all on his own.  After 9/11, he abandoned the promising Megalopolis.  [He directed several new features since we first posted this coverage, all reviewed elsewhere on this site, including Tetro and Youth Without Youth].  That it is not that project is like Kubrick never making his Napoleon film, a big epic making the biog statement that will never be heard.  At least that fate did no befall Apocalypse Now.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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