Apocalypse Now appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc – and it’s about time! At the request of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, all DVD renditions of Now used a cropped 2.0:1 image. Apparently Storaro preferred that mildly cropped ratio for home video, even though fans really wanted the original 2.35:1.
I was one of those fans, so I’m happy we finally got Now with its theatrical dimensions. Unfortunately, the transfer itself didn’t come without issues; while usually quite good, it wasn’t the slam-dunk fans anticipated.
My main complaint stemmed from print flaws. Although not heavy, the movie suffered from more than a few instances of specks and marks. These cropped up throughout the film and created occasional distractions.
Sharpness was also erratic, though usually strong. The majority of the flick showed nice clarity and delineation, but some exceptions occurred, and occasional bouts of softness materialized. Still, those were the exceptions to the rule. No issues with jagged edges or shimmer appeared, and edge haloes were absent.
Throughout the green-dominated palette, the colors were strong. When other hues appeared, they came across as vivid and vibrant. Check out the detailed orange tones viewed in many of the Kilgore scenes to witness what I mean.
I observed a great variety of greens, and they all seemed quite accurate. The colors consistently came across as bright and distinct. Black levels were also deep and strong, and shadow detail seemed fine, though low-light shots tended to be soft. Overall, the occasional softness and the print flaws left this as a “B”; while it often looked stellar, those concerns became too persistent to be overlooked.
On the other hand, I felt consistently happy with the terrific DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. The soundstage was immensely broad and each of the five channels got a nice workout. The forward spectrum showed strong stereo separation for the music, while effects were placed appropriately in the logical locations and they also blended together quite well.
Images neatly surrounded you and immersed you in the sound. The "Ride of the Valkyries" scene served to demonstrate this well, as did a late segment in which our protagonists were attacked by wooden arrows. Even during quieter moments, the soundtrack always offered some sort of auditory reminder of the war, and it did so in a natural and seamless manner.
The quality of the audio was also strong. Early in the film I felt a little concerned about the dialogue. During Willard’s briefing, speech seemed somewhat processed and artificial, a concern that seemed to stem from some dodgy looping. Happily, that problem vanished after the one scene, and the rest of the movie displayed natural and distinct dialogue that betrayed no problems related to intelligibility or edginess.
Music seemed clear and dynamic, with bright highs and deep lows, and the effects followed along the same lines. Now gave my system a nice little workout, as the effects showed fine accuracy and clarity, and they packed a neat little punch when appropriate, which was much of the time. Bass response appeared very positive throughout the film, as the many loud battle sequences blasted in a logical way. Overall, I thought the soundtracks of Apocalypse Now provided thoroughly fine material that made it hard to believe it accompanied such an old movie.
Most of the extras from the 2006 “Complete Dossier” release reappear here. On Disc One, we hear from director Francis Ford Coppola during his audio commentary. He presents a running, screen-specific chat that can be viewed with either the 1979 or Redux cuts. Actually, we get the same commentary for both versions; the discussion with the 1979 cut simply edits out the parts that relate to Redux. It does so surprisingly smoothly. I listened to both tracks independently and screened the 1979 edition first. At no point did I notice any awkwardness that made it clear the commentary had been cut down from a longer version.
That said, I’d recommend you listen to the Redux commentary instead of the 1979 one. Even though I dislike Redux, I enjoyed the extra information provided by Coppola. You lose no notes from the 1979 track if you listen to the Redux commentary and you gain good remarks, so you should go with it.
For both, Coppola starts with notes about the creation of the movie’s opening sequence. From there he gets into cast, performances and working with the actors, character and story issues, set dressing and props, shooting on location and connections with the Philippine government, and his cameo. Coppola also covers the project’s origins and development, music, cinematography and editing, alterations to – and eventual abandonment of – the script, weather problems, and many specifics about the different scenes.
The Redux commentary differs solely in that it brings extra material. All of this falls into the categories I just described. Coppola offers plenty of remarks about the added scenes. He lets us know why they weren’t in the 1979 cut and tells us why he wanted to restore them for Redux.
The majority of the most interesting material relates to problems finding an ending for the flick and the issues connected to Marlon Brando. I also like the notes about why Harvey Keitel was dropped from the project after shooting began. Another compelling tidbit comes from an issue I mentioned earlier: Coppola’s desire to create a big, sweeping Hollywood project. He even mentions that he tried to lease the Sensurround patent from Universal!
If forced to gripe about this commentary, I’d mention that a few lulls occur. However, not many of these pop up, as Coppola remains quite chatty given the film’s length. I don’t really want to complain about this piece, though, as I really like it. Coppola provides a consistently informative and fascinating glimpse of his film.
Everything else appears on Disc Two, and the new materials pop up first. An Interview with John Milius goes for 49 minutes, 45 seconds and features a chat between Coppola and screenwriter Milius. Coppola essentially plays interviewer, as he gets Milius to talk about how he came to the project, aspects of writing the script, and different parts of the tale. The pair dig into the screenplay well and deliver a lot of useful tidbits along the way. On a basic level, it’s simply cool to see them in this setting; it’s even better that they throw in so much good info.
Another new chat shows up via A Conversation with Martin Sheen and Francis Ford Coppola. It runs 59 minutes, 26 seconds as the actor and the director discuss their experiences on the film. We find out how Sheen got cast in the film and what appealed to him about it, and many memories from the shoot. As with the Milius show, Coppola acts more as moderator than subject, but he does join in more often here, so it’s more of an even piece.
And it’s another good one. Both Coppola and Sheen seem open and engaged as they talk about the movie, and Sheen’s presence helps keep Coppola from simply reiterating the same material he discussed in the commentary. The two mix well and deliver a charming, enjoyable program.
Fred Roos: Casting Apocalypse lasts 11 minutes, 44 seconds. Casting director Roos talks about how he found many of the actors who appeared in Now. We get a nice complement of archival photos and footage to go along with Roos’ informative recollections; this turns into another solid piece, especially since we see some actual audition footage.
For the final new components, we find ”The Mercury Theatre on the Air: Hearts of Darkness, a radio broadcast from November 6, 1938. The show fills 36 minutes, 34 seconds as it features Orson Welles and company’s take on the Joseph Conrad classic that influenced Now. That makes it a cool addition, and one with interesting timing: Darkness aired only a week after Welles’ infamous broadcast of War of the Worlds.
Next we get a mix of cut segments. These include ”The Hollow Men” Extended Segment (16 minutes, 57 seconds), “Monkey Sampan” Lost Scene (3:03), and 12 Additional Scenes (26:28). “Hollow” is really a collection of outtakes more than an “extended segment”. Brando rambles poetic while we mostly see shots of the natives. “Sampan” mixes shots of the boat crew as they approach the Kurtz compound during a native ceremony. The crew sees a gruesome sight. It’s not a bad scene, as it sets the ominous stage for the rest of the film.
As for the “Additional Scenes”, we get “Saigon Streetlife” (0:45), “Military Intelligence Escorts” (0:42), “Intelligence Briefing (Extension 1)” (2:16), “Intelligence Briefing (Extension 2)” (3:15), “Willard Meets the PBR Crew” (1:02), “Letter from Mrs. Kurtz” (1:28), “Booby Trap” (0:52), “Do Lung Bridge ‘…That Road Is Open’” (0:55), “The Photojournalist” (2:29), “Colby” (1:33), “The Tiger Cages” (4:27) and “’Special Forces Knife’” (6:35). Many are pretty dull, and “Crew” is simply atrocious; it’s the most appropriate cut of the bunch. “Colby” and “Knife” are the most interesting simply because they let us see – and actually hear – the Scott Glenn character.
Found on the original DVD but not the “Complete Dossier”, the Blu-ray delivers the Destruction of the Kurtz Compound. Here’s what I said about it on that old DVD: “Okay, this isn't going to be a perfect recap, since I'm a little confused about the deal myself, but here's what I think is correct. The original 70 mm issue of the film went out without any opening or closing credits. Instead, audience members received a program that contained credits plus some production notes. Since the wider 35 mm release made the inclusion of these programs impractical, end credits were added to the film. Coppola ran these over shots of the Kurtz compound being destroyed that did not appear in the 70 mm version, but apparently he soon changed his mind, retracted that cut and issued one that simply shows white credits over a black background.
“Clearly the credit-free version should be considered as the ‘real’ one, but I'm still confused about how the destruction version hit the screens. That footage appears on the disc, along with commentary from Coppola about it. It's from that commentary that I get the impression he decided to issue the credits with the destruction but soon changed his mind when he realized how that sequence alters the meaning of the ending. I'm not clear if that's the case or if somehow the destruction got tacked on there without his approval.
“In any case, the footage appears here, though not as part of the film. The plain credits also show up, and they're separated from the film by a short pause; the movie fades as originally intended, we have a small break, and then the credits roll. They look surprisingly bad; they seem much fuzzier than they should and I wouldn't be shocked to learn they'd been taken from some video source. The destruction footage looks decent but unspectacular. The brief commentary from Coppola was interesting, although I still felt confused.”
The Birth of 5.1 Sound goes for five minutes, 54 seconds and includes comments from Coppola, re-recording mixer/sound montage Walter Murch, and Dolby Labs’ Ioan Allen. We get some funny notes about Coppola’s grandiose plans for the film’s exhibition and then Allen leads us through a concise history of how movie audio developed over the years. After that we learn how Now fit into this. “Sound” provides a good little tutorial.
Next comes the three-minute and 55-second Ghost Helicopter Fly-Over. It includes notes from Allen, Murch and re-recording mixer/synthesist Richard Beggs. It looks at the specific creation of the opening segment, and it acts to offer an informative examination of the details.
A text component called The Synthesizer Soundtrack offers an article by Bob Moog. It gives us an in-depth look at the writing and recording of the movie’s music, and it proves quite useful.
After this we get more featurettes. A Million Feet of Film: The Editing of Apocalypse Now runs 17 minutes, 55 seconds and includes notes from Coppola, Murch, Beggs, supervising editor Richard Marks, and narration writer Michael Herr.
They give us information about the challenges behind piecing together a coherent story from the miles of footage. We learn about the use of narration, cuts made to the original and additions to Redux, and other connected issues. This is a pretty good examination of the editing. Inevitably, some issues repeat from elsewhere, but “Feet” provides a solid view of the different problems experienced in this area.
The Music of Apocalypse Now lasts 14 minutes, 45 seconds and includes statements from Coppola, Murch, Beggs, and synthesist Shirley Walker. We find out that Coppola originally want to use Doors music for the score and why this different happen. We then move to discussions of the choice to feature a synthesized score and issues related to its creation. We also hear about other elements like the Hendrix-inspired guitar and Mickey Hart’s percussive work. The information itself offers useful material, but the behind the scenes footage is probably the most fun. Some of this appears in the other featurettes as well, but these clips are the best of the bunch. All of this adds up to make a nice program.
For the 15-minute and 21-second Heard Any Good Movies Lately? The Sound Design of Apocalypse Now, we find remarks from Coppola, Murch, Allen, Beggs, and post-production recordist Randy Thom. As you’d expect, we learn more about the film’s audio here. We get info about the overall design arc as well as specifics about different elements and their integration. This program isn’t as concise as I’d like – it flits about the various issues without great clarity – but it still provides more than enough useful bits to work well.
Finally, The Final Mix goes for three minutes and eight seconds. We find remarks from Thom and Beggs. The show offers a quick look at the work behind the actual mixing board. A lot of archival footage appears as we watch the guys put together the final track. I’m not sure why this little tidbit didn’t come along as part of “Heard”. It’s okay but doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table.
Apocalypse Then and Now goes for three minutes, 48 seconds and features Coppola and Murch. We get a short look at those guys in 2001 as they bring about Redux. We get the usual explanations for its creation and a few notes about related issues. After all the other material, this piece feels redundant, and it’s too brief to bring anything new to us.
For a look at the release of Redux, we go to the 38-minute, 35-second 2001 Cannes Film Festival: Francis Ford Coppola. Moderated by Roger Ebert, the director discusses aspects of the production, with an emphasis on changes made for Redux. That’s a subject touched on elsewhere, but Coppola gets into it well.
Some of the cast members show up for the four-minute and 13-second PBR Streetgang. We hear from actors Laurence Fishburne, Sam Bottoms, Albert Hall, and Frederic Forrest. They provide some general thoughts about the film and their work. “Streetgang” isn’t a tight piece with a logical arc, as it consists of fairly unconnected comments. These are reasonably interesting, though they’d have worked better as part of a longer examination of the film. We really could have used a full retrospective about the flick’s creation instead of the dribs and drabs that come with featurettes like this. And with all the experiences these four guys had on Now, couldn’t they cull more than four minutes of good material?
For the final featurette, we get The Color Palette of Apocalypse Now. In this four-minute and 10-second program, we find info from Coppola, Technicolor’s Dr. Richard Goldberg, and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. I thought this would be a good look at the color choices for Now, but it’s not. In fact, I can’t really explain the point of it. We get a few notes about Technicolor and hear the horrifying notion that Coppola cut the master of Now to make Redux. I watched this thing twice to figure out what I was supposed to learn from it; I thought I missed something compelling the first time. Nope – it’s just not a very interesting piece.
Without question, I recommend Apocalypse Now to all movie fans. Despite my continued disdain for the third act, it deserves its status as a classic. The Blu-ray provides excellent audio and supplements; picture disappoints a little, but the movie still looks quite good. This ends up as easily the best home video representation of the film to date.
Note that you can also buy a three-disc “Full Disclosure Edition” of Apocalypse Now. On its third platter, it features Hearts of Darkness, the famous 1991 documentary about the flick, as well as a couple of additional supplements. It lists for $20 more than this two-disc version.
To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of APOCALYPSE NOW