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During the Vietnam War, young U.S. Captain Willard is given the assignment to hunt down and kill one of his own: Colonel Kurtz who has apparently gone insane, murdered hundreds of innocent people, and constructed a strange kingdom for himself deep in the jungle. Willard and his crew embark on a surreal river journey to find Kurtz, meeting along the way a Lieutenant- Colonel who likes to watch surfing during live combat, and Playboy bunnies dropped in by helicopter to entertain rowdy troops.
For more about Apocalypse Now and the Apocalypse Now Blu-ray release, see the Apocalypse Now Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on October 12, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Starring: Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Marlon Brando, Laurence Fishburne, Harrison Ford
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
» See full cast & crew
Apocalypse Now Blu-ray Review
The Revelation of Francis Ford Coppola.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, October 12, 2010
The term "apocalypse" gets bandied about with such reckless abandon nowadays (especially on such disaster prone cable channels like History) that its meaning has become obscured under the weight of end of the world prophecies and similar doomsdaying. The original Greek word Apokálypsis means simply "revelation" or "lifting of the veil." In John's Book of Revelation which closes the Bible in a flurry of beasts, whores and other foreboding images, the unveiling is meant to reveal in no uncertain terms that Jesus Christ is the one true and only Messiah. But millenia of prophecy often took a more behavioral approach to revelation, relying on such daily (or nightly as it were) activities as dreaming as offering a gateway beyond the veil into a world of meaning that is only tangentially available to us in our waking lives. There is probably no finer example on film of the surreal dream state than Francis Ford Coppola's staggering 1979 achievement Apocalypse Now, a film which took the amazing conceit of transferring Joseph Conrad's disturbing novella Heart of Darkness, originally set in Africa in the 19th century, into the wilds of the Vietnam War. The film was an infamously troubled production which led to the near mental collapse of Coppola (as is documented in the fascinating Hearts of Darkness, included on the third Blu-ray of this impressive new set), taking years out of the lives of most everyone involved. Amazingly enough, against all odds, Apocalypse Now turned out not to be the 1979 version of 1980's grandest of all film debacles, Heaven's Gate. Coppola, fighting the extremely negative press that was being generated as the film supposedly spun out of control, decided to screen an unfinished version at Cannes that year, and it improbably took home the Palme d'Or. When the finished version was finally released, it was greeted more or less unanimously as one of the greatest film masterpieces of its era. This stunning new Blu-ray presentation proves that Apocalypse Now was and continues to be one of the most penetrating and unsettling depictions of both war and insanity ever captured on film, a trancelike two and a half to over three hours (depending on which version you watch) that seeps beneath the conscious mind and delivers a staggering blow to the collective Id that is visceral and unforgettable.
English literature students are often prone to groaning when they hear they've been assigned stalwarts like Thomas Hardy or Jane Austen. When I heard, all those years ago in high school Honors English, that we were going to tackle Heart of Darkness, I was actually excited, though perhaps for unusual reasons. Orson Welles had been a good friend of my family's and somehow I knew that the acting and directing icon had decades before attempted to get a film version of Conrad's novella off the ground, to no avail. I was instantly swept up in the filmic possibilities of this epic, yet straight to the point and really rather short, work of Conrad's, one rife with imagery of Congo natives gone wild and a mad, mysterious man, Kurtz, who had seemingly taken control of their very souls. Screenwriter John Milius had some sort of divine inspiration setting Conrad's basic story in the horrific locale of the Vietnam War, bringing in another rather substantial layer of meaning to Conrad's original themes of the dangers of colonization and the darkness which inhabits every human heart. It's more than a bit ironic that one of the mantras during the Vietnam conflict was that Americans were trying to win the "hearts and minds" of the people there.
Apocalypse Now follows the mission of Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen), a soldier who is introduced in a riveting sequence which makes it clear we're dealing with someone who may be dangerously unhinged. The fact that Willard ultimately seems like one of the more rational characters in the film, despite the devolution of his character as the film progresses, is certainly part of Milius and Coppola's ironic intent. Willard is informed that an Army Special Ops Colonel, Kurtz (Marlon Brando), has evidently gone rogue, taking control of a tribe of native peoples, and needs to be, in the verbiage of a CIA operative attending the meeting with Willard, "terminated with extreme prejudice." Willard is sent to rendezvous with Lt. Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall, Oscar nominated for this iconic role), who Willard is told will tranport him and his boat crew to the mouth of the (fictional) Nung River, where they can then proceed to find Kurtz. Kilgore turns out to be a major piece of work in his own regard, and this initial sequence helps establish the patently hallucinogenic feel of a lot of Apocalypse Now. As Willard and his men alight on the Vietnamese shore, attempting to find Kilgore, they're literally assaulted by a variety of battle sights and sounds, made both improbably hilarious and horrifying by a television crew (watch for Coppola in a cameo) filming the battle and screaming at the soldiers not to ruin the shot by looking into the camera.
Duvall's segment has become justifiably famous for its odd concatenation of pop culture and highbrow musings. Kilgore initially refuses to take Willard and his men to their destination until he finds out that one of Willard's crew is a famous surfer (played by Sam Bottoms). That sets up the brilliant surf-battle sequence, with Kilgore booming out a reel to reel recording of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" as a Vietnamese village is decimated. Coppola and Milius paint in intriguiging shades of gray both throughout this sequence and indeed the entire film. Kilgore at one moment waxes philosophical about the "smell of napalm in the morning" reminding him of victory, but just when you think he's a complete lunatic, he rushes to help wounded Vietnamese civilians.
Once the actual journey to find Kurtz begins, Apocalypse Now slowly builds its fevered dream musings, as Willard slowly begins to peer "beyond the veil" as the boat penetrates further and further upstream (ultimately into Cambodia). There's a patently odd dichotomy which Coppola and Milius brilliantly exploit as the boat crew lounges about on deck getting tans while war rages on just slightly out of reach. Repeated interchanges either with those on shore or on other passing vessels become increasingly nightmarish, as if the veil has not only been rent asunder, the "distance" between rationality and irrationality has slowly been erased, until Willard and his crew are literally face to face with madness.
The final act of Apocalypse Now is, of course, legend, with a just flat out bizarre performance by Marlon Brando that seems simultaneously the acme of Method Acting self-indulgence and also perfectly adroit and a propos for the character of Kurtz. Brando's incredible monologue, where he recites long passages from T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" (a poem whose epigraph references Heart of Darkness) is an amazing and unforgettable experience, the pinnacle of this film's hallucinatory quality.
What can ultimately be said about a film filled with moment after moment of breathtaking genius? Sheen and the supporting cast (including a 14 year old Laurence Fishburne) are perfection. Sheen's native intelligence and quiet observational reaction style of performing have never been more brilliantly utilized. (Harvey Keitel was initially cast to play the role, but Coppola felt he was too demonstrative an actor and let him go after a few days of shooting). Brando is Brando, of course, an acting icon only too aware of his status, but in this case, the egomaniacal quality of the performance is of course absolutely spot on for Kurtz. But it's Coppola's command of this epic story that makes Apocalypse Now the masterpiece it unquestionably is. This is a film which traipses bravely next to some of the darkest elements of the human psyche, refusing to give an inch in its frank depiction of both individual and "corporate" (or national) megalomania. If it's obviously hyperbolic and perhaps unfair to compare American interventionism with Kurtz's takeover of the natives, there are enough unsettling parallels to at least provoke thought and, hopefully, discussion. Thank heavens Coppola and his crew chose to shed some light on this very dark heart.
Apocalypse Now Blu-ray, Video Quality
Francis Ford Coppola personally supervised the transfer (or transfers, if you think of Redux as a separate entity) of Apocalypse Now to Blu-ray, and it shows in every breathtaking frame. Encoded via AVC, in 1080p and 2.35:1, this is about as perfect an image as one could hope for, especially for a film that is now over 30 years old. Yes, the image is soft in places. That was late 1970s film, for better or worse. But what an incredible upgrade in detail and color this new Blu-ray reveals. From the first yellow haze shots of the jungle exploding in flames to the final, devastating shot of Willard leaving Kurtz's compound on his boat, Apocalypse Now fairly bristles with detail. Look for example at the scene with the backlit Willard in profile examining the dossier on Kurtz: you can literally count the hair on Sheen's neck, so clear is the image. This is an artifact free presentation, all the more impressive since dense foliage always seems to present resolving difficulties on a lot of hi-def releases. Grain is completely natural looking, never obstrusive, but apparent and giving the film and nice depth and texture. Contrast and black levels are nothing short of exceptional. The "Brando act" of this film, swathed in darkness as it is, is a revelation (no pun intended), with brilliant delineation between the bald head of Kurtz and the inky black background. But colors throughout this film are astoundingly vivid and beautifully saturated. No source element damage of any major import is noticeable, aside from some very minor blemishes which are very transitory. Simply a superior job all the way around.
Apocalypse Now Blu-ray, Audio Quality
If it were possible to give Apocalypse Now's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track six stars for a rating, I would. This film pretty much invented modern 5.1 sound mixes (along with Star Wars, as is discussed in one of the copious extras included on this three disc set), and the attention to detail here is simply mind boggling. That first iconic sequence, which indeed starts with sound before we even get an image, is a perfect example. The weirdly synthesized helicopter rotor noise clearly starts in the right rear channel and then careens around the room channel by channel until finally The Doors' music kicks in. But it's not just the action and battle sequences that are alive with surround activity. Even small scale dialogue scenes, such as when Willard is given his mission, are filled with superby placed ambient effects and simply awesome channel separation. Fidelity is exceptional, with Carmine Coppola's synthesized score (influenced, as Francis discusses, by the then-popular albums of Japanese electronic master Tomita) has never sounded better (or stranger), and the source cues are perfectly mixed. LFE is especially robust; Coppola had wanted at one point to license Universal's Sensurround process, and the rumbling bass effects that that process provided are incredibly well presented here in Coppola's own "version" of the technique. (Universal ultimately wouldn't let him use the actual patented Sensurround process). The soundfield here is one of the most consistently brilliantly realized pieces of art (yes, art) in film history, and this lossless track is, to put it plainly, reference quality.
Apocalypse Now Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Full Disclosure edition of Apocalypse Now is housed in an attractive and sturdy slipcase which holds a trifold case holding the three Blu-ray discs, as well as a lavishly illustrated 48 page booklet printed on glossy paper. The supplements are spread out over all three discs.
Two versions of the film are included, the original 1979 theatrical cut (running 2:27:17) and Apocalypse Now Redux, which runs 3:16:09. There's an interesting, if perhaps too long, sequence at a plantation which makes up the bulk of the running time difference, but it's fascinating to watch both versions of the film and notice little changes, as in how Col. Kilgore is introduced in the longer edition. My advice is to watch the original theatrical cut first, digest it for a few days, and then return to Redux. Both versions offer a really excellent Commentary by Coppola, obviously edited together from the same recording sessions, but timed differently for each version. The Redux commentary includes some information not included on the theatrical commentary.
The bulk of the standalone supplements are presented on this disc, the first three of which are new to any home video release of this title in either of its iterations:
The bulk of the third disc is given over to the completely fascinating documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (HD; 1.33:1; DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0; running time 1:36:00). This incredible peek behind the long and tortuous filming of Apocalypse Now is one of the most devastating documentaries about the rigors of filmmaking ever made. It's hilarious to hear the then-young Coppola insisting he isn't making art, but instead aiming for (in his words) an "Irwin Allen" experience with Apocalypse Now. Things soon turn from lighthearted to tragic as one problem after another rears its ugly head and Coppola nears madness himself. The film features copious home movies made by Coppola's wife, Eleanor (several with pretty bad damage), as well as tapes she recorded without Francis' knowledge for what she at the time expected to turn into a diary. The documentary comes with an optional commentary by the Coppolas which is nearly as fascinating as the film itself.
The other supplements on this disc include:
Apocalypse Now Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Astounding and provocative, Apocalypse Now is one of the greatest films not just of its era but of the modern filmmaking age. Coppola was at the top of his game here, despite the years-long trial of filming in the Philippines, and it shows in the film's inerrant artistry and craft. As disturbing as Apocalypse Now unquestionably is, it raises some of the largest questions of its time vis a vis the American "global police" effort and that tendency taken to extremes by one madman. This Blu-ray presentation is nothing short of spectacular, due no doubt to Coppola's hands-on supervision, and belongs in every serious film fan's personal collection. Very highly recommended.
Apocalypse Now: Other Editions
Apocalypse Now Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Amazon Blu-ray Deals of the Week: Apocalypse Now and Rambo (Expired) - June 4, 2012
Amazon's Blu-ray Deals of the Week affect both Lionsgate Home Entertainment's Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure Edition as well as the distributor's Rambo: The Complete Collector's Set. Through June 9th, Amazon is offering Apocalypse Now for $20.99 and Rambo: The ...
• Amazon Blu-ray Deal of the Week: Apocalypse Now (Expired) - September 25, 2011
Amazon's Blu-ray Deal of the Week affects the Apocalypse Now: Three-Disc Full Disclosure Edition. This version of Francis Ford Coppola's classic mediation on Vietnam and madness features two versions of the film - the 1979 theatrical cut plus the 2001 "Redux" ...
• Lightning Deal: Apocalypse Now Full Disclosure Edition Blu-ray $2... - November 25, 2010
Amazon has an interesting BD-related "lightning deal" going on now: for a very limited time, you can buy the Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure Edition Blu-ray for only $29.99 (50% off MSRP), the lowest it has ever been at Amazon. This offer expires today at 6 p..m. ...
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