Francis Ford Coppola
Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne, Albert Hall, Harrison Ford, Dennis Hopper
Joseph Conrad (novel, "Heart of Darkness"), John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Herr (narration)
Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam epic, loosely based on the novel "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad, tells the story of Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), a special agent sent into Cambodia to assassinate an errant American colonel (Marlon Brando). Willard is assigned to a navy patrol boat operated by Chief (Albert Hall) and three hapless soldiers (Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, and Larry Fishburne). They are escorted on part of their journey by an air cavalry unit led by Lt. Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall), a gung-ho commander with a love of Wagner, surfing, and napalm. After witnessing a surreal USO show featuring Playboy playmates, and an anarchic battle with the Viet Cong at a bridge, Willard reaches Colonel Kurtz's compound. A crazed photojournalist and Kurtz groupie (Dennis Hopper) welcomes the crew, and Willard begins to question his orders to "terminate the colonel's command." The grueling production and Coppola's insistence on authenticity led to vast budget overruns and physical and emotional breakdowns. Considered to be one of the best war movies of all time, Apocalypse Now features skilled performances and beautifully chaotic visuals that make it a powerful, unforgettable work.
$118.558 thousand on 3 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby 2.0
Runtime: 153 min.
Release Date: 11/23/1999
• Scenes from "Destruction of the Kurtz Compound" with Commentary by Francis Ford Coppola
• Excerpts from the Original Theatrical Program
• Theatrical Trailer
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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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Apocalypse Now (1979)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 3, 2006)
When longtime laserdisc fans are asked what they like best about DVD, price usually comes up first. We get DVD special editions that would have - and sometimes did - cost much more money during the LD days. Second biggest plus cited is usually the typical lack of sidebreaks. For the first five years I watched LDs, I had a single-sided player, which meant that I had to get up every 20 to 60 minutes to flip over that damned thing. My double-sided player eradicated the flips, but I still had to change discs for titles that went past two sides.
For the most part, I don't miss those experiences. Granted, I never really minded the sidebreaks or the flips, but I'm happy to do without them. Nonetheless, these intrusions actually had some positive value from time to time, something that I discovered clearly when I got the DVD release of Apocalypse Now.
I'd owned and enjoyed this movie on LD for quite some time, but I never could stand the last third of the film when Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) enters Colonel Kurtz' (Marlon Brando) compound. These scenes seemed pointless and confused and they really took away from the impact of the rest of the film.
Happily, the LD edition provided an easy solution to my problem. The 153-minute movie spread to three sides, with the Kurtz scenes residing on one side of disc two. (Actually, it was found on four sides, but the second side of disc two only included credits; director Francis Coppola wanted them separate from the film because his original cut of Now didn't include credits.) Side two of disc one ended at a very nice spot that neatly concluded part of the narrative. As such, when I'd watch the film, I'd simply stop after that point and pretend that disc two didn't exist. I knew I would hate it, so why go through that? Better to leave on top and not ruin the experience.
So much for that little piece of beautiful symmetry. Now that I have the DVD, I'm faced with two choices: watch the movie all the way through, or just stop it at some point. Yes, I recognize that I can easily hit "stop" at the same time that the LD side ended, but for some reason, it seems cheap to me. it appeared more preordained when the LD decided for me.
Perhaps I just have an external locus of control and can't take responsibility for my own actions. In any case, I did watch Now from start to finish for the purpose of this review, but that's the last time that'll happen for quite some time. (Every few years I'd give the Brando scenes another shot, thinking "They can't be as bad as I remember." Unfortunately, they are, so I swear them off for a few more years until the odor fades.) Apocalypse Now deserves its status as a classic, but Coppola also deserves all the slams he's received for the film's ill-defined, silly and anticlimactic third act. Now may well be the most muddled classic on record.
Which is why I prefer to stick with the brilliant first two-thirds of the movie and ignore the rest. Most films don't split themselves up so easily; the bad parts may be in the middle, or located at various points throughout the picture. Here, we can just lop them off without much effort. I only wish Coppola had had the good sense to do the same in 1979 and he’d come up with a more satisfying ending.
Had that piece of editing occurred, it's possible - and perhaps likely - that Now would be considered the definitive Vietnam movie, and maybe the greatest war film of all. The first two-thirds are just that strong. Coppola fully captures the confusion - moral and actual - of the conflict, and illustrates the pointless and suicidal nature of the United States' involvement in it.
However, while the ending segment attempts to further elucidate upon these issues, it simply ends up seeming pointless. Coppola's messages get pounded into our heads too harshly and lack the greater elegance of the earlier scenes. At those times, he used the evocative images to demonstrate the meaning, whereas the Kurtz compound portions become too talky and obvious. Plus, the scenes meander and last far too long.
As such, I'm going to stick with my own editorial choice to end the film early upon subsequent viewings. The Kurtz segments simply deflate the power and emotion of the preceding 100 or so minutes to too great a degree and leave me feeling relieved when the damned thing finally ends.
So I kind of miss those old LD side breaks. I can't recall exactly where side 2 ended, so now I have to pick my own stopping point. Damned technological advances!
The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio A-/ Bonus D+
Apocalypse Now appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.0:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. You'll note that I didn't indicate that the film is shown in its original aspect ratio. That's because Coppola and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro have consistently approved 2.0:1 for use on home video, despite the fact that it appears most people would rather have the film in the 2.35:1 frame.
How well does this larger image work? Pretty well, though it appeared to offer some occasional cropping. Obviously these concerns weren't as severe as they'd be if the movie had been presented in a pan and scan transfer, but the frame occasionally seemed more "cramped" than it should. The scenes that featured Lt. Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall) demonstrated this tendency well. Often the two-shots lacked any kind of "breathing room" at the sides of the frame, and occasionally actors were almost missing. Check out the "Charlie don't surf" bit to see what I mean. The actor who tells Kilgore that "This is Charlie's point!" was almost absent from the left side of the frame.
While I can certainly live with this 2.0:1 compromise ratio, I'd really prefer to see the film shown in 2.35:1. Who knows, maybe it wouldn't make much difference, but I get the impression that it would open up the composition better and be generally more satisfying. At this point, it seems unlikely we'll ever see the film shown with that ratio, but we can always hope.
As for this transfer, sharpness was usually fine. Some light edge enhancement occasionally made wide shots a little soft, but those issues weren’t prevalent. The majority of the film delivered good definition. I saw no problems with jagged edges or shimmering, but some source flaws created distractions. The film was somewhat grainy and also suffered from occasional defects. I saw some specks, marks and blotches, and a couple of hairs manifested themselves too. This wasn’t a dirty transfer, but it wasn’t tremendously clean either.
Colors were pretty solid throughout the green-dominated palette. When other hues appeared, they came across as fairly vivid and vibrant. There was a slightly masked, gauzy feel to some parts of the transfer that occasionally decreased the liveliness of the hues, but those moments weren’t substantial. Black levels were also deep and strong, and shadow detail seemed fine most of the time. Low-light shots sometimes appeared a bit murky, but they usually presented satisfying definition. Although Now could use an upgrade, this remains a generally good transfer.
Now delivered a terrific Dolby Digital 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 very strong. Early in the film I felt a little concerned about the dialogue. During Willard’s briefing, speech seemed somewhat boomy and processed, a concern that cropped up often through The Godfather. 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 soundtrack of Apocalypse Now provided thoroughly fine material that made it hard to believe it accompanied such an old movie.
The DVD disappoints in the area of supplements. We get the theatrical trailer - presented with the 2.0:1 ratio and in mono sound – plus a semi-deleted scene. Huh? Well, there's a scene of the destruction of the Kurtz compound that really wasn't meant to be part of the film, though it showed up on some releases.
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 DVD, 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.
We also get a presentation of the original program. These text pages offer the film's credits as well as some good production notes. I liked these, though they weren’t extensive.
As I recall, critics weren't terribly kind to Apocalypse Now in 1979. I even remember some controversy about its Oscar nomination as Best Picture, since some folks thought it wasn't good enough to merit that consideration and they believed it made the cut based on Coppola's reputation alone. History has shown otherwise. Now has gained immense stature over the last few decades, while the actual Oscar winner – Kramer Vs. Kramer - doesn't generate much excitement or interest. This DVD offers pretty good picture and terrific audio but it skimps on extras. This isn’t a great release, but it gives us a satisfying depiction of a mostly great film.
To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of APOCALYPSE NOW