Apocalypse Now appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.0:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This set didn’t use seamless branching for the two versions of the film. Instead, it presented two separate transfers, and the origins of those may cause disappointments since neither appeared to offer improvements from the earlier DVDs.
Redux offered an excellent image. The picture consistently looked crisp and precise. Almost no softness could be discerned; a few new shots of Kilgore seemed a little fuzzy, but this was a minor issue. Overall, sharpness appeared excellent. I saw no problems related to moiré effects or jagged edges, and edge enhancement appeared to be absent.
Redux largely lacked source flaws. I still saw a few specks and a little grit, but not much. Overall, the image looked very clean and fresh.
Throughout the green-dominated palette, the colors were terrific. 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 bold and accurate. The colors consistently came across as bright and distinct. Black levels were also deep and strong, and shadow detail seemed fine. All told, Apocalypse Now Redux provided an image that always looked good and often appeared excellent.
Since it presented such a nice picture, I didn’t mind that Redux was the same transfer found on the 2001 DVD. However, the lack of improvements accorded the 1979 Now was a bigger disappointment, largely because I prefer that cut. Not that the transfer was poor, but it needs an update.
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 1979 version was grainier than Redux and also suffered from more defects. In fact, that’s how I initially established they used separate transfers; specks and spots showed up for one but not the other. I saw other occasional marks and blotches as well, and a couple of hairs manifested themselves too. This wasn’t a dirty transfer, but it wasn’t tremendously clean either.
Colors were about the same for both versions. The tones seemed a little more vibrant during Redux, partially because the 1979 Now showed a slightly masked quality at times. It could feel like a minor layer of dust covered the screen. Still, the colors usually were strong. Blacks tended to be dark and firm, while low-light shots provided fairly good delineation. These could be a little muddy on occasion, but not to a problematic degree.
On its own, the transfer of the 1979 Now earned a “B”. It looked good, but Redux presented stronger visuals. For those of us who prefer the 1979 edition, this creates a disappointing scenario where we have to watch a less interesting cut to get the superior picture quality.
The aspect ratio of Now has created some controversy over the years. While the original movie was generally shown theatrically with a 2.35:1 ratio, it appears that the 70mm version demonstrated this alternate ratio. That's the image that Coppola and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro have consistently approved for use on home video, despite the fact that it appear most people would rather have the film in the 2.35:1 frame.
How well did this aspect ratio work? Pretty well, though it still appeared to offer some occasional cropping. Obviously these concerns weren't as severe as they'd be with a pan and scan transfer, but the frame occasionally seemed more "cramped" than it should. Often the two-shots lacked much "breathing room" at the sides of the frame.
When I watched the 1979 version here, I initially thought it used exactly the same transfer as the DVD from 1999. However, when I compared the two directly, I noticed some framing differences. Look at the framing of the famous "Charlie don't surf" sequence. For the 1999 Now image, the actor who tells Kilgore that "This is Charlie's point!" was almost absent from the left side of the frame. The 2001 Redux presentation still looked a little cramped, but that solider became more visible; he wasn’t cut off on the side. However, information from the right side of the frame disappeared, as a soldier next to Kilgore no longer can be viewed. He was apparent on the 1999 disc but vanishes from the 2006 version of the 1979 cut.
So what’s happening here? The 1979 edition on the 2006 DVD showed the same visual quality as the 1999 transfer but it demonstrated signs of altered framing. This situation got messier and messier the more I thought about it. It simply makes me even more disappointed that Coppola and Storaro won’t just use the 2.35:1 ratio. The 2.0:1 compromise wasn’t totally satisfying, and it even became ironic given Coppola’s statements in his commentary. He talks about how he wanted Now to be big and would have loved to make it in Cinerama. He preferred an ultra-wide format then but likes the film cropped on video? I don’t get it.
One other puzzling aspect of the film presentation: why does it split both versions of Now into two parts? Wouldn’t it have been more logical to slap Redux on one disc and the 1979 cut and the supplements on the other? Maybe there’s some rationale for this that I don’t understand, but the decision makes no sense to me. The flick would work much better without the artificial interruptions found here.
While the picture quality varied dependent on which version of Apocalypse Now you watched, both offered similar audio. The films delivered terrific Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. 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 soundtracks of Apocalypse Now provided thoroughly fine material that made it hard to believe it accompanied such an old movie.
When I mentioned that the two versions presented similar audio, that implied that I didn’t think they were identical. Indeed, I felt Redux was a little stronger than the 1979 cut in terms of its soundscape. Both boasted virtually identical quality but the soundfield of Redux seemed a just a bit broader and more encompassing. It used the surrounds in a more active manner. This wasn’t a tremendous difference, but I’d give the Redux mix an “A” and toss an “A-“ at the 1979 version.
Although the first two Apocalypse Now DVDs came with few extras, “The Complete Dossier” greatly expands these. It doesn’t live up to its title, though, as it doesn’t remotely approach the level required to be called “complete”.
I’ll address the package’s shortcomings later, however, as now I’ll discuss what the release does include. First we get introductions with director Francis Ford Coppola. This accompanies both the 1979 and Redux versions of the film and we get different intros for each one. The 1979 intro runs two minutes, 32 seconds, as Coppola alludes to the many production problems he encountered. He also mentions how he attempted to quash rumors the film would be a disaster. The Redux intro goes for four minutes, three seconds, as it looks at the changes he made in the Seventies and the process of assembling the longer cut. Both are informative and act as good openings to the film.
We hear more from 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.
A slew of video extras fill out the set. On DVD One, we get a mix of cut segments. These include ”The Hollow Men” Extended Segment (16 minutes, 55 seconds), “Monkey Sampan” Lost Scene (3:02), and 12 Additional Scenes (26:19). “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 shows of the boat crew as they approach the Kurtz compound with 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.
A few elements come under the banner of “A/V Club”. The Birth of 5.1 Sound goes for five minutes, 53 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 57-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. Technical FAQ addresses a few questions such as the flick’s original dimensions and projection and similar issues. Some of these Coppola covers in his commentary, but others are new here. We get an explanation – one that remains unsatisfying – about why the DVD offers 2.0:1 framing.
With that we head to DVD Two. Under the banner of “The Post-Production of Apocalypse Now”, we get three 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.
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?
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 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.
If you choose to watch the 2001 cut of the film, you can activate the Redux Marker. This will let you know what scenes were added to that version. I like the idea, as it’s a helpful way to tell the differences.
Earlier I griped that this “Dossier” could use an all-encompassing documentary, and that leads me to complaints leveled at the package. Many will feel disappointed that the legendary documentary Hearts of Darkness doesn’t appear here, and I’ll join that chorus. I’ve heard that rights issues cause its absence. I guess I understand that, though it seems odd that seven years after the first DVD release of Now, the package’s producers haven’t been able to loosen up those rights. Maybe we’ll finally see Darkness for the film’s 30th anniversary in 2009.
In a frustrating and unexplained move, the “Dossier” drops the “Destruction of the Kurtz Compound” sequence found on the original 1999 DVD. Why isn’t it here? I have no clue. We also lose the elements of the original theatrical program that appeared in the 1999 set. It’s irritating for this set to be called the “Complete Dossier” when it doesn’t even bother to feature all the elements from a prior release.
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. Should you snag this “Complete Dossier”? If you don’t own the prior DVDs, then I’d definitely advise that. It includes both the theatrical and Redux cuts of the movie, something I like. I may not care for Redux, but I think it’s cool that I can now consult it if desired.
The “Dossier” also provides quite a few good extras highlighted by an excellent audio commentary. The fact the 1979 cut doesn’t get a new transfer disappoints me, as it could merit visual improvements. That said, it’s still a pretty attractive transfer, and the audio excels. Both factors are strong for Redux, though these also seem identical when compared to that version’s original DVD.
While the “Complete Dossier” is clearly the best version of Apocalypse Now, I’m not sure it merits an upgrade. This set improves on its predecessors solely due to the presence of its extras. Fans of Now will want to own the “Dossier” if just for the Coppola commentary; everything else is gravy. If you only care about the movie, though, I think you’ll remain happy with the DVD you already possess.
To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of APOCALYPSE NOW