Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I can’t say I expected stellar visuals from a documentary of this sort, and the transfer seemed about as good – or bad – as I anticipated.
Most of the distractions came from source flaws. Except for clips from Apocalypse Now - which looked generally clean – all of the interview and behind the scenes footage suffered from a range of defects. I wasn’t surprised to see these in the Seventies shots from the set, but I didn’t anticipate so many specks, marks and blemishes for the then-contemporary interview footage. I have no idea why those clips looked so messy, but they displayed quite a few problems.
For the most part, sharpness was decent. Wide shots tended to display mild softness, and I can’t say any of the shots ever came across as especially crisp and concise. However, they never looked too ill-defined either, so I thought delineation was acceptable. Shimmering wasn’t an issue, but jagged edges cropped up pretty frequently, especially in the clips from Now; without anamorphic enhancement, those letterboxed shots could be a little rough. Edge haloes were also a minor issue.
As with the sharpness, colors were neither good nor bad; they just were. The film mostly featured the brown/greens of the Philippine environment, and they tended to look muddy but decent. I thought the tones lacked much life but didn’t seem poor. Blacks were a little inky, while shadows tended to seem a bit dense and murky.
To be honest, if I gave Hearts an “objective” picture grade, it’d probably get a “D”. The movie suffered from lots of flaws and never looked good. However, I had to consider the source material, and that’s why it ended up with a “C-“. It showed too many problems to get a grade higher than that, and I believe that the transfer could be improved with some work; frankly, I’d be surprised to learn that anyone did anything more with this than just resurrect the original product from the early Nineties. Nonetheless, for a program of this sort, the visuals were acceptable enough to warrant a “C-“. It’s ugly but not in a truly problematic manner.
Though Hearts offered a Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack, don’t expect much from it. For the most part, the audio gave us “broad mono” material. Some music showed passable stereo spread to the sides, and those elements also cropped up in the surrounds – to a very minor degree, at least. Almost everything else seemed centered, as this was a track without a lot of breadth. It didn’t need it, though, so the essentially monaural nature of the mix didn’t bother me.
One glitch appeared along the way, though. Around the 17-minute mark, an excerpt from an Orson Welles radio broadcast demonstrated some “faux stereo” glitches. I didn’t think these resulted from mix concerns; I got the impression they came from flawed source material. The wobbly audio ceased quickly, at least, and never occurred again.
Sound quality was perfectly acceptable. Speech always seemed natural and concise, as the interviews and narration showed nice delineation. Music was subdued but appropriate, with decent range as warranted. Effects tended to come from the action on the set, though we found some elements in the Now clips. They were reasonably clean and accurate but didn’t bring much to the table. Overall, the soundtrack was average.
A few extras show up on this DVD. We start with an audio commentary from filmmaker Francis Coppola and wife/documentarian Eleanor Coppola. Both sit separately for this piece. Eleanor discusses how she became the film’s documentarian, some technical aspects of her work, her experiences on the shoot, aspects of creating the documentary, and why it took so long for the material to come together. Francis tells us a little about the decisions he made on the film as he attempts to convey his mindset at the time. He also lets us know what parts of the documentary bother him.
I really looked forward to this track, since I figured Francis would finally give us his side of the story. Everyone knows that parts of Hearts upset him, so this was his chance to provide his interpretation and clarification. And he blows it. Francis doesn’t say a lot here, and while he tells us some scenes come out of context, he doesn’t often spell out what the original context was. We get some minor insights into his personality as he discusses how the ease with which he becomes embarrassed affected him, but Francis doesn’t tell us much. At least he does throw out a cool alternate title for Hearts: he views it as Watch Francis Suffer.
Eleanor proves considerably more informative, though she doesn’t give us quite enough to make this a good commentary. Still, her moments prove much more useful than Francis’s, especially since she essentially covers all the same territory about his tendency to get embarrassed easily. It can be fascinating to hear how Francis would grant her and the other documentarians freedom to show what they wanted – and would inevitably regret it.
While Eleanor offers some nice notes, a lot of dead air can slow this track to a crawl. Occasionally the commentary went so long without remarks that it startled me to hear Eleanor or Francis speak. I think the track has some very good info, but a 15-minute interview featurette probably could have summed up everything we learn hear. To stretch these details across a more than 90 minute movie makes this one a bit of an endurance test and a disappointment.
In addition, we find a new program called Coda: 30 Years Later. Directed by Eleanor Coppola, this 66-minute and 10-second documentary looks at the making of Francis’s new flick Youth Without Youth. We visit the production in Bucharest. In addition to both Coppolas, we hear from actors Tim Roth, Alexandra Maria Lara, Matt Damon and Bruno Ganz. We find some info about the film, why Francis chose to do it, and aspects of the production. We also see a lot of shots from the various sets and other behind the scenes spots.
As I watched “Coda”, I couldn’t help but wonder why I was watching “Coda”. Why is this documentary on the Hearts DVD? Shouldn’t they have saved it for the Youth DVD? Perhaps Francis would only agree to the DVD release of Hearts if it also promoted Youth, though “Coda” doesn’t work well at all as an advertisement. It doesn’t do a lot to sell the new movie, and it’s much longer than the traditional promotional featurette.
On its own, “Coda” provides a decent glimpse of the Youth production, especially since Eleanor has such close access to Francis. Unfortunately, in addition to some good insights, we get stuck with Kurtz-like ruminations such as his chat about what aliens would think of human consciousness. Still, it usually includes decent information, and we get the occasional Francis tantrum; those are always entertaining.
Unfortunately, I think the lack of context makes the documentary less interesting than it should be. Since none of us have seen Youth, we can’t relate much to the material depicted here. This is a decent documentary that simply doesn’t make sense in this setting.
An unusually provocative “making of” documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse provides a ringside view of a troubled and difficult production. With greater access than expected, we get to see the good, the bad, and the really ugly. It remains a fascinating piece. The DVD offers average picture and audio plus a couple of extras that give us decent information but disappoint overall. Despite that drawback, this documentary is too interesting to ignore. It definitely deserves your attention.