Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure Edition
- Street Date:
- October 19th, 2010
- Reviewed by:
- Joshua Zyber
- Review Date: 1
- February 14th, 2011
- Movie Release Year:
- Lionsgate Entertainment
- 202 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Rated R
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
At the 1979 Cannes Film Festival premiere of 'Apocalypse Now', a beleaguered Francis Ford Coppola – terrified that this one screening of a still-incomplete version of his long-delayed and notoriously troubled movie could make or break his filmmaking career – famously stated: "My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam. It's what it was really like. It's crazy. And the way we made it was very much like the way Americans were in Vietnam. We were in the jungle. There were too many of us. We had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane." Honestly, that quote sums up the movie and the circumstances surrounding the movie's creation so perfectly that I don't know how much there is that anyone, looking back on the film more than three decades later, can add.
'Apocalypse Now' is a film about the collision of genius and madness that is itself a product of both genius and madness. The movie is a loose retelling of Joseph Conrad's classic novel 'Heart of Darkness' moved up to a setting in the only-recently-ended Vietnam War. The story tells of one Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen), a Special Forces operative ordered to take a patrol boat up-river deep into the Cambodian jungle to "terminate with extreme prejudice" the command of rogue Col. Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has reportedly gone completely mad and succumbed to his basest animal urges and instincts. Starting in the midst of the chaos of combat, the further Willard travels away from civilization (such as it is), the more he loses sight of his even his own sanity, until eventually there's nothing left but himself and the jungle – embodied by Kurtz as a figure of pure primordial id.
But of course, I'm sure you already knew that. 'Apocalypse Now' is a very famous and endlessly-analyzed movie. I won't pretend to have the space available here to adequately dissect its thematic depth, its layered use of symbolism, its surrealist approach to storytelling, or its still-astounding directorial techniques. Entire books can and have been written on those subjects. Suffice it to say that the film is a masterpiece. This isn't just a war movie. It transcends genre classification. It's a movie about the very heart of the human soul, and the ease with which darkness can consume it.
Personally, the thing that fascinates me most about 'Apocalypse Now' is how the film's greatness wasn't immediately recognized. Sure, some early supporters labeled it a masterpiece, and the picture shared the top prize at Cannes that year despite not really being completed at the time. It made a healthy profit at the box office, though perhaps for the wrong reasons, such as the action-packed visceral excitement of the famous "Ride of the Valkyries" sequence. Yet critical and public response at the time was heavily divided. Many viewers (especially critics) had trouble separating the countless tales of production troubles and release date delays from their perception of the finished product. Some may have acknowledged the quality of the first half of the film, but got lost in the thematic murkiness of the second half and failed to recognize the deliberate purpose to such a structure. In short, like many of the greatest films ever made, 'Apocalypse Now' was a movie ahead of its time. And like so many others, the passage of time has helped to clarify its artistic merits, as audiences have finally grown sophisticated enough to recognize them.
Nonetheless, it would appear that director Coppola took many of those early criticisms to heart and never quite got over them. Despite eventual validation, he long contemplated restructuring the movie and reworking it to incorporate some additional footage from the many extra hours that he originally shot. That finally happened in 2001 with the release of a new version of the film dubbed 'Apocalypse Now Redux' that added almost 50 extra minutes to the (already quite long) running time, and also made numerous small editorial changes to the workings of countless existing scenes. Coppola had much of the movie re-edited from scratch.
Ironically, the new and improved (by Coppola's reckoning) 'Redux' was widely greeted as inferior to the previous theatrical cut, even by many of those who took a long time to acknowledge the original's merits in the first place. In the wake of similar revisionist tampering with other movies of the era (namely, the abhorrent 'Star Wars: Special Editions'), 'Apocalypse Now Redux' was viewed as another case of a filmmaker who should have just left well enough alone. I fully admit that I immediately fell into this camp, and still largely agree with the sentiment. I've never thought that 'Redux' wrecked 'Apocalypse Now' the way that the "Special Editions" wreck 'Star Wars', but it sure seemed to water down the film's power unnecessarily.
However, as before, I think that the passage of time has been almost as kind to 'Redux' as it was to the 1979 theatrical cut. Re-approaching it now with a further decade's distance, I found myself really caught up in 'Apocalypse Now Redux', and appreciative of many of the new scene additions. What this amounts to is that 'Apocalypse Now Redux' is simply a different movie than 'Apocalypse Now'. The additions don't just inflate the running time. They often completely change the tone and meaning of many scenes. Where 'Apocalypse Now' is a story primarily driven by themes and archetypes, 'Apocalypse Now Redux' is more humanistic in approach. One is a movie about the madness of war, and the other is a movie about people.
I still think that the original version of 'Apocalypse Now' is the artistically superior film, and the one that deserves to stand the test of time. Also, no matter how much Coppola tries to explain or justify it in interviews, the long French plantation scene in the middle of 'Redux' just does not work at all, and should have been left on the cutting room floor. Nonetheless, 'Redux' is a worthy film in its own right, for its own reasons. I might even go so far as to say that, had this version of the movie been released in 1979, it may have been more immediately embraced by viewers of the time.
In the end, 'Apocalypse Now' in any configuration is a staggering artistic accomplishment. I'm grateful that, unlike some of his contemporaries, Francis Ford Coppola has chosen to allow both versions of his movie to co-exist equally, side-by-side, so that we can discuss and debate and judge and argue about both versions of this gorgeous, lyrical, triumphant film for decades to come.
In years past, 'Apocalypse Now' was previously distributed on VHS, Laserdisc, and DVD by Paramount Home Entertainment. However, production company Zoetrope Studios recently changed distributors to Lionsgate Entertainment, which has released the movie on Blu-ray in two configurations: either a 2-Film Set or a more comprehensive 3-disc Full Disclosure Edition (the copy under review here).
Both Blu-ray releases include the two different versions of the film seamlessly branched on Disc 1: the 1979 theatrical cut (153 min.) and the 2001 'Apocalypse Now Redux' cut (202 min.). You must select which one you want to watch through the "Play Film" menu. Unlike Paramount's most recent Complete Dossier DVD edition from 2006, the movie is not interrupted by a disc break.
Both versions of the movie conclude without any end credits. This is a recreation of the movie's original 70mm theatrical release prints. At the time, theater patrons were handed a pamphlet with the film's credits printed. The regular 35mm release prints had a full set of credits during the movie, which played over an image that appeared to show the destruction of the Kurtz compound. This extra footage can be found in the supplement section of the Blu-ray.
The 2-Film Set contains both movies and a second disc of bonus features. The Full Disclosure Edition adds one more disc with further supplements, plus the 'Hearts of Darkness' documentary. Sadly, the 2-Film Set has nicer packaging with the original poster art on the cover. The Full Disclosure Edition comes in a box with rather ugly artwork, inside which is a fold-out digipak with an even uglier cartoon drawing of the movie's most famous scene. The face of the third disc also features a hideous cartoon drawing of Marlon Brando. I cannot fathom what the studio was thinking with this.
At the time of this writing, Lionsgate has not issued a comparable DVD version of either set.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Any proper discussion of the 'Apocalypse Now' picture quality must cover two important (and controversial) topics: aspect ratio and color. The Blu-ray represents the first time that the film has been presented on home video in its full 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Although the movie was originally composed for 2.35:1 and played at that ratio theatrically (both in 1979 and 2001), all previous widescreen home video releases were cropped to a narrower ratio of 2.0:1 at the instruction of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. In the late '80s, Storaro concocted a goofy theory he calls Univisium, which states that all movies should be displayed at a universal aspect ratio of 2.0:1. Unfortunately, he has been retroactively imposing this rule even on his older movies that were clearly not originally composed with this in mind. ('The Last Emperor' suffers this fate on Blu-ray.) As a result, significant portions of the image were removed from the sides of the frame.
Storaro claims that he always composed 'Apocalypse Now' (and 'The Last Emperor') with a 2.0:1 crop in mind, but that was belied by the uncomfortably cramped nature of the Laserdisc and DVD pictures and the fact that the visible portion of the image panned and scanned from one end of the frame to the other. If Storaro had genuinely composed the movie with the intention of cropping, he should have framed all of the important picture information within the 2.0:1 safe area. That was not the case.
In the past, director Francis Ford Coppola had conceded to Storaro's wishes and approved these cropped video transfers. However, in preparing this Blu-ray release, Lionsgate managed to talk Coppola into restoring the entire original 2.35:1 frame. The result is a huge improvement. The picture is much better balanced now. Countless scenes throughout the movie are plainly composed with important activity occurring at the extreme edges of the frame, far from the 2.0:1 center zone. The film is really not watchable at any other aspect ratio than the full 2.35:1.
Next is the issue of color. Because he's an incessant revisionist tinkerer, Storaro has adjusted the movie's color scheme numerous times over the years, making a new change with every release print or video transfer he approved, from Laserdisc to DVD to the 'Redux' theatrical release and to the 'Redux' DVD, none of which is quite the same as any other. In most cases, his inclination has been to give the movie more vibrant primaries reminiscent of the old three-strip Technicolor process.
The video transfer for this Blu-ray was not supervised by Vittorio Storaro. However, its colors are closest to those of dye-transfer prints struck for the 'Redux' theatrical release in 2001, which were overseen by Storaro. Representatives from the production team at Lionsgate claim that they attempted to strike a compromise between the dye-transfer print supplied by Francis Coppola and the 'Redux' DVD transfer. Overall, the Blu-ray color scheme leans toward yellow and golden hues. It also has many heavy color washes that were not present back in 1979.
While the purist in me would like to see the movie's original colors, I honestly don't have much to complain about here. The new colors are quite aesthetically beautiful on their own, and feel appropriate for the film's setting and mood. For as much as I may decry his Univisium nonsense, Vittorio Storaro is a brilliant cinematographer with an unparalleled eye for color. (Thankfully, I didn't spot a single instance of teal anywhere in the movie.) As far as I'm concerned, if he has to revise the movie, he can do what he wants with the colors. I'll trust his judgment on that, and I like the results.
In other respects, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer has a very nice representation of detail, far better than DVD. It's not necessarily the sharpest picture you'll find on Blu-ray, but it has a pleasing film-like appearance. There are scenes where the amount of detail is extraordinary, and other scenes that look soft. A lot of this stems back to the original production. (Being photographed with anamorphic lenses in the jungle probably didn't help matters.) I've read some complaints from bit rate statisticians that the disc doesn't cause their players' meters to spike as high as they'd like, but I tend not to give things like that much credence unless there are visible artifacts in the picture. As far as that goes, I will admit that there are instances where film grain looks a little mushy, notably the opening montage (though I must point out that this was a multi-generation optical composite). Also, a few of the jungle scenes lack grain and have a mildly rubbery texture that makes me suspect some Digital Noise Reduction was employed on occasion.
Keep in mind that I only say the above because it's my job to be a nit-picker. This is a nearly 3 ½ hour long movie, and my overall impression is that it looks gorgeous, even breathtaking. Is it perfect in every objective sense? Perhaps not, but it's still one of the most beautiful things I've projected in my home theater all the same.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The sound design for 'Apocalypse Now' is the stuff of legend. In fact, it was during production of this movie that editor Walter Murch coined the term "sound design." He not only helped to develop the 5.1 sound array that is the primary standard for most modern feature film production, he also created expressionistic aural montages that are nothing short of visionary in their approach to telling the story through sound effects, music, and ambience. Even more than 30 years later, this soundtrack puts most brand new movies to shame. In fact, this very well may be the greatest motion picture soundtrack ever created.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track on the Blu-ray is sterling in its fidelity. The songs by The Doors that bookend the film have never sounded better. Dialogue is crisp no matter how much is going on in any given scene. Subtle audio details are reproduced with outstanding clarity. The track makes full use of all 5.1 channels to create a fully alive and immersive soundscape. It also matrixes well to 7.1 format with Dolby ProLogic IIx decoding. The helicopter rotors in the opening scene seamlessly cycle through every speaker in the room. The film has selected moments of powerful bass, but is never loud just for the sake of being loud.
Ironically, the only scene in the movie I might find disappointing is the one I expected to be the best audio showcase. The "Ride of the Valkyries" attack kind of blurs together into a big mass of noise without as much distinction to individual sounds as the rest of the movie. That's not necessarily inappropriate to the content of the scene (which is meant to be chaotic), but it doesn't provoke the same type of hyper-real auditory response as the rest of the film. Even so, this is a 5-star presentation of a 5-star soundtrack.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
The Full Disclosure Edition Blu-ray carries over almost all of the bonus features from Paramount's Complete Dossier DVD set released in 2006, plus a few that were only found on the older separate DVDs for the theatrical and 'Redux' versions of the movie, or a bonus DVD exclusive to the now-defunct Circuit City retail chain.
- Audio Commentary – Francis Ford Coppola reflects back on the craziness of the film's production from the perspective of someone now very far removed from it. He's a good talker, and opens with a great story about the how the opening montage came to be created. He also talks about his intentions, the history of the project (including Harvey Keitel's recasting), and anecdotes about the shooting in the Philippines.
- The Hollow Men (SD, 17 min.) – An audio recording of Marlon Brando reading the T.S. Eliot poem is played over outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage from the production.
- Monkey Sampan "Lost Scene" (SD, 3 min.) – This famous deleted scene in which Willard and the boat crew encounter another boat overrun by monkeys is presented in rough workprint quality footage.
- Additional Scenes (SD, 26 min.) – Twelve more pieces of deleted footage are displayed in even worse quality than the above. They appear to have been videotaped from a camera pointed at an editing bed. There are several extensions to the lunch scene where Willard accepts his assignment, in which the actors are heard to refer to the Brando character as "Col. Leighley" (Brando's idea). The character was later renamed Kurtz and the audio dubbed over. A montage where Willard meets the crew of the PBR boat doesn't work at all. There's also more of Dennis Hopper (including a death scene) and Brando.
- Kurtz Compound Destruction with Credits (HD, 6 min.) – The footage that played at the end of the 35mm release prints in 1979 is here presented with forced (non-removable) commentary by Francis Coppola explaining why the movie had two endings and what he actually intended. The imagery is beautiful, but I tend to agree with Coppola that it's the wrong note the end the film with.
- The Birth of 5.1 Sound (SD, 6 min.) – Ioan Allen from Dolby Labs traces the evolution of cinema sound. This is intercut with vintage footage of Coppola looking like an absolute lunatic as he talks about refusing to screen the movie in theaters that can't meet his demanding audio requirements.
- Ghost Helicopter Flyover (SD, 4 min.) – A sound mixer on the film explains how the opening sequence was created.
- Apocalypse Now: The Synthesizer Soundtrack by Bob Moog – This is a text reprint of a 1980 magazine article about the movie's score.
- A Million Feet of Film: The Editing of Apocalypse Now (SD, 18 min.) – In this mix of old and new interviews, Walter Murch, Coppola, and other editors describe the monumental task of honing a coherent narrative from the absolutely absurd amount of footage that Coppola shot.
- The Music of Apocalypse Now (SD, 15 min.) – A look at how the various musical influences in the film (The Doors, synthesizer music, orchestral and percussion work) were integrated together. In a vintage clip from the recording session, Coppola explains his concept that the music in the movie should sound older and more primitive the further up the river that the characters travel.
- Heard Any Good Movies Lately? The Sound Design of Apocalypse Now (SD, 15 min.) – Further discussion of the "psychedelic dimension" of the movie's soundtrack, with a focus on the Do Lung Bridge sequence. In all of the featurettes on this topic, it's amazing to see exactly how much thought and discussion and debate and fighting went into the creation of the movie's sound design.
- The Final Mix (SD, 3 min.) – One final look at the audio. Randy Thom (an incredibly accomplished sound designer himself) describes the nine months of hard labor (12 hour days at a minimum) that went into the mixing.
- Apocalypse Then and Now (SD, 4 min.) – Walter Murch talks about re-editing the movie from scratch for the 'Redux' version.
- PBR Streeetgang (SD, 4 min.) – Laurence Fishburn, Sam Bottoms, Albert Hall, and Frederic Forrest reflect back on the shoot.
- The Color Palette of Apocalypse Now (SD, 4 min.) – In this featurette created for the 'Redux' DVD, Vittorio Storaro (rather obscurely) attempts to explain his philosophy on color, and how he revived the three-strip Technicolor dye transfer process.
- 1979 Theatrical Trailer (HD, 4 min.) – This old trailer really just seems like a random assemblage of clips from the movie with no structure or coherency.
- 1979 Theatrical Program – A gallery of images from the booklet handed out to theater patrons for the 70mm engagements. These include the movie's full credits printed.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
It would seem that Paramount's Complete Dossier DVD set was less-than-complete after all. The Full Disclosure Edition Blu-ray offers the following brand new features:
- Booklet – The Full Disclosure Edition comes packaged with a 48-page booklet. Among the contents are a written introduction from Francis Ford Coppola, script excerpts (with notes scrawled over them), production photos, storyboards, sketches, and other production art.
- An Interview with John Milius (HD, 50 min.) – Coppola sits down with the screenwriter to talk about the evolution of the script, Vietnam, George Lucas' involvement, Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness', where the title came from, the "Valkyries" sequence, The Doors, and other topics in this very interesting discussion.
- A Conversation with Martin Sheen and Francis Ford Coppola (HD, 59 min.) – The director next sits down with his star to reminisce about the production, the cast, replacing Harvey Keitel, Sheen's drinking problem, the heat of the jungle, the famous mirror-punching scene, the tiger, working with Brando, and Sheen's heart attack on set. Sheen reveals that he couldn't swim when hired for the part, which was a frightening proposition for a movie set mainly on a small boat. Coppola also tells a funny story about "accidentally" eating a drug-laced cookie and tripping balls at the Oscars.
- Fred Roos: Casting Apocalypse (HD, 12 min.) – This interview with the producer is intercut with vintage screen test footage, including some of Nick Nolte reading for one of the characters. Roos mentions that Steve McQueen was in talks for the role of Willard, but didn't want to work in the jungle for an extended amount of time. He also talks about the original casting of Harvey Keitel, but no footage is shown.
- The Mercury Theatre on the Air: Hearts of Darkness – November 1938 (37 min.) – The disc menus incorrectly call this feature "Hearts of Darkness," when it should say "Heart of Darkness." This is a vintage recording (full of hiss and pops) of Orson Welles' radio play version of the Joseph Conrad novel. It's performed primarily by Welles. The audio is played over a photo of an old-fashioned radio.
- 2001 Cannes Film Festival: Francis Coppola (SD, 39 min.) – Before he lost his ability to speak, Roger Ebert interviewed Francis Coppola about the movie's legacy, its original screening at Cannes in 1979, the two endings, 'Redux', and Marlon Brando's erratic working habits.
- Disc Credits
- Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (HD, 99 min.) – No examination of 'Apocalypse Now' can be truly complete without this essential documentary that was compiled by directors Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper from footage shot on the set by the director's wife, Eleanor Coppola. This is not just a "bonus feature." It's a theatrical documentary that was released in 1991 and stands fully on its own as the engrossing story of Francis Coppola's own journey into the heart of darkness. Whereas most of the other supplements in the Blu-ray set look back on the film from a retrospective view, this is a first-hand account of the madness and mayhem of a production that found new ways to nearly self-destruct seemingly on a daily basis. The documentary has been remastered in HD from the 16mm source footage and is presented in the original 4:3 aspect ratio with pillarbox bars on the sides of the frame.
- John Milius Script Excerpt with Francis Ford Coppola Notes – This photo gallery shows pages from the script with notes scrawled in the margins. Due to the small size of the images, they are very difficult to read.
- Storyboard Collection – As described, here is a gallery of storyboard artwork.
- Photo Archive – Here are galleries devoted to "Unit Photography" (color production stills and candid behind-the-scenes shots) and "Mary Ellen Mark Photography" (black & white images of the cast and crew). Some Googling tells me that Mark is a photojournalist who has shot stills on the sets of over 100 movies.
- 1979 Radio Spots (2 min.) – Four very similar radio ads for "the most eagerly-anticipated motion picture of all time."
- Lobby Card and Press Kit Photos – Another gallery of promotional images.
- Poster Gallery – One final image gallery. From this, it appears that the ugly cartoon artwork on Lionsgate's Blu-ray release originated from some ugly Chinese theatrical posters.
BD-Live: Requires Profile 2.0
- Teaser Trailer (HD, 2 min.) – With an active BD-Live connection, you can download the movie's teaser trailer from an option in Disc 2's main menus. (There's no need to visit a BD-Live portal.) The trailer is high definition but cropped to 16:9 and looks kind of ratty. It took a long time to download on my Blu-ray player, and must be re-downloaded every time you watch the disc.
The Blu-ray menus also direct smartphone users (really just iPhone users) to download apps for Metamenu and BD-Touch features, which will allow you to use your phone as a remote control… but only for select compatible discs. Does anyone actually use these things? At the time of this writing, there is no option available for Android users.
The Cutting Room Floor: What Didn't Make the Blu-ray?
A few items from the Complete Dossier DVD didn't make the way over to Blu-ray. These include a video introduction from Francis Coppola, an icon track that designates new footage in the 'Redux' cut, and a 2001 trailer for 'Apocalypse Now Redux'.
The Complete Dossier DVD also offered several hidden Easter Egg features such as reproductions of letters from Coppola, crew memos, and a video clip where John Milius explains the origin of the phrase "Apocalypse Now". (Milius retells that story in the new interview with Coppola.) If these are also hidden somewhere on the Blu-ray, I didn't have the patience to seek them out.
As far as wish list items, I would have liked to see some of the footage shot with Harvey Keitel in the Willard role, as well as more footage from the legendary 5 ½ hour workprint, bootleg copies of which have circulated in collectors' circles for decades.
Hands down, 'Apocalypse Now' is one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. I've even come to appreciate the revisionist 'Redux' cut over the years (but am still grateful that the Blu-ray contains both versions). Other than the ugly package art, the Full Disclosure Edition Blu-ray set from Lionsgate is very nearly a home run. It has strong (though just a bit shy of perfect) video quality, amazing audio, and tons of supplements – including the essential 'Hearts of Darkness' documentary. No fan of the cinematic art form should be without this Blu-ray set.
- 3-Disc Set
- BD-50 Dual-Layer Discs (Discs 1 & 2)
- BD-25 Single-Layer Disc (Disc 3)
- Region A/B/C
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
- English Subtitles
- English SDH
- French Subtitles
- Spanish Subtitles
- Deleted scenes
- Lost scene
- "Destruction of the Kurtz Compound" end credits with audio commentary by Francis Ford Coppola
- "The Hollow Men," video of Marlon Brando reading T.S. Eliot's poem
- The Synthesizer Soundtrack" article by music synthesizer inventor Bob Moog
Exclusive HD Content
- Hearts of Darkness Documentary
- Hearts of Darkness audio commentary with Eleanor and Francis Ford Coppola
- 48-page collectible printed booklet with special note from Francis Ford Coppola, never-before-seen archives from the set, behind the scenes photos and more
- John Milius Script Excerpt with Francis Ford Coppola Notes
- Storyboard Gallery
- Photo Gallery, including images from photographer Mary Ellen Mark
- Marketing Archive
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