Apocalypse Now on Blu-ray

Tuesday, 21 June 2011 00:00

Orange clouds of napalm rising up over a backdrop of dense palm trees.  Smoothly gliding helicopters inhabit an extreme foreground, making them seem bigger than they really are. A surreal slow motion to the action, flames beginning to envelop the entire scenery.  A sense of the unreal envelops our senses.  Welcome to the extreme world that is “Apocalypse Now”.

Directed and produced by Francis Ford Coppola, and originally released in 1979, thanks to a pristine Blu-ray restoration this movie takes on a whole new dimension. A timeless classic, and by substitution of Vietnam with your choice of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, or wherever the next decreed terror target is, this is a powerful statement against war.  Against whomever. Wherever. In the end the leaders don’t suffer, but the soldiers and the civilians certainly do.

Apocalypse Now on Blu-ray - definitive home cinema! Martin Sheen (President Jed Bartlet in The West Wing), looking more like Charlie Sheen than what we have recently been accustomed to him looking like, is the focus of the story. As Army Captain Willard, we have a psychiatric examination of a troubled career soldier who, against his better judgement, is sent on a dangerous top-secret mission into Cambodia.

He knows it’s the nearest he’ll ever get to a genuine suicide mission, but confusion over duty and what the world outside the forces would bring him means he takes the assignment anyway.

The objective is to assassinate a rogue Green Beret, Colonel Kurtz, who in the extended ‘Redux’ edition of the movie we don’t see until two hours and 38 minutes into the picture. Played by the iconic Marlon Brando, he of “The Godfather” and “Last Tango in Paris”, Kurtz has gone to ground in a remote area of jungle, way ‘up river’. He has fashioned his own complex and well-populated community. As Willard picks up the clues to his location, with orders to ‘terminate with extreme prejudice’, he follows the trail deeper into the wilderness, and finds he is surrounded by both the surreal and the downright mad.

You have commanding officers who insist soldiers go surfing in the middle of a battle zone, even lamenting that his order to drop napalm has actually spoiled the opportunity to catch a good wave. The media are present, wanting ordinary GIs to pretend they’re invisible, despite their cameras being totally in the way of manoeuvres, as shells go off all around. And you have a contingent of French folk in a settlement right at the heart of these badlands, determined to stay, and philosophising in a very stereotypical French way.  Then we also witness the positively incendiary action of flying in a gaggle of Playboy Playmates to ‘do their thing’ in front of hundreds of lust-deprived young soldiers – you just know that it will end badly.

As Willard notes, of the demeanour of the world around him: “Charging a man with murder in this place is like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500”.  He doesn’t pull punches about his attitude towards the senior officers surrounding him, either: “The war was being run by a bunch of four star clowns who would end up giving the whole circus away”.

Going upriver, with a small tightly-nit patrol boat crew assigned to him, Willard can’t quite get his head around the madness of water skiing in such a dangerous area, with “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones acting as the soundtrack to the scene. There’s a sense, right through the movie, of these military men trying to make everything as ordinary and as ‘like home’ as possible.  Completely impossible, and the whole attitude comes over as contrived and ridiculous.

Trading fuel for the chance for his team to indulge in the ‘pleasures’ of a couple of the Playboy Playmates, who for some reason have got stranded in an almost derelict outpost, we find that these ladies are just as dysfunctional and unhinged as the worst examples amongst the forces themselves. The movie makes no bones that soldiers tried to keep themselves from going mad by heavy use of drugs, including in one specific case dropping tabs of acid just before a dangerous raiding mission – with the expected consequences.

Inconvenient truths often come out in movies like this one, and the French ‘settlers’ provide such when they reveal that the Vietcong was invented by the Americans - much like has been the case with al-Queda today. Create a ‘bogeyman’, then that gives you the leverage to keep your population both scared and in-line.

The supporting cast is also very worthy of your attention – watch out for the likes of Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Harrison Ford, Sam Bottoms, and Laurence Fishburne, amongst others. Epic performances and attempts to steal scenes abound, Duvall and Hopper in particular.

“Apocalypse Now” was always a movie that was going to be critically acclaimed.  In fact, it so impressed the Cannes jury when shown as only a ‘work in progress’ that it shared the honour of the Palme D’Or that year. Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography is lush and expansive, detailed and measured; add to this the sound editing from Walter Murch, and these are the areas where the film collected its two Oscars – it was nominated for six others, including ‘Best Picture’ – losing out to “Kramer vs Kramer”.

“Apocalypse Now Redux” came about in 2001, adding 49 minutes to the movie, and ramping up the surrealism, and restructures several elements of the film, and adding entire chunks of new scenes.

Both versions have been restored by Coppola’s own Zoetrope Studios under his close supervision, and “Apocalypse Now” was released back into cinemas by Optimum Releasing in May 2011.

Now, the home cinema buff can get the Blu-ray restoration in 1080P High Definition Widescreen in a 3-Disc ‘Full Disclosure’ Edition.  For the first time, the various versions of the movie will be presented in their original theatrical aspect ratios (2.35:1). You get “Apocalypse Now” and “Apocalypse Now Redux”, along with more than nine hours of bonus material including new interviews with on-screen and behind-the-scenes talent, as well as the making-of feature documentary “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse”. In addition, this release features a 24-page booklet, including an introductory letter written by Coppola with personal accounts of the making of the film.

This edition also features extracts of the original screenplay, with handwritten notes by the director, original drawings of the film’s storyboards, never-before-seen photos and memos sent to the cast and crew during shooting, and the 1979 original Theatrical Programme. You also get five exclusive postcards including behind-the-scenes photos taken by famed American photographer, Mary Ellen Mark.

The full line-up of features and extras on this release are as follows:

  • “Apocalypse Now” (153 minutes) - including audio commentary by Francis Ford Coppola
  • “Apocalypse Now Redux” – extended version of film (202 minutes)
  • “Hearts of Darkness” Documentary (96 minutes), including audio commentary by Francis and Eleanor Coppola
  • Interview with John Milius (49 mins)
  • Interview with Fred Roos (casting Apocalypse) (12 mins)
  • A Conversation with Martin Sheen and Francis Ford Coppola (60 mins)
  • The Mercury Theatre on Air: Hearts of Darkness, 6 November 1938 (37 mins)
  • The Hollow Men (17 mins)
  • Monkey Sampan “Lost Scene” (3 mins)
  • Additional Scenes (27 mins)
  • Kurtz Compound Destruction with credits (6 mins)
  • The Birth of 5.1 sound (6 mins)
  • Ghost Helicopter Flyover (4 mins)
  • Apocalypse Now: The Synthesizer Soundtrack by Bob Moog (still images)
  • A Million Feet of Film: The Editing of Apocalypse Now (18 mins)
  • The Music of Apocalypse Now (15 mins)
  • The Sound Design of Apocalypse Now (15 mins)
  • The Final Mix (3 mins)
  • Apocalypse Then & Now (4 mins)
  • 2001 Cannes Film Festival: Francis Ford Coppola (39 mins)
  • PBR Streetgang (4 mins)
  • The Colour Palette of Apocalypse Now (4 mins)
  • John Milius script excerpt with Francis Ford Coppola notes
  • Storyboard Collection
  • Photo Archive: unit photography, Mary Ellen Mark photography
  • Marketing Archive: Original trailer, radio spots, theatrical programme, lobby card & press kit, photos.

Like most movies with a heavy statement to make, “Apocalypse Now” can be harrowing viewing, but is engaging and one of those movies that you have to see, so that you can have an opinion when someone asks.  War is hell, and that is the impression that anyone who is not a narcissist will come away with after watching this epic.  Well worth adding to your collection.

 “Apocalypse Now (3-disc Special Edition including Hearts of Darkness)” is out now from Optimum Home Entertainment. It has a ‘15’ certificate, a running time of 572 minutes approx, and a RRP of £29.99 - or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com


Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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