DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
Apocalypse Now – The Complete Dossier (2006)
Published on September 13, 2006
Two Versions; Apocalypse Now (1979); Apocalypse Now Redux (2001) – 2-Disc Special Collector’s Edition
Directed by: Francis Coppola
Starring: Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper
Studio: Zoetrope Studios/Paramount 07068
Video: Widescreen enhanced for 16:9
Audio: Dolby Digital English 5.1
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Audio commentary for both films by Francis Coppola, Exclusive featurettes, Lost Monkey Sampan scene, 12 never-before-seen segments from the cutting room floor, Apocalypse Then and Now, Outtake of Brando’s complete reading of T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men,” AV Club for aspiring filmmakers, The Post Production, Study the Sound Design and Final Mix of Apocalypse Now in Depth, PBR Streetgang cast members’ reunion, The color palette of Apocalypse Now, The Birth of 5.1 Sound, The Synthesizer Soundtrack, more…
Length: Version 1: 153 minutes; Version 2: 202 minutes
I saw nor heard no differences between the 2002 single-disc DVD of Apocalypse Now and the one in this set, but the second disc offers up a panoply of extras which greatly deepen the experience of this path-breaking film on the Vietnam War. The Redux version adds 49 minutes to the original 1979 release and fills in many details that left one hanging in the first release. One of the featurettes reveals the unbelievably large shooting ratio and shows some of the packed shelves of 35mm raw footage shot for the film.
I discovered only after watching the Redux version with it that there is a handy little icon marker provided which when optioned shows up in the corner of the screen whenever a scene has been added in the Redux which wasn’t seen in the original. One important segment is the PT boat stopped at a French plantation in Cambodia just before reaching Col. Kurtz’s compound. It enables the head of the family there to pontificate on what France did wrong in the region and how the U.S. has failed to learn anything from their mistakes. And it also provides a welcome change of pace in the love scene between Captain Williard (Sheen) and a young woman in the family. The two major new scenes included following the decapitation of one of the PT boat crew are also important in wrapping up the plot of the film.
The general theme of the film – if you are one of the few reading this who hasn’t seen either version – is that Willard, a sort of undercover Army assassin, is sent on a mission “that never existed” to go up river into Cambodia and assassinate a renegade Green Beret colonel who has flipped out and set himself up as a pagan God among the local tribes. Much attention has been made both in the film transfer and in the informative extras to both the image and sound. A special dye-transfer process was used to preserve the color gradations of the original footage as accurately as possible.
A statement is made in the bonus materials that no movie in history was ever designed to use sound the way Apocalypse Now was. More people worked more hours on various raw tracks intended for Apocalypse Now than had ever been done with any other film. A large ensemble of top percussionists led by Mickey Hart recorded extensive material – only a little of which was used in the final Redux soundtrack. The original release had The Doors tune The End only at the beginning, but the Redux brings it back near the conclusion. Zoetrope Studios worked with Dolby Laboratories the make Apocalypse the first feature film with the new 5.1 six-channel stereo surround process, and the film won an Oscar for Best Sound. More Moog synthesizers were used on the soundtrack than ever before assembled for an audio project, and the instrument’s inventor Bob Moog is seen in one of the extras explaining how synthesized scores are created. There seemed to be more use of synth on the Redux soundtrack than I recalled from the original film. One very effective example was the opening scene where the sound of the helicopter is transformed into the sound of the ceiling fan in Captain Willard’s hotel room in Saigon. Other scenes have only very subtle sound effects on the surround channels, but enough that on a properly balanced surround system the viewer is clearly transported to the particular environment seen onscreen.
There is no doubt this is one of the greatest films, and the emphasis on the surround soundtrack makes it even more important to audiophiles.
- John Sunier