True Grit (Paramount Home Entertainment): The Coen Brothers adaptation of the Charles Portis novel (previously made in 1969 with John Wayne) is the tale of a young girl (Haliee Steinfeld) who recruits a grizzled lawman (Jeff Bridges) and a Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) to hunt down her father’s killers. [Buy the Blu-ray and DVD from Amazon UK] [Full review]
Ice Cold in Alex (Optimum Home Entertainment): World War II drama about a group of Allied troops who escape the siege of Tobruk and have to escape to Alexandria. Directed by J. Lee Thompson, it stars John Mills, Sylvia Sims, Anthony Quayle and Harry Andrews. [Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon UK]
The Cruel Sea (Optimum Home Entertainment): Unusually gritty 1953 drama about a naval crew struggling to survive the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II. Directed by Philip Frend, it stars Jack Hawkins, Donald Sinden and Denholm Elliot. [Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon UK]
Witchfinder General (Odeon Entertainment): Vintage 1968 British horror film about witch hunter Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) and his reign of terror during the English Civil War. Directed by Michael Reeves, it co-stars Ian Ogilvy and Hilary Dwyer. [Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon UK]
5 Days of War (Entertainment One) [Blu-ray / Normal] Age of Heroes (Metrodome Distribution) [Blu-ray / Normal] Hereafter (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / Normal] Jackass 3.5 (Paramount Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal] Le Mans (Paramount Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal] Paul (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal] Psychoville: Series 1 and 2 (2 Entertain) [Blu-ray / Normal] Sanctum (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal] Sex Pistols: There’ll Always Be an England (Fremantle Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal] Straightheads (Verve Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal] Superman: The Ultimate Collection (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / Box Set] The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (Arrow Video) [Blu-ray / Normal]
One of the greatest films of the 1970s gets a worthy Blu-ray release which ranks amongst the finest ever in the format.
The reputation of Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War drama has enhanced considerably since its release in 1979 and it looks stunning in this restored version, which includes the original cut, the 2001 redux version and Hearts of Darkness, the 1991 documentary about the making of the film.
Part of the joy of seeing Apocalypse Now in high-definition is that the original film set new standards for visual and audio presentation, whilst at the same time remaining a relevant story about the corrosive horrors of war.
It really is a case of new technology reminding you of the brilliance of a timeless classic.
The pristine high-definition transfer was personally overseen by Coppola and it isn’t an exaggeration to say that it almost looks like a contemporary release.
Presented at long last in the film’s original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the 1080p image is stunning and the details and colours look sublime.
Long-time fans of the film will geek out at so many of the memorable set-pieces such as the opening, the helicopter attack set to Wagner and the climax but a younger generation of viewers used to CGI-fuelled epics might also find the film a revelation.
The film is rightly famous for its pioneering approach to audio and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is simply on another level.
Coppola and Walter Murch essentially pioneered what would become known as 5.1 sound with Apocalypse Now and the use of sound in the film is astonishing.
The masterful blend of helicopter rotors with hotel fans in the opening sequence and the innovative synthesised score by Carmine Coppola are just some of the aural elements that are presented on the lossless audio track with sparkling fidelity.
Aside from the quality of the film and its HD presentation, this 3-disc package comes with an abundance of extras, which break down as follows.
Two versions of the film are included on disc one: the original 1979 theatrical cut (2h 27m) and Apocalypse Now Redux (3h 16m).
Although the Redux cut is interesting I much prefer the original theatrical cut, which has more punch and narrative drive.
My advice is to watch the original version before viewing the Redux edition, as it does contain some interesting scenes, notably a lengthy sequence on a plantation and a different introduction to Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall).
Coppola recorded a separate commentary for each edition and they are worth listening to as he describes his reasons for excluding the scenes which were later inserted into the Redux edition.
Most of the extras are found on this and although some of it has appeared on previous DVD editions, Coppola has recorded three special interviews especially for this release.
A Conversation with Martin Sheen (59:26): This fascinating chat between the director and his leading man sees them discuss the casting process (Harvey Keitel was the original choice for Willard), the arduous shoot (Sheen had a heart attack during filming) and various anecdotes from the set. Both seem to have a genuine affection and respect for one another and for fans of the film it is a rich conversation and an essential watch.
An Interview with John Milius (49:45): As Coppola freely acknowledges during this interview, screenwriter John Milius was the man behind many of the central ideas and scenes in the film. The title, the notion of basing it on Hearts of Darkness and the helicopter sequence set to Wagner were all his ideas, even though the film evolved during filming. Perhaps most fascinating are the early, experimental roots of the project, which was to shoot it in Vietnam with George Lucas shooting it in black and white (during the actual war!). By the way, fans of The Big Lebowski might like to note that the character of Walter Sobchack (played by John Goodman) is inspired by Milius.
Fred Roos: Casting Apocalypse (11:44): One of the most interesting aspects of Apocalypse Now is the casting process, some of which we actually see courtesy of various sessions which were filmed. In this interview casting director Fred Roos talks about the hundreds of actors who tested for different parts.
Mercury Theater Production of ‘Heart of Darkness’ (36:34): A neat inclusion is the audio of the Mercury Theatre’s radio production of Conrad’s novella, which features Orson Welles and his regular acting troupe just a week after infamous ‘War of the Worlds’ broadcast.
The Hollow Man (16:57): An impressionistic featurette with scenes from the film and production set against Brando reciting T.S. Eliot’s poem.
Monkey Sampan Deleted Scene (3:03): A deleted scene which fans of The Doors might appreciate as it sees natives singing ‘Light My Fire’ (Jim Morrison went to film school with Coppola)
Additional Scenes (26:28): There are around 12 deleted scenes included here (some are time coded), of which perhaps the most interesting is the one involving Scott Glenn appearing at Kurtz’s compound.
Destruction of the Kurtz Compound (6:06): The precise ending of the film has been the subject of much debate as it has changed throughout the years. Although the proper ending is presented on this version of the film, Coppola explains why a final credits sequence was used for various theatrical and TV showings of the film and how it got misinterpreted over time.
The Birth of 5.1 Sound (5:54): An short but highly illuminating featurette in which Ioan Allen of Dolby explains why Apocalypse Now brought about a revolution in cinema sound and indirectly led to the birth of the now standard 5.1 sound.
Ghost Helicopter Flyover (3:55): Keeping on the sound elements of the film this explores the surround sound design for a particular sequence.
The Synthesizer Soundtrack (Text): A reprint from Keyboard magazine which examined the then innovative use of synths on the soundtrack.
A Million Feet of Film: The Editing of ‘Apocalypse Now’ (17:57): A lot of the production of Apocalypse Now was filmed for posterity and this look at editor Walter Murch working on the film is fascinating.
Heard Any Good Movies Lately? The Sound Design of ‘Apocalypse Now’ (15:22): Another fascinating glimpse in to the sound design of the film that uses footage from the Zoetrope archives, showing how films were constructed in the pre-digital era.
The Final Mix (3:09): The studio setup used to achieve the final mix looks like something out of an old sci-fi film but this featurette shows how the amazing final mix was achieved in an analogue world.
‘Apocalypse’ Then and Now (3:44): Brief discussion of the differences between both versions of the film.
2001 Cannes Film Festival: Francis Ford Coppola (38:35): Lengthy interview at the American Pavilion during Cannes 2001 (as the Redux version was premiered) between Roger Ebert and Coppola as they discuss various aspects of the film, including the original Cannes premiere in 1979.
PBR Streetgang (4:09): Profiles from 2001 where the actors playing Willard’s crew – including Laurence Fishburne and Timothy Bottoms – talk about their experiences on the film.
The Color Palette of ‘Apocalypse Now’ (4:06): Another 2001 supplement which discusses how the visuals were restored for the Redux version using the three strip dye transfer Technicolor process.
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1h 36m): The real highlight of the supplements is this extraordinary 1991 documentary that details the long and painful production of the film. Directed by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper, it uses footage shot on set by Coppola’s wife Eleanor and features interviews with key cast and crew to paint an unforgettable portrait of how a Hollywood classic came to the screen. Possibly the best ever ‘making-of’ film ever made (closely followed by Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams), it remains the most compelling look at the mammoth challenges facing the director and his crew during production. Not only did Coppola invest a large chunk of his personal wealth into the film, but he had to deal with firing his original leading man days into filming, tropical storms which destroyed sets, Martin Sheen having a heart attack, and Marlon Brando and Dennis Hopper refusing to use the script. Eleanor Coppola gave her on-set footage to Bahr and Hickenlooper, who then filmed the new interviews, which were then cut edited together with her previous material. Much of it is absolute gold for fans of the film, but what makes this version particularly fascinating is the addition of audio commentaries by Francis and Eleanor which provide new and interesting perspectives on both the production and the documentary. Francis claims that it painted a darker portrait of him than was actually the case as Eleanor wasn’t filming always on set and that there were times when the shooting went smoother than people seem to remember. That said, both come out with considerable credit as Francis’ financial and creative gamble with the film and Eleanor’s documenting of what it took to make it ultimately paid off.
The other supplements on this disc include:
John Milius Script Selections with Notes by Francis Ford Coppola (Text):
Marketing Archive, featuring the original 1979 trailer, theatrical program, radio spots, press kit photos and a poster gallery (look out for the Japanese poster).
Overall this is the best looking version of the film and the plentiful extras make it an essential purchase.
The Hangover Part II (Warner Bros.): The sequl to the 2009 comedy blockbuster sees friends Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and Doug (Justin Bartha) travel to Thailand for Stu’s wedding where they get into more drunken scrapes. Directed by Todd Phillips, it co-stars Ken Jeong, Jeffrey Tambor, Jamie Chung and Paul Giamatti. [Nationwide / 15]
Diary Of A Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules (20th Century Fox): Sequel based on the second book in the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series, which follows middle school student Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), his older brother Rodrick (Robert Capron) and the school talent show. Directed by David Bowers and co-starring Rachael Harris, Devon Bostick and Steve Zahn. [Nationwide / U]
Apocalypse Now (Optimum Releasing): Re-release of the classic 1979 Vietnam war drama, which has been digitally restored. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, it stars Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, and Robert Duvall. [Key cities / 15] [Read our full review here]
Le Quattro Volte (New Wave Films): Italian drama about an ageing shepherd (Giuseppe Fuda) and his animals in the southern town of Calabria. Directed by Michelangelo Frammartino, it stars Bruno Timpano, Giuseppe Fuda and Nazareno Timpano. [Key cities / U]
Heartbeats (Network Releasing): Drama about a love-triangle between three friends in Quebec. Directed by Xavier Dolan (who also stars), it co-stars Monia Chokri and Niels Schneider. [Key Cities / 15]
Life, Above All (Peccadillo Pictures): Drama about a mother-daughter relationship that reflects the modern South Africa. Directed by Oliver Schmitz, it stars Khomotso Manyaka and Keaobaka Makanyane. [12A]
Angels Of Evil (Artificial Eye): Italian gangster drama based on the life and times of Renato Villanzasca, a criminal from Milan who captured Italy’s headlines in the 1970s. Directed by Michele Placido, it stars Kim Rossi Stuart, Filippo Timi, Moritz Bleibtreu, Valeria Solarino, Paz Vega and Francesco Scianna. [Key Cities / 15]
Dancing Dreams (Soda Pictures): German documentary about untrained dancers learning Pina Bausch’s 1970s dance piece, Kontakthof. Directed by Rainer Hoffman and Anne Linsel. [Key Cities]
The new restored print is a reminder of this extraordinary 1979 film, which remains one the most ambitious productions ever attempted in Hollywood but also a lasting depiction of the insanity of warfare.
Set during the Vietnam War, it depicts the journey of a US special operations officer, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) who is sent to assassinate the rogue Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has established his own outpost in the jungle.
Willard joins the crew of a patrol boat (Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne and Frederic Forrest) and he meets various characters on his trip, including the surf-obsessed Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall) and a manic photographer (Dennis Hopper).
Evolving over a number of years, with a script by John Milius loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, Coppola decided it would be his next project after the huge success of The Godfather films.
It was rare then – and even rarer now – for a filmmaker to use his personal finances to help bankroll a film but Coppola did just that and it is to his lasting credit as this is a film that major studios wouldn’t even think of making today.
The gruelling production is now the stuff of legend, as the arduous shoot in the Philippines involved the director replacing his original lead actor (Harvey Keitel), sets wrecked by typhoons, Martin Sheen having a heart attack and numerous delays to the production and eventual release date.
On its original release the film was met with somewhat muted acclaim after an unfinished cut screened at the Cannes Film Festival in April 1979, before its wider US release later that summer.
But over the years it has become one of the most acclaimed films of the 1970s and its achievement and cultural influence has proved to be more lasting than perhaps some at the time realised.
Part of the initial confusion was the different versions of the ending that Coppola put out on the initial release and the extended ‘Redux’ cut released in 2001 which added scenes shot but never used for the original.
This new, restored version is the original cut that deliberately omits opening titles and end credits, although the sound and visuals have been given a sparkling upgrade overseen by Coppola.
It was the first time I’d seen this version on the big screen and it was really quite something to see and hear with decent projection and sound.
I’ll post some thoughts soon on the forthcoming Blu-ray, but I’d highly recommend seeing this film in a cinema to appreciate not just a classic film, but one that set new technical standards for the industry.
There’s obviously been a lot written about Apocalypse Now, but here were my initial thoughts on seeing the latest release on the big screen:
This is definitely the best version I have ever seen: My first experience of Apocalypse Now was on TV in 1988 and although I didn’t fully understand the film then, it still struck me as haunting and captivating. Subsequent viewings on TV and video only whetted my appetite to see it on the big screen and this restored version not only captures the amazing visuals but especially emphasises the pioneering sound mix.
It is better the 2001 Redux version: Ever since seeing the Redux cut, I’ve had problems with that version, which adds 49 minutes of scenes including an extended sequence involving a French colonial family. Whilst interesting, the original cut which omitted them is better paced and more tightly constructed.
The incredible sound design by Walter Murch: It is difficult to actually stress how important the sound editing and design was to the film and how it proved to be a watershed for the wider film industry. Walter Murch and his team not only recreated the sounds of the jungle from scratch but took the design of sound on film to new levels, using a computerized mixing board, fusing sound elements with the score through synthesizers and giving birth to 5.1 surround sound.
The stunning visuals by Vitorrio Storraro: Coppola recruited the Italian cinematographer after seeing his work on Bertolucci’s The Conformist (1970) and his astounding work on Apocalypse Now provides some of the most memorable cinema visuals of all time. Not only are sequences truly epic, but the use of colour and light is stunning.
The movement of the story: Although the original script went through rewrites and Coppola agonised over the ending of the film, the movement of the story makes a great deal of sense. Although long by modern standards (2h 27m), it neatly mimics the journey of Willard as we venture with him up river towards Kurtz and his destiny.
The Vietnam metaphor: Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a great basis for a film about the US experience of Vietnam, but Coppola’s film itself has become an even better one. The madness and ambition of the production – at times breathtaking – mirrors the insanity of the war itself. Willard (the US) has to confront the dark side of himself (the industrial, military complex) as represented by Kurtz. We see the trauma of the troops adjusting (the opening), commanders trying to salvage a bad situation (the briefing), the might of US military power (Kilgore and the napalm attack on the village), the excess (the Playboy event for the troops), the murder (the boat massacre) and ultimately the confrontation (Willard meets and kills Kurtz) in which the US sees the darkness of itself.
The rejection of war movie clichés: Notice how the Vietcong aren’t really the enemy in the film (they are massively overpowered in the beach sequence) and it focuses on the journey of a man who is mostly an observer (a witness, essentially) of the US army as it passes him. Kurtz is a Frankenstein creation of the US army. They only want to kill him because he has gone off the reservation (his ‘missions’ are too good) and become something of an embarrassment.
The spiritual accuracy of the film: Some military advisors to films have criticised Apocalypse Now as containing fantastical inaccuracies in its depiction of US troops in Vietnam. Whilst certain elements have been exaggerated for effect, part of what made the war so shocking to the American public was that US troops did – at times – engage in bizarre behaviour which involved drug use, loud music and war crimes. Whilst sections of the film may not be literally accurate, they stand as a compelling reminder of the grand madness of the conflict and how it affected those involved.
The forthcoming Blu-ray is one of the most significant home video releases of the year, but in the meantime the cinema is the best place to catch one of the enduring classics of US cinema.
Apocalypse Now is being re-released by Optimum Releasing at selected UK cinemas from Friday 27th May