Now" on DVD
DVD Does Coppola
by Jim Bray
If ever there's been
a movie crying out for the DVD treatment, it's Francis Ford Coppola's
1979 Vietnam war masterpiece "Apocalypse Now."
The film is enough
to put viewers into sensory overload (much, I suppose, as the real life
Vietnam experience must have done to many participants) in which virtually
every sequence is a visual and aural delight. I've seen every video incarnation
of this tour de force, from the first two-cassette videocassette release
to the deluxe laserdisc, and never before has the medium done the film
The deluxe laserdisc
was pretty darn good, mind you, but the transfer of Apocalypse Now to
the digital disc format - and its remixing into Dolby Digital 5.1 audio
- have brought to the home theater a DVD that looks and sounds more like
film than video.
Apocalypse Now isn't
my idea of a fun movie; every time I finish it I feel as if I've been
picked up, shaken, and thrown back down in my chair. That means, to me,
that Coppola was wildly successful in making a film that's more than a
story; it's an event, an experience.
In the film, Captain
Willard (Martin Sheen, though for some reason the DVD package demotes
him to Lt.) is assigned to cross the Cambodian border and "terminate with
extreme prejudice" a renegade American Colonel who's operating outside
the military structure. It doesn't matter that he's winning the war, it
matters that he isn't winning it the way the hierarchy expects him to.
Most of the movie
follows Willard's voyage up river to find the elusive Col. Kurtz (Marlon
Brando), an episodic odyssey that brings him and his transport into contact
with a series of increasingly bizarre people and situations. From the
stunning helicopter assault orchestrated to "Ride of the Valkyries" to
the USO tour of Playboy Playmates, to the deliberately displayed horror
of Kurtz compound.
Contrasting the mayhem,
madness, and murder are locations and shots so beautiful your heart cries
out in joy at such loveliness - until the ugly reality of war once again
crashes down suddenly and the idyllic heaven through which Willard's boat
is traveling becomes a horrible hell on earth.
The supporting cast
is outstanding, from the very young Laurence (Larry, here) Fishburne,
Sam Bottoms, Frederic Forrest and Albert Hall as Willard's traveling companions
to Robert Duvall as the whacko surfin' Colonel Kilgore and Dennis Hopper
as the freaky photojournalist/Kurtz disciple.
The DVD is in widescreen,
enhanced for 16x9 TV's (sure wish I'd watched it on one!), and as mentioned
the picture quality is nothing short of superb. Colors leap out of the
screen; take a look at the richness of the various flares' colors, for
example - or the opening montage of the film. It's a treat made possible
by Coppola's original vision, Paramount's attention to detail, and the
The Audio is more
of a mixed bag, but on the whole it's extremely good. For a movie that
was undoubtedly recorded on analog equipment, the sound is spectacular
for the most part. There are a few distorted exceptions when all hell
is breaking out on screen and the sounds tend to run together and distort
a bit, but they're more than made up for by crystal clear sequences like
The Doors' "The End" over the opening sequence - which sounds as if they
brought Jim Morrison and the boys back for a remixing session in 1999.
Extras aren't particularly
extensive but, as with Paramount's DVD release of Titanic,
that can be forgiven considering the spectacular job they did with the
movie itself - though of course we always like to see bonus stuff on DVD's.
Apocalypse Now's extras are limited to the theatrical trailer, and excerpts
from the program handed out upon the film's initial 70mm theatrical release
(for which there were no opening and closing credits on screen - much
as with this DVD version). There's also a very surreal sequence in which
Kurtz' compound is destroyed - footage that wasn't in the final film.
A running commentary accessible during this sequence has Coppola explain
that, rather than this being an alternate ending as some pundits have
claimed (isn't it uplifting how the media are always so right?), it isn't
that at all - merely a reaction to Philippine (where the movie was shot)
requirements that they leave the place the same way they found it - which
meant getting rid of the set.
So, while this disc
doesn't have the kind of extras that make it a true "Collector's Edition"
in the tradition of other DVD releases, it's still a true movie collector's
item because it's an important film lovingly translated to the digital
Apocalypse Now, from
Paramount Home Video
153 minutes, Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall
Written by Francis Coppola and John Milius
Produced and Directed by Francis Coppola
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