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Apocalypse NowApocalypse Now - The Complete Dossier" on DVD

New Dual-DVD Does Coppola's Masterpiece Justice

If ever there's been a movie crying out for a deluxe DVD treatment, it's Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 Vietnam war masterpiece "Apocalypse Now." And this is the one for which we've been waiting.

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 experience. Every video incarnation of this tour de force has been worth viewing, from the first two-cassette videocassette release to the deluxe laserdisc, to the original DVD of the classic and the later Redux DVD. And never before has the medium done the film justice as much as this new "Complete Dossier" version.

Apocalypse Now isn't a fun movie; every time we finish watching it we feel as if I've been picked up, shaken, and thrown back down in our chair. That means, to our way of thinking, that Coppola was successful in making a film that's more than a story; it's an event, an experience.

In the film, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) 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, what matters is that he isn't winning it the way the powers that be expect 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 crashes down suddenly once again and the idyllic heaven through which Willard's boat is traveling becomes a 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 sycophant.

There's enough in the original to keep you seeing new things everyt time you watch it, but with the release of 2001's theatrical revisit ("Apocalypse Now Redux") there've been two reasons to admire this outstanding work of cinematic art.

Redux adds some three quarters of an hour of footage shot during the original production, but left for various reasons on the cutting room floor. There's also some rejigging and retooling, enough so that, with the added and extended scenes, this in some ways almost feels like a new movie.

Not quite new, though, and that's good.

Redux seems more coherent than the original, which is good to a point. Part of Apocalypse Now's power was its muddiness, which may have been a result of pressures to get the film done but which, added to the moral and social muddiness of the Vietnam era, had an appeal of its own.

The changes include the helicopter attack by Col. Bill Kilgore's airborne unit, with its "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" speech, which has been extended and has an entirely new ending, one that adds some welcome humor to the film. There's also a revisit with the Playboy Playmates a little farther up the river, a scene that really doesn't add a lot to the movie except to show that people from back home can be just as screwed up as those fighting in 'Nam.

The major addition is a scene on a French plantation, where Willard gets the war put into a different perspective for him courtesy of some people who've been around and should know.

Which version's better? We tend to prefer the original, but are glad to have the opportunity to see the "reimagined" version.

And now you can watch both, courtesy of Paramount's "Complete Dossier" version, a two disc set that, thanks to DVD's branching capability, lets you choose which version to watch from the main menu - unlike some dual versions that offer one version on one disc (or one side) and the other on another.

Alas, this means you have to switch discs halfway through - the break coming at the same place it did on the old VHS version. We'd have preferred separate versions, to avoid the changeover, but what can you do?

The film(s) are presented in widescreen, enhanced for 16x9 TV's and the picture quality is superb. Despite some grainy sequences, overall the picture leaps out of the screen, with gorgeously rich colors. It's an interesting aspect ratio of about 2:1, so it almost fills the 16x9 screen.

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. 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 re-recording session.

We'd have loved a dts option, but there isn't one.

The extras do the film justice as well. Spread over both discs, they include a fascinating commentary track by Coppola, some "from the cutting room floor" scenes of varying quality, a retrospective with the cast, Brando's complete reading of Elliot's "The Hollow Men" and some great stuff on the innovative sound (it was the first movie to use stereo surround, a forerunner to today's 5.1) and plenty more.

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

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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