Apocalypse Now Review and Blu-ray Features
15 August 1979
Francis Ford Coppola
Behind the Scene and other Major Plot Points
What’s the song that plays over the beginning of the film?
“The End” by The Doors. It’s from the band’s 1st, self-titled album, released in 1967. The song is nearly 12 minutes long. Interestingly, the version heard in the film is the original, uncensored version where Morrison can be heard chanting the word “fuck” several times. This original version can be found on Legacy: the Absolute Best compilation. The track is also used at the end during the scene where Willard kills Kurtz.
Budget of the film
Francis Ford Coppola invested several million dollars of his own money in the film after it went severely over budget. He eventually had to mortgage his home and winery in Napa Valley in order to finish the film.
Difference from the source Novel
While in the movie the main character is sent to kill Kurtz, in the source novel (‘Heart of Darkness’), the main character is sent to rescue him.
Inspiration for the music
According to writer John Milius, he wrote the entire script of the movie listening only to music by Richard Wagner and The Doors. To him, the music by The Doors had always been “music of war”, though when he at one point mentioned this to the band they were horrified. As, to them, it was the exact opposite. Ironically, the lead singer of the band,Jim Morrison, was a son of George S. Morrison, who was an important Admiral of the United States Navy.
In May 1979 this became the first film to be awarded the Palme D’Or at The Cannes Film Festival before it had actually been completed. Because the Cannes jury was unable to come to a unanimous vote, this film shared the Best Picture prize with The Tin Drum (1979).
Inspiration for the character
The character of Colonel Kurtz is inspired by the story of the traitor Lope de Aguirre, sixteenth-century Spanish soldier.
Greatest Movie Line
The movie’s line “The horror… the horror…” was voted as the #66 of “The 100 Greatest Movie Lines” by Premiere in 2007.
The movie’s line “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” was voted as the #12 movie quote by the American Film Institute, and as the #45 of “The 100 Greatest Movie Lines” by Premiere in 2007.
Making of this film
Eleanor Coppola filmed and recorded the making of this film, leading to Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991).
John Milius originally wrote the script in 1969. It was then known as “The Psychedelic Soldier”. As Coppola described it, the original screenplay was a series of “comic book” scenes to point out the absurdity of the Vietnam War. Over the course of several years of rewrites, the final script kept some of the absurd elements from Milius’ original screenplay for the first half with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness added to it for the second half of the movie.
Iconic Opening Scene
The iconic opening scene of the palm trees burning under a storm of napalm as involved the destruction of a real forest. Around 1,200 gallons of gasoline were poured over the splendid palm trees and then set alight. Tires were also burned to generate more smoke for the shot, while canisters were dropped onto the area to look like falling napalm. Acres of the forest were destroyed in a matter of seconds. Since the movie was filmed in the Philippines who were in the midst of their own war with rebels, environmental issues were not a big priority. Francis Ford Coppola would later say, “They’d never let you (do it) in the U.S. – the environmentalists would kill you.”
Why Did Kurtz Kill Chef?
The exact reasons for Chef’s decapitation are never actually made clear. Chef is last seen on the boat either trying to call for an air strike (for the Army to firebomb Kurtz’ compound) OR simply conducting a radio test. One explanation could be that Kurtz knew this and killed him to prevent him from succeeding. Note that later on, just before Willard leaves to kill Kurtz, and at the very end, someone can be heard on the radio trying to contact the boat, implying that the previous conversation had been cut off abruptly, most likely because Chef was attacked and killed either by Kurtz himself or a native following his orders. If this was the case, then Kurtz presumably wanted to make an example of Chef, and dropped his head on Willard’s lap as a warning. A second interpretation is that Willard finds Kurtz’s notebook in which Kurtz wrote a note for Willard that says “Drop the bomb, kill them all!” so he killed Chef because he assumed Willard would tell Chef to order the strike if Willard did not return to the boat in a certain amount of time, which would kill Kurtz, Willard, and everyone else. Kurtz wanted to die honorably, hand to hand by a fellow soldier, but a bombing death wouldn’t fulfill that wish. Willard even states that he believes this to be the case. A third interpretation is Kurtz wanted to show Willard the face of the horror. A fourth interpretation is that Kurtz heard about Chef’s language towards his people and himself, and was offended by it. After all Lance was spared, though he was a rather surreal element in the film.
RT/Meta Critic Review
A film of pure sensation, dazzling audiences with light and noise, laying bare the stark horror – and unimaginable thrill – of combat. (Click here to see)
A film that needs to be seen on the big screen.(Click here to see)
Francis Ford Coppola personally supervised the transfer (or transfers, if you think of Redux as a separate entity) ofApocalypse Now to Blu-ray, and it shows in every breathtaking frame. Encoded via AVC, in 1080p and 2.35:1, this is about as perfect an image as one could hope for, especially for a film that is now over 30 years old. Yes, the image is soft in places. That was late 1970s film, for better or worse. But what an incredible upgrade in detail and color this new Blu-ray reveals. From the first yellow haze shots of the jungle exploding in flames to the final, devastating shot of Willard leaving Kurtz’s compound on his boat, Apocalypse Now fairly bristles with detail. Look for example at the scene with the backlit Willard in profile examining the dossier on Kurtz: you can literally count the hair on Sheen’s neck, so clear is the image. This is an artifact free presentation, all the more impressive since dense foliage always seems to present resolving difficulties on a lot of hi-def releases. Grain is completely natural looking, never obstrusive, but apparent and giving the film and nice depth and texture. Contrast and black levels are nothing short of exceptional. The “Brando act” of this film, swathed in darkness as it is, is a revelation (no pun intended), with brilliant delineation between the bald head of Kurtz and the inky black background. But colors throughout this film are astoundingly vivid and beautifully saturated. No source element damage of any major import is noticeable, aside from some very minor blemishes which are very transitory. Simply a superior job all the way around.
If it were possible to give Apocalypse Now‘s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track six stars for a rating, I would. This film pretty much invented modern 5.1 sound mixes (along with Star Wars, as is discussed in one of the copious extras included on this three disc set), and the attention to detail here is simply mind boggling. That first iconic sequence, which indeedstarts with sound before we even get an image, is a perfect example. The weirdly synthesized helicopter rotor noise clearly starts in the right rear channel and then careens around the room channel by channel until finally The Doors’ music kicks in. But it’s not just the action and battle sequences that are alive with surround activity. Even small scale dialogue scenes, such as when Willard is given his mission, are filled with superby placed ambient effects and simply awesome channel separation. Fidelity is exceptional, with Carmine Coppola’s synthesized score (influenced, as Francis discusses, by the then-popular albums of Japanese electronic master Tomita) has never sounded better (or stranger), and the source cues are perfectly mixed. LFE is especially robust; Coppola had wanted at one point to license Universal’s Sensurround process, and the rumbling bass effects that that process provided are incredibly well presented here in Coppola’s own “version” of the technique. (Universal ultimately wouldn’t let him use the actual patented Sensurround process). The soundfield here is one of the most consistently brilliantly realized pieces of art (yes, art) in film history, and this lossless track is, to put it plainly, reference quality.
The Full Disclosure edition of Apocalypse Now is housed in an attractive and sturdy slipcase which holds a trifold case holding the three Blu-ray discs, as well as a lavishly illustrated 48 page booklet printed on glossy paper. The supplements are spread out over all three discs.
Two versions of the film are included, the original 1979 theatrical cut (running 2:27:17) and Apocalypse Now Redux, which runs 3:16:09. There’s an interesting, if perhaps too long, sequence at a plantation which makes up the bulk of the running time difference, but it’s fascinating to watch both versions of the film and notice little changes, as in how Col. Kilgore is introduced in the longer edition. My advice is to watch the original theatrical cut first, digest it for a few days, and then return to Redux. Both versions offer a really excellent Commentary by Coppola, obviously edited together from the same recording sessions, but timed differently for each version. The Redux commentary includes some information not included on the theatrical commentary.
The bulk of the standalone supplements are presented on this disc, the first three of which are new to any home video release of this title in either of its iterations:
- A Conversation With Martin Sheen (HD; 59:26), a fun chat with the star and Coppola, where they discuss everything from the convoluted casting process the rigors of filming (Sheen suffered a heart attack during production);
- An Interview With John Milius (HD; 49:45), another really interesting gabfest with Coppola and his co-scenarist. Milius discusses his own military ambitions, which played into the writing of this film;
- Fred Roos: Casting Apocalypse (HD; 11:44) features the film’s casting director talking about the hundreds of actors tested for various roles. Screen test footage is also included;
- Mercury Theater Production of ‘Heart of Darkness’ (Audio; 36:34). This Orson Welles production (the week after his infamous ‘War of the Worlds’ broadcast) of Conrad’s novella is offered, with some significant audio damage;
- The Hollow Man (SD; 16:57), a really odd little period (circa 1979) featurette offering Brando reciting Eliot’s poem with scenes from the film and the filming itself;
- “Monkey Sampan” Deleted Scene (SD; 3:03), a disturbing excised segment which nonetheless features the restless natives singing “Light My Fire”;
- Additional Scenes (SD; 26:28), a collection of 12 window and pillar-boxed curios with timecode captions;
- Destruction of the Kurtz Compound (HD; 6:06), the jettisoned final credits sequence which Coppola ultimately rejected when he feared audiences were misinterpreting it;
- The Birth of 5.1 Sound (SD; 5:54), a fascinating and way too brief look at how Apocalypse Now led to a revolution in film surround sound design;
- Ghost Helicopter Flyover (SD; 3:55), another very interesting look at the surround design for this one sequence;
- The Synthesizer Soundtrack (Text Article), a reprint from Keyboard magazine;
- A Million Feet of Film: The Editing of ‘Apocalypse Now’ (SD; 17:57), a great look at editor Walter Murch at work with his Movieola;
- Heard Any Good Movies Lately? The Sound Design of ‘Apocalypse Now’ (SD; 15:22), shows us in-depth what the sound designers were up against as they basically invented 5.1 surround sound for this film;
- The Final Mix (SD; 3:09) has some great footage of the multi-room setup which was necessary to achieve the final mix for the film;
- ‘Apocalypse’ Then and Now (SD; 3:44) has some brief snippets of the Ebert interview from Cannes (see below) with insight into both versions of the film;
- 2001 Cannes Film Festival: Francis Ford Coppola (1080i; 38:35), presents the entire Ebert interview from the Festival;
- PBR Streetgang (SD; 4:09) profiles the actors playing Willard’s crew, including 14 year old Laurence Fishburne;
- The Color Palette of ‘Apocalypse Now’ (SD; 4:06) goes into the technical aspects of the three strip dye transfer Technicolor process utilized on the film.
The bulk of the third disc is given over to the completely fascinating documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (HD; 1.33:1; DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0; running time 1:36:00). This incredible peek behind the long and tortuous filming of Apocalypse Now is one of the most devastating documentaries about the rigors of filmmaking ever made. It’s hilarious to hear the then-young Coppola insisting he isn’t making art, but instead aiming for (in his words) an “Irwin Allen” experience with Apocalypse Now. Things soon turn from lighthearted to tragic as one problem after another rears its ugly head and Coppola nears madness himself. The film features copious home movies made by Coppola’s wife, Eleanor (several with pretty bad damage), as well as tapes she recorded without Francis’ knowledge for what she at the time expected to turn into a diary. The documentary comes with an optional commentary by the Coppolas which is nearly as fascinating as the film itself.
The other supplements on this disc include:
- John Milius Script Selections with Notes by Francis Ford Coppola (Text);
- Storyboard Gallery;
- Photo Archive;
- Marketing Archive, featuring the 1979 trailer, radio spots, theatrical program, lobby cards and press kit photos, and a poster gallery.