The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents November 2010 Return to Table of Contents
William A. Fraker
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
Apocalypse Now
Whats Up, Doc?
ASC Close-Up
Apocalypse Now (1979)
“Full Disclosure” Blu-ray Edition
1080p High-Definition (2.35:1)
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Lionsgate, $59.99

After establishing himself as one of Hollywood’s hottest directors with The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II, Francis Ford Coppola decided the time was right to revisit a script written for his company years earlier. Apocalypse Now was a Vietnam War drama written by John Milius, who used Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as a template for a meditation on war in all its qualities — its seductiveness, its destructiveness, its horror and, most disturbingly, its aesthetic beauty. Originally written for Coppola protégé George Lucas to direct, Apocalypse sat in Coppola’s drawer for years until the director headed to the Philippines in 1976 with a top-notch team of creative partners that included director of photography Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC, and second-unit director of photography Stephen H. Burum, ASC, both of whom would continue as trusted Coppola collaborators on future films.

Right from the start, the production was controversial, as the shoot went over budget and over schedule and was plagued by disasters that are by now well known. Yet Coppola persevered to create a masterpiece, a war film simultaneously hallucinogenic and piercingly intense, political and mythic, cerebral and entertaining. Apocalypse Now is clearly one of the monumental achievements in 20th century cinema.     

There is no better way to revisit the film than this new Blu-ray from Lionsgate and American Zoetrope, which marks the first time Apocalypse Now has been released on home video in its original theatrical aspect ratio. (Previous widescreen editions were framed at 2:1.) In addition, the new high-definition transfers of both Apocalypse Now and the extended Apocalypse Now Redux, both of which are included, are stunning in terms of color, contrast and sound. The detail in the blacks is as rich as the vibrant yellows, greens, and purples of the colored smoke grenades, and the cool blues and grays of the night exteriors have not looked this chilling since Redux played in theaters in 2001. The DTS-HD soundtrack reproduces — and, in fact, improves — both the subtle and the spectacular moments of Walter Murch’s groundbreaking sound design, with a powerful dynamic range and vivid separation across the channels.

This three-disc package has one of the most comprehensive supplementary sections in DVD history. The first disc includes commentary tracks by Coppola on both versions of the film (borrowed from a previous standard-definition DVD release); the Redux commentary is identical to the one on the theatrical cut, with additional narration on the extended/additional scenes. The second disc offers a collection of new and previously released featurettes totaling more than five hours. These include a 50-minute interview with Milius conducted by Coppola, who also interviews Sheen for an hour in another supplement; a 38-minute conversation between Coppola and film critic Roger Ebert (from the 2001 Cannes Film Festival); and an 11-minute featurette about casting featuring an interview with casting director/producer Fred Roos. This supplement includes behind-the-scenes footage of original audition sessions and rehearsals and features not only the film’s cast, but also actors who were considered but not cast in the film. Also included is a recording of Orson Welles’ original radio performance of Hearts of Darkness. In addition to 3½ hours of new material, disc two contains numerous extras from earlier DVD releases: a half-hour of deleted scenes, a deleted end-credits sequence with commentary by Coppola, sound and music demonstrations, and a full recording of Marlon Brando reading T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Man.” Of particular interest to cinematography buffs is “The Color Palette of Apocalypse Now,” a 4-minute segment in which Storaro and others discuss the Technicolor dye-transfer printing process.

The third disc contains George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr’s acclaimed 1991 documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, along with a commentary track by Coppola and his wife, Eleanor. There’s also a stills gallery that includes an excerpt from Milius’ original script with notes by Coppola, promotional materials, and storyboards. A 48-page collectible booklet rounds out one of the most essential Blu-ray packages of the year.

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