Had any other director made Apocalypse Now, it would immediately be considered the greatest of their career. Francis Ford Coppola, however, directed a series that you may have heard of called The Godfather Trilogy. But while that trilogy has received numerous quality video releases, Coppola’s war epic has never really gotten the same kind of treatment -- until now. Read on for my review of Apocalypse Now (Three-Disc Full Disclosure Edition) .
On June 19th, 1879, William Tecumseh Sherman, a general for the Union during the Civil War, gave a speech to the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy. It is told that during his speech Sherman said three words that have echoed through every soldier’s mind in the decades since: “War is hell.” During times of national and international conflict, young men and women are sent out to kill and destroy their enemy, even if they are unclear as to the reasons why they’re fighting. War is physically and emotionally destructive, military forces returning home with missing limbs and broken minds. In the history of film, few have ever captured the horrors of warfare quite like Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
Based on the book Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and set during the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now stars Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin L. Willard, a deeply disturbed officer on leave in Saigon. Feeling drawn back to the jungle, he is approached by a pair of intelligence officers who give him a mission: to hunt down and terminate Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) -- a special-forces colonel who has gone completely insane -- with extreme prejudice. Joining the crew of a naval patrol boat, Willard heads on a journey upriver to complete his assignment.
The Vietnam War represents one of the most tumultuous times in American history, and it is echoed intensely in Coppola’s epic story. Capturing the stunning beauty of the battle-torn terrain, sporting iconic performances, and serving as an incredible morality tale, the film functions brilliantly on every level and earns its place as one of the greatest of all time, both in the genre and the medium.
From the very first shot of the movie, which features a helicopter circling over the forest before exploding as it is doused with napalm, it becomes evident that that Apocalypse Now is full with of visual spectacle. Smoke flairs blowing through helicopter blades and creating gorgeous swirls in the air. Spears of color shooting out from the trees. There are just two examples of memorable shots created by Coppola and his cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro.
While his off-screen antics occasionally over-shadow his actual work on the film, Brando’s performance as the insane Kurtz is a perfect example of why he is one of the greatest actors of all time. While Kurtz is most definitely insane, it’s the actor’s subtle approach that makes it so brilliant and creepy. Sheen is equally impressive -- his shadow-fighting scene at the start of the film is truly haunting -- though the role, in its stoicism, doesn’t present the same challenges for the bulk of the film.
Rather than making a protest film about one of the most controversial conflicts in American history, Coppola has instead made a two-and-a-half hour study of morality and sanity during the time of war. At the start of the film, an incredibly disturbed and mentally deranged individual is the one put in charge of hunting down and killing a rogue officer that they have deemed insane. Kurtz is wanted for murder, but as Willard says, charging people with murder during the Vietnam War is equitable to “handing out speeding tickets in the Indy 500.” In battle the rules of society often become inconsequential, but how does one view the individual in times like these? This is both Coppola’s thesis and question in Apocalypse Now.
In this film, Francis Ford Coppola has constructed one of the most beautiful and evocative looks at not only the Vietnam War, but war as a whole. Tense and filled with breathtaking performances, Apocalypse Now truly earns its title as one of the best films ever made.
Apocalypse Now (Three-Disc Full Disclosure Edition) may very well be one of the greatest packages for a single film on Blu-ray. Fully loaded with everything you could want, the first disc contains both the original cut of the film, first released back in 1979, as well as the somewhat controversial Apocalypse Now Redux, which contains an additional 50 minutes of footage. In addition to presenting both films in striking high definition, this release is the first to have the original 2.35:1 ratio.
The second disc is where the special features can be found. In addition to many of the features found on previous releases, such as looks at the sound, editing, and color work on the film, this edition also includes a new casting documentary, interviews with the filmmakers, and a reading of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness by Orson Welles, recorded in 1938. Providing insight from the filmmakers more than 30 years after the film's initial release, the added perspective is especially interesting given the hardships encountered during production.
Speaking of which, what separates this version from the simultaneously released Apocalypse Now (Two-Disc Special Edition) is the oh-so-special third disc. Anyone who has ever read even the slightest amount about the film knows about the incredible trials that the filmmakers went through during production, and it’s all captured on Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, a feature-length documentary directed by George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr, with documentary footage provided by Francis Ford Coppola’s wife, Eleanor Coppola. Few films have ever gone through as much trial and tribulation, and it’s an absolute miracle that they actually managed to complete the project (Coppola believing that the film would be an absolute failure and his own thoughts of suicide are just two of the incredible revelations made in the doc, and both are revealed in the first five minutes). Anyone interested in the filmmaking process would be doing themselves a disservice by not watching it.
The disc also contains script selections from John Milius’ screenplay, with notes by Francis Ford Coppola, a storyboard gallery, and both photo and marketing archives. The packaging also comes with a collector's edition booklet that has a letter written by the director as well as documents and photos from the production
Easily the most in-depth Blu-ray release in my collection, I can personally assure you that if you are simply interested or already love the film, it’s worth every penny.