A Francis Ford Coppola Blu-ray set with nary a Godfather film? Not an issue, since two films in the five-disc set are masterpieces that justify the purchase price for this pristine collection. Lionsgate cheats, slightly, with its Coppola kit, as two of the five movies in the collection are varying cuts of the director’s Vietnam-era stunner Apocalypse Now. But it’s justified, as both the 1979 edit and the director’s 2001 cut have ardent followers, and both can now be analyzed in exquisite Blu-ray.
As a completist, and an elitist, I lean toward Coppola’s original cut. Gallons of ink have been spilt regarding the hardships Coppola endured on behalf of the filming of Apocalypse Now, a stinging commentary on the after-effects the Vietnam conflict had on wrung-out, patriotic soldiers. Heck, a full-length documentary, Heart of Darkness, details every painful step Coppola took to bring Apocalypse to the screen. (Where is that documentary? How is it not a supplement here? More on that in the next section.) The fact that Coppola had the fortitude to plunge back into Apocalypse to add nearly 45 additional minutes for the Redux cut makes it worth a look, but it pads a film that needed no enhancements.
Apocalypse Now and the first two Godfather films are considered Coppola’s crowning achievements. Give me The Conversation over all three, though. Perhaps its because I’m a Gene Hackman junkie, but the director’s haunting conspiracy thriller about a sound engineer and surveillance expert who grows steadily obsessed with a snippet of dialogue he records in a crowded square. Hackman’s mesmerizing, while Coppola plugs in to the fear and paranoia of an invisible “Big Brother” that colors so many 1970s dramas. It’s a flawless character study, and – in my honest opinion – Coppola’s best film. It’s also relevant to note here that Coppola's The Conversation lost the Oscar for Best Picture in 1974 ... to Coppola's The Godfather Part II. Remarkable. What the hell did I do this year?
Fans can be happy grabbing the set for those two films, alone. But buyers will also get two additional, lesser films from Coppola’s oeuvre, and the supplements that come with them. If Apocalypse marks the end of the director’s “Golden Age,” the 1982 musical One from the Heart starts the period in Coppola’s career where he started digging deeper into his own cinematic passions, while systematically alienating his audiences. The Las Vegas-set romance between Hank (Frederic Forrest) and Frannie (Teri Garr) was meant as an upbeat antidote to the somber Apocalypse. However, the director was unfocused, both on and off the set, and the film’s ballooning production budget nearly sank his self-propelled studio, American Zoetrope.
Coppola’s an artist. There’s no denying that. His pictures are experimental, and his later output became far less mainstream (while always remaining interesting). The 1980s and ‘90s were marked by riveting productions of The Outsiders, The Cotton Club, Tucker: The Man and His Dream and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But he continued to explore inward, and the last film in the set -- Tetro -- is an example of the wandering Coppola and his unfinished works. Released in 2009, the story of two brothers torn apart by creative differences was a symbol of the director’s current state. The narrative revolves around an unfinished screenplay, and the director’s reputation for consistently tinkering with his art led to an unfinished, half-hearted film. As part of this set, it shows the progression of Coppola’s creative voice, but I’d be surprised if you revisited Tetro more than once. It’s a good thing the movies in the Coppola set are mostly worth owning, because the extras compiled by Lionsgate and Zoetrope aren’t worth the effort. This isn’t one of those exhausting collector’s edition packages that dig every bit of behind-the-scenes clips in hopes of pleasing the rabid film fanatic. Features that are included on the discs were present on previous home-video releases of the films, and the quality of the footage is grainy and disappointing.
In terms of visual transfers, the two cuts of Apocalypse Now look the best. There’s no age in their screenshots, and the prints have been scrubbed clean (while maintaining the integrity of the composition). The Conversation isn’t as lucky. Composition seems to fade in and out from scene to scene, and the browns and blacks that drove ‘70s cinematography prove to be a problem to the Blu-ray conversion. The sound on The Conversation is fittingly brilliant, though.
Because Tetro is more modern, it looks better than Heart, which actually suffers from a dreadfully scratchy transfer. Vegas screams and pops off the screen in this unusually colorful film, but the presentation is weak, and damages the film’s impact.
The thing about Apocalypse Now is that fans likely grabbed the film’s DVD set that hit shelves backing 2010. Be glad if you did, for it boasts a full disc of extras – Heart of Darkness included – that aren’t found here. The Apocalypse duo has a commentary track from Coppola, and a BD feature that allows you to download additional software on a separate device and follow along with a different app, which is too much work.
The Conversation Blu-ray is the best in the set, packing in multiple audio commentary tracks, screen tests for Cindy Williams and Harrison Ford, script dictations and interviews with Coppola from the set, “No Cigar” (a student short film by Coppola), “Harry Cauls’ San Francisco: Then and Now,” theatrical trailers and more.
The most interesting feature on the Heart Blu-ray has to be “The Dream Studio,” a clip shot during the film’s tumultuous production that documented Coppola’s war with Paramount as he tried to establish American Zoetrope. Fans of the director’s experimental approach to storytelling also will enjoy “The Electric Cinema,” which pries into his creative process. Vintage fetaurettes also dig into the making of the film, musician Tom Waits’ contributions to the musical’s score, rehearsals, deleted scenes and the “This One’s From the Heart” music video. Like each disc on this set, it’s a mixed bag of memorable regalia and disposable art. Still, for the price, the entire set is completely worth grabbing, if only to have films like The Conversation and One from the Heart on Blu-ray, finally, after all of these years.
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