This year, for our 10th anniversary, my awesome wife bought me a Blu-Ray player. Now I will admit I was a little hesitant at first only because I knew a Blu-Ray player would cost me money due to my DVD addiction. But I vowed not to upgrade existing DVDs unless the extras were out of this world. Of course, I broke that soon with some great deals that could not be passed up (Blade Runner, Braveheart, Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan) and much better editions (Red Cliff, The Exorcist). But the smartest upgrade so far? Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure Edition. By far.
Of course, I already had The Complete Dossier DVD, which remains unopened, but after doing due diligence by searching some reviews (Dad would have been proud), I thought it would be worth it to upgrade to the Apocalypse Now Blu-Ray. Is it? Well, while recovering from gallbladder surgery recently, I decided to line up a bunch of movies to watch in order to kill time in between pain meds (if needed) and found myself stuck mostly on one in particular — my new Apocalypse Now Blu-Ray. Lemme tell ya, it’s worth running out and buying a Blu-Ray player right now.
This high-def version of Apocalypse looks amazing, and sounds incredibly amazing, even on my two little Bose speakers that sound like full surround given the proper medium. One of my top ten favorite movies, I first saw Apocalypse Now as a 12-year-old back in 1979 because my Dad, bless his heart, took us to see everything. It made an instant and lasting impression. You all know the story of this Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece, based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. During the Vietnam War, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is ordered to go up river and terminate the command of seemingly gone-loco Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). He travels with a band of misfits and they encounter adventure, danger, and surrealism from start to finish. And it’s freakin’ awesome.
Everyone knows the issues Coppola had making the movie. Typhoon, madness, budgets, replacement casting, the star having a heart attack. If not, the Blu-Ray also includes the bravura documentary Hearts of Darkness, a must-see for all film fans which can help fill in the blanks.
The cast is uniformly amazing, from Sheen to Brando to Dennis Hopper to Frederic Forrest to Sam Bottoms to a teenaged Laurence Fishburne. My fave is the underrated Albert Hall as The Chief. And of course the cliché favorite is Robert Duvall as Col. Kilgore and everyone endlessly quotes his “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” But to me it’s more the little things that make Duvall’s performance so memorable, whether it’s his drinking coffee in the helicopter during the famous Ride of the Valkyries attack which remains one of the most incredible scenes ever filmed (and I now realize James Cameron may have swiped this for Stephen Lang’s character in Avatar) or when Kilgore lets the guy holding in his guts drink from his canteen, but once someone mentions surfer Lance Johnson is with Willard, he forgets about the guy in a heartbeat. For my money the best Kilgore line is “What do you know about surfing, you’re from goddamn New Jersey!”
Speaking of the helicopter attack scene, famously set to some classic Wagner, it was all pre-CGI (duh). Imagine what Michael Bay would do with that today, with 258 computer generated helicopters and 10,000 explosions in 5 minutes. Well, it would be unwatchable for one.
I watched the Apocalypse Now Redux edition since the BR features both the theatrical and Redux, which I hadn’t seen yet, and has around 45 minutes of added scenes. Some work, some don’t. The extra Playboys Bunnies scene is effective, a bit heartbreaking and strange. With boobies.
The Plantation scene has been described in a couple of reviews as slowing the movie down, and it’s slightly true. It’s also borderline preachy, angry (oh, those silly French), and it seems like the crew is there for a week’s vacation. And there’s an opium smoking scene that features even more boobies, which doesn’t really seem necessary (not that there’s anything wrong with the idea though). But it does contain a nice sendoff for Mr. Clean, and if I could pick out the best thing about the Plantation scene, it makes the following scene even more jarring and more powerful than before.
The extras on the Blu-Ray are worth the price of admission. Among the new features not included on The Complete Dossier are excellent and enjoyable interviews between Coppola and screenwriter John Milius and star Martin Sheen. Milius gets a lot of credit from Coppola for creating Apocalypse Now, especially for the characters and the Wagner/helicopter scene. They kept bringing up George Lucas, which I thought was odd, but it turns out (which I did not know) Lucas was supposed to direct Apocalypse but instead went to do Star Wars (thankfully), and second choice Milius directed The Wind and the Lion instead. Coppola needed to make money for Zoetrope, so decided to direct a Guns of Navarone-type action epic. Um…not quite. But it’s ok, ’cause his movie is better.
Sheen’s interview, the first thing you notice is his big fake choppers. Well, they look fake although I don’t think they are. He and Coppola have a hoot reminiscing in the same studio where they recorded Willard’s voiceover narration, sharing lots of laughs, and some good inside info too.
And there’s SO much more to watch: featurettes on the sound, sound design (they basically invented 5.1 for the movie), music (a bunch of percussionists scored the entire film at one point), casting (Nick Nolte? Really?), and so on, including deleted scenes, a lost scene, alternate credits with commentary. Man. I quite simply can’t recommend this Blu-Ray highly enough. I still have to watch Hearts of Darkness, which I only saw once with a band of great friends back at Film Forum long ago, and which here includes even more extras, plus listen to Coppola’s audio commentary. No reason not to take another trip or two up river.