Apocalypse Now
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Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier

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There are some films that move beyond what is normal and are projected in the pantheon of cinema. Films like affect the audience, they set a new standard that film goers will forever expect. In a more important sense they also alter the way other script writers, directors and actors ply their craft. One such film is Apocalypse Now. The film has been called cursed, mental and physical problems abounded on set, the money ran out mid way through the production forcing Francis Ford Coppola to pump personal funds in to finish it. Yet this remains one of the most discussed, analyzed and debated films of our generation. Now, Paramount has released the ultimate DVD of this ground breaking film. Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier. It contains just about everything a fan could want from previous separate releases all in one package.

It is the height of the Viet-Nam war and Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) is in Saigon awaiting an assignment. He is taken from his seedy hotel room by some soldiers who would not even give him a chance to sober up. Willard is brought before some Army Intelligence agents who proceed to reveal the mission he is to take. Willard is to travel into Cambodia, find the renegade Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) and terminate his command with extreme prejudice. Kurtz was once an army darling, on the fast track for trading the eagles on his shoulder for stars. Once out in the jungle something happened, he went insane. Now he commands his own army of locals and has moved beyond being a warlord to becoming a god. The men sent before Willard to execute Kurtz apparently have gone over to him. Willard sets out on a RPB (river patrol boat) along the Mekong River along with a motley crew. The film meanders from one bizarre scene after another as Willard makes is way to the point where he can enter the neutral Cambodia. One spot brings him into contact with Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall), an eccentric commander of the Air Cavalry, armed helicopters for the civilians. Kilgore has an unnatural love of the smell of napalm; to him it smells like victory. He also has distain for his enemy since they are unable to surf. With Richard Wagner's powerful piece "Ride of the Valkyries" booming out of speakers on the Hueys his men go into battle. There is also a now famous scene (as if all the scenes in this film arenít famous) where Willard catches some recreation time at a USO show featuring several Playboy bunnies. When Willard finally confronts Kurtz what follows is one of the most intense scenes ever committed to film. Willard finds that there is a danger of becoming the object he hunted.

There are two separate versions of this film, the theatrical release coming in at 153 minutes and the Redux version which has a showing length of 202 minutes. Both versions are now available in the same package for the first time. By doing this Paramount shows a lot of respect to the legion of fans the film has made over the years. Many feel that the Redux version is overly long, extended in length without adding anything to the story. Many go so far as to state that the extension ruins the film. For those people the theatrical release with its tighter editing is the one to have. For those that prefer the Redux release they would say that the addition material places the film in context better and fleshes out some of the ancillary story lines. No matter which camp you are in this release will give you what you want.

One thing in common to both variations is the incredible acting. This is without a doubt one of Martin Sheenís best works. He has the combination of being laid back and focused that few actors could have achieved as well. Robert Duvall may have had a smaller role than he is accustomed to but this is a role that highlights his amazing talent. He plays Kilgore over the top, a man in the most unreasonable of circumstances that finds the lack of normal social restrictions liberating. Even though his screen time is very brief Marlon Brando shows why he is considered one of the best actors of his generation. He is commanding here and can present his character with few words better than most could with a lengthy monologue.

Paramount has provided nothing short of the best possible technical specifications with this two disc release. Do to the length of the films both versions are spread over both discs. This is what the seamless branching feature of DVD was intended to do give the viewer the choice. Both versions are presented in anamorphic video. While the release announcement and packaging state the aspect ratio is 1.85:1 to me it looked closer to 2.10:1. I also noticed that the bit rate was higher than previous releases, close to 9mbs on average. There is an onscreen text feature with Francis Ford Coppola and the discís producer Kim Aubrey that states that the 2.10:1 aspect ratio is the one preferred for home viewing. I have several versions of this film and this one has the best color balance of the lot. The colors are brilliant where called for. The contrast holds together even in the murkiest of scenes. The Dolby 5.1 audio is spectacular. I have never heard it presented better. All of your speakers better be up to the challenge playing this disc. The sub woofer roars out into your living room shaking the furniture. The rear speakers are more active than usual; there is a rich, full feel to the sound stage.

Many would agree that just having the two versions of the film would be enough to justify the $20 list price but Paramount gives us a lot more. The extras are fairly extensive ranging from the serious to outright unusual. On that unusual side there is Marlon Brando reciting T.S. Eliotís poem "The Hollow Men: in its entirety. He gives a powerful vocal performance that just shouldnít be missed. There is some twenty minutes of deleted scenes taken from the fabled five hour editing print of the film that includes some incredible performances that just didnít fit into Coppolaís final vision of the piece. "A/V Club Featurettes" includes a text article by Bib Moog where he goes into the work required to modernize the original score by the directorís father, Carmine Coppola. The featurette "The Birth of 5.1 Sound" details the work that Coppola did with Dolby Labs to produce the audio mix that helps make this film a classic. "The Music of Apocalypse Now" features interviews with people like Shirley Walker who discuss how involved Coppola was with the score. He is certainly a director that knows how important music is to any film. There is a discussion by Coppola and Editor Walter Murch as to why certain scenes that where included in the Redux version were omitted from the theatrical release. This gives a great look at the decision making process between the filmís editor and the director. There are several looks at the 1979 and 2001 release of the film and of course an audio commentary keyed to the seamless branching that makes this release just about everything you wanted to know about the film. Unfortunately the documentary "Hearts of Darkness" was not included apparently because of legal issues. This would have been fantastic since it did go into the extras that where include did not address the mishaps that occurred during production. Paramount has really done it with this release, one that belongs in the collection of any body serious about film.

Posted 8/11/06

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