The Complete Dossier
Review by Michael Jacobson
Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Dennis
Hopper August 15, 2006
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.20:1
Features: See Review
Length: 153 Minutes (Original), 202 Minutes (Redux)
August 15, 2006
man has a breaking point. You and I
have them. Walt Kurtz has reached
he has obviously gone insane.”
is a point of no turning back in Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam war epic, Apocalypse
Now. The boat carrying Captain Willard (Sheen) up the Nung
river reaches the final Army post. It
is a dark, surreal setting, almost mythological in scope. More than anything I have ever seen in film, this reminded me
of the gates of Hell. Frightened
soldiers swim out into the water, screaming for the boat to help, like lost
souls trapped in the river Styx. The
only light comes from the constant firing off of flares, which cause faces to
emerge from seas of blackness like masks of horror.
The soldiers are shooting frantically at an enemy they cannot see.
No one is in charge.
usually comes before Hell…but not in this movie. It is beyond this frightening, chaotic setting that true
death awaits, in the form of the Kurtz compound.
should back up. Apocalypse Now was the first great American film dealing with the
subject of the Vietnam War—at least from an honest perspective.
Based loosely on Joseph Conrad’s classic novel, Heart
of Darkness, writer/director/producer Coppola found in this source the
symbolism he needed to convey the insanity of war.
In Conrad’s novel, English traders take a steamer down the Congo River
in Africa, and as they move further and further away from any semblance of
civilization, so in turn, civilization seems to move from them.
Here, the setting is Vietnam, but the theme remains the same…the
question of whether or not morality naturally exists everywhere, or if it only
goes where we specifically choose to bring it.
22 years later, Coppola brought a new vision to the screen:
Apocalypse Now Redux. This
re-edited and remastered version contains some 49 new minutes of footage that
has never been seen before. For
those who have watched the film countless times, it’s like seeing the parts of
an old legend that you were never told about.
The extra scenes don’t make the overall picture any better or worse;
they merely give the narrative a little more space and the journey a little more
film’s opening is one of the most hypnotic ever in terms of visuals and
sounds…and no credits to read. No
matter how many times I watch the picture, I find myself ensnared right from the
start by its surrealistic power. We
are introduced to Willard, who seems to be just another wounded soul treading
the edge of sanity in the war…until he is given a mission to occupy his time
and his ravaged mind. In a superbly
paced and structured sequence, Willard learns of his assignment to take a boat
into Cambodia to seek out a deranged Colonel named Kurtz.
Kurtz has gone severely mad, with a god complex to boot.
Willard is to terminate his command, “with extreme prejudice”. That line is the only spoken by a non-uniformed man present
at the meeting, obviously a government representative of some kind.
It is the line that seems to reverberate throughout the rest of the
Willard and his men go further up river…that is to say, further away from the
structure of the American Army’s presence, the sanity becomes more and more
strained. It’s safe to say that
this movie does more than reveal or display the insanity of war.
It absolutely revels in it, and cherishes it.
It argues convincingly that loss of sanity in such a surrounding was more
blessing than curse, and perhaps being insane was the most sane alternative
of this cultivates when the river and journey end, countless miles away from
civilization. The Kurtz compound,
as I mentioned, is death personified. There
are bodies hanging everywhere, some lying about where they were killed, and even
severed heads everywhere. The
buzzing of flies is prevalent. As
Willard remarks, even the smell of the place was like slow death.
of course, there is Kurtz himself (Brando), the one time shining star of the
military academy, who now runs this compound of natives and villagers like some
kind of god. He recites poetry,
mumbles sorrowfully, and kills arbitrarily.
He knows what Willard is sent there to do…and though he easily could,
he doesn’t try to stop him. He
almost seems to want it.
may be insane, but in a moment of clarity, he expresses with almost a sense of
admiration why the Americans would not win that war. He has seen the enemy. The
enemy are men like anyone else; they have families, morals, values, ideas…but
when it came right down to it, they simply put all of that aside and did their
duty—no matter how horrifying—because they had the ability to do whatever it
took to win the war. Without
remorse, and without judgment.
finale of the movie is a mesmerizing climax, whereby Willard finally carries out
his mission. Is it as simple as the
end of a deranged, evil man? Maybe
not. For Kurtz, the horror is at an
end. But look into Willard’s eyes
as he sails away. For him, it may
be just beginning.
of the picture will easily recognize what new material the Redux version brings to
the table. There are scenes that
are funny, like Willard and crew making off with Kilgore’s surfboard, scenes
that are bizarre and disjointed, like a second meeting with the Playboy
helicopter further up river, and scenes that are just plain surreal, such as the
ghost-like French clinging to their run down plantation near Cambodia.
Even Kurtz gets an extra moment or two, as he reads a rather ironic
article from Time magazine.
third in billing, it should be noted that Martin Sheen’s powerful performance
is what anchors the film, and gives it a sense of structure amidst the chaos.
But equally good are Robert Duvall as Lt. Kilgore, who aids Willard in
his quest to get up river, and takes out a village in an explosive sequence
while his men surf the squalls. You
can also see early performances from two promising newcomers, Harrison Ford and
of course, there’s Marlon Brando as Kurtz.
Every time I watch this film, I have a different opinion of his
performance. Many times, I’ve
dismissed it as the mere flexing of a legendary ego—you must remember he
practically dismantled the script in order to improvise and create what he
wanted to do—but this time around, I sensed something more solid. I never gave Brando enough credit for understanding his
character, but he truly does, and if you’re paying attention to Kurtz, and not
Brando, you really can begin to comprehend his own personal journey that brought
him to the same place where Willard’s journey would come to fruition.
to think, all Brando cost Coppola was top billing and a million dollars for
about 10 to 15 minutes of screentime. The
remastered disc is a treat for the eyes, and fans will notice an improvement
over Paramount’s already good initial DVD offering for Apocalypse Now.
Here, colors are brighter and fuller, images sharper and cleaner, and
there is no noticeable grain or interference to mar the visuals.
The only thing I find fault with is that the movie STILL isn’t
correctly framed. Though Paramount
has claimed 2.20:1 is Coppola’s preferred ratio for the film, it still should
be seen in 2.35:1…if you look closely enough in one or two scenes, you can
even see a bit of panning & scanning taking place, which I don’t like at
all. Still, until the ratio is put
right once and for all, this is an enjoyable presentation, and one fans new and
old alike can be quite happy about.
5.1 soundtrack is one of the best I’ve ever heard. Never have the sounds of war come so fully to life as they
have here. From the distant
rumblings of explosions that keep the .1 channel subtly busy, to the great
musical score and Doors’ songs, to the out and out chaos of battle, this is a
mix that keeps all channels occupied. The
audio is lively, forceful, and dynamic, and very clean.
In one of the new scenes, which takes place during a monsoon, the rain is
so enveloping and real you might just find yourself looking out your window to
be sure. Absolute reference quality
from start to finish…even die hard fans will find this new mix startling and
At long last, Apocalypse Now has been given the red carpet treatment it deserves. The two disc special edition is loaded, and my only qualm was the decision to divide both the original and the Redux versions over the two discs...wouldn't it have been better to put one on one and one on the other?
Oh, well...you can hear terrific audio commentaries by Francis Ford Coppola for both versions. I've been waiting for him to do a track for this movie ever since DVD went mainstream, and I have to say, for a true movie lover, this was worth the wait. Mr. Coppola is quite relaxed, generous with details, and able to laugh about some of the hardship he endured trying to realize this classic. Coppola also offers an on-screen introduction to the Redux version, with a word or two of explanation of how that was actually the original cut before he gave into his own fears and trimmed it down.
There are 12 previously unseen segments, the lost "Monkey Sampan" scene (quite surreal), and a full outtake of Marlon Brando reading T. S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" (Mister Kurtz, he not dead yet). There are retrospective featurettes, an audio/visual club segment for aspiring filmmakers, a cast members reunion, and looks at the color palette of the film and the sound design and mix.
Two visions, one singular classic. Apocalypse Now is a singular landmark in the history of American cinema, whether you choose the original version or Francis Ford Coppola's longer, more surreal take. The Complete Dossier has them both, as well as everything you could want to know about how this great movie came into being.