economy has gone to hell, but you can still afford to splurge on the
latest in High Definition treats. The CHUD Home Entertainment Team has
taken upon themselves to draft the Top 25 Blu-Rays released in Region A
thus far. From the 1st of December until Christmas, we’ll count down to
the greatest Blu-Ray release of all-time. Join us and marvel at the
treasures of the 1080p set.
LIST POSITION: #5
TITLE: Apocalypse Now
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Cast: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Larry Fishburne, Dennis Hopper
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WHY IT’S ON THE LIST
In the last year, Zoetrope/Paramount began the long journey of sending Coppola’s work to LionsGate. Initially, fans were skeptical of what LionsGate would do with these classics. The first release turned out to be a fanboy dream, as Apocalypse Now got the deluxe treatment. All of the supplemental material from the DVD releases of the original cut and Redux were carried over to the Blu-Ray. Zoetrope went out of their way to create new material that allowed Coppola to involved John Milius, Walter Murch and most of the production team in a new retrospective. There’s also the Criterion copycat factor, but I’ll go into that later.
I’m still only in Saigon. While I attempt to paraphrase Martin Sheen’s opening narration, I’m flooded with memories from multiple viewings of the film. I can remember the first time that I realized the young black kid was Morpheus. I have fond memories of trying to do the Martin Sheen drunk commando dance from the start of the film minus the glass punch. No matter how hard I wanted to commit, I couldn’t bring myself to punch it.
This was the first dick flick or Cinema du Man movie that I remember really obsessing over. Every impressionable male and stout female has memories like this and those films take a lofty seat in your heart. Lines are memorized, scenes are parodied and you began to wonder who you should fancast in a possible remake. Very few of these films remain unaltered by age and repeat viewings, but I’m happy to say that Apocalypse Now remains unscathed. It’s a film that is passed down among generations of film fans, as we try to find the next virgin viewer to indoctrinate.
What about this film makes it so appealing? There is something in the film geek psyche that is drawn to dark and gritty, but this film is about more than that. When you finally see Kurtz, as a hollowed cult figure…you pity him. He can have men killed on a whim, but there’s something terrible about his existence. Brando captures this amazingly well with his bald bloated figure that spends the film hiding in shadow, while talking in grand contemplations about futile mortality. Basically, it’s a mopey Vietnam movie about how everything we do as humanity will only end in the inevitably of death. The horror, the horror.
The film’s arrival on Blu-Ray has ushered in the definitive versions of these films. When Willard arrives at Kurtz’s compound, the level of detail is staggering. You can see legible writing on the walls and graphically nude corpses dangling from trees. Hell, I even saw some props that would be used in future scenes that were just hanging out in the background. The one added bonus of this detail was getting to see Dennis Hopper’s drugged up gaze in High Definition. I don’t know what the late great Mr. Hopper was on while making this film, but it must’ve been legendary.
If that wasn’t enough, the transfer finally does justice to Vittorio Storaro’s Oscar winning cinematography. The aspect ratio that Storaro uses has always been a subject of fierce debate for fans. While early Home Video presentations alternated between various widescreen formats, the seemingly agreed upon standard was somewhere between an International flat of 2:00.1 and an over-defined 2.35:1 scope. While Redux keeps the friendly American scope, I’m proud to say that barely any information is lost on frame. However, the nitpicker in me is a little displeased that the Redux cut isn’t properly framed. Regardless of what Coppola says, the intentions of Storaro should be honored.
Apocalypse Now is a film defined by its baggage. Amateur film historians know of the troubled production in the South Pacific. Martin Sheen had cardiac problems, while Coppola was having a nervous breakdown. The film went over budget and Hollywood was mulling the possible end of Coppola’s career. While this film benefitted from Coppola’s insane genius, it also sadly marked the long decline of the former Titan. The man never recovered after his Vietnam opus and he’s spent the last thirty years fighting to reclaim his glory in the world of indie cinema.
Marlon Brando almost defines everything that was great and terrible about the movie, as he mumbles his way through the third act. While Sheen was positioned as the face of the picture, Brando is its black dying heart. For as he says near the finale, Sheen and his journey are nothing more than an errand boy’s routine. The boat crew is cut down, Sheen is turned into a void and Brando gets the last laugh. Nothing that the individual does matters, as nature and supposed civility will ruin us all.
If you’re on the fence about the film, I don’t really know how I can motivate you. Younger viewers are often put off by legacy films and the history that is attached to them. Older fans wonder why they should upgrade for the umpteenth time, when all they want is to see the film in cinemas again. Classic movies on Blu-Ray are a tricky area, but I must state this. The cinema is defined by technology, as much as artistic endeavor. While it’s ok to try to be a purist, you must actively try to see the finest films in the best possible manner. Make the upgrade, you’re worth it.
WHY DIDN’T IT RANK HIGHER?
Apocalypse Now arrived on Blu-Ray with both cuts of the film, the Hearts of Darkness documentary and a treasure trove of special features. What it didn’t receive were the extra material that Hickenlooper shot for the documentary. Sure, that material was cut during the original exhibition, but that B-reel footage has to be lying around somewhere. There’s more great material about how Coppola lost control of the production, plus the extra material about Harvey Keitel’s dismissal from the film. I know that everybody is sensitive about the documentary, since Hickenlooper just died a few months ago. I just wish that the Coppolas would greenlight the release of the material. What’s the worse that could happen? Oh yeah…lawsuits.
THE BEST SUPPLEMENT
An Interview with John Milius offers Francis Ford Coppola a chance to revisit the film with its original screenwriter. While the material isn’t mind-blowing, it does allow two Old Hollywood pros to discuss what made cinema work in the 1970s and how they managed to capture lightning in a bottle. Essentially, it’s two artists discussing craft in a way that remains interesting to the casual viewer. The rest of the supplements are just as interesting, but the real kicker is the packaging. From the menus to the box to the transfer remastering, the entire affair stinks of being a Criterion copycat.
LionsGate and Criterion have had a few dust-ups with the StudioCanal licensing debacle. Basically, LionsGate cut Studio Canal a deal that Criterion couldn’t fire back against and Studio Canal pulled their Criterion licenses. This resulted in a Barnes and Noble stampede, as fanboys rushed to the stores to pick up every copy of the latest Out of Print Criterions. Weeks later, LionsGate and Studio Canal would announce the launch of their Studio Canal Collection for Arthouse Blu-Rays and related titles. Most of those transfers weren’t of Criterion quality and even one disc sported an early Blu-Ray transfer taken from a Masters of Cinema UK disc.
Harrison Ford smokes like Solid Snake.
Charlie don’t surf, but he sure loves to arm wrestle.
Here you go, man. Did I ever tell you about the time I threw Natalie Wood into a bathtub filled with champagne? Let me tell you that there’s one thing quality pussy doesn’t like. That’s having the ’48 Rothschild burning the shit out of their snatch. Laughs were had, but that little stunt caused R.J. Wagner to break my legs.