Plot: What’s it about?
For more than twenty years now, we have been exposed to one of the greatest war movies ever told. Francis Ford Coppola made a name for himself with the Godfather movies, but this war movie epic is something that must be seen if you’re a fan of any movie. That’s a bold statement, I realize, but Apocalypse Now is not only a great telling of the agony of war, but also how humans act as well. This new version of the already classic movie features some 50 minutes that have never been seen before. While the original is still an outstanding movie and has stood on that reputation for quite some time (it’s ranked in the top 30 of the AFI Top 100 movies of all time), we have to ask ourselves if this extra footage really makes the movie better? Personally, I haven’t seen the movie enough to give a concrete answer. But I am a believer in “The more the merrier”, to an extent. While clocking in at just over 200 minutes, Apocalypse Now: Redux is something that will consume an afternoon, no doubt about that! But as movie purists are concerned…should you really mess with something that’s good to begin with? There’s another old saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”! No matter which side you take, it was a great movie in 1979 and it’s a great movie in 2001, but you be the judge as to which one is more your style.
And so it begins that Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) is conflicted. He has lost his wife to divorce and has taken a few tours in Vietnam. As he puts it in the narration, when he was in the jungle he was thinking about home; and when he was at home he was thinking about the jungle. Through a series of scenes, we see his confliction emerge in several ways…most notably in his room where he is drunk and punches a mirror. Willard is then sought out by his superiors to proceed up a river and relieve a once great Colonel of his command. It seems that Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) has been in the jungle too long and it has finally affected him. He has a group of natives and a dedicated group of soldiers at his disposal who treat him as some sort of God. The military can’t have this and hence the mission to have him terminated (with extreme prejudice). Captain Willard is to proceed up the river, find Kurtz and kill him. End of story. Willard has conflicts, but accepts the job, but it’s the trip up the river that will lead him to be closer to Kurtz than he thought possible.
There are a rough group of soldiers on the boat going up the river, a young Lawrence Fishburne plays “Clean”, a 17 year old kid who somehow found his way into the war. Lance Johnson (Sam Bottoms) is a top notch surfer from California and the chief (Albert Hall). The crew is kept in the dark as to what’s going on and what the mission actually is, but they follow the orders to go into Cambodia (where Colonel Kurtz is residing) even though it’s against the law. The journey up the river is a mystical one, there are many stops and each has its significance in relation to the plot as a whole. They meet Lieutenant Kilgore (Robert Duvall), who may be the most remembered and most quoted character from the movie, along the way. Kilgore is a die hard Army Ranger who also happens to be a surfer. After attacking the “Charlie”, they surf the beach. To quote Kilgore “Charlie don’t surf”. It’s clear that he’s wound a bit too tight, but his men seem to like him and he’s apparently getting the job done. Duvall does an excellent job in one of his best roles here. The USO Show is another stop that they make, but as the extended version shows, there’s more time with the Playmates. In what seems to border on a tasteless act, the men of the boat give two barrels of fuel in exchange for a few hours alone with the Playmates (draw your own conclusions).
Sensing that their mission is coming to an end, the soldiers that they encounter are more and more up tight. They seem to sense that the war is coming to an end and the Kurtz compound is the final destination. With a few of the members of the crew already dead, it’s a mission with losses already. This is when we meet the final two characters of the movie, Colonel Kurtz (Brando) and a Photojournalist (Dennis Hopper). Hopper does well here and acts as an immeditary of sorts for Willard. He warns of the power that the Colonel has and how insane he has become, but Willard is bound and determined to follow the orders and complete his mission.
While I don’t think I even scratched the surface of what the movie is trying to say, I can say that it’s one of the most interesting pieces of film that I’ve seen. It works on many different levels, and might have something for everyone (except a love story…it doesn’t have that). While Robert Duvall and Marlon Brando’s names appear above Martin Sheen’s, this is his movie, make no doubt about it. With rumored production delays (Sheen had a heart attack during the filming and Brando showed up 100 pounds overweight), even in 1979 pepole were wondering when this movie would finally arrive. Well, 22 years later we are treated to an even longer version with some choice new scenes, but the argument will likely exist as to why they decided to release this now. While I think it’s great to have another version of this movie, I can’t say that I agree with all the additional scenes. To have one “definitive” version, you have to have both DVD’s. The original was good and featured a couple of behind the scenes featurettes (one with commentary by Coppola). You’ll find none of that here. I think this film should be viewed as what movies can be like, with all the crap that comes out these days, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief when you realize what a great movie you’ve just seen.
Video: How does it look?
Almost as puzzling as the movie itself is the way it’s presented on DVD. The trailer shows the movie in a letterbox 2.35:1 transfer, but both this version and the version before are show in an anamorphic 2.0:1 transfer. Now maybe it’s just my TV, but I don’t think so, but the movie looked exactly as a 1.85:1 movie does with a black line (denoting the letterbox) along the bottom of the screen. While this isn’t distracting too much, I find it odd that movies not in the “normal” two formats appear strangely on a 16:9 television. Still, the colors are right on target and with the sheer amount of green in the movie, you’re treated to a good transfer. I noticed some artifacting and a bit of edge-enhancement as well, but for the most part the image is clean and solid. The scenes that are edited back in the movie are nice as well, you’ll be challenged to tell where they are. The black levels are dead on target (just wait for that scene where Willard comes out of the water wearing his camoflauge) as well. Comparable to it’s predecessor, this new version looks just as good, if you can get past that black line at the bottom of your screen. I switched the TV into “normal” mode and it looks like a regular letterboxed movie, so the problem is only with the anamorphic part of it. It doesn’t affect the picture though, which is always nice.
Audio: How does it sound?
Presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, Apocalypse Now has never sounded better. It’s the same mix used for the previous DVD, as ambience abounds throughout. The dialogue is free of distortion and as Willard narrates, we avoid that ‘hiss’ that seems to be present during some of the older movies. The surrounds are used with great force, the scenes in battle are particularly awesome even as Kilgore is blasting “Ride of the Valkyre’s” from the helicopters (probably the movie’s most famous scene). While it can’t stand up to today’s tracks, Apocalypse Now sounds great and is a true testament to what a good soundtrack can do for a great movie.
Supplements: What are the extras?
While everyone wants a very special edition of this movie, Coppola will not do one. The only extra that is found on this disc is the trailer presented in letterbox. While some may argue that the additional 50 minutes of scenes added back into the movie is an extra, I don’t. The movie played in theaters with the scenes and the DVD is the movie. Perhaps we’ll get the Ultimate Edition of this movie, but in the meantime, I’d pick up both copies of the film. One has some very interesting featurettes (not this one) and if you want the additional scenes, then this is the one for you. In any case, they’re both highly recommended.