A feature packed box set that offers viewers options for how wish to watch this film.
Eleanor's Coppola's documentary on the making of this movie should have been in this set.
Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier is a Criterion-like look at Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam opus. The story remains the same but how our characters get there is wholly different depending on which version (1979 or 2001) you choose to watch. The story is simple, Willard (Martin Sheen), a tortured soldier who seems confused by the war is sent on a mission deep into Vietnam to "terminate" Captain Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) "with extreme prejudice." Willard hitches a boat ride with a bunch of young soldiers who don't seem to realize the kind of war that they are fighting in. During his "downtime," Willard has a chance to study Kurtz and it is here the character is transformed into myth. Eventually, Willard has to reconcile whether he should or shouldn't perform his duty. His confusion becomes our confusion, seemingly showing that war is the ultimate confusion.
Apocalypse Now in it's 1979 form is a thick, moody piece that just presents it's story, the war and the characters without passing any kind of political judgment on them. The 2001 version, while a longer film, certainly has an agenda and almost makes the situations the characters find themselves in seem slapstick at times. Still, Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier is a highly stylized DVD creation and I reveled in every bit of extra features and film lore that this two disc set contained.
Watch the Films With Francis Coppola
Coppola has graciously done commentary tracks on both of these films and while I only listened to the one for the 1979 version of Apocalypse Now, at some point I plan on going back and watching the commentary for the 2001 version. It is readily apparent how close this film is to the director, and it's amazing the amount obstacles, trials and sheer bad luck that this production encountered. In fact, when you realize how many films he made after this, that becomes even more impressive because this is the kind of production that wipes you out.
The Hollow Men
Marlon Brando reads a poem by T.S. Eliot in the role of Captain Kurtz. His voice is layered over images from the film that, thankfully, don't seem like they have been improved much. There is a real eeriness to this sequence that speaks heavily to the subject matter of the movie, but also what Coppola and his crew were dealing with when they were creating it. Brando fans, Coppola fans and T.S. Eliot fans will certainly want to view this.
Monkey Sampan Sequence
A short sequence that is quite jarring. In fact, I am surprised that Coppola didn't include it in his 2001 version simply because I think theatergoers would have been very unnerved by what this sequence presents. I could describe it but I think it's better served to say that the main part of this scene hit's you in a highly surprising way.
12 deleted scenes in total make up this section. They have titles like "Letter from Mrs. Kurtz" and "Willard Meets PBR Crew." It was while I was watching these sections that it occurred to me that Coppola should put out a version of the film with everything in it. The best way it seems he could do that, would be if he released the movie like a TV on DVD set so that consumers got multiple volumes. These deleted scenes were really interesting, with my favorite one being that of Willard reading the letter from Mrs. Kurtz.
A/V Club Featurettes
Four featurettes make up this section, and they really are for those fans of Apocalypse Now whose technical aspirations go a tad deeper than most. The featurettes are The Birth of 5.1 Sound, which looks at how the production's innovation created a standard in the film industry, Ghost Helicopter Flyover, an audio demo that I wasn't able to get the most out of with my one speaker TV, The Synthesizer Soundtrack, an article on the creator of the Moog synthesizer and how it was employed in this film, and lastly, the Technical FAQ offers even more technical knowledge of this film in terms how it was shot, aspect ratios and all that other stuff that the science project set cares about.
The Post Production of Apocalypse Now
This section begins the second disc and it too contains four featurettes. They are all pretty self explanatory and so titled. They are: A Million Feet of Film: The Editing of Apocalypse Now, The Music of Apocalypse Now, Heard Any Good Movies Lately? The Sound Design of Apocalypse Now and The Final Mix. We are taken into the mindset behind this film and we see how Coppola, even though he was dealing with a litany of problems, displayed a certain brilliance that allowed for great things to come out of that. My only complaint is that I wish this was longer.
Apocalypse Then and Now
We are treated to how this movie was received when it was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1979, and then we also get to witness the reaction to the film's "Redux" in 2001. What I find most amazing about all of this is the position that Coppola was in both times this film played. The first time, he showed the film to abate all the bad press. This time, he got to show his version of the movie, even though I feel that first version ultimately works better and plays much more into the myth of Captain Kurtz.
A short 2001 expose on the cast behind this film as they look back on the production. When you consider that these people were put together for 238 days, and that the conditions that they were under were less than ideal, I think it makes sense that they would form a bond that would last a lifetime. While I think this could have been longer, I think that it gets it's point across easily.
The Color Palette of Apocalypse Now
This is something for aspiring Cinematographers to watch. We get to hear both Coppola and Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro discuss the "dye printing" process they utilized for this movie's 2001 release. I guess the film (which always looked fine to me), got a bump up in it's image quality when the "Redux" played theatrically. While I usually don't go out for this stuff, I think there is an art to this film that was applied to every aspect of it.
Both versions of Apocalypse Now are presented in Widescreen and are enhanced for 16x9 TVs. This movie always caught my attention for how harsh and big it looked. It is really something to see how the landscapes of this film almost force themselves into the story. Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro has made a movie where it seems like every frame carries some denseness of information. I know people who haven't made it through this film, and I think it isn't the subject matter so much as the impact of the images that cause them to turn it off.
Dolby Digital: English 5.1 Surround. The audio on this film is highly bolstered by the score. There is an eeriness to this movie that almost makes it play like a horror film (which I think was Coppola's intent). The audio is big and layered and I can think of few openings more powerful than that of bombs going off and The Doors "The End" softly waving goodbye.
The packaging for Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier should get an award. It is encased in a binder that, like the information on Kurtz, is labeled CONFIDENTIAL. The discs come out in one piece of artwork that has artfully done images from the film, quotes from the movie and detailed descriptions of the features on the discs, all over it. Both DVDs that make up this collection are housed in two trays in this easy to navigate box set.
To be quite honest, I really don't care for the 2001 version of this film. Sometimes directors let us peek behind the curtain a little too much. There was nothing about the Special Features that I felt gave away too much (after that is there job and you can choose not to watch them), I just think that the 2001 version seemed a little too hellbent on putting across a specific agenda. The main example is that the 1979 version makes Colonel Kilgore seem like the ultimate war machine. He's a man who casually delegates authority as bullets and bombs are flying all around him. His moments are shortlived but he really makes an impact. In the 2001 version, the man is treated as a joke. Kilgore seems almost stupid and his scenes (especially when he flies over Vietnam looking for his stolen surfboard) are laughable.
Overall, Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier is an extraordinary DVD achievement, and one that I hope will spur Francis Ford Coppola to make more films, knowing that he'll be able to present his movies his way.
Apocalypse Now was released August 15, 1979.