Apocalypse Now Final Cut Review
Do you remember a time when Apocalypse Now was just that? No “Redux”, no “Final Cut”. Or Star Wars? Or Alien? Innocent times; it can be argued that the constantly tweaked releases dilute the originals. Maybe the story behind the productions helps when considering a double-double-dip. Or perhaps the gamut of extras and the quality of the sprucing up play a factor. However you cut it, this package is superb even if the apparent dismissal of Redux as a temporary experiment is frustrating, like the Blade Runner Director’s Cut. Mind you, Coppola has said that even the original, the initial result of four-year production so epic it drove the leading man to a heart attack, was interim, and notably he hasn’t tried to play with his other epic, the The Godfather.
I’m being flippant. Apocalypse Now is never to be underestimated and if you haven’t looked into this particular Abyss, you’re in for a heck of a ride. It’s more of an experience than a mere film and there’s no question that this release is a must-buy for newbies. Finding a path through the narrative on a first run can be as bewildering as the journey Willard (Martin Sheen) takes along the winding river. We begin with a scene of utter destruction, cut to The Doors’ “This is the end”. A statement of where the film exists; within war as a perpetual self-sufficient existence of insanity.
The story is simple. Soldier, assassin or "errand boy", Sheen’s Willard is travelling through Vietnam to execute the supposedly insane Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). As he travels deeper into Vietnam on the approach to Cambodia, a series of vignettes portrays a strange world whose inhabitants of disenfranchised soldiers have become dependent on war. A past and a future do not figure. None stand out more than the indestructible Major Kilgore (Robert Duvall), casually calling in a napalm strike so he can surf.
Based on Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella Heart of Darkness, this journey is oddly hypnotic. Cut through with irony, it is truly a divine comedy; exhausting and rewarding in equal measure, making no concerted effort to disturb where, say, Saving Private Ryan shocks your emotions. The finale is astonishing and iconic, somewhat down to Coppola having to work with a more eccentric Brando. Much like Carol Reed struggling to work with a largely absent Orson Welles in The Third Man and making a better film for it.
Arguably, American cinema has been at its most relevant whenever the country is in pain. Vietnam and the fallout represented an existential crisis for the superpower and that invested art of all kinds. A rule of thumb I’ve always followed with Vietnam movies is that The Quiet American is an underrated prequel; Platoon is likely the most accurate, because director Oliver Stone actually served there; The Deer Hunter had a lack of discipline, which contributed to it being the most emotional, the most human; Apocalypse Now is neither intended to be historically accurate, nor an ode to that particular war. Consider it a passionate response, a line drawn in the sand beyond which another step is one from which it is impossible to return.
It’s understandable that some of us can only greet another cut with weariness, but what of this final cut? Referred to in private as Coppola’s “Goldilocks” cut, it’s longer than the original but shorter than Redux. The divisive Plantation sequence survives, a scene that has its place, but a point-within-a-point is clumsily made and the change of pace with its politicised, esoteric dialogue remains jarring. Otherwise the pacing is tight and the epic purposefully indulgent narrative leaves a mark.
Nothing matches the first time you see Apocalypse Now. I’m tempted to still favour the original over Coppola’s new cut, but whether you’re a veteran viewer or a new recruit, this set is the best of all three worlds. It remains a unique fever dream.
Put the debate over cuts to one side and actually, the best thing about the new set is that all three cuts feature the same remastered footage, scanned from the original negative. This is the first time it was done, the scan taking 11 months and 2,700 hours! Ironically, the famous opening of Willard staring at the ceiling fan, unable to discern his reality, is a little muted, but this is probably just because of how the shot was made and testament to a lack of false boosting of colour, now exposed by the higher definition. The trailer for the re-release features part of the Kilgore sequence for good reason. It is jaw dropping and the new definition just further exposes what a phenomenal endeavour the production was. Coppola has said, "The audience will be able to see, hear and feel this film how I always hoped it could be-from the first 'bang' to the final whimper" and he’s not to be dismissed.
Throughout the film there are moments of breathtaking painterly quality, not least as the mission reaches the edge of Cambodia. Contrasts of light, shade and colour are balanced perfectly in the closing sequences, especially those wonderful enigmatic shots of Brando’s Kurtz. The Apocalypse is dangerously alluring.
The Dolby Atmos mix (DTS-HD Master Audio on Blu-ray) employed ‘Sensual Sound’, newly developed by Meyer Sound Laboratories, a technology that can deliver audio “below the limits of human hearing”. I’m not sure many of us can appreciate it! It’s a powerful mix, even considering the age of the original recording. 'Ride of The Valkyries' always jumps to mind when you think of Apocalypse Now and the whole scene, sound included, packs a hefty punch; the range of much of the rest though poses more of a challenge, to which the nimble soundtrack ably responds. Dialogue drops a little further back than you might expect, but it’s clear and centred nonetheless.
Thankfully, all features from the previous releases appear to have been brought over to the new set, including the commentaries and Eleanor Coppola’s Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, the astonishing ‘making of’ documentary. There’s a whole bunch of new stuff as well, much of it focussing on the restoration.
- Intro by Francis Ford Coppola
- Audio Commentary by Director Francis Ford Coppola
- An Interview with John Milius
- A Conversation with Martin Sheen and Francis Ford Coppola
- "Fred Roos: Casting Apocalypse" Featurette
- The Mercury Theatre on the Air: Heart of Darkness - November 6, 1938
- "The Hollow Men" Featurette
- Monkey Sampan "Lost Scene"
- Additional Scenes
- "Destruction of the Kurtz Compound" End Credits
- "The Birth of 5.1 Sound" Featurette
- "Ghost Helicopter Flyover" Sound Effects Demonstration
- "The Synthesizer Soundtrack" Article by Bob Moog
- "A Million Feet of Film: The Editing of Apocalypse Now" Featurette
- "Heard Any Good Movies Lately? The Sound Design of Apocalypse Now" Featurette
- "The Final Mix" Featurette
- "2001 Cannes Film Festival: Francis Ford Coppola" Featurette
- "PBR Streetgang" Featurette
- "The Color Palette of Apocalypse Now" Featurette;
- Disc Credits
- Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (with Optional Audio Commentary by Francis and Eleanor Coppola)
- NEW: Tribeca Film Festival Q and A with Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Soderbergh
- NEW: Never-Before-Seen B-Roll Footage
- NEW: Apocalypse Now Dolby Featurette (HD)
- NEW: A history of Apocalypse Now on Home Video (HD)
- John Milius Script Excerpt with Francis Coppola Notes (Still Gallery)
- Storyboard Collection
- Photo Archive ▪ Unit Photography ▪ Mary Ellen Mark Photography o Marketing Archive ▪ 1979 Teaser Trailer ▪ 1979 Theatrical Trailer ▪ 1979 Radio Spots ▪ 1979 Theatrical Program ▪ Lobby Card and Press Kit Photos ▪ Poster Gallery ▪ Apocalypse Now Redux Trailer
Apocalypse Now Final Cut is available now