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Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Disc review by Bill Hunt, Editor of The Digital Bits

Apocalypse Now: Three-Disc Full Disclosure (Blu-ray Disc)

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Apocalypse Now: Three-Disc Full Disclosure
1979/2001 (2010) - American Zoetrope (Lionsgate)
Released on Blu-ray on October 19th, 2010
Also available in a lesser 2-disc Blu-ray version and previously available on DVD.


Film Rating (Theatrical/Redux): A/A
Video (1-20): 18
Audio (1-20): 18
Extras: A+

There are a handful of truly seminal special editions - sadly fewer on Blu-ray than there were on DVD - that genuinely deserve and demand an immediate purchase by film enthusiasts upon their release. Warner's Blade Runner comes to mind... Sony's Close Encounters, several Criterion editions including their recent Seven Samurai.

I'm pleased to say, Lionsgate's new Apocalypse Now: Three-Disc Full Disclosure release has earned a place on that list of titles. Simply put, this is an absolutely magnificent presentation of a landmark film.

So much has been said about Francis Ford Coppola's epic Apocalypse Now over the years, that it seems there's little worthy that I could add in the way of observation. Based on the Joseph Conrad novella Heart of Darkness, the film follows the secret mission of a U.S. Army Special Ops officer (played by Martin Sheen) to terminally "cashier" a Special Forces Colonel (Marlon Brando) who's gone rogue deep in the jungles of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Like the novella, it's a story of the power of the jungle, as a primal force of nature, to eat men alive - to pull otherwise capable and intelligent men into madness. Fittingly, this also describes the war in which so many young American soldiers experienced this very phenomenon. And as anyone familiar with the history of this film production knows, Coppola and his own crew experienced much the same thing while shooting the film itself.

In 2006, Paramount and American Zoetrope released Apocalypse Now - both the theatrical cut and the 2001, 49-minute longer Redux version - in a very fine 2-disc Complete Dossier Edition DVD. That set included a plethora of great special edition materials, and was an excellent overall release. Now in 2010, Lionsgate and Zoetrope have collaborated on a new Blu-ray edition that takes nearly all of that content and ups the ante with significant new special edition material, and a new 1080p/lossless A/V upgrade as well.

Both versions of the film are included on Disc One of the new Lionsgate set (via seamless branching), and the films have simply never looked better. Presented for the very first time in their original theatrical 2.35:1 scope aspect ratio, all of the richly-saturated colors and deep, inky blacks of the film's original dye-transfer print process have been preserved here for home viewing. The film has been transferred in 4K resolution from the original inter-positive and has been digitally remastered to remove unwanted age-related defects, all while preserving its fine grain, the occasional optical distortion around the edges of the frame, and other artifacts of the production process. As Coppola himself has been quoted as saying (in our recent Zoetrope interview on the film's remastering): "You know... this film is made by humans. Yes, there was a hair in the gate back in '79. I'm not going to be worried about that." Just a hint of noise reduction was applied after the initial HD mastering process (applied, it's worth noting, as a normal part of the process of BD compression) but it's in no way excessive - the image detail remains crisp and refined, very light grain is retained and all of the other subtle visual cues and textures that are the desired hallmarks of a film like this are preserved. The film's soundtrack is upgraded as well in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless, delivering excellent sonic clarity and fidelity. The mix is wide, expansive and enveloping, with lively and atmospheric rear channel fill and abundant bass.

I mentioned that NEARLY all of the bonus content from Complete Dossier Edition DVD has carried over here on Discs Two and Three of this set. Missing is brief video intro to the film by Coppola, and also the Easter egg (though technically the content of that Easter egg - the story about the film's title - is included in the new interview with John Milius). From Paramount's original Redux DVD, the Redux trailer is missing. From the original theatrical cut DVD, the Destruction of the Kurtz Compound footage has carried over and is now in full HD, but while the original DVD had it without text credits and with optional Coppola commentary, the new Blu-ray has it with the original credit text and commentary only - a very minor loss, but still worth mentioning. And finally, from Paramount's Hearts of Darkness documentary DVD, the 62-minute Coda documentary is gone... but then that was about the making of Coppola's Youth Without Youth and not this film, so it's not really relevant. (I only mention it here because Coda was also missing from Sony's Youth Without Youth Blu-ray.) So if you wish to retain any of those very minor bonuses, be sure to keep the DVDs in question.

However, EVERYTHING ELSE from the previous DVDs has carried over - definitely everything of substance and relevance to Apocalypse Now. Newly-added just for this Blu-ray is the full Coppola/Roger Ebert video interview from Cannes in 2001 (38 mins), the excellent A Conversation with Martin Sheen and Francis Ford Coppola featurette (59 mins, in HD), a new Fred Roos: Casting Apocalypse featurette (12 mins, also in HD), substantial galleries of original production photos, poster and marketing artwork, script excerpts with Coppola's notes, storyboards and the like (all in HD), and the complete original 1979 pressbook for the film (HD). A cool feature is that (via a new Apple app by Metabeam) you can view all these stills in high-resolution on your iPad or iPhone, for a closer, more intimate look. And of course, this new set includes - for the first time ever with the film itself - the excellent Eleanor Coppola documentary on the production, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (96 mins). And yes, it's in full HD as well and looks terrific. Perhaps my favorite of the new extras is the new An Interview with John Milius featurette (49-mins, in HD), in which Coppola and Milius - who are very old friends - discuss the origins of the film, the screenplay inspirations and a wide range of related topics. This is just one of those absolutely fascinating and engaging features of the kind that you find only on the very best special editions. Think of it as a companion piece to the great A Legacy of Filmmakers documentary on the THX 1138 Blu-ray. An archival recording of the complete 1938 Mercury Theatre Radio reading of Heart of Darkness featuring Orson Welles is also here (36 mins) - relevant not only for the obvious reasons, but also because Welles himself attempted to adapt Heart of Darkness for the big screen, but was unable to get studio backing. (So he made Citizen Kane instead.) Finally, as if all that weren't enough, there's the new 48-page booklet! It features a written introduction to the special edition by Coppola himself, notes and correspondence to and from the set ("Because of the suspected use of marijuana and other drugs amongst members of our company in Baler and Iba, local authorities are now on the lookout for it here..."), rare photos from the set, more original Milius script pages with Coppola's wildly scribbled notes all around the margins ("NEVER LOSE THE MAIN STORY!"), production artwork and more. It's a true treasure trove of seldom- and never-before-seen material. Frankly, my only real complaint about this release is the cover art. I'd have much preferred the 2-disc Blu-ray's film poster artwork to the Photoshop-composited imagery here - they should have been swapped. But yeah, that's a nitpick.

Looking back with the hindsight of years, Apocalypse Now represents a type of film that's no longer made by Hollywood. It was in many ways the last of its kind - the close of a kind of "golden age" of filmmaking in the 1960s and 70s, in which studios allowed audacious young directors to unleash their imaginations and abilities on challenging stories of true intellectual heft, right before a new era of visual effects and corporate-driven commercialism changed the industry forever. As such, Apocalypse Now deserves special edition treatment of equal scale and heft... and with this set, it's gotten exactly that. The Blu-ray presentation quality is first-rate, and there's plenty of meat here - both preserved from previous editions and fresh as well - to make this a very rich meal indeed. It's easily one the of best Blu-ray releases not just of the year but of the format to date. Our hats off to Lionsgate and Zoetrope for their efforts. This special edition should NOT be missed.

Bill Hunt
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