Apocalypse Now is like the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde of feature films in that it’s equally ambitious and inspiring as terrifying and controversial. On one hand the Academy Award winning chronicle of the Vietnam War is a gargantuan Golden Age worthy production complete with the sweeping visuals epic action and scope of a David Lean or Cecil B. DeMille picture. On the other it is a deeply personal haunting introspective study of the nature (and specifically the corruption) of man the ways of the world and our place in it. The duality of the material is well represented in today’s “Full Disclosure” Blu-ray release which is as much an acknowledgment of the problematic project and its long-term legacy as a celebration of the film itself.
For fans of the movie the novel from which it is based (Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”) cinema students and historians this package is the quintessential collectors edition of Francis Ford Coppola’s massive masterpiece. The high definition transfer forged from the original negative materials is bold beautiful and bursting at the seams with vibrant color and picture quality so pristine you feel like you’re watching it in its awe-inspiring 70mm form. The sound is warmer and fuller than ever and you’ll notice that as much in the quieter character driven scenes as in the explosive money shots. More immersive than ever before Blu-ray is the best way to go deeper into the jungle than you’ve ever been.
I could go on and on about the significance and quality of the AV upgrades supervised by Coppola himself but the technical enhancements are not the reason that I consider this to be the best Blu-ray release of the year. As with most home entertainment releases the special features discs’ make or break the title and the “Full Disclosure” edition of Apocalypse Now which contains the most comprehensive collection of content related to the making of the movie and its place in film history is a winner. Let’s start with the 800 lb. gorilla in the package: Hearts of Darkness a feature length documentary co-directed by Eleanor Coppola and boasting behind-the-scenes footage so rare that Francis didn’t even know it existed.
This detailed account of the 238-day shoot is an epic in itself as it sheds light on all of the problems that plagued the production in the Philippines between March 1976 and May 1977. I’ve seen many making-of features over the years but none comes close to accomplishing what Hearts of Darkness does. You feel the sacrifices that the crew made and the pressures they faced as they filmed in hazardous conditions in a war-torn country. It’s a treasure-chest of insight into the creative and commercial aspects of filmmaking that is provocative and engrossing and will be cherished by future generations that will re-discover the film long after those involved with it are gone.
But that’s just disc three. Disc two features most of the fun stuff including candid interviews with screenwriter John Milius star Martin Sheen and Coppola (the interview with the auteur takes place at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival and is particularly nostalgic considering that Apocalypse Now took home the Palme d’Or 22 years earlier). There are a handful of deleted scenes so good my biggest complaint is that they weren’t infused into the feature for this definitive collection. An especially memorable piece is the alternate credits sequence which shows Kurtz’ compound being destroyed while dozens of camera’s capture the chaos. Real buffs will marvel over Orson Welles’ take on “Heart of Darkness” which he read over the radio in 1938 (Welles attempted to craft a cinematic adaptation back then but couldn’t get it going; he made Citizen Kane instead.)
Every element of the production is covered via featurettes on sound color music and editing making this “Full Disclosure” release the final word on the challenging film but like Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde there’s more than one side to the story that the special features tell. Whether your want to delve deeper into the history surrounding the subject matter or the cultural effect of the film there’s something for everybody in this amazing release. The cherry on top? A 48-page collectible booklet with production photos copies of documents timelines and more bringing you another step closer to the anarchy of Apocalypse Now.