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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/4/01

Apocalypse Now

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Apocalypse Now: Redux

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Apocalypse Now: Redux
1979/2001 (2001) - American Zoetrope/Miramax/Paramount (Paramount)

Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/D-

Specs and Features:

202 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.00:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:39:16, at the start of chapter 22), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (36 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Apocalypse Now

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Apocalypse Now
1979 (1999) - American Zoetrope/Paramount (Paramount)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/C

Specs and Features:

153 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.00:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:20:38, at the start of chapter 12), Amaray keep case packaging, extended scene: Destruction of the Kurtz Compound (with commentary by Francis Ford Coppola), excerpts from the theatrical program, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (19 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

So, I'm sitting here in front of a keyboard and monitor trying to think of something pithy to say in a comparison of 1979's Apocalypse Now versus its 2001, 49-minute longer cut, Apocalypse Now: Redux. The best way I can describe my feelings about Redux is that the film is like cruising down a deserted mountain pass in a Porsche 911 Turbo, only to have to occasionally downshift and yield to oncoming traffic. The oncoming traffic consists of beautiful women in exotic cars, but you know that the bliss is no more than a fleeting glance, your potential pleasure will go unrealized, and the encounter was meaningless in the first place. I know, it's lame, but just bare with me for a moment…

For those of you who haven't seen at least the original Apocalypse Now, just know that it's one of America's greatest films, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, one of America's greatest filmmakers. The film revolves around Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), an American soldier whose humanity has been siphoned away by the brutality of the Vietnam War. Willard has been assigned to travel across the most dangerous areas of the Vietnam conflict in order to "terminate" Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Kurtz was a highly valued Army officer until he apparently went mad and broke away from the conventions of Army ethics and command. The Colonel developed his own renegade encampment deep in the jungle, manned with natives of the country - and one f'ed-upped photojournalist played by Dennis Hopper - who all worship the Colonel as if he were a god. Kurtz is an enlightened, almost philosophical thinker, actively throwing the Army's hypocrisy in their face. When Willard comes face-to-face with the dreaded Kurtz, the Captain sees an opportunity to emerge from the darkness that has enshrouded his life since the start of the war. But does this opportunity lie in following orders, or becoming one of Kurtz's disciples?

Throughout his journey, Willard experiences a variety of different episodes whose primary purpose is not so much to flesh out his character, or those of the numerous supporting characters. Rather, these episodes are a vehicle for Coppola to interject his own commentary about the Vietnam War. But more important, these scenes, and even these characters - which I viewed as products of their environment - establish the mood of the film, rather than serve to move the story or any subplots forward. In fact, Apocalypse Now is a film that, to a certain extent, revels in its slow pacing, and ever so distant climax. Over the last two decades, many critics have accurately described Apocalypse Now as a dream-like experience. Given the artistic and personal excesses of the filmmakers, this isn't surprising. The film took almost a year and a half to shoot, almost twice that for Coppola to edit... and Martin Sheen almost died during filming. And in irony rarely seen in Hollywood, all of this sacrifice, excess, and melodrama only helped solidify the film's enduring beauty.

So what to make of the 49-minute longer Redux? To more clearly understand Coppola's intentions, and to satiate curiosity, Redux is an excellent film to sit through at least once. The additional scenes delve more deeply into several of the characters, and also provide political discussions that tell the story of the Vietnam War from a different perspective. But these are also the same reasons that make the original cut of the film more palatable in the long run. Part of the new footage in Redux is spent attempting to develop Willard's crewmen. Since I found these characters to largely be window dressing, developing a subplot about their sexual candor - as demonstrated when the Playboy Bunnies make another appearance - seems largely unnecessary. Robert Duvall's Colonel Kilgore character is given a bit more screen time, and the absurdity and irony of the character is developed in a slightly different manner. The best new scene of Redux comes when Kurtz reads an article about the war to Willard, and a psychological exchange of intentions happens between the characters. But the biggest problem the new version of the film suffers is a painfully long (20-30 minute) segment, which takes place on a French settlement smack dab in the middle of the jungle. Willard (and the audience) must sit through a long (and ultimately ineffective) political diatribe about the righteousness of the French settlers who choose to ignore the war. When Willard ends up nailing the attractive French widow at the end of the scene, I found the whole thing to be even more of a misfire.

Paramount released the original cut of Apocalypse Now on DVD in late 1999, and it still remains one of the studio's best efforts in the audio/visual department. Framed at approximately 2.00:1 (and enhanced for 16x9 TVs), the transfer is crisp, sharp and highly detailed, even during the many dark sequences. A clean print master provides images that look smooth and film-like. Edge enhancement is never a problem and compression artifacting is kept under control. Redux looks equally beautiful on DVD. Retaining all of the visual detail and flair of the original disc, you can't go wrong with the images here either. Black level retention is still excellent and edge enhancement is once again kept to a minimum. There's just a touch more compression artifacting on the new disc, but it's well within acceptable limits. The new segments of Redux have been seamlessly blended into the film, and are of the same high quality as the original footage. No matter which version of the film you choose, the transfer won't disappoint you.

Ditto for the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Both discs appear to have the same atmospheric soundtrack, which makes this great film even better. Surrounds are used equally well for aggressive action-packed sequences and quiet, ambient spots. Just check out Kilgore's raid, and the whirring of the helicopter blades dancing from channel-to-channel during the film's opening frames, to hear first-hand what I'm talking about. Dialog is crystal clear, with Sheen's narration as natural as if he were standing in the same room with you, and low frequency effects further accentuate the action and music.

The original cut of Apocalypse Now on DVD contained a couple of interesting extras, but it wasn't the full-blown special edition many were hoping for. Unfortunately, Redux doesn't fare much better on DVD, checking in with only the theatrical trailer. The original release contained the film's trailer, along with (for lack of a better way of explaining it) an original ending that featured the destruction of Colonel Kurtz's compound. Oddly enough, Coppola contributed a commentary track for this deleted sequence (which was not restored in Redux), but not for the entire film on either disc. Excerpts from the original printed theatrical program were also included on the first DVD release. It's too bad Coppola didn't provide commentary for Redux. After sitting behind the mic for nine hours for The Godfather DVD Collection, he could've at least thrown in another three for Redux. The new cut of the film was met with very tepid critical reaction, and Coppola was openly upset about it, so maybe he just tired of the whole thing.

So, is it worth upgrading to the new Redux disc? If you are a casual fan of the original cut of Apocalypse Now, I don't think that the new cut is going to somehow make you a bigger fan. In fact, I think you'll probably tire of the longer version. Conversely, if you have seen this film 20 times, and think it's a true work of art, the new scenes will likely get you fired up. In either case, at least give the new version rent. The added scenes are interesting to view at least once. Both versions get my recommendation. Imagine these discs as halves of the same 2-disc DVD release, and the lack of extras might be more palatable.

Greg Suarez
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