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Apocalypse Now: Redux

Paramount // R // November 20, 2001
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Aaron Beierle | posted November 21, 2001 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

It was only a few weeks ago that I found myself discussing the ability of filmmakers to go back and digitally enhance their pictures simply for the sake of making them a bit slicker and less rough around the edges (which is what seems like the upcoming release of "E.T." is going to be) or using modern technology to both enhance the film visually and smooth out the story structure ("Star Trek: The Motion Picture - Director's Cut). Rarely has their been a "director's cut", at least that I can think of, that alters a film as greatly as "Apocalypse Now: Redux", which adds an additional 49 minutes of footage onto the picture as audiences previously knew it and shuffles around some others. Director Francis Ford Coppola and ace editor and sound designer Walter Murch ("The English Patient") didn't go about this task in simple fashion, either - they went back to the raw footage and assembled this new version of the picture from scratch. Apparently, Ford Coppola ran into trouble with the releasing studio during the film's original production, who wanted to keep the running time under two 1/2 hours, or at least that's what has been said. As that running time seems more ordinary and acceptable today, the idea was brought up to revisit the film and venture deeper into its themes.

The film is written by John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola, based upon Joseph Conrad's novel, "Heart Of Darkness". The film stars Martin Sheen as Captain Willard, whose thoughts we hear on occasion throughout the movie via narration. Early in the movie, he is given a mission - a mission that "doesn't exist": to venture deep into the jungles and terminate Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a brilliant man who has lost his sanity and organized a cult. Yet, the journey up the river is anything but simple.

"Simple" was definitely not a word to describe the production of the picture, either, as it reportedly went far over schedule and considerably over budget. The production occasionally operated in considerably less-than-favorable conditions and Sheen suffered a heart attack. Still, even with the production troubles, Coppola was able to harness incredible performances from his cast, especially Sheen, Robert Duvall and even a very young Laurence Fishburne.

As for "Redux", some of the moments added seamlessly integrate into the picture, while some others (the "French Plantation" scene, a Playboy bunny sequence) start to feel a little much. Still, it's impressive how "Redux", even at nearly 3 1/2 hours, didn't start to feel endless - it moved along at a nice pace, mainly because the film remains so riveting. While reviewing this new edition, I suddenly looked up and noticed that the entire running time had passed in what seemed like an hour.

I'm not sure what to think - I enjoyed watching this version and felt it improved certain areas, but I certainly had no complaints about the original version, which remains an amazing piece of cinema history. Hopefully, Paramount will keep the original DVD version out in stores, so fans can have both, if they so desire (both versions probably could have been available here, although the desire was probably to have each stand alone). For those interested in skipping directly to the added material, Paramount has helpfully added indications of the chapters where it is included in both the insert and the chapter selections menu.

Reportedly, there's even a great deal more footage out there, with subplots that still remain unseen. If anything, "Redux" simply allowed me to see more of Vittorio Storaro's cinematography, which I simply adore - the entire movie is feast of surreal, gorgeous visual after visual. With the newly remastered presentation (done with a technicolor dye process), the film's visuals look more breathtaking and beautiful than ever here.

More often than not, I felt positive about "Redux"; although the new footage was not always effective, the film in either form remains riveting, surreal and fascinating. It's also simply a joy to see something this good. During the past few years, I've found it increasingly more difficult to even make up a "top 10" list for the films I've seen during those previous 12 months. Often recently, I walk out of the theater, largely indifferent to what I've just seen or, occasionally, entertained in a basic fashion. To have my attention held so firmly for 202 minutes, to be so riveted by "Redux", is a pleasure. It is better or worse? It's not always an improvement, but it offers a different and still thrilling and powerful experience.


VIDEO: Paramount presents "Apocalypse Now: Redux" in 2.0:1 anamorphic widescreen, as they did with the original version of the film on the film's original DVD release. The film was apparently presented originally in 2.35:1; this different ratio is reportedly the prefered one by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and director Francis Ford Coppola. While I didn't see any major cropping of the image, I don't really understand why the two simply can't offer the movie in the original framing if they originally released it that way. Ford Coppola's "Tucker: A Man and His Dream" also is altered in this fashion.

Since no complaints (there have been quite a massive amount of them) will likely alter the minds of the filmmakers and have them present the picture as originally seen, I'll move on to discuss the picture quality of this release, which is noticably better than that of the original release of the picture. This "Redux" edition reportedly had prints created from a technicolor process - I didn't see the picture in theaters, so apparently this is a representation of the improved (and, in my opinion, often beautiful) picture quality of the film's recent theatrical run. It would be very nice if Paramount or American Zoetrope would include a booklet about this process or other information about how the reedits were done, but oh well.

Sharpness and detail are exceptional and occasionally quite impressive, as there's not a moment of softness throughout the entire movie. Small details are crisp and well-defined and the entire film looks consistent. The film's cinematography is often breathtaking and is represented wonderfully by this DVD edition.

I saw little in the way of flaws. Given the fact that the film is now about 22 years old, I'd expect some specks and the occasional mark, but all I saw was a speck or two and some minor grain now and then. There's a lot of new releases that I've seen recently whose picture quality doesn't look this pure, clean or natural. Pixelation pops up in a few minor instances, but these instances are hardly noticable and there's no edge enhancement, either.

Colors looked even better in this edition of the film, as they were visibly richer and more vibrant. Colors throughout were well-saturated and often stunning, with no flaws in terms of smearing or other problems. Black level remained strong and flesh tones were natural, as well. It's a dissapointment that the film's aspect ratio is again not 2.35:1, but I really found the picture quality so enjoyable that I didn't really didn't ponder this different ratio as much.

SOUND: As with the original edition that was released by Paramount, "Apocalypse Now: Redux" boasts an excellent and often agressive Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Surrounds are put into impressive use, as the intense moments have the chaotic sounds of war coming full-force, including helicopters that seem to be flying around the listening space. Even the subtler moments have very nice touches of ambience that add to the atmosphere and mood of the movie. Audio quality remained terrific, as the intense moments remained powerful and agressive and the music came through richly and warmly. No hiss, distortion or other problems were found with the soundtrack. An excellent piece of work; although it doesn't stand up to the soundtracks of modern films of the genre ("Thin Red Line", "Saving Private Ryan"), it certainly doesn't miss an opportunity and considering the age of the picture, it's an outstanding effort.

MENUS: Paramount offers a beautifully animated main menu, with clips from the film playing in the background.

EXTRAS: The only other extra that's included - and the only other extra that could probably fit on this disc with the nearly 3 1/2 hour movie - is the trailer (2001 version, 2.35:1, 2.0 audio). Still, given the fact that this is Coppola's new, "definitive" version of the picture, I'd have thought he would be willing to sit down for a commentary track, possibly with editor Murch or other members of the cast/crew.

Final Thoughts: While the positives and negatives of "Redux" can be discussed at length, I personally found it an interesting and often enjoyable revisit that only occasionally goes too far off the path. Paramount's DVD edition does remain somewhat dissapointing in terms of extras (although, it can't be helped if simply no one was willing to offer a commentary), but the disc does deliver where it counts, offering exceptionally good picture quality and the same strong audio. Recommended.

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Highly Recommended

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