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Apocalypse Now

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Review by Aaron Beierle | posted January 5, 2000 | E-mail the Author
Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam epic is an example of the masterful work that the director did, the kind of movie that you walk out of drained. That good kind of drained, where every bit of emotion has been pulled out of you and replaced with the kind of awe that only a master can bring and the kind of performances that only a master can pull out of his actors. Coppola goes into the details, the realistic emotions of war more than any war film I've seen.

Coppola's picture stars Martin Sheen as a millitary officer assigned to infiltrate a cult-like compound headed by a Colonel Kurtz( Marlon Brando ), an officer who has taken matters into his own hands and has let the madness of war sweep him up and take him off. Sheen's captain is ordered to "terminate with extreme prejudice". The picture takes a look at humanity; what may happen to us when we are pushed to a level higher than we can take emotionally. In a way, I think that there is some similarities to the sort of insight that the characters share through thoughts and words that is similar to Malick's film, but it doesn't share the sort of spirituality; there is more of a hallucinatory feel to this picture. It's a nightmare that there is no easy way out of as the characters drift downriver towards their destination.

As I've said before in my reviews of SPR and The Thin Red Line, I have never been in war, so it does become awkward to try and evaluate the horrors that a movie like this, or Full Metal Jacket, or Platoon, or any film, can show. We can only see the vision of the filmmaker, and in this case, it's an amazingly intense presentation. I loved "Thin Red Line" as well as "Saving Private Ryan", but there is something about all of the elements that are put together for this picture, from the use of music to Vittorio Storaro's unbelievable cinematography that come together for an outstanding picture. Those who are fans of this picture will likely be amazed at how good a job director Francis Ford Coppola has done with his production company American Zoetrope at putting this DVD presentation together.


Director Francis Ford Coppola took matters into his own hands with the release of this classic film and the results are in a word: outstanding. This is a transfer that is approved by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. Yes, there is an issue with the aspect ratio of the picture. Where the original release was letterboxed at 2.35:1, this looks to be about 2.0:1, or at least in that neighborhood. But, I'm not really one to question the choice of the filmmakers. I'm especially not going to question a transfer that otherwise looks this excellent. Vittorio Storaro's cinematography looks breathtaking at times, with warm, rich colors and hues that are preserved and presented with thrilling clarity and richness on this image. The greens of the trees, the orange of the flames; all colors here are very nicely saturated. Black level is absolutely solid throughout the picture and wonderfully rich. Flesh tones are natural and accurate and shadow detail is excellent.

What is so pleasing is how pure this picture looks; there's no shimmering or pixellation to be found (as well as a wonderful lack of edge enhancement), and the print that is used is in really strong condition; aside from a scratch here and there, this is really very likely the best that this film has ever looked. There are a few sunsets throughout the picture that are so rich looking they had me reaching for the pause button. There's so little grain it's barely noticable. Although this picture is about 20 years old, the image quality here gets mighty close to how good the image quality was from "Saving Private Ryan" and "The Thin Red Line". The bitrate stays high throughout the presentation. Coppola has done such a good job here, I hope that his company, American Zoetrope, can get its hands on more titles and ready them for DVD release, even if they aren't films that the director worked on. Anything that looks this good deserves major praise and I hope that we'll see more from the Zoetrope DVD labs. Although the aspect ratio is an issue, the transfer is so impressive, I have to admit that it really didn't cross my mind as I got further into the movie, as I watched some of the most impressively goregous cinematography presented on a DVD that brought every color and every detail to glorious life.

This is a dynamic, fantastic sounding audio mix and although it doesn't have quite the kick that "Saving Private Ryan" did, it certainly has its own merits. Surround use is often and quite effective. There is also quite a lot of solid bass throughout the picture, and explosions do deliver a fairly impressive kick each time. The music used throughout the movie sounds impressively clear and crisp and dialogue is fine; although not quite as full as more recent pictures, there are still no problems with clarity.

MENUS:: Suprise: animated menus. Every so often a helicopter flys by, then the logo comes up with a jungle on fire behind it. Very cool stuff.

Original Ending: An alternate ending showing the destruction of the compound is included here with an in-depth commentary by Francis Ford Coppola himself. The director provides quite a bit of information about not only the scene, but thoughts on the characters in general, in a matter of about 6 minutes.

Theatrical Trailer: The trailer is included.

Excerpts From The Program:: This section provides excerpts from the programs that audiences were given as they entered the theater.

Final ThoughtsWow. That's all I can say. Although of course there are things I would have liked: I would have liked a Coppola commentary throughout the whole movie, definitely. But the presentation here is so good that I just want to give him praise for a transfer that I consider one of the year's very best. Releases like this make me excited for the format; although it's not a feature-packed disc, if they can make a 20 year old movie look this close to perfect in terms of image quality, I think it's an exciting time for film lovers everywhere.

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Highly Recommended

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