Set during the Vietnam War and based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Captain Willard is sent on a mission to terminate with extreme prejudice Green Beret Col. Kurtz, a renegade soldier who has holed up in Cambodia with a small band of natives, who worship him like a god. Willard’s journey into the heart of darkness serves dual functions as a plot destination and a thematic examination of man’s nature.
The Complete Dossier presents both versions of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now: the 1979 original cut and the 2001 Redux version, which includes 49 extra minutes. Looking very much like a file on Kurtz from the film, the set is packaged in a plain brown cardboard sleeve marked “Confidential” and secured with an official U.S. Army red seal.
The film is a classic epic on a scale that Hollywood no longer makes, and after listening to the commentary track, it was amazing the film was completed as Coppola worked without a script for a good portion of production. Through sheer willpower and the brilliance of the crew and himself, Coppola created a masterpiece almost out of thin air, using as his guide a dog-eared copy of Conrad’s novella in which he scribbled notes and the conversations of the talented artists he assembled for the project.
While fans of the different versions vehemently argue about which is better, Coppola enjoys the Redux version. After listening to the commentary track, I better understand his ideas behind these scenes, but the execution was not always successfully accomplished. Willard stealing Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore’s surfboard seems very out of character. Seeing Kurtz in the daylight removes the mystery and power the character has. The French Plantation sequence, the largest cut at over 25 minutes, is quite an interruption and it’s not completely clear if it’s real, a dream, or both. The historical information is compelling, the sequence adds to the idea of the Navy patrol boat moving back in time, and the scenes with Willard and Roxanne are reminiscent of Jesus’ final moments on the cross from Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ as he contemplates a different life rather than accepting the path has been chosen for him. While I enjoyed some of the Redux scenes, I side with original version fans because there wasn’t enough gained by their inclusion.
The picture quality looks fantastic as the sharp, vibrant colors jump right off the screen, removing any doubt as to why Vittorio Storaro won an Oscar for Best Cinematography that year. The video is presented in 2.0:1 ratio and the audio is in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film, which also won for Best Sound, was the first feature film to use Dolby 5.1. Audiophiles will love the demonstration of the stereo surround during the film’s opening sequence.
The greatest Special Feature is Coppola’s commentary track, which can be heard on both versions. He teaches a class in directing through his monologue by taking you back to the days on the set, explaining the vision he attempted contrasted with the realities of execution. He is extremely insightful, while at same time entertaining for the film fan as he namedrops famous filmmaker friends and discusses trivia about the film’s creation.
There are over 45 minutes of additional scenes, including the complete reading of T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men, a bizarre scene from the tribe at the end singing The Doorss “Light My Fire,” and 12 sequences of time-coded, raw footage that provide more about different characters and locations.
“The Post Production of Apocalypse Now” draws attention to the three-year journey of the third stage of the film’s creation. Under this heading are four featurettes compromised of new interviews and old, behind-the-scenes footage about the editing, the music, and the sound design, all of which are combined in the final mix.
With every viewing, it becomes harder to understand how Apocalypse Now lost Best Picture to Kramer vs. Kramer or how Coppola lost to Kramer’s Robert Benton in the directing and adapted screenplay category. The films are so different in size and scope that they are in different leagues. And I’m pretty sure Robert Duvall’s iconic performance as Kilgore comes to mind much quicker for filmgoers than that of the Best Supporting Actor winner, Melvyn Douglas from Being There. I have yet to hear anyone quote Douglas’ lines. The film was taken to Cannes in 1979 before it was completed and shared the prized Palme d’Or with Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum.
While Apocalypse Now – The Complete Dossier is a great set and well worth getting for fans of the movie, it will be considered incomplete by many because, disappointingly, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, the documentary about the film’s creation, isn’t packaged in the set. To quote Kurtz, “The horror…the horror…”