The season's DVD box sets hit the spot
Make Film, Not War
Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure (Blu-Ray)Lionsgate, $59.99
Thirty-one years after its initial theatrical release in August 1979 – a scant four years after the fall of Saigon – Francis Ford Coppola's lunatic fever dream of the American military engagement in Vietnam is back. The fact that the U.S. is for the foreseeable future mired in not one but two shockingly bloody battlefront quagmires is an irony not lost on the director. (It's certainly not lost on screenwriter John Milius, who began dreaming about the script after washing out of the military in '68 thanks to asthma.)
Apocalypse Now was at the time of its release and remains a hallucinatory triumph of the anti-war movie genre, due chiefly to Milius and Coppola's pillaging of Joseph Conrad's Belgian Congo head-trip Heart of Darkness, a film adaptation of which had already been attempted, unsuccessfully, by Orson Welles. Not that that put off either writer or director; hubris, hard luck, and horror – real horror, replete with hurricanes, nervous breakdowns, and a gnawing sense of ever-looming catastrophe – were the wearying hallmarks of Coppola's almost comically beleaguered Philippines shoot. The end result proved naysayers (including much of the cast and crew) wrong: Apocalypse Now went on to be nominated for eight Academy Awards. It won only two, for Vittorio Storaro's haunting cinematography and Walter Murch's near-avant-garde sound design. All this is Hollywood history, but it's worth noting that this particular apocalypse continues to influence young filmmakers at least as much as Star Wars. (Coppola and Milius' fellow University of Southern California alum George Lucas was originally slated to helm, and more recently, Monsters director Gareth Edwards cited Apocalypse as perhaps the key influence on the look and tone of his own genre outing.)
What makes this triple-disc, Blu-ray re-re-re-release worth its weight in film school tuition is the sheer wealth of previously unseen, unheard, but always speculated-about footage (seeing the heretofore unviewable "Monkey Sampan" sequence for the first time is akin to waking up next to a horse's head). Lionsgate includes here the original 1979 cut, 2001's expanded Apocalypse Now Redux, and the late George Hickenlooper, Fax Bahr, and Eleanor Coppola's gut-wrenching 1991 documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse. If you're a fan, you've experienced those three cinematic concussions already. What you haven't seen, at least until now, is the mesmerizing "Destruction of the Kurtz Compound" (which had been planned to run beneath the closing credits), Coppola's short, adjunct film-within-a-film of Marlon Brando murmuring T.S. Eliot's integral poem "The Hollow Men" or the elegantly staged – in HD – new interviews with Milius, Coppola, Martin Sheen, Laurence "Mr. Clean" Fishburne, Frederic "Chef" Forrest, and Sam "Lance the surfer" Bottoms. All of this, and the Doors, in sternum-rattling Dolby 5.1, with a crystalline image that, thankfully, never forsakes the production's controlled utilization of eerily atmospheric film grain in favor of overblown and unnecessary, Lucasfilm-style image upgrades. It's a sorrow that Dennis Hopper wasn't able to be here to add even a few new insights on his freaky-thrilling performance as Col. Kurtz's wild-eyed documentarian-cum-apologist, but, hey, c'est la guerre.
Also Recommended in War Films: The Thin Red Line (Criterion Collection, $39.95, Blu-ray), The Pacific (HBO Home Video, $79.98)