Apocalypse Now/A-,A-

Paramount/1979/153m/ANA 2.05

           Any excuse to revisit Apocalypse Now is rewarding. The outstanding new DVD release show Coppola's distorted vision of war in gorgeous anamorphic images. A complex tapestry of overlapping dissolves opens Apocalypse Now. It lays out the major theme of the film.  Jim Morrison's musical lament "All the children are insane,"  screams out over the images of war and destruction depicting the insanity and horror reflected in the hyperbolic images of director Francis Ford Coppola.

An unlikely reaction to a siren. ©Columbia

     The absolute absurdity of Coppola's war is best highlighted in three or four major scenes. A patrol boat taking Willard into the proverbial "heart of darkness" is journeying deep into the heart of Vietnam. The music pounds out "I can't get no satisfaction," from the Rolling Stone song. Willard watches young Mr. Clean (Lawrence Fishburne, only 14 at the time.) dancing to the music and the vision of absurdity screams out, only to be overpowered moments later by the image of Lance, the surfer, water-skiing behind the boat,  jovially waiving to the natives on the shoreline. As the boat speeds through the water, Lance in tow, two working Vietnamese in a boat are overturned by the wake of the American boat, and so it is that Coppola finds a perfect visual metaphor for the plight of the Vietnamese, fallen in the wake of the insensitive American onslaught. Later, under the direction of wild Colonel Kilgore, there's a surfing session in between the bomb blasts on the beach which likewise embellishes the Coppola vision of absurdity at its greatest extremes. But it is the image at the Cambodian border, a no man's land of hell, that comes closest to defining the insanity for which the director is searching.  Willard moves amongst the troops, looking for a commander, but none can be found. Only a garish nightmare tableau of war presents itself at every turn.
      Coppola's vision of the Vietnam war is deliberately bombastic. Every step further into the jungle shakes the ground and the soundtrack. The director's vision encompasses the idea of the war and the enormity of its overall impact without paying heed to the details of the individual reality of the war.
       Coppola composes the most startling pictures of war in the first depiction of the 1st of the 9th Air Cavalry Division attacking a beachhead. The visual imagery, captured in still frame, is a classic depiction of war that easily could be reproduced as a stamp in memory of the horror of the Vietnam war. Vittorio Storaro brings amazing grace to the camera work for Apocalypse Now. The cinematographer and director create one master image after the next in a magnificent visual compilation.
      Martin Sheen does an outstanding job as Willard, the strangely cold and passive detached observer. Sheen controls the rage inside of him and turns it into something other worldly. Robert Duvall gets to chew the surf with the role of Air Cav commander Colonel Kilgore. A surfing maniac, Kilgore epitomizes the mad recklessness of the war. He will go to any length to find the best of Vietnam's surf. When advised that the beachhead where Willard wants to land has a magnificent six point wave, Kilgore, despite prior reservations about the danger, determines to land there. When he is reminded of the danger and that this beach is "Charlie's" point and it pretty hairy, Kilgore belligerently barks, "Charlie don't surf." Coupled with his later line, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning," these comments make an unforgettable pair of bookends to this tale of the madness of war.
     Marlon Brando's enigmatic Colonel Kurtz is an outstanding characterization, but he doesn't get that much screen time. Frederic Forest makes a frightening Chef and Dennis Hopper gets some big screen time in a small role as the news photographer.
     Apocalypse Now is a splendid DVD, preserving for home video the enormously powerful images of Coppola and director of photography Vittorio Storaro. Color fidelity is remarkably accurate, bringing to life the lush jungle, the blue skies and the fierce explosions. The images is very sharp. Slight edge enhancement is evident in high contrast images, but it is not excessive and fortunately does not create any evident noise. Grain looks spectacular on Apocalypse Now. It's finely rendered and movement is smooth and consistent.  The sound, now Dolby Digital 5:1, is as powerful as ever. The directionality is outstanding. Helicopter pans move around the home theater with startling reality. Explosions erupt with controlled bass. A nice balance between music, effects and dialogue, makes it easier than ever to understand the dialogue.
     Though you can't call this Apocalypse Now DVD a special edition, there is a small extra delight in the form of Coppola's commentary over the controversial end credit sequence.  There is no question that the sequence depicting the destruction of the Kurtz compound changes the tone of the movie's end. The fade to black which ends this definitive version is much more powerful and the message more clear. 


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