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In my humble opinion, APOCALYPSE NOW ($30) is one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. The first time I saw it, I was awestruck by its depiction of the insanity of war- and the madness that war breeds. The plot of APOCALYPSE NOW is adapted from Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, but the movie is strictly director Francis Ford Coppola's vision. The plot focuses on the exploits of Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), an officer deeply affected by his first tour of duty in Vietnam. Unable to cope with civilian life, Willard returns to the military and undertakes a confidential mission that his government will never acknowledge. Willard's assignment is to seek out the renegade Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has retreated into the Cambodian jungle, and terminate his command with extreme prejudice. As Willard journeys up river and is reacquainted with all the horrors of the Vietnam War, it becomes crystal clear how a brilliant officer like Colonel Kurtz could lose his mind.

Director Coppola fills APOCALYPSE NOW with incredible sounds and imagery that makes almost every moment of this film unforgettable. The helicopter attack that that is accompanied by Wagner's Ride Of The Valkyries has since passed into cinematic legend. In addition to the brilliant imagery, APOCALYPSE NOW also contains unforgettable performances from a first rate cast. Sheen displays an understated brilliance as Willard, a man who hides his own inner turmoil behind an emotionless facade. Brando's performance defies description, some say it is overindulgent, but I beg to differ. I think Brando is right on target with his depiction of a military leader, whose mind teeters between brilliance and insanity after being elevated to a godlike status by his followers. As Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore, the air Calvary commander, Robert Duvall manages to steal the spotlight for a few moments with the intensity of his performance. The cast of APOCALYPSE NOW also features Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper, G.D. Spradlin and Harrison Ford.

Paramount Home Entertainment has made APOCALYPSE NOW available in a 16:9 enhanced wide screen presentation that has been overseen by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (who received an Academy Award for his efforts on the film). As per Storaro's instructions, APOCALYPSE NOW has been framed at the 2.0:1 aspect ratio of the film’s 70mm presentation, instead of the 2.35:1 of the original 35mm Technovision photography. When one factors in the amount of overscan found on most monitors, the 2.0:1 compositions appear a bit tight, sometimes cropping part of a character off the extreme edge of the screen. Other than the discrepancy with the film’s aspect ratio, APOCALYPSE NOW looks as good as it possibly can under the NTSC system. The image is crisp and very detailed, plus color reproduction is incredible. Colors are well saturated, but they are rock solid without a trace of bleeding or distortion. Additionally, flesh tones are faithfully recreated. Blacks are a deep inky black and the contrast is very smooth. Shadow detail is excellent and the film’s dark sequences look unbelievably good. Thanks to first rate authoring and the use of dual layer technology, digital compression artifacts are effectively concealed throughout the 151-minute presentation.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack has an absolutely superb mix. Considering that this film was released in 1979, I am amazed at the fidelity of the original recordings and how close APOCALYPSE NOW comes to sounding like a brand new film. APOCALYPSE NOW has been aggressively mixed to take full advantage of the discrete format, including the use of split surround effects. In addition to well-placed directional effects, the mix has an expansive sound that completely envelops the viewer in a cohesive sound field. Dialogue reproduction is clean and intelligible, plus the powerful bass channel reinforces all of the explosions and gunfire. A French Dolby Surround soundtrack has also been encoded onto the DVD, as have English subtitles.

The interactive menus contain a bit full motion video and make effective use of sound. Through the menu system one can access the standard scene selection and set up features. While not a special edition DVD by any means, there are a few extras contained on the disc that are accessible through the interactive menus. These extras include a theatrical trailer and excerpts from the original theatrical program that accompanied the 70mm presentation in lieu of traditional film credits. Also included is the footage of the Destruction of the Kurtz Compound, something that Coppola filmed because he was required to destroy the sets anyway, but decided not to use in the completed film. This segment is the only portion of the DVD that Coppola has provided with an audio commentary.

For my money, APOCALYPSE NOW is one of the greatest movies ever made. Paramount has produced a great looking and great sounding DVD worthy of this fantastic motion picture. Recommended.


Apocalypse Now (1979)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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