Apocalypse Now, Blu-ray DVD

directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Lionsgate, Three-disc Full Disclosure Edition, Two-disc Two-Film Set Edition, 2010

Let us count the ways Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic film Apocalypse Now has been presented to American audiences since it won the Golden Palm for best film at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival. The bombastic, surrealistic epic—a metaphorical take on Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness set in Vietnam during the American war— was released to (mostly) rave reviews that summer. The $30 million movie—that was three years in the making and that Variety called “the most widely heralded production in 10 years”—did big box office (more than $100 million worldwide), was nominated for eight Oscars and took home two—for cinematography and sound.

In 1987, following the big successes of Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, United Artists re-released Apocalypse in theaters. Then, in 1991, came the eye-opening documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, in which Coppola’s wife Eleanor honed in on the behind-the-scenes madness of the making of the movie in the Philippines. That included the mental and physical breakdown of the actor Martin Sheen (he had a heart attack), the drugfueled acting out by Dennis Hopper and other actors, the embarrassingly overweight and under-prepared actor Marlon Brando, and the even more embarrassingly whining and ranting of the Alaska-sized egomaniacal director himself.

Then, in 2001, came the cinematic release of the 31⁄2 hour Apocalypse Now Redux, an expanded and altered version of the 1979 release. Redux contained two extended scenes that were cut entirely from the original. The first involved a second spaced-out U.S. military outpost, the temporary home of two Playboy bunnies. The second scene played out on a French rubber plantation teeming with wacky characters.

The two additions, along with Coppola’s other tinkering, fit in with the symbolic river journey undertaken by SOG Captain Willard (Sheen). The longer version was seamless; you hardly realize new footage has been added. That’s quite an accomplishment, since many of the original scenes had become cultural icons. That includes the bombastic helicopter assault led by Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duval), with Wagner blaring from loudspeakers and surfers in the water shooting the curl while dodging mortar rounds. And the creepy scene in which Willard receives his orders to terminate the command of rogue Captain Kurtz (Brando)—terminate, that is, “with extreme prejudice.”

Over the years, Apocalypse has been available on home videocassette, videodisc and DVD. Now comes the latest incarnation: two new Blu-ray versions, a two-disc and three-disc “Full Disclosure Edition” from Lionsgate. Both Blu-ray sets contain Apocalypse Now and Apocalypse Now Redux, along with nine-plus hours of extras, including new interviews with the actors and filmmakers. In one, Coppola interviews Martin Sheen, and in another the director talks to John Milius, who co-wrote the Apocalypse screenplay.

The three-disk set includes Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, along with even more extra features such as audio commentary by Mr. and Mrs. Coppola.

The package also includes a 48-page booklet containing previously unpublished behind-the-scenes photos, Coppola’s notes, letters from the set and memos to the crew.

The films are presented in the latest and fullest high definition formatted for widescreen with the same theatrical aspect ratios as the movies themselves, along with new, enhanced master audio. It’s a top-quality production for people who own Blu-ray disc players and widescreen HD televisions and can’t get enough Apocalypse-ness.

All this for a film that—if you ask Francis Ford Coppola—is not about the Vietnam War. Apocalypse Now, Coppola said in 1987, “wasn’t really a Vietnam movie in the sense Platoon is. It was more philosophical and less realistic. I took Heart of Darkness and dressed it in the clothes of Vietnam, but it was mythical operatic style about any aggressive war in any time or period.”


Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here