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Apocalypse Now – The Complete Dossier (2-Disc Special Collector’s Edition) | DVD Review

“He might not churning out the films like he used to, but Francis Ford Coppola is a seasoned-veteran with the DVD commentary tracks”.

Plenty can be said about the film that capped off a decade of domination by a fellow named Coppola, but not enough can be said about the behind-the-scenes. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse demonstrated the magnitude of a bigger-than-life filmmaking process, now the “Complete Dossier” 2-disc edition explores the technical madness of the infamous film that ranks as the best filmic example of the hell in Nam.

The upside: It was pegged as an anti-war statement and awarded in every imaginable technical category possible – Apocalypse Now was honored at Cannes with the Palme d’Or and picked up numerous Oscar wins and noms. The downside: Coppola had a melt down and the principle actor (Sheen) had a art-attack. Film theorists and the critic in all of us can claim that the talent might have been passed off to his daughter, but not one person can claim that father Francis didn’t suffer for his art.

There have been many Vietnam War related films over the years, some folks claim that Coppola’s narrative embellishment but not one film since that war ended has managed to tap into the psyche in such a manner that Coppola intuitively understood. Viewing the time capsule footage (cameras were rolling throughout the process – even when there was no filming) one gets a true sense of Coppola’s fanaticism as a filmmaker mapping out every single frame, inch of film and/or musical note.

The wackiest of road trips not taking place on asphalt road contains a wealth of memorable moments commencing with Jim Morrison’s announcement of “The End”, to bits of dialogue made infamous from the likes of Sheen, Duvall and Marlon Brando – it is virtually impossible to point to one standout scene or sequence but the madness can be tagged in scenes such as Duvall’s smell of napalm speech and Brando’s mumbling, to Sheen’s powerful narration.


Those who have picked up the previous DVD’s will want to “terminate without prejudice” those discs – the two disk set contains both 1979 and 2001 versions of the film and comes in a handsome packaging labeled “confidential”, it’s a replica of sorts of the dossier on Kurtz that Sheen’s Willard eventually disassembled over his ride up the river. Francis Ford Coppola provides actual commentary for both films in Dolby Digital 2.0. Also a very interesting plus for folks who have no clue what has been added in the redux is what they call the “Redux Marker – special function to mark the added scenes and expanded scenes of Apocalypse Now Redux”. What is confusing is that the separate movies share the same discs – you’d think that 79’ would be on one and 01’ on the other but that is not so. Background information on production notes and military specification are of interest but what is most appealing is the linear and parallel journey of the narrative and the journey of the making of the film that both heightened the experiences of the tone of the picture leading up until the payoff entrance of Brando. Also of note is how much Coppola held onto his copy of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. And speaking of Hearts of Darkness – those wanting the ultimate DVD to include the excellent documentary film filmed by Coppola’s wife will be disappointed that this isn’t added on which is not the case of this collector.

Disc 1 contains:

Do you remember the gibberish that came out of Brando’s method acting mouth? For those who didn’t get enough there is 15-minute outtake that consists of Marlon Brando’s complete reading of T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men”. For anyone into Brando, Eliot, cannibalism or the behind the scenes for what it might have been to be an extra on set in the jungle – this is the time capsule for you. There is even Coppola and Brando sharing a laugh as well as a family portrait.

The Lost “monkey sampan” scene is an odd snip-it featuring locals singing The Door’s “Light My Fire” followed by a montage sequence – a sort of horrible preview of what is upstream.

There are “12 never-before-seen segments from the cutting room floor” showing how celluloid doesn’t age well. It is mostly the type of stuff that had a reason for not being in the film. A long sequence between Hopper and Sheen only reminds us of the kind of acid trips an actor can have while filming. The topper is the final of the 12 – the “special forces knife” sequence.

The best of the extras on this disc is the A/V Club featurettes. “The Birth of 5.1 Sound” means you can thank the crazy Coppola for 5.1 – he wanted the ultimate film experience for the moviegoer and thus the doc gives the left and right explanation for surround sound format. Best example is with “Ghost Helicopter Flyover” piece that explores the opening of AN in audio terms. “The Synthesizer Soundtrack by Bob Moog,’, and “Technical FAQ” are for the “I love playing with my remote control folks.

Disc 2 contains:

Along with the commentary track, the real value for this special edition are the technical insights. The Post Production of Apocalypse Now featurettes explore the sound and the imagery to great length – mostly behind the scenes images of the entire post production process. Lots of facial hair and odd clothes adorn this one. The aptly titled item “A Million Feet of Film: The Editing of Apocalypse Now” shows the crazy task of editing the gazillion feet of film – a favorite pit stop here is seeing Sheen do the voice over work in studio for his narration. “The Music of Apocalypse Now” reveals Coppola’s association to The Doors (they went to school together), the involvement of his musically-inclined father in the process. “The Sound of Apocalypse Now” and “The Final Mix” explores how machinery was merged into the score and vice a versa. How does one merge Jimi Hendrix with bullet sounds.

“PBR Streetgang” – cast members’ reunion reminds us that Lawrence Fishburne was a wee little teenager when he filmed the project. Junket-type interviews with the poster in the background for the 2001 Redux activities with lots of grey, white hair and baldness – the actors have indeed aged.

“Apocalypse Then and Now” retrospective is separate interviews discussing the process of the touch-ups for the redux theatrical release. Roger Ebert makes an appearance here.

“The Color Palette of Apocalypse Now” discusses the dye-coloring process that went into given the redux version the proper visual details it’s a fairly interesting piece about the restoration process.

He might not be churning out the films like he used to, but Francis Ford Coppola is a seasoned-veteran with the DVD commentary tracks. After the highly-collectable Godfather box-set, Coppola is becoming a habitual of quality commenting – it surely helps that there is a treasure trove of stuff at Zoetrope. To borrow from Duvall’s Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore notion about Napalm – this Special Edition does indeed smell like victory. Great for collectors and for those aspiring a career in the technical aspects of filmmaking.

Movie rating – 4.5

Disc Rating – 4

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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