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Paramount Studios presents
Apocalypse Now Redux (1979)

"You're an errand boy sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill."
- Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando)

Review By: Jesse Shanks  
Published: November 19, 2001

Stars: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall
Other Stars: Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne, Albert Hall, Christian Marquand, Harrison Ford, G.D. Spradlin, Dennis Hopper
Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Manufacturer: American Zoetrope
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent images, language, sexual content and some drug use.
Run Time: 03h:22m:11s
Release Date: November 20, 2001
UPC: 097360962949
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth!... The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires.

Describing the elements that make Apocalypse Now a great film is so easy. By far, this is the most literate and universal of all movies made about the Viet Nam war, and possibly of all war films. There is so much depth, with its interwoven symbolism and multilayered motifs, that it truly lends itself to, and in fact demands, repeated viewing. The artistry, the imagery, the sounds, the dialog, the plot—all combine in the most exquisite ways to engender a truly unforgettable cinematic experience. This film will survive as an exemplar in the distant future to understand the warlike nature of our century—indeed, of human history—in the reversed telescope of looking into the past. I have seen the original version of this film twice in the theater, once with a barely comprehending civilian audience and once with an all-to-understanding military audience.

It is just as easy for reviewers to parrot the statement that the movie is based in part on Heart of Darkness, the 1902 novella by Joseph Conrad, without any real understanding of what that means to the content of the film. Conrad was an artist of the highest degree who virtually invented a type of symbolic storytelling that is barely approached, even though his works are studied intensively in creative writing courses across the world. His nineteenth century tale of Kurtz in darkest colonial Africa draws on fears that haunt us all as we contemplate the unknown and the resolution of our own journey to meet our personal "Colonel Kurtz." To draw from this fertile seed is to embed the fundamental layer of the story that Apocalypse Now tells with a universality that few war films ever achieve with their shortcut plot devices, over-simplified stereotypes and clichés. Apocalypse Now marries the metaphysical mind of movie viewing with the senses in a way that stands among the very few greatest storytelling films like Citizen Kane and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It had become a place of darkness. But there was in it one river especially, a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land.

Now, we have a new version of this landmark film, and make no mistake about it, this is very much a new version. Redux is distinct from the original in a way that few movies with added scenes have ever been. Usually, a "director's cut" adds back a few small elements, trimmed for time, or perhaps to meet rating requirements, and their re-insertion has very little impact. Here, there are potent alterations of both the ambient nature of the film and direct changes to characterization. The result is mixed in that some of the scenes, particularly the highly publicized "French Plantation" sequences, do raise the film to a new level of significance by increasing the layers of universality, drawing on the colonialism of the original novella and providing emphasis on the eternal recurrence of the same as a dominate theme. In the 1979 version, Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) appears to be more of a specific aberration to this particular war. With the tales of French involvement in Southeast Asia, it dawns on us along with Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) that he is treading the same path as so many have before—along the thin line between honor and insanity. Some of the added scenes increase the slapstick level of the film and completely alter some of the tonal shifts. The original was much more dirge-like as the PBR, a navy patrol boat, cruises inevitably up the river as Willard and his companions find themselves in increasingly bizarre circumstances. In the new version, the journey is much longer and their experiences are much more absurd. Events and jokes, more implied than explicit in the original, are carried out in much greater detail and length. In some ways this succeeds in fleshing out the secondary characters that are often the victims of edits. But in other cases, it just seems to make the movie longer and adds repetition that leads to tedium.

We pounded along, stopped, landed soldiers; went on, landed custom-house clerks to levy toll in what looked like a God-forsaken wilderness, with a tin shed and a flag-pole lost in it; landed more soldiers—to take care of the custom-house clerks, presumably. Some, I heard, got drowned in the surf; but whether they did or not, nobody seemed particularly to care.

There are some marvelous acting performances in this film. The work of Harrison Ford and G.D. Spradlin in their cameos as the officers that Kurtz later characterizes as "grocery clerks" is unaltered from the original and still just as potent to kick off the film. Martin Sheen's performance is much enhanced by the added scenes and is much improved within the context of the film. The extension of the sequence with Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall) in which Willard steals the Colonel's surfboard and the added scene where he trades some fuel to the USO troupe for so he crew can spend time with the Playboy bunnies provide a great deal more humanity to his character, which was very robotic in the original. Robert Duvall plays Airborne Cavalry commander Colonel Kilgore to the hilt in a highly publicized turn that threatens to steal the show early on. But long after, he is all but forgotten.

We called at some more places with farcical names, where the merry dance of death and trade goes on in a still and earthy atmosphere as of an overheated catacomb ... the general sense of vague and oppressive wonder grew upon me. It was like a weary pilgrimage amongst hints for nightmares.

The pyrotechnics of Apocalypse Now were a big part of its physical impact on the viewer in the original; their power is intact here and even benefits from the spread provided by the "new" scenes. The film becomes more thoughtful and the incidents of violence punctuate the plotline more natively. In the same way that editing reduced the depth of Willard's character as he proceeded up the river to his destined confrontation—with what seems to be his own exemplar—the editing crowded the action sequences together and they overwhelmed the intelligence of the film.

Supine upon the ground some folk were lying;
And some were sitting all drawn up together,
And others went about continually.

Those who were going round were far the more,
And those were less who lay down to their torment,
But had their tongues more loosed to lamentation.

O'er all the sand-waste, with a gradual fall,
Were raining down dilated flakes of fire,
As of the snow on Alp without a wind.

The Divine Comedy, The Inferno, Canto XIV, English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The journey through Hell is one of the oldest archetypical story-telling devices known to man. Orpheus visited Hades to rescue his beloved Eurydice in Greek mythology. Aeneas passed through the nether regions as he crossed the sea from ruined Troy to found Rome in the Aeneid. Dante traverse the circles of Hell in The Inferno portion of his Divine Comedy. Apocalypse Now Redux stretches for those heights and, even if its reach has exceeded its grasp, the attempt is spectacular and does indeed speak volumes about power and annihilation. The journey of Willard and the PBR crew does indeed seem increasingly Dante-esque in the new version. In the same way that we marvel over the various circles of Hell and their inhabitants in Dante, so are we fascinated by the creatures that populate the layers of the Hell of Viet Nam, which start with the sophistication of Saigon and end in the primitive wilds of Cambodia.

By the time we enter the region dominated by Kurtz and his army, we are as exhausted by the journey as are Willard and what is left of his crew. And what do we encounter but the hyperactive mediator played by Dennis Hopper. I always feel a surge of energy when Hopper's character appears and brings us one step away from this monstrous figure that we have learned so much about in Willard's study of his dossier.

'Don't you talk with Mr. Kurtz?' I said. 'You don't talk with that man—you listen to him,' he exclaimed with severe exaltation. 'But now—' He waved his arm, and in the twinkling of an eye was in the uttermost depths of despondency. In a moment he came up again with a jump, possessed himself of both my hands, shook them continuously, while he gabbled: 'Brother sailor... honour... pleasure... delight... introduce myself... Russian... son of an arch-priest... Government of Tambov... What? Tobacco! English tobacco; the excellent English tobacco! Now, that's brotherly. Smoke? Where's a sailor that does not smoke?'

The last segment of Apocalypse Now Redux, featuring Brando as the object of Willard's mission and, ultimately, his desire, is almost an hour in itself. This segment has come under some to the lengthiest discussion concerning the film, partly because the conclusion of such a work is always difficult to pull off; to satisfy the needs of the audience for catharsis for all the built up tension and suspense. It is also controversial for Brando's performance, which has been accorded such adjectives as "murky," "absurd," "non-sensical," and more. Love him or hate him, Brando cannot be ignored and the man, as an actor, has the gravitas to be the central focus of the finale of a three-and-a-half-hour film. His Kurtz is indelible, entering the consciousness of our culture as a monstrously tragic figure of mystery and power that we cannot comprehend. Brando's performance gives us glimpses of the reductio ad absurdum that is the essence of the "poet warrior," a fundamental element of human war-making that goes back to the heroic poetry handed down through oral history since the dawn of human awareness.

I saw on that ivory face the expression of somber pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror—of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath—

'The horror! The horror!'

Apocalypse Now Redux is imminently suitable for home video with its length and depth. Where it would be difficult to sit so long in a theater for such a film, it is very satisfying viewing in the living room. The DVD gives one an excellent chance to enjoy the wealth of detail and vast complexities of this densely creative film. Beautifully imagined, this nightmare world is the same battle of ideology and power that has haunted humankind from beginning and continues to this day. As a work of cinematic art, Apocalypse Now Redux has something to say about war in ways that speak to the ultimate victim of man's violence against man: the human soul.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.0:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: There has been much discussion about the aspect ratio of this film and the pros and cons of how it was handled. Original cinematographer Vittorio Storaro reframed the movie for home video and there is a muddled history of what framing was used for what version. It is certain that the film is not its original 2.35:1 ratio found in the theaters and this version has been found to differ in framing from the original DVD. Personally, I found it to be one of the best-looking DVDs I have watched. Try as I might, I could rarely see anything that resembled a flaw. The color palette is not broad in this movie and so much takes place in shades of green and blue. A couple of the added scenes had some odd coloration that did not quite seem match, but overall I saw some astonishing images and never had a moment when I felt that the framing was flawed; the picture was extremely vibrant and eye-pleasing.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Apocalypse Now Redux sports a top-flight audio transfer that shows obvious care and attention to the smallest detail of sound design. As I watched, keeping the sound at the forefront of my attention, I constantly noted touches that impressed. From the kickoff with The Doors doing The End and the helicopters circling the firefight to Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries to the chaotic, hallucinatory battle at the bridge and on to the weird environment of Kurtz's camp, it has excellent placement and effect all around. When Chef (Frederic Forrest) is asking the Army troops why they site on their helmets, the sound effect of being inside the helicopter was one I played again. The mixtures of classical music, rock music, natural sounds and electronic sounds make up one of the most riveting aural experiences on DVD to come down the pike.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Many extras were hinted at for this release but ultimately, none surfaced. In fact, some extras that were taken for granted were not included, namely, the documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now. There should have been an annotated copy of the original Joseph Conrad novella included in a DVD-ROM section. It's a tough call, but this movie deserved some documentation.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Few movies have such a broad impact as this film, released on the heels of the unpopular war it portrays. This is a candidate for the greatest war movie ever made and is certainly in a class with The Red Badge of Courage and All Quiet on the Western Front as far as literate war sagas. This is one fine looking and sounding DVD—an absolutely unique cinematic experience. Highly recommended.


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