DirectorFrancis Ford Coppola
Release Date(s)1979/2001/2019 (August 27, 2019)
Studio(s)American Zoetrope (Lionsgate/Studio Canal)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A+
- Overall Grade: A+
So much has been said about Francis Ford Coppola’s legendary Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now over the years, that it seems there’s little worthy one could add in the way of observation. Based on the Joseph Conrad novella Heart of Darkness, the film follows the secret mission of a U.S. Army Special Ops officer (played by Martin Sheen) to terminally “cashier” a Special Forces Colonel (Marlin Brando) who’s gone rogue deep in the jungles of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Like the novella, it’s a story of the power of the jungle (as a primal force of nature) to eat men alive – to draw otherwise rational and intelligent human beings into madness. Fittingly, this also perfectly describes the Vietnam conflict itself, in which so many young American soldiers experienced the same phenomenon. And as anyone familiar with the history of this production knows, Coppola and his own crew experienced much the same thing while shooting the film itself.
In 2006, Paramount and American Zoetrope released Apocalypse Now – both the 1979 theatrical cut and the 2001 Redux version – in a very fine 2-disc Complete Dossier Edition DVD. That set included a plethora of great special edition materials, and was an excellent overall release. Lionsgate and Zoetrope followed that up in 2010 with the Full Disclosure Edition Blu-ray set (reviewed here), taking nearly all of the previous content and upping the ante with significant new special edition material and a 1080p HD/lossless A/V upgrade. Now in 2019, Lionsgate and Zoetrope (with Studio Canal as a distribution partner) have given the film the 4K Ultra HD upgrade it so richly deserves.
Apocalypse Now was shot photochemically in 1976-77 in 35 mm using the Technovision process with Arriflex cameras and Technovision anamorphic lenses. For this new Final Cut edition, the film was scanned for the first time from the original camera negative in native 4K (the previous Blu-ray release was scanned from an interpositive). It was fully restored and finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate, graded for high dynamic range in both HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and is presented on Ultra HD in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This film has quite simply never looked better. In fact, it would be hard to imagine that Apocalypse Now could ever look better than it does here in 4K. Except for optical titles/transitions and the occasional shot with slightly soft focus, there’s a level of refined detail here that you’ve never seen before. Texturing is exquisite, visible in the pours on Sheen’s face, in camouflage uniform fabrics, grimy metal, the stonework of the Kurtz compound, tufted clouds and smoke, gritty dirt, and even beach sand. Despite the near-constant smoke and on-set combat atmospherics, the detail is remarkable. Photochemical gain levels are light to moderate, averaging something in between, and they’re almost never distracting; rather they preserve a certain kind of look that’s vital to this film. The HDR contrasts are impressive, with deeply detailed shadows and inky blacks, yet oppressively bright-gloomy skies, with shimmering sun glare on water and waves. But it’s the color I find most extraordinary here. As he often does, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro takes you on a journey with color in this film, with yellow being particularly important to the film’s gradual descent into madness. The wider color gamut really enhances the vibrant hues, sometimes looking warm and oppressive, sometimes cooler greens and blues, with the occasional pop of still more vibrant colors in fire, explosions, signal flares, smoke grenades, and the like. The Dolby Vision HDR option certainly makes a difference on flat panels, especially more mid-priced displays, with a bit of added depth and dimensionality. I wouldn’t say the difference is huge, but if you have Dolby Vision capability, you will appreciate it. Either way, this is a reference quality 4K image restoration, especially for an older catalog film.
Nearly as good is the new English Dolby Atmos mix here. What’s interesting is that it retains the original sonic character of the film’s 6-track 70mm surround sound. Like the 4K image, the Atmos mix represents the film sounding better than you’ve ever heard it. But because it preserves the sonic character of the original mix, it’s not quite reference quality by today’s surround sound standards. There are a few moments where some of the dialogue gets lost a bit (the French plantation scene in particular) and the subtitles are helpful. But it’s very minor. One the whole, the mix is remarkable, with strong dynamic range and fidelity. Bass is firm, and the mix is enhanced with Meyer Sound’s new “Sensual Sound” technology which adds low frequencies to certain moments. But don’t expect the low end to punch you in the chest. Rather, it sort of draws you into the surround environment more, engaging your senses in key moments. The height channels kick in for atmospheric extension and for battle scenes, as you’d expect. The soundstage itself is big and wide. And the surround movement and staging are very pleasing and sometimes even surprising. In the tiger scene, for example, as the characters walk through the jungle you can hear little rustling noises and bird calls all around you. You will definitlely hear things now that you haven’t before. In chapter 13, when the PBR boat “Street Gang” gets ambushed, flares and bullets seem to streak right at, over, and past you. It’s an impressive mix that again preserves the original sonic experience.
Let’s get to the disc breakdown. The new Final Cut package is a 6-disc set, the movie content of which breaks down thusly:
DISC ONE (4K) – FINAL CUT
- Apocalypse Now Final Cut (2019) (4K – 181:58)
This disc includes English Dolby Atmos and an English 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack that preserves the original theatrical audio. Optional subtitles are included in English, English SDH, French, and Spanish. The only extra on this disc is:
- New Introduction by director Francis Ford Coppola (HD – 4:23)
DISC TWO (4K) – THEATRICAL CUT/REDUX
- Apocalypse Now: Redux (2001) (4K – 196:03)
- Apocalypse Now (1979) (4K – 147:11)
These are also newly-remastered from the new 4K OCN scan and are included using seamless branching (you select the version of the film you wish to watch when you start playback). Audio on this disc is English Dolby Atmos only, but again with optional subtitles available in English, English SDH, Spanish, and French. The only extra on this disc is:
- Audio Commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola (Redux only)
This is the same commentary that was on the previous Blu-ray.
Very quickly, in terms of the differences between the three versions, the Theatrical Cut is the shortest while Redux adds back nearly 50 minutes of deleted material. The Final Cut represents a happy medium between the two. I actually think it’s the best paced version of the film, and my preferred version. It retains the plantation scene but cuts the lengthy (and much-derided) scene in Chapter 10 where the PBR crew trades sex with the Playboy bunnies for diesel fuel. The rest of the cuts seem relatively minor, just little tightening edits here and there that help with the pacing.
DISC THREE (BD) – FINAL CUT
- Apocalypse Now Final Cut (2019) (HD – 181:58)
This is essentially a Blu-ray version of Disc One, with the Final Cut version of the film in 1080p HD, the same English Dolby Atmos and English 2.0 Dolby Digital audio, and the same subtitle options. Here’s the key thing to note: Yes, this Blu-ray IS mastered from the new 4K OCN scan. This disc also has one extra:
- New Introduction by director Francis Ford Coppola (HD – 4:23)
DISC FOUR (BD) – THEATRICAL CUT/REDUX
- Apocalypse Now: Redux (2001) (HD – 196:03)
- Apocalypse Now (1979) (HD – 147:11)
Again, this is a Blu-ray version of Disc Two, with both the Theatrical Cut and Redux in 1080p HD via seamless branching. It has English Dolby Atmos audio only, with English, English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles. The only extra on this disc is:
- Audio Commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola (Redux only)
And yes, these versions too are sourced from the new 4K OCN scan. So the Blu-rays in this set represent the best available versions of the film on that format.
DISC FIVE (BD) – SPECIAL FEATURES
Note that this is the exact same disc that was created for the Full Disclosure Edition in 2010, with all of the same extras. It includes (in a mix of HD and SD):
- An Interview with John Milius (HD – 49:45)
- A Conversation with Martin Sheen and Francis Ford Coppola (HD – 59:26)
- Fred Roos: Casting Apocalypse (HD – 11:44)
- The Mercury Theatre on the Air: Hearts of Darkness – November 6, 1938 (audio – 36:34)
- The Hollow Men (SD – 16:57)
- Monkey Sampan “Lost Scene” (low quality SD – 3:03)
- Additional Scenes (lower quality SD – 12 scenes – 26:28)
- Kurtz Compound Destruction with Credits (HD – 6:06)
- The Birth of 5.1 Sound (SD – 5:54)
- Ghost Helicopter Flyover (SD – 3:55)
- Apocalypse Now: The Synthesizer Soundtrack by Bob Moog (HD magazine article – text gallery)
- A Million Feet of Film: The Editing of Apocalypse Now (SD – 17:57)
- The Music of Apocalypse Now (SD – 14:46)
- Heard Any Good Movies Lately? The Sound Design of Apocalypse Now (SD – 15:22)
- The Final Mix (SD – 3:09)
- Apocalypse Then and Now (SD – 3:44)
- 2001 Cannes Film Festival: Francis Ford Coppola (SD – 38:35)
- PBR Streetgang (SD – 4:09)
- The Color Palette of Apocalypse Now (SD – 4:06)
- Disc Credits
- Also from Lionsgate – Promo Trailers (HD – 4:02 – for Tetro, The Doors, and quick tag for The Conversation)
We’ve talked about all of this content before in our review of the Full Disclosure Edition and the previous DVD releases too. It is, in a word, tremendous. It’s also quite comprehensive. But that’s not all you get here…
DISC SIX (BD) – HEARTS OF DARKNESS & NEW FEATURES
This is a new bonus disc that replaces the final disc from the Full Disclosure Edition. It includes all of those features and adds several new ones too (marked as such below):
- Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (with audio commentary by Francis and Eleanor Coppola – HD – 96:00)
- Tribeca Film Festival Q&A with Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Soderbergh (NEW – HD – 47:34)
- Super 8 Behind-the-Scenes Footage (NEW – HD – 21:39)
- Dutch Angle: Chas Gerretsen & Apocalypse Now (NEW – HD – 31:44)
- Apocalypse Now: Remastering a Legend in Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos (NEW – HD – 2:50)
- Apocalypse Now: A Forty Year Journey (NEW – HD – 2:21)
- Sensual Sound Technology from Meyer Sound (NEW – HD – 3:52)
- John Milius Script Excerpt with Francis Ford Coppola (HD – text gallery)
- Storyboard Collection (HD – image gallery with 222 images)
- Photo Archive (HD – includes Unit Photography and Mary Ellen Mark Photography – 41 images)
- Marketing Archive: 1979 Teaser Trailer (HD – 1:29)
- Marketing Archive: 1979 Theatrical Trailer (HD – 3:56)
- Marketing Archive: 1979 Radio Spots (audio feature – 5 spots – 2:05 in all)
- Marketing Archive: 1979 Theatrical Program (HD gallery – 15 images)
- Marketing Archive: Lobby Card and Press Kit Photos (HD gallery – 72 images)
- Marketing Archive: Poster Gallery (HD gallery – 8 images)
Note that there are optional English, English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles for the documentary only. Again, we’ve talked about the legacy extras before, but the new material is a very welcome addition. The Tribeca Q&A is a thoughtful discussion from the Final Cut debut screening earlier this year. It starts right away with Soderbergh asking Coppola why he decided to make the film when literally no one around him thought it was a good idea. Their conversation is interspersed with clips from the film and behind-the-scenes footage. The Super 8 material was shot by sound mixer Jack C. Jacobsen on location – 7 reels of it – and it’s never been seen by fans before. There’s atmosphere stuff, some clowning around, views of scenes staged for the film but shot from a different angle. It’s interesting in that you get a pretty extensive look at more of what was going on around the filmmakers on set, which honestly looks like barely organized chaos. It’s amazing stuff. Dutch Angle is a lovely piece produced by Kino Rotterdam Cinema about the Dutch photographer, Chas Gerretsen, who was on set to document the filming. Not only is he an absolutely fascinating character in his own right, most of his pictures – which are extraordinary – haven’t been widely seen before. This is one of my favorite new pieces in the set, because it’s so unexpected. There are brief looks at the process of remastering the film for Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, as well as Meyer’s Sensual Sound. Also very cool is A Forty Year Journey, which is a montage of all the different home video formats Apocalypse Now has been released in, showing the relative quality of each (and the gradual journey to the new 4K scan). Younger viewers might be shocked at the early VHS, Betamax, and Laserdisc presentations. What’s fun about this is that the audio quality shifts as you watch too. Of course, there’s also a paper slip for a non-Movies Anywhere Digital copy of all three versions of the film. You go to a website, enter the code, and choose your redemption option/digital provider. And the packaging is lovely too, a foil-metallic cardboard and plastic arrangement with gorgeous artwork (this art is used for the new disc menus too).
So let’s talk about what’s NOT included here. Obviously, the 48-page booklet is missing from the Full Disclosure Edition. From the Complete Dossier Edition DVD, the brief video intro by Coppola and the Easter egg are gone. From the Redux DVD, the Redux trailer is missing. From the original theatrical cut DVD, the Destruction of the Kurtz Compound footage has carried over (now in HD), but while the DVD had it without text credits and with optional Coppola commentary, this set has it with the original credit text and commentary only – a very minor loss, but still worth mentioning. And finally, from Paramount’s Hearts of Darkness documentary DVD, the 62-minute Coda documentary is gone. But that was about the making of Coppola’s Youth Without Youth and not this film, so it’s not really relevant. (I only mention it here because Coda was also missing from Sony’s Youth Without Youth Blu-ray too. So if you wish to retain any of those bonuses, be sure to keep the DVDs and/or Blu-rays in question.) Overall, the missing content is quite minor.
What’s certainly true about this new Final Cut 4K package is that it takes what was already an outstanding Blu-ray special edition (in the Full Disclosure release) and makes it even better. It is certainly the best A/V presentation of Apocalypse Now on any format ever, with new Blu-rays mastered from the 4K scan too. It’s also one of the most comprehensive special editions in recent memory, especially for a catalog title. We have four months to go in 2019 yet, but this package is certainly in the running for the best 4K release of the year. For cinephiles especially, it’s a must-have. Surreal as it is, Apocalypse Now isn’t for everyone. But if you love this film, don’t hesitate even for a moment. This is a stunning Ultra HD restoration.
- Bill Hunt