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  • Widescreen 2:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 95.18)
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Additional footage - Destruction of the Kurtz Compound
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary - on additional footage only
  • 2 Featurette
  • Animated menus

Apocalypse Now Redux

American Zoetrope/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 194 mins . R . PAL


Though we’re seeing a lot more movie revisionism than ever before thanks to the renewed interest in movie craft that DVD has awakened in many, the phenomenon of the so-called “Director’s Cut” is not at all new. Indeed, back in 1979, when Francis Ford Coppola finally let his tortured production of Apocalypse Now out into the world, fellow director Steven Spielberg was busily preparing a brand new version of his own hit film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The theory went that, according to Spielberg, the studio had given him the money to allow him to finally cut his movie the way he’d always wanted it, freed from the constraints of a tight budget and a looming release date. In practice, of course, Spielberg still had to compromise - Columbia insisted on an inside-the-spaceship ending which has thankfully since been removed in yet another revision - but the so-called “Special Edition” of Close Encounters was released theatrically and became the definitive cut for many years.

Since then, many directors have taken the opportunity to rewrite history by remaking their art, most famously George Lucas’s revisiting of his original Star Wars trilogy and more recently Spielberg with his politically-correct cut of ET The Extra Terrestrial. Director’s cuts are everywhere, especially on DVD, and people seem to lap them up. But Apocalypse Now has been an exception, despite years of rumours of entire scenes that were left on the cutting room floor when Coppola was forced to bite the proverbial bullet and deliver a releasable cut of his movie back in 1979. Over a year of filming and countless disasters and rethinks (all chronicled in the fabulous documentary Hearts Of Darkness) resulted in one of the most unique and celebrated war movies in film history - a cerebral, elegiac and impossibly strange odyssey through a man-made hell that captured the madness and chaos of the Vietnam war better than any film before or since. The fact that it was based on a Joseph Conrad story undoubtedly helped, but the descent into a mad world and, eventually, madness, was not all that far removed from the actual production process itself.

The story is straightforward - Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), an experienced assassin, is sent on a mission up-river to find and kill decorated soldier Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has gone insane and started his own army deep in the jungle near the Vietnam-Cambodia border. The journey is a dangerous one, but as Willard sets out with his own personal demons and a small patrol boat crew up the river, he encounters a series of people and events that underline the madness of things ever more strongly. As he travels, he reads through a hefty dossier on Kurtz, and somewhere along the way he begins to understand the man and his reasons for abandoning his command...

If it’s conventional plot you were hoping for, Apocalypse Now may well have disappointed you; it’s a visceral experience, the stunning images (photographed by Vittorio Storaro, who won an Oscar) and intricate sound as important as the increasingly bizarre events on screen. But that said, this new cut will hold more appeal for those who like their character exposition; most of the over 45 minutes of new footage added in this “redux” version is there for that reason alone.

Was a new version of the film needed? Probably not; while Coppola, like Spielberg, claims his vision for the movie was stifled by the need to deliver a finished film back in 1979, the 150 minute masterpiece that resulted has gone on, despite mixed reviews at the time, to become a classic of modern cinema. Perhaps because of that, it’s difficult to watch this Redux version and not have the new scenes jump out at you, however seamlessly integrated with the rest of the movie they are. But while the longer cut didn’t exactly provoke wild applause from critics upon its release, it actually works for the most part exceptionally well. Characters are painted with broader strokes in the first half of the film now, aided by some subtle re-editing of existing material, and as a whole it feels like a more satisfying grounding for what happens at the climax. Sure, there’s more exposition here, more directly literal plot. But most of the time it only serves to enhance the pervading mood of dread, and seemingly “normal” events like the added scene involving the Playboy Playmates - which appears initially to be unnecessary padding - actually underline the insanity of what’s happening around it. Only one added scene really fails, and unfortunately it’s the longest - the French Plantation scene. Running over 20 minutes, it involves an enormous amount of political discussion that, coming as late as it does in the film, threatens to unbalance the whole thing; stick with it, though, and its main purpose becomes clear.

Fortunately for fans of this movie, Coppola has not issued Redux and made his 1979 cut obsolete - it is still available, and will remain so. But this fascinating exercise in making a lengthy film even longer is, ultimately, a good thing - the film seems more well-rounded than it previously did, more substantial; perhaps it’s just the passage of time playing tricks - it’s been some years since this writer watched the original cut - but Apocalypse Now Redux seems to be that rarest of things - a reworking of a classic that successfully expands on the original without selling out its source’s overarching themes and meaning.


Apocalypse Now has been pretty well treated on video since back in the laserdisc days, when it received a stunning letterboxed transfer that was pure demo material. The original cut of the movie scored an even better transfer for its DVD release in region 1, and now the Redux version ups the ante yet again by presenting Apocalypse Now on home video better than it’s ever been seen before.

This is an utterly gorgeous transfer of a film where visuals are all-important, and the sheer quality of the images on offer here belies the 23-year age of the movie. One thing that might prove a little controversial, though, is the aspect ratio. Originally shot in the charmingly-named “Technovision” (an anamorphic-lens process delivering a 2.35:1 aspect ratio), Apocalypse Now has traditionally shown up on widescreen video in an aspect ratio closer to 2:1, something that’s greatly upset some people. The reasons for this, though, are understandable. For one thing, the original theatrical release format of the movie - even in Australia - was on 70mm blow-up prints, at an aspect ratio not much wider than 2:1 - this is the way Coppola and cinematographer Storaro wanted their film to be seen. Also, Storaro is the instigator of the clumsily-named “Univisium”, a photographic process that tries to draw a compromise between home video legibility and theatrical opulence. Storaro now shoots all his movies in this format. And its aspect ratio? 2:1, not surprisingly.

This director (and cinematographer) approved transfer does take some extreme liberties with colour and contrast balance at times; this is intentional and for the most part stunningly effective. It’s as though given the colour stability and resolution of DVD, Coppola and Storaro decided to have a little bit of fun with some scenes. More power to them; there’s much to gape in awe at here and very little to criticise.

There are a handful of film scratches and the occasional burst of grain, along with the odd shot where contrast is lacking; given the conditions under which the film was made none of this is surprising, but we bet that even those with the old laserdisc release will be gobsmacked at just how good this DVD version looks. The integration of new footage is not at all obvious from a technical point of view; Coppola obviously made sure the negatives were well treated and carefully stored. Edge enhancement is non-existent.

Compression problems on this dual-layered disc are simply non-existent; the authoring, by Zoetrope’s own DVD production facility (which also produced the Godfather discs for Paramount) is flawless; the disc layer change is hidden at a fade to black half way through the film and most people will never notice it happening.

Oh, and by the way, the opening credits have not gone missing - the film never had any, either in its original cut nor this Redux version. In fact, in 70mm runs the film had no end credits either; audiences were handed a booklet containing all the credit info, with the copies from the original theatrical run now collector’s items. Here, end credits are appended - but of course you don’t have to watch them if you prefer to recreate the theatrical experience!


Prepare to have your senses assaulted - this Dolby Digital 5.1 remastering of the audio for Apocalypse Now is so good it leaves almost every current Hollywood movie for dead in terms of sheer sound impact and quality. The movie’s always had a good soundtrack - it may have been made in 1979, but the use of a high-speed analogue recording system at the time meant that it was a groundbreaking film sound-wise, and it sounds even better today with the aid of discrete digital multi-channel sound and the benefit of the involvement of original sound designer Walter Murch.

Right from the start of the film, when a synthesised helicopter-blade sound flies across your rear speakers and then across the front, you know you’re in for something special, and that’s underlined when The Doors’ The End shimmers into multi-channel life immediately afterwards. And from then on, for over three hours there’s nothing but incredible sound design, with the rear channels constantly active and extremely discreet, whether it be for zooming choppers, exploding bombs, subtle jungle sounds or bits of the electronic music score. The LFE track here is extravagantly used, too - if you’ve got a good subwoofer you’re going to be moving furniture with this one, with sub-bass used almost constantly throughout the movie with uncommon restraint and subtlety.

Throughout, the best word to describe this sound mix is refined - extremely high fidelity, completely free of tape hiss or any kind of distortion, and at times staggeringly involving and realistic, this is one of the soundtracks of choice if you want to give your new sound system a thorough workout and impress your friends, and it perfectly complements the visuals to create an immersive alternate reality that makes the film and experience rather than just a journey.

It may be nearly a quarter-century old, but this audio mix is one of the best surround sound experiences you’ll ever have.


The sheer length of the film precludes the addition of much in the extras department; however, the region 4 disc does offer a few things that the US version does not. Nothing spectacular, mind, but then, this film really should speak for itself anyway (and as far as chronicling the production process goes, nothing can beat Hearts Of Darkness anyway).

The fully animated main menu is beautifully designed, even if you have to wait through an enforced startup delay courtesy of Universal before you get to it.

Theatrical Trailer: The two and a half minute Redux trailer, ironically at the film’s “other” theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 and with Dolby Surround (flagged) audio; it is not 16:9 enhanced. There’s way too much hyperbole here - c’mon, does every movie have to have a catchphrase these days? - and the billing of Harrison Ford as one of the movie’s co-stars is misleading to say the least. Image quality throughout is quite grainy and colour is nowhere near as vibrant as it is in the movie proper.

PBR Streetgang: A four-minute look back at the shooting of the film from the perspective of the actors who played the crew which accompanied Willard up the river. Quite interesting, but too short. Full frame, with mono sound.

Apocalypse Then and Now: Roger Ebert interviews Coppola at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival about the reasons for the Redux version existing, and then a mini-documentary about the Redux production process showing us the sound mix in action. Once again very interesting - if only this was a full-blown documentary! Full frame, mono sound.

Destruction Of The Kurtz Compound: This is an extra that was included on the US disc of the original version of the film; its inclusion here is welcome. Essentially a compilation of shots of the Kurtz compound being comprehensively blown up, this footage was not used in the final film and ended up being the backdrop for the end credits on 35mm prints of the film for some time before Coppola removed it, something he explains in detail in an accompanying audio commentary (yes, you read correctly - a commentary for this, but not the movie itself!) Here the sequence appears for the first time without being obscured by credits; audio for both the music-only track and the commentary is flagged Dolby Surround. Video is 16:9 enhanced at a 2:1 aspect ratio.


While it was always going to be a controversial move that would divide critics and fans alike, Apocalypse Now Redux for the most part successfully expands on the original movie and fleshes out its mood and story without compromising the integrity of the overall picture; for those who’ve never seen the film before, it may well be the best way to do so for the first time, though opinions on that will vary considerably.

Universal offers region 4 customers a DVD mastered by Coppola’s own company, one which presents the film with brilliant clarity and vibrancy and with a soundtrack so good we’d give it an 11 if there was any way we could. Only the lack of extras lets it down - a commentary would have been most welcome - but there’s more here than US customers got, and if you’re buying this for the movie you’ll be too pleased with the quality to care much about trivial extras.

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      And I quote...
    "...presents the film with brilliant clarity and vibrancy and with a soundtrack so good we’d give it an 11 if there was any way we could"
    - Anthony Horan
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