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Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Apocalypse Now is one of those films that you don’t even have to see to know what it’s about. Scenes are quoted and recalled all the time. It’s a feature that has yet to become a classic unmentioned. The behind-the-scenes story is just as known and fascinating as the film itself. Francis Ford Coppola nearly went insane to bring this project to life. The efforts therein are even more admirable. Apocalypse Now is a truly stunning piece of film history. The story of an Army Captain not far from his own breakdown heading up a Vietnamese river to assassinate a cult-like former Colonel is engrained in popular culture. “The horror…” of a hellish war story is on full display. This new 40th Anniversary Final Cut edition of Apocalypse Now will stand as the definitive way to experience the film at home and the presentation of this collection is a huge achievement in how to present physical media.

Film 

In 1976, Francis Ford Coppola along with his crew and family embarked on a journey to the Philippines to create Apocalypse Now as a wartime retelling of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.  The journey ended up lasting nearly three years and even in post production left Coppola to edit down a million feet of film. The John Milius penned script has moments of mania, psychedelia, delusion, action and drama all rolled into one. The script alone is cut from a very sensational cloth. Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), is a soldier at odds with his service duties. He’s in Vietnam and wishing to go home and once home, he divorces his wife and asks once again to be sent back to the place he so desperately wanted to leave.

The film opens with Willard’s narration and a visual presentation of a rock bottom meltdown that in truth was a real breakdown captured on film. Sheen gives his all in what may be his finest performance. He holds nothing back as Willard. He is tough as nails on the outside, but we’ve been privy to his personal implosion and know what could happen should he lose it in the field.

When Willard is asked by some military bigwigs (including a cameo from Harrison Ford) to go up the Nùng River to find Captain Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has reportedly gone insane. Once he finds Kurtz, he is asked to terminate him… with extreme prejudice. Willard takes off immediately and joins a Navy river patrol (PBR Street Gang). The level-headed Chief (Albert Hall), Saucier soldier Chef (Frederic Forrest), famous surfer Lance (Sam Bottoms) and the fresh out of high school Mr. Clean (Laurence Fishburne) round out the group and are along for the journey into insanity as they search for Kurtz.

The thing that sets Apocalypse Now apart from its war genre peers is its tone. There is not one scene anywhere in the film that is straightforward. From the first moments the film is told in such a way that firstly, you feel like you’re on the journey with the PBR Street Gang, but also that you yourself are witnessing this descent into insanity. The editing, camera movements, synthesized score, and sound design (more on that later…) are all so immersive. This isn’t a film that has the feeling of “by-the-numbers” storytelling. And that’s what is truly amazing.

By the time we get to the end of the river, we have been on an odyssey that is unforgettable to its core. We’ve been on planes and beaches with a surfing obsessed Lieutenant Colonel (Robert Duvall). We’ve witnessed a most bizarre show with Playboy bunnies, and countless out of control young soldiers driven crazy by the war and its pointlessness. We even take a trip back in time to when the French wanted control of Vietnam. And to top it off, at the end of the river we encounter the worst of it. A photojournalist (Dennis Hopper) greets the crew with smiles and happiness, only to be another cog in Kurtz’s crazy setup. Kurtz himself is an unhinged, ruthless leader of his cult-like tribe. He will hold you in a cage or even cut off your head to get his point across. There is no saving this soldier at all.

After all of this insanity, brilliant action sequences, emotional breakdowns and “what’s it all for” revelations, Apocalypse Now leaves its audience truly shaken up. For a 3-hour film, you aren’t left feeling there are moments of dullness. This final cut presentation does take the time to open up the story but has removed some of the more tedious moments from the last version, Apocalypse Now: Redux. In the end, we are left with a true sense of what it must have been like for so many during the Vietnam war and as an audience have shared such a crazy, emotional, and maybe even cathartic experience.

For me personally, this is one of the finest films ever made. Francis For Coppola is on record as saying he wanted a film that was shocking, exciting, entertaining, and maybe just a little overindulgent. This is an extravagant film. There is so much depth to delve through and repeated viewings often reveal more over time. Coppola remains, to me, one of the finest examples of brilliant filmmaker. His final cut version of one of his most notorious films stands as a testament to what an outstanding film can be like after so many years. This one is timeless and a must-see cinematic achievement.

Video

I don’t normally write a summary for the video or audio sections but in this case, I must. Wow. The video quality of this edition of Apocalypse Now is such a great upgrade to its last Blu-ray incarnation that I must. This transfer absolutely blew me away and I go into much more detail below.

  • Encoding: HEVC / H.265
  • Resolution: 4K (2160p)
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Dolby Vision: Yes
  • HDR: HDR10
  • Clarity/Detail: Right out of the gate, you are treated to a spectacular uptick in detail. Interiors are truly fleshed out and the sweaty humid nature of Vietnam is ever-present on the actors in almost every scene. Dense landscapes come through with the sharpness of a modern film. Textures and shadows and even sweat beads are all clear and detailed with precision.
  • Depth: Again, this version of our film is presented in such a way that you could at times believe it was filmed very recently. The depth is another place of excellence in the video department. This is not a 3D image, but you are able to see things even more than before. As with the detail, you can make out what may have been muddy before. If you really get sucked into the picture, you can feel as though you’re there in that jungle with the PBR Street Gang
  • Black Levels: Blacks are nearly perfect throughout. There is a great deal of the film shown in dark areas and at night. You lose none of the detail in those dark scenes. A great highlight is when Willard and Kurtz are together towards the end. Kurtz is attempting in his insanity to explain his motives to Willard and he slowly begins to reveal his melon-like head from the shadows. As he does so he is pouring water on himself to cool off, and from the shadows, you can see more and more detail even in the dark. You can even see the water beading in his eyebrows. Blacks are incredible really.
  • Color Reproduction: Colors are presented in exceptional ways throughout. Colored smoke, jungle greens, fiery oranges and reds… Those are just the basics here. In every way, the colors are reproduced gorgeously. Sunset scenes present some gorgeous HDR moments. Overall though,  the Dolby Vision HDR color palette is something to marvel.
  • Flesh Tones: Flesh Tones are perfect throughout. The bodies and faces we see look exactly as intended.
  • Noise/Artifacts: This is one of those instances where of course we have grain, but not only does the grain help the transfer, it often becomes a part of the experience, in such a way that it’s not heavy, soupy or swarming around. The grain in this film is essential.

Audio 

I must also say something about the amazing audio included on this disc. The main audio is presented in Dolby Atmos.  The new mix is minted from a once lost original 6 track master. They literally found the master in a dumpster. The track was remastered and created with a lot of love. Meyer Sound who presented the original Surround Sound setup for 70mm presentations was also on hand and helped to recreated what they coined with Coppola – Sensual Sound. The process was all about the low end, and here you get a huge treat with it. More on all the amazing achievements below.

  • Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos (TrueHD 7.1 Core), English 2.0 Stereo
  • Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
  • Dynamics: The wow starts immediately with the Atmos mix. You hear the synthesized helicopter sounds panning around, and then The Doors come in with The End, and it’s almost as if you’re hallucinating. The magic continues from scene to scene. This is how movies should sound. The sounds come from everywhere and dialogue is beautifully dynamic as needed as well.
  • Low Frequency Extension: Another wow aspect of this mix is the Low-end. The Sensual Sound process is finally available in the home, and the bass extension is very lovingly reproduced. Explosions, Gunfire, Helicopters, and off-screen sounds all stretch out in the subwoofer channel. There is incredible use of the low-end throughout, and at no time do the sounds meant for the low-end fall short.
  • Surround Sound Presentation: In 1979, Apocalypse Now was one of the first movies to be presented with surround sound. It was the blueprint of what we came to know as 5.1 Surround. The incredible surround moments abound in the new Atmos mix, panning around the sound field all over the place. Helicopters, sounds of the jungle, water, rain, crowds, shouting, gunshots, and so much more finds its way into the surround channels.
  • Height: Atmos height effects are used almost all the time during the 3-hour presentation. Music, voices, gunfire, echoes, and off-screen sounds find their ways up to the height channels. This is a very good example of how Atmos can truly immerse you into the film and you can get lost in it just because of the sound
  • Dialogue Reproduction: One word – Perfect. If lines are meant to be delivered quietly, they are. Same can be said for the louder moments of dialogue. Echoes enhance some more cavernous moments or add atmosphere to some outdoor scenes as well.

Extras

Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut comes with a digi-pak packaging, that houses 6 Discs (2 4K Blu-rays and 4 2K Blu-rays) and a digital code. There is a J-Card attached to the back. This is a gorgeous presentation in itself – The illustrations are absolutely amazing! The features are exhaustive. 4 Discs are left for the films themselves. You not only get the Final Cut version in 4K, but also the Theatrical Cut and the Redux Cut are presented in 4K. The features are spread across the 2 final discs. The special features are as follows:

  • Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse: An exceptional feature length documentary by Coppola’s wife Eleanor that is far more than a special feature.
  • Tribeca Film Festival Q&A with Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Soderbergh: Another very interesting conversation on the film that was filmed in April of 2019
  • Super 8 Behind the Scenes Footage: Unseen soundless footage from the shoot, unearthed in 2004 and presented for the first time in this package.
  • Dutch Angle: Chas Gerretson & Apocalypse Now: Gerretson on his time photographing the shoot.
  • Apocalypse Now: Remastering a Legend in Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos: A short feature on the remastering process for the newest formats for home and theatre presentations.
  • Apocalypse Now: A 40 Year Journey: Presents the helicopter flyover scene in the various sound formats and home media presentations since its first home video release.
  • Sensual Sound Technology from Meyer Sound: A feature on the sound process recreated for the home and newest theatrical exhibition of the film

  • Script Excerpts from John Milius with Francis Ford Coppola
  • Storyboard Collection
  • Photo Archive
  • Marketing Archive
  • An Interview with John Milius
  • A Conversation with Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Sheen
  • Fred Roos – Casting Apocalypse
  • The Mercury Theater On The Air: Hearts of Darkness, November 6th, 1938
  • The Hollow Men (a reading of The Hollow Men)
  • Monkey Sampan (Lost Scene)
  • Additional Scenes
  • Kurtz Compound Destruction with End Credits
  • The Birth of 5.1 Sound: A feature on the process of creating a surround sound presentation in 1979
  • Ghost Helicopter Flyover
  • Apocalypse Now: The Synthesizer Soundtrack – Article by Bob Moog
  • A Million Feet of Film – Editing Apocalypse Now
  • The Music of Apocalypse Now
  • “Heard Any Good Movies Lately?” The Sound Design of Apocalypse Now
  • The Final Mix
  • 2001 Cannes Film Festival Interview with Francis Ford Coppola
  • PBR Street Gang
  • The Color Palette of Apocalypse Now

Summary

Apocalypse Now is one of my all-time favorite films. I’ve purchased it in many formats over time. Upgrading for features or picture quality or version. There has never been a home release of the film like this and I doubt very highly we will get one any better than this to follow. The merits of those involved are outstanding and truly they deserve much praise for the work that was so lovingly put into this package. The picture and sound quality of this release rival next to no film in the 4K Blu-ray format at this point, new or old. Yes, I said it – This presentation is reference quality across the board, and the premier example of how catalog titles should be reissued. If you love film, and you especially love milestone films such as this, a purchase is a no-brainer. It also helps that there is so much value for a 6-disc set like this at the price-point it’s being offered at. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to pass this release up. This one deserves my absolute Highest Recommendation

 

 

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