Follow us on

DVD Review - Apocalypse Now - The Complete Dossier

September 17th, 2006

Apocalypse Now is widely considered one of the greatest movies of all time, and while it has been released on DVD a couple of times in the past, this is the first time it has been released on a truly Special Edition DVD. But is double-dip truly worth picking up, even it you already own one or both of the previous editions? In a word, yes. But a review should probably be longer than 66 words, so let's continue.

Spoiler-Free Synopsis:

Apocalypse Now stars Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin L. Willard, a special ops soldier sent on a unofficial, neigh non-existent mission to infiltrate the command of a renegade Green Beret Colonel, Walter Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando. Once there he is to terminate the Colonel command, with extreme prejudice.

In order to travel to Kurtz's headquarters, Captain Willard travels up the Nung River on a U.S. Navy patrol boat with Chief Phillips, and his crew: Jay 'Chef' Hicks, Lance B. Johnson, and Tyrone 'Mr. Clean' Miller. Along the way they encounter a surfing obsessed Lieutenant Colonel, Bill Kilgore (played by Robert Duvall), playboys bunnies, and scene after scene of insanity.

The next section contains spoilers, click here to skip to the Special Features section.

Movie Review

Apocalypse Now is one of the most recognizable and acclaimed movies in American movie history, (although when it first came out the reviews were merely mixed). Even if you have never seen the movie, odds are you will recognize nearly all of the key scenes as they have been parodied in everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Animaniacs, Duckman, Hot Shots! Part Deux, and more. There's little that I can say about this movie that hasn't already been said by people with much larger vocabularies and a keener grasp of the rules of grammar, so instead I will concentrate on the differences between the two versions and the special features. The latter is especially important as this is a double-dip and those who own one of the previous versions will want to know if there's enough new here to warrant an upgrade.

The Redux version, which was released theatrically in 2001, was not greeted with enthusiasm. While there were those who thought this version was closer to Coppola's original vision and therefore a more true experience, most did not like the added footage. I didn't think that these reintegrated scenes added that much to the movie as a whole, especially in light of the film's already hefty running time. The originally released the film ran more than two-and-a-half hours and the Redux version is nearly an hour longer and necessitates splitting the film over two discs. But they were hardly as destructive as some would have you believe.

The new additions include...

  • There were several short scenes in the Kilgore sequence that were added back into the movie. This included a lot that built up the character and helped the viewer understand him better, (him helping the wounded baby, for example). My favorite addition was when Captain Willard steals his surfboard. We later see a scene of Kilgore's response, "It was a good board - and I like it." This really showed Kilgore to be a lot more insane, to be blunt. In the original version he is presented in almost a good light; he is clearly brave and an able commander, he is just a little more concerned about surfing than he is about completely military objectives. His use of helicopters to retrieve his board and the way he talks seems more deranged. One of the central themes of the movie is that since the Vietnam War was insane, only those who were similarly insane would thrive. Or indeed, one must surrender to the insanity to merely survive. This helped reinforce this view very well.
  • Dossier Scenes - there were several short clips of Willard reading the dossier, which was very important in giving more background information about Kurtz. I assume they were cut for pacing reasons, and given the Redux's more than three-hour running time, I can see why. But even so, I think they are good additions.
  • A follow-up to the Playboy playmates scene where Willard trades two barrels of diesel fuel for two hours with the Playboy playmates. I didn't think this scene added enough to the movie to be a worth inclusion.
  • After several incidents along the river, they come across a French plantation. This scene, while it drags on some, does include some interesting political discussions, including an important revelation about the creation of the Vietcong, which Willard did not know about.
  • Finally there's a scene where Kurtz releases Willard from a hot box then reads to him an article about the war. On the one hand, it does show some of Kurtz 's motivation, (the detachment between reality and what the government has been telling the media), and the way he interacts with the children helps to reveal a bit about his character. On the other hand, it is the only scene in the movie where Kurtz is filmed in sunlight and in that way I think it hurts somewhat stylistically. Overall, I think it was a marginally worthwhile addition.
I'm still going to say the original version is the superior version, but I'm not as militant about this opinion as some others are. In fact, while writing this review I've watched both versions repeatedly and my opinion on which is better has switched back and forth more than once. On a side note, I read a lot of these opinions doing research for this review, and quite frankly, some of these people scare me. They are almost as bad as Star Wars fanatics and they felt that messing with Apocalypse Now was like making Greedo shoot first.

Special Features:

Disc 1:

Audio commentary tracks:
These start with intros by
Francis Ford Coppola with each version having a different one. Like the film itself, the Redux intro is slightly longer at 4 minutes and each discuss the movie from a slightly different angle.
The heart of the special features is this commentary track featuring Francis Ford Coppola. While the DVD states there are two tracks, they are identical except during the reincorporated scenes of the Redux version, which has additional commentary seamlessly spliced in. The added bits don't always match the added scenes, that is to say, sometimes the audio commentary track for the original version overruns some of the Redux added scenes and vice versa. This really has no negative effect but allows a more smooth transition between the two. Tracks with just one speaker have a tendency to become dull; without the interplay between participants, too often there are repetitions, lulls, etc. However, while there are some dead zones, there are not too many or too long that they hurt the value of the audio commentary track and the information given is certainly worth listening to. This audio commentary track alone is worth the price of the upgrade.

The Hollow Men - 16:40
Marlon Brando reading T.S. Elliot's poem, The Hollow Men, inter-spliced with clips either from behind-the-scenes, deleted scenes, etc. The video quality varies, but it usually quite bad, but even so this featurette is worth checking out and has high replay value.

Monkey Sampan - 2:50
Starts with a rendition of Light My Fire by The Doors as if it was a traditional song, which is interesting by itself. But the second part is a short scene with a monkey-infested sampan sailing along the river. Not sure why this is a separate item from the other deleted scenes.

Deleted Scenes - 25:45
A dozen deleted scenes, many of which are under a minute and were likely cut for pacing reasons. Most of these cuts were well made, (especially the meeting of the PBR crew, it just didn't feel organic enough). On the other hand, the Do Lung Bridge sequence probably should have been included as it helped emphasize the insanity of the war. However, while most should have been removed, they are very interesting to watch and for many they will be worth the price of the upgrade. I do have a couple of complaints, firstly, I would have liked an intro / commentary on these scenes by Francis Ford Coppola as well as a play all button.

A/V Club
Birth of 5.1 Sound - 5:50
This featurette discusses the genesis of 5.1 sound, including a very interested history of the development of cinema sound as it pertains to the competition movies were under from Television. It's discusses Apocalypse Now almost as a side note.
Ghost Helicopter Flyover - 3:50
Another featurette on sound, this time on the opening scene and how it utilizes all channels to create a truly immersive experience. The scene itself is just a few seconds long, but it is such a great showcase of the 5.1 sound and how groundbreaking the film was that I found this featurette fascinating, even after repeat viewings.

The Synthesizer Soundtrack
28 pages of text. The text was too small and blended with the background images too much for me to read it at normal TV viewing distances. It would have been better served as a booklet.

Technical FAQ
Six questions regarding the film are answered here, including why it is in 2.0:1 format and not the original 2.35:1 and quells rumors of a 5 and a half hour long version of the film, (although it does confirm that was the length of the work print).

Disc 2:

The Post Production of Apocalypse Now - 50:00
A multi-part featurette on the postproduction of Apocalypse Now that fortunately can be viewed in one chunk as well as separately. It starts with a very interesting look at the editing process, I especially like the comparison between editing a movie and brainwashing techniques. Most of the other sections talk about the sound not only with the original score, but the songs chosen, and the sound effects. This film was a major breakthrough in movie sound, which explains the focus on that aspect of the movie. My only complaint is it felt a little dry at times but it is still worth repeat viewing.

PBR Streetgang - 4:00
A retrospective with the crew of the PBR including interviews with Larry Fishburne, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, and Frederic Forrest. This is practically the only special feature where we hear from the cast of the movie and that made it more interesting. Unfortunately, it is too short to be in-depth enough for my taste.

Apocalypse Then and Now - 3:45
A short featurette about the reaction the film generated when it was first released and how they worked on it to create the Redux version. It's as in-depth as one can expect given its running time, but it is one of the weaker featurettes.

The Color Palettr of Apocalypse Now - 4:05
With so much of the special features looking at the sound, this featurette looks at the color and its unusual film printing technique. Again, too short to be completely satisfying, but still worth checking out.

Redux Marker
This is actually a subtitle track that tells the viewer when they are watching a scene that is in the Redux version and not the original theatrical release. This does mean you can't have any other subtitles on while using this special feature, but I suppose this was the easiest way to signify added scenes.

Lastly, we have to talk about what's missing? Since this DVD is a double-dip, (or to be more accurate, a triple-dip), it is important to look at the special features that weren't ported over, which is all of them. In total, the pervious two versions only had footage of the compound destruction with a commentary track and some trailers, none of which made it here. Obviously the former is more important than the latter, but both should have been included here and their absence hurts the value of the DVD. (Being forced to keep all three versions to have everything is not acceptable.) On the other hand, there have been a huge number of complaints with regards to the fact that Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse was not included on this set. Here's the thing, the documentary was a separate theatrical release and its omission is therefore not the unforgivable sin some have made it out to be. Sure, I would have loved to have it included on this set, I so would Francis Ford Coppola and the rest, but it is currently stuck in legal limbo and they were not able to resolve the rights issues in time. However, it does look like it will finally get the DVD release it deserves sometime soon.


Apocalypse Now is rightly considered one of the greatest movies ever made. The film not only tells a powerful and gripping story, it does so in a way that is technically brilliant with groundbreaking use of sound. It needs to be in everyone's DVD collection. As for the Complete Dossier, aside from a few minor grumblings about missing features and the like, there is practically no reason not to pick this 2-disc set up, even if you own one or both of the previous releases.

Submitted by:

Filed under: Video Review