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Apocalypse Now (1979)


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Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and based on "the Heart of Darkness" with the plot transplanted to Vietnam. At #14 on The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time 2012 (Critics poll). 


My last watch of the film was some time back when I streamed it on either Netflix or Prime. Now got it on 4K UHD disc so plan to watch it again soon. 


May put in a review of the film as well ... In the meantime, how do you rate the film? What do you like the most about it? What is it that you dislike? 




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Review: Apocalypse Now Final Cut 


The first question is what is "Final Cut"? Coppola is said to have shot over 1M feet of film. A typical film has 11K feet of film. Now you can imagine the editing nightmare that the film was. Since Coppola had invested a lot in the film and wanted it to be a success, he cut various "weird" parts to make it more relevant for general audiences and cap the film at 2 1/2 hours. Years later, he did another version called Apocalypse Now Redux, which added many of the parts to the original film to run 3 hrs and 20 minutes. This version created pacing issues. For the 40th Anniversary of the film in 2019, Coppola fixed the issues with Redux to create the final cut, which runs for around 3 hours, sitting b/w the theatrical version and redux in terms of runtime. 


Which version should one watch? Either the original theatrical cut if you want a sleeker and more to the point version or the final cut. Redux is probably for fans who want everything on the table even at the risk of facing pacing issues. 


What is the deal with a restored 4K HDR transfer? Movies shot on digital have a fixed resolution. If a movie is shot digitally in 2K, its best resolution remains 2K. If a film is shot in "film", its resolution depends on the film format (35mm, 70mm, etc.) and the type of scan done. Films usually have multiple negatives. The original negative and the duplicate negative, which will lose some sharpness. DVDs, blu-rays and 4K UHD discs usually use scans from duplicates. For the Final Cut, Coppola is said to have used the original negative, which means we get the sharpest image possible of this movie. Other aspects that are added to a 4K HDR transfer are a) high dynamic range, and b) wide color gamut. Blu-rays are mastered in REC 709 while UHDs in REC 2020 (aka BT 2020) to give more colors:




Therefore old films shot on film can benefit a lot with a good 4K HDR restoration process. If a transfer only has a resolution of 4K but uses REC 709 color space and standard dynamic range, it is a 4K SDR transfer. 


How good is Apocalypse Now Final Cut 4K HDR transfer? For a restored film based transfer of a 1970s film, this one is more or less reference quality (also said to be scanned from the original negative). It is not going to be like a Tenet, which is shot using today's modern IMAX cameras and looks razor sharp, but for its segment it is excellent and a must own title for a calibrated 4K TV with a decent audio system (not relying on TV speakers). 


What is the advantage of a 4K UHD disc versus digital version on Apple TV? The digital stream that comes close to a disc is Apple TV (other streams may lag behind unless Kaleidescape). In terms of picture quality, my estimate is that ATV 4K stream is roughly 90-95% of a 4K disc if you have a solid internet connection (I tend to notice a drop if the internet speed is less than 200 mbps). Digital streams may also do some more processing on a transfer. In terms of audio, there is a noticeable difference with the 4K UHD disc being superior. If you combine video & audio, the 4K UHD disc wins for a calibrated audio-video set up. 


With the house keeping items out of the way, let's get in to the review (includes spoilers)


Coppola has given us some memorable films based on books - Godfather (1972), Apocalypse Now (1979), which is based on Joseph Conrad's novella "The Heart of Darkness", and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992). Heart of Darkness is transplanted to Vietnam, mixing multiple elements - war, adventure, horror, and philosophy. 


The film opens up with great images of Vietnam and its war to introduce us to a burnt out soldier, Willard, potentially suffering from PTSD. He needs a mission and gets one - to terminate the command of insane Colonel Kurtz. Willard's mission is classified (and off the book) where he has to take a boat from Vietnam to Cambodia. The boat's crew more or less works independently. Unaware of the details of Willard's mission, the crew takes Willard wherever he needs to go. 


The first major stop is at an air-cavalry helicopter unit commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore. This is among the most interesting segments of the film. We also get introduced to some breathtaking cinematography utilizing various combat equipment, smoke grenades, and fog. We also see the fight and the plight of the Vietnamese through some memorable images. Kilgore also orders a napalm strike.


Next we move to various "episodes" as the unit moves upriver to Cambodia. Most of these are interesting and reveal both the positives and the negatives for the crew on board. As we enter Cambodia, the background score hints that things are about to get more serious. There is an episode involving a French plantation which I find slow so I usually skip it. Finally, what remains of the crew arrives at an area near the Angkor Empire temple for the finale.  


Overall, this is the best film on Vietnam. 


Godfather or Apocalypse Now? Too close to call. If I am picking one for a visual-aural impact or to see on the largest screen, I will go with Apocalypse Now! 


Edited by zen
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