You Haven’t Seen Apocalypse Now Until You’ve Seen It On Blu-Ray
What’s the story?
We’re quite sure that Francis Ford Coppla’s masterpiece needs no introduction; it has become accepted by most as, quite simply, one of the greatest films ever made, perhaps even the greatest war film of all time. What’s less well known, however, is the extent of the problems that besieged the film’s production throughout.
Based on Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now nearly ended up as a George Lucas film, who initially wanted to shoot the picture in Vietnam in 1970 while the conflict was still raging in the Vietnamese jungle. Unsurprisingly, no studio or insurance company in their right minds would back the idea, and by the time Coppola had taken on the project in the spring of 1976, the location had been moved to the Philippines.
One aspect of the film’s production that is fairly well documented is Marlon Brando’s eccentricity, not to mention his weight – according to Gray Frederickson, the film’s co-producer, Brando arrived on set weighing around 300 pounds. “You couldn’t see around him”, Frederickson commented. Self-conscious about his appearance, Brando insisted on being shot mostly in shadow and, to make matters worse, he had arrived without having learned his lines. According to Dennis Hopper, the film’s production had to be shut down for a week while Coppola read the script aloud to Brando.
But it wasn’t just Brando teetering on the edge of madness. Martin Sheen - a late replacement for Harvey Keitel who was fired after two weeks – was battling with alcoholism and Hopper, along with most of the crew, was reportedly binging on cocaine, spending most of his time completely wired, leading Brando to refuse to speak to him.
To add to the litany of problems, Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack, which in turn led a guilt-wracked Coppola to suffer and epileptic seizure, while the helicopters they had borrowed from President Marcos kept being recalled, one of the many factors that caused Coppola to sink more and more of his own money into the production budget.
It’s incredible the film ever got made at all, but thankfully they got through the ordeal and the film finally hit the cinemas in 1979.
What awards did the film win?
Despite being nominated for several awards at the Oscars, the only two awards the film walked away with were Best Cinematography and, quite rightly, Best Sound – Walter Murch was the first person to be credited in a film as a ‘sound designer’, rather than a composer, thanks to the multi-layered use of music and sound effects in some new and interesting ways, including mixing effects in quadraphonic sound. Coppola, however, lost out on the Best Picture and Best Director awards to Kramer vs.Kramer, which seems a travesty in hindsight, while Sheen didn’t even get a nomination.
Why is it worth seeing on Blu-Ray?
Aside from the fact that high definition is the best way to appreciate the film’s epic production, Murch’s soundtrack is one of the best reasons that the re-mastered edition is worth owning, particularly for anyone in possession of a decent home cinema system with surround sound. Subtle moments such as the seamless segueing of helicopter blades with the ceiling fan in Sheen’s motel room are much more vivid, as is the film’s bombastic score.
In addition, there is a 3 disc set available that includes the making-of documentary Hearts of Darkness, which details the production struggles in all their gruelling details.