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“Apocalypse Now: Final Cut – 40th Anniversary Edition” sweeps onto an Ultra HD remaster

Updated: Oct 20, 2023


"See how they break both ways? One guy can break right, one left, simultaneously. What do you think of that? asks surfing fanatic Lt. Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall). "We ought to wait for the tide to come up," says California native and pro surfer Lance B. Johnson (Sam Bottoms).

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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray; 1979; R for violence, grisly images, profanity, some drug use and nudity; Streaming via Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K),

Vudu (4K)

Best extra: “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse” documentary

THE SQUAD of U.S. helicopters attacking a Vietnamese village is still considered Francis Ford Coppola’s (“The Godfather”) defining cinematic moment. For its 40th anniversary, he supervised a complete 4K state-of-art restoration of “Apocalypse Now," from the original camera negative and audio elements.

The producer/director also returned to the editing room, re-imaging the war epic for what he calls his definitive “Final Cut.” It runs a half-hour longer than the original 1979 theatrical version, and 21 minutes less than the overlong 2001 “Redux,” which was crippled by a drawn-out “dinner party” scene at an old jungle plantation, a legacy of French colonialism and “angry imperial ghosts.” It derailed the rhythm of Captain Benjamin Willard’s (Martin Sheen) surreal mission to “terminate the command” of Special Forces Colonel Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando). The “Godfather” star was paid $3 million for three weeks work to play the deranged rogue officer, worshipped as a pagan god by the Cambodians, and ordering executions of his men. Brando arrived unprepared and overweight, forcing Coppola to shield the actor in shadows and shafts of light adding to the film’s surrealistic imagery and themes.

Surprisingly, Coppola keeps the plantation sequence in his new edit. The center storyline still focuses on Sheen’s Willard hitching a ride with a small U.S. Navy patrol boat. Its crew includes a 14-year-old Laurence Fishburne as trigger happy Tyrone “Clean” Miller, Sam Bottoms as acid dropping surfer Lance B. Johnson, Frederic Forrest as Hay “Chef” Hicks of New Orleans, and Albert Hall as the pilot, Chief Phillips, guiding the craft up the Mekong River into Cambodia.  

Attack Sequence:

34:56 to 50:16 (Original)

34:10 to 52:04 (Redux)

34:10 to 52:04 (Final Cut)

Lionsgate packages the latest “Final Cut” together with the “Original” and the “Redux,” all sourced from the new 4K master (2.35:1 aspect ratio) onto two 4K Ultra HD discs. The clarity is amazing. Natural film grain is much more pronounced as it should be, while HDR toning paints a darker and more striking canvas beyond previous incarnations. I’m keeping Coppola’s “Original Edit” on repeat mode for reference 4K display viewing at my home theater. 


Four Blu-ray discs are also included – two housing the three edits also sourced from the 4K master, and two additional discs loaded with hours of extras.

The best bonus is the Emmy winning documentary “Hearts of Darkness” (1991) filmed by Coppola’s wife Eleanor during the 238-day shoot in the Philippines. It contains interviews from the cast captured a decade later, and examines Coppola’s personal madness and self-doubt as endless delays placed the production in jeopardy. The budget soared from $12- to $30-million.

The movie’s first casualty was actor Harvey Keitel as Captain Willard, who was fired by Coppola after only three weeks of filming. Then, a typhoon wiped out most of the movie sets, forcing the director to send most of his cast and crew home to the U.S. for two months. Sheen suffered a major heart attack, and returned after 60 more days of rehab. He was a dedicated smoker, going through three packs a day. Coppola used Martin’s brother as a step-in actor for distant shots and over-the-shoulder shots to keep production moving forward.  

Coppola provides a brief introduction before the “Final Edit” saying, “Years later, I look at it and realized it was a little ahead of its time and not at all weird. In fact, as  often happens with art, the avant-garde becomes the wallpaper of the future.”

Coppola credits the helicopter attack sequence to the imagination of screenwriter John Milius, who blasted Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” from loudspeakers mounted on the choppers. U.S. military psyops tactics used blaring music to frighten and demoralize the enemy. Milius also came up with the unforgettable lines for Air Cavalry Lt. Colonel Kilgore, played by Oscar-nominated Robert Duvall: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Kilgore, a surfing fanatic, only agrees to attack the village because its beachfront had great waves. “Charlie don't surf!” Col. Kilgore explains.

Milius based the center theme on Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” a narrative of an 1880s voyage up the African Congo River that corrupts the soul. By the time filming took place, Coppola had pretty much abandoned Milius’ script to use a paperback of Conrad’s novel, which the director covered with a “million notes and marks.” His daily shoot-list for the sequence came from a series of index cards, full of short phrases for visual images, similar to his method of shooting the wedding scene in “The Godfather.”

Written on one card: “Vietnamese kids study as they hear the sound of music and helicopters and they evacuate.” He also interviewed dozens of Vietnam Vets to get their stories of American helicopters. Coppola gave editor Jerry Greenberg untold hours of footage of the attack. “There was so much it was unbelievable,” he says during his commentary track on the “Redux” version. The late Gerald B. "Jerry" Greenberg spent months tweaking the chopper attack. “He’s the one who created this extraordinary action sequence,” Coppola says. To get feedback, he showed it to Japanese master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, who suggested a couple of changes. “He praised the sequence, which was a great source of pride, Coppola says.

Coppola mentions in his commentary that the U.S. military was not involved in the production, but he convinced the Philippines’ President Ferdinand Marcos, a dictator, to use the country’s entire fleet of helicopters for the shoot. There was just one problem; communists were raging a mini-war themselves at the time, and some days the helicopters would just disappear. “Where are my helicopters going? Don’t let them go!” Coppola recalls shouting.

A recent Q&A with director Steven Soderbergh and Coppola recorded at the New York City Tribeca Film Festival is provided in the box set. Coppola says, “Nobody wanted to finance it. Nobody wanted to be in it. Because I stuck-up what I had earned from “The Godfather” films to guarantee it, we made it. Over the years, I owned it.”

“Apocalypse Now” was nominated for eight Oscars including Best Director for Coppola. It won for Best Cinematography and Best Sound, which is given a real shot in the arm with a new Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Bullets and flairs zip around the room; deeper subwoofer vibrations arrive as distant B-52 bombers drop their payload onto the Vietnam landscape. An expansive soundstage heralds the opening as a series of helicopter blades whip overhead and around the room, while Jim Morrison sings, "This is the End," as palm trees explode under napalm attacks.

“The film is not about Vietnam. It’s what it was really like. It was crazy. And the way we made it was very much like the way the Americans were in Vietnam. We were in the jungle. There were too many of us. We had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little, we went insane.” Francis Ford Coppola, 1979 Cannes Film Festival

— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed for 12 hours. and when it was all over, I walked up. We didn't find one of them, not one stinking body. But that smell. you know, that gasoline smell ... The Whole hill, it smelled like victory. Someday this war's gonna end." Lt. Colonel Kilgore





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