Apocalypse Now


Viewed – 21 April 2012  Blu-ray

Collector’s edition

When it comes to war movies, few have the legendary legacy of this 1979 epic.  Directed by cinematic auteur Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather Trilogy) and starring Martin Sheen as a grizzled soldier whose seen too much and done too much.  This tells the story of a planned assassination against a rogue Colonel (Marlon Brando) during the backdrop of the Vietnam war.  Perhaps in subsequent years, this movie has become more famous for its trouble production than its majesty on the screen, which is a shame as this is shot in a stunningly poetic style, with great use of music from the likes of The Doors to The Rolling Stones, that really hammers home the madness of one of the most unpopular wars in history.

Coppola has created a grand vision, that although a little lacking in the pace department, and with an over-use of moody voice over, is filled with diverse characters (including a scene stealing Dennis Hopper) and stunning set-piece battle scenes (the ride of the Valkyries comes to mind – Charley Don’t Surf!) with simply gorgeous cinematography from Vittorio Storaro.  If comparing it to the likes of Full Metal Jacket, Platoon etc, it doesn’t quite have the edge for me, but instead has its own identity, and the humbling dream-like mood at times certainly packs a punch.  Combine this with quality performances, most notably Sheen but also an enigmatic Brando in a memorable final act – this still deserves its place in movie history.

This Blu-ray release has been overseen by the Director himself, and it shows.  This 70mm filmed movie explodes with colour and detail, making it one of the best I have seen.  In places the movie does show its age, but surprisingly comes to life more in the night scenes than anywhere else.  Close-up detail is good and overall the image is clean and very enjoyable.  Add to this impressive sound from the DTS HD Master Audio Soundtrack, as this was one of the first movie’s to pioneer 5.1 sound, with the action and the music really delivering.  Extras for this 3 disk edition are exhaustive.  We have both versions of the movie on the first disk (I watched the theatrical cut), both with an audio commentary from Coppola.  We also get the feature-length documentary The Heart Of Darkness, as well as a wealth of interviews, featurettes, image galleries, trailers and much more.  One of the finest Blu-ray releases yet.

Verdict:

(the movie) 4 /5

(the Blu-ray) 5 /5

Born On The Fourth Of July


Viewed – 12 April 2012  Blu-ray

During the eighties and early nineties, movies exploring the Vietnam war became a genre all of their own.  Some of the finest examples of cinema came out of such an uprising, most notably Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, Robert DeNiro classic The Deer Hunter and also this often forgotten gem from Oliver Stone (Platoon, JFK, Natural Born Killers).

Tom Cruise plays real-life war veteran Ron Kovick, who after being injured in combat, went on to become a much celebrated activist for the ending of the war in Vietnam, which had claimed thousands of lives through the late sixties and early seventies.  Unlike some of the best ‘Nam movies though, this doesn’t focus on the conflict, but more on the people affected by it, especially Kovick whose life was turned upside down by his injury and his beliefs.  Stone’s movie is powerfully put together with an unforgettable score from John Williams and a career best from Cruise.  It packs a helluva punch too, heart-breaking and utterly absorbing, with an attention to detail Stone has become famous for (nabbing an Oscar for his efforts).  He remains possibly the best director of American history and tells it without glamour or rose-tinted glasses, but as it was, warts and all.  Surrounding cast members, such as Willem Dafoe, Kyra Sedgwick and the much underrated Frank Whaley are all very convincing too, even if its clear from the outset, Cruise is the star.

Perhaps in this age of CGI and amazing effects, some of the make-up and aging looks a tad weak, and at times the sentimental tone is hammered home a bit too strong.  Also I’d have liked more Vietnam action, but that’s a personal preference.  That being said, this is a movie that excels in its emotion and story, and has a draining but also uplifting quality that for me, makes it a classic.  Highly recommended.

The Blu-ray I am glad to report has an excellent picture.  Detail throughout is very good.  Grain does get a little heavy in darker scenes, but this retains the crisp quality of the image so I’m not complaining.  The movie’s soundtrack also has a good thump to it, and John William’s score as well as plenty of music all help create a good experience.  Extra’s consist of some archive news footage and a commentary from the director, which if you have ever listened to Oliver Stone talking you through a movie, is worth its weight in gold.

Verdict:

(the movie) 4 /5

(the Blu-ray) 4 /5