We love the smell of Blu-ray in the morning! And today, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now will finally be available in the super high-def format. Below, a brief chat with the director about the classic 1979 war movie, and what to expect in its latest incarnation.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So which version of Apocalypse Now is on the Blu-ray — the original release or the extended cut or some other version?
FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA: It’s actually both. But it’s a misunderstanding that there are lots of versions. What happened was that when the distributors initially saw the film [in 1979], they were like, “Oh, we thought we were getting A Bridge Too Far or The Guns of Navarone.” They were expecting a more conventional war film. Of course, my feeling was I made a film about a very unconventional war. But there was a lot of pressure to shorten the film. To make it something they were more comfortable with.
So with the extended version… ?
I just put back the old version we had originally, before everyone panicked.
What about the 289-minute bootlegged version that’s supposedly floating around?
That came from a guy who was involved in Heart of Darkness, the documentary my wife made about Apocalypse Now. It was a three-hour first assembly — that’s when the editor puts everything together — that he stole and improperly copied and gave it to friends.
After all you went through to make this movie — Martin Sheen’s heart attack, the typhoon wrecking the sets, the delays in the editing room — can you actually sit back and enjoy watching it? Or do you just relive the horror?
I think the beginning of the film is really beautiful, and I always get sucked in. I believe that film is a medium more like poetry than linear narrative. And the opening of Apocalypse is very poetic. If I have the time, I go on the trip of watching the longer version, the one where we put back the original material, like when they found the Playboy Bunnies or when you go to the French plantation.
You’ve been interviewed a lot about Apocalypse Now. You’ve done voice-over commentaries for previous DVD releases. Is there anything new to talk about on the voice-over for this new Blu-ray edition?
Well, this doesn’t feature a brand-new voice commentary. I did actually record one — or half of one — but everyone said I’d already said the exact same stuff on the first commentary. So we opted to keep the original commentary, because it was good. But there’s a lot of great new stuff. One thing is that you don’t have to change the disc in the middle of the film. In the previous DVD — the non-Blu-ray — when you got halfway through, you had to change the disk to see the second half. I hated that. The other difference, of course, is the beautiful Blu-ray technology. I mean, on the right equipment at home, it’s as good as film.
You know, when Avatar came out, some people noted that the battle scenes seemed to be inspired by the helicopter attacks in Apocalypse Now. Do you see other filmmakers borrowing bits and pieces of your film for their own?
But this is the way it’s been with art forever. I did it, too. I was greatly inspired by Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde. There’s no question that without Bonnie and Clyde, The Godfather wouldn’t have been made the way it was. I mean, the whole purpose of being an artist is the hope that younger people are going to take from you and give it their own voice. In that way, you go on forever.