Going Up River: Inside Apocalypse Now

September 21, 2010 - 10:21 am   |   by
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Bill Hunt: Now, moving on to the other content of this release, one of the most exciting aspects of it is that the Hearts of Darkness documentary is being included with the film for the first time. And I understand that it's also in high-definition. How did that come to happen?

James Mockoski: Jay Miracle helped us on that. He did the color timing of that over at iO Films as well. It was also transferred from the I.P. in HD and they worked from there.

Bill Hunt: The documentary was originally shot in 16mm, was it not?

James Mockoski: Yes and no. All of Eleanor's footage was shot 16mm, but they blew that up to 35. Jay, you know more about that process...

Jay Miracle: Yeah, all of that was 16. What was amazing to me is that you all did an incredible job. Even that original footage – it just looks pristine. It was incredible. I was really blown away at how good everything looks - at the quality of the transfer.

James Mockoski: Basically, that material was left in the vault for 20 years. So it was in very good shape. The only thing – we had a laserdisc and a VHS made back in the 90s. So very little had been done on the title. And what you saw on the 2007 DVD release was a Digibeta that was made off a 1-inch source.

Bill Hunt: So it would be fair to say that few people have ever seen the documentary looking as good as it will on the Blu-ray?

James Mockoski: Yes. And the 3 or 4 prints that are out there in circulation are really faded. So people will have not seen Hearts of Darkness looking as good as this.

Comparison of Hearts of Darkness - previous DVD master (top) and 2010 Blu-ray master (bottom).

Screen shot of the original DVD master of Hearts of Darkness

Screen shot of the new Blu-ray master of Hearts of Darkness

Bill Hunt: Let's talk about the other extras that will be on the Blu-ray. And Miguel, you can probably address some of that. Looking at the spec list, it looks very much like everything of consequence from the previous Complete Dossier DVD release is carrying over to the new Blu-ray. Is that correct?

Miguel Casillas: Absolutely. And we worked very closely with James and Zoetrope to produce the features. This is really kind of their 'container' if you will. We're just trying to help bring Francis' vision to light. But that was basically the idea – that for the ultimate fan, this is probably as close as you can get to owning a piece of the film, with all of the mythology and lore, in one box set. We're really proud of that. We think it's a really cool effort, and we couldn't have done it without Zoetrope. Hopefully, when you see it you'll agree. The great thing about it is that the way it's put together and indexed is a very elegant menu system. It's a very nice approach – it's easy for the fans to get through and find the bits they want. And hopefully this is a box set that you can't go through in the first night. There's just a lot of content that's on there.

Bill Hunt: Well, two versions of the film, Coppola's commentary, the documentary, all the previous Dossier features... plus new content?

Miguel Casillas: Yes!

Bill Hunt: That's definitely a lot of material. Let's talk about that new content. What's specifically new here? What's going to surprise fans that they may not have known about before?

James Mockoski: We have Francis interviewing Martin Sheen. And also we have Francis interviewing John Milius. Francis has always gotten credit for writing the film, but he wanted to give John more credit because actually the inspiration came from John and George Lucas. So he wanted to be more public about that. He wanted John, in his own words, to speak on the inspiration and how he came to develop Apocalypse Now.

Bill Hunt: Looking at the list, there's also the Coppola interview by Roger Ebert from Cannes in 2001?

James Mockoski: Yeah, there was a little bit of it on one of the extras from '06, but this is the complete interview.

Bill Hunt: And there's a new casting featurette...

James Mockoski: Which has Fred Roos talking about his experiences with Francis to cast the film back in 1976, so we have a lot of rehearsal footage from a month before they go on to film.

Bill Hunt: Wow. And I understand there's a Mercury Theatre radio drama with Orson Welles as well?

James Mockoski: Yes. Lionsgate dug up a recording of that from 1938...

Miguel Casillas: It features Welles. It's a reading of Joseph Conrad's Hearts of Darkness, which was part of the inspiration for Apocalypse Now. It's very archival, but I think for any über-fan it's a cool experience.

Bill Hunt: I understand also that there are storyboard, photograph and marketing archives. Galleries, I assume – can you talk about them?

Miguel Casillas: Basically we worked with James and his team to dig up just a lot of the old cool posters and lobby cards, images of the script with Francis' own notes – an excerpt from the shooting script. Just basically all of the experience stuff that fans love. We even transferred the original trailers in HD. What can I tell you? I love trailers. And I don't think anyone has seen some of that before.

Bill Hunt: I just love the idea that the trailers are HD. Those are usually an afterthought on most releases – especially on Blu-rays.

Miguel Casillas: Yes. What we tried to include is really the history of the film as it related to American and world cinema. You just can't leave out the whole marketing and promotion of the film, because there was a very certain elegance and beautiful style to it – to some of the posters and materials, and just how things were done back then, before the MTV and Internet generations came along. It was important to us to kind of capture that and offer that for fans to experience and understand. And another great thing that I'm happy about on the disc is, with one of our partners, MetaBeam, there's an application that you'll be able to download for free from the Apple store, so that if you have an Apple product – an iPad or iPhone - you'll be able to actually experience that marketing gallery in more detail on your device.

Bill Hunt: That's actually a very clever use of that kind of advanced connectivity – to be able to view such still images in greater detail.

Miguel Casillas: Right. Because as beautiful as these things will look on the Blu-ray, a TV screen just isn't meant to really display images like that. It's such a 5-foot experience. We wanted to offer people a chance to really look at these things and really appreciate them in a more handheld way – a more intimate experience if you will.

Bill Hunt: Speaking of that, the film was originally presented – the 70mm screenings at least – in a "roadshow" format, without credits. And those were included in a pressbook at the screenings...

James Mockoski: Yes. Jay may actually remember how that was done. As I understand it, they gave out the program at the 70mm screenings, but when they went to 35mm general release, it wasn't economically feasible to give out the programs, so they added the credits.

Jay Miracle: That's true. They had a pamphlet. I actually still have a few copies. I thought it was quite brilliant. It was quite an experience – I went to a lot of the original screenings, having worked on the movie. It's why I'm very excited to see this new version. Hearing you guys talking about all this, I'm just sitting here thinking, "Wow!" (laughs)

James Mockoski: Jay you were originally part of Eleanor's crew?

Jay Miracle: I was actually a sound editor. And I was sort of based at Zoetrope for about 4 or 5 years. I was a kid – I was going to Berkeley at the time. And I was very involved at Zoetrope. It was really a great experience for me. So this is very exciting! There's just so much incredible material that's available out there for this film, that I don't think anyone has seen, at least not for a long time. And it really was an amazing marketing coup at the time. I remember when they had the first screening at the Cinerama Dome, and a lot of the preview screenings. There was a lot of excitement. But there's just so many aspects to this story – the story of the film – and it'll be great to see it.

Bill Hunt: It's always interesting, especially on a film of this scale, just how much material gets collected and created – how much goes into the production – that most fans never get to see.

Jay Miracle: Right, a tremendous amount of work, a tremendous amount of documentation. We looked at a lot of Vietnam War materials, things of that nature.

James Mockoski: It's funny that you bring that up, because I just came across some of those old 16mm prints from the Navy – archival footage of PBR boats going up the river.

Jay Miracle: Yeah, a lot of that provided inspiration. Even the bit with the soldier with the puppy – all those kinds of things.

Bill Hunt: I know that the new Blu-ray also has a 48-page book included in the package – I would assume that some of that archival print and photo-based material will be included there?

James Mockoski: The original pressbook material is in the marketing gallery on the disc. But Francis came up with his own book of how he wanted some of the documents related to the filming experience to be presented, with his own notes – a lot of the letters from the set, release memos to the crew in the Philippines. So you get a good raw look at what it took to live in the Philippines during the filming. This was what – 2... 2 1/2 years? Families had to move there. And it must have been hard for them. A lot of this experience gets overlooked. But there was a whole personal aspect to making this film for the people who actually had to live there. So we tried to give a little bit of that kind of flavor in the book.

Bill Hunt: In terms of specific extras that our readers have asked about on the Blu-ray, is the "Destruction of the Kurtz Compound" footage included with Coppola's commentary?

James Mockoski: Yes, it's on the new release and it's transferred in HD. And there's the additional deleted footage in SD.

Comparison of the 2001 I.P. (top) and 2010 Blu-ray master (bottom). 

Screen shot of the 2001 I.P. of Apocalypse Now Redux

Screen shot of the 2010 Blu-ray master of Apocalypse Now Redux

Bill Hunt: And the preexisting documentary commentary from the Hearts of Darkness DVD, with Eleanor and Francis – that carries over as well?

James Mockoski: Yes. Everything that was on the DVDs from '06, that's on the Blu-ray as well.

Bill Hunt: My one last question is, now that Lionsgate has partnered with Zoetrope to release the Zoetrope catalog of films on DVD and Blu-ray, what might be next in terms of titles to expect?

Miguel Casillas: I think if you look at the trailer gallery on the Blu-ray, Bill, you might see a clue of what's coming up next...

Bill Hunt: Ah! Perfect – something else for Coppola fans to look forward to! Well, I'd say that's a good place to wrap up. Thanks to all of you for your time, guys. I know I certainly can't wait to get my hands on the Blu-ray, and I think a lot of other people will feel the same way when they read this.

Miguel Casillas: I would just close by saying that I think fans are going to be really, really pleased with this release. I know we're all very proud of it. Zoetrope did an amazing job in producing and securing all of the elements, in the mastering. Just going back to the real star of the box set, which are the films themselves – they look fantastic.


Special thanks to Miguel, James, Doug and Jay for their time and hard work, along with Lionsgate's Jennifer Sandler and Dustin Dean for all their efforts on this release as well, and also for their assistance with this interview. The Apocalypse Now: Three-Disc Full Disclosure Edition Blu-ray – and Two-Disc Special Edition Blu-ray – will arrive in stores on October 19th, and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com now by clicking on the provided links. Read my full review of the Blu-ray here at The Digital Bits. And be sure to visit Lionsgate's official website for the release, which includes a trailer and more. Hope you enjoyed the interview!

- Bill Hunt


Apocalypse Now: Three-Disc Full Disclosure Edition (Blu-ray Disc)    Apocalypse Now: Two-Disc Special Edition (Blu-ray Disc)


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