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Blu-Ray Review: Francis Ford Coppola: 5-Film Collection

Are Apocalypse Now, Apocalypse Now Redux, The Conversation, One from the Heart and Tetro worth the price of a boxed set?

If we all picked the top five Francis Ford Coppola movies, we’d probably all come up with the same four and a wild card. First two Godfathers, Apocalypse Now and The Conversation, then maybe Dracula, The Outsiders or Captain EO. Well, that ain’t the collection we got, but it’s still pretty great.

The Francis Ford Coppola 5-Film Collection is all the titles that Lionsgate owns, and it’s really only 4 because they count Apocalypse Now Redux as a separate film. Still, they have Apocalypse Now and The Conversation, the very significant One from the Heart and the recent Tetro. Paramount wasn’t lettin’ their Godfathers go.
 

Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now is good. That’s just conventional wisdom at this point. I definitely took it for granted as a young film school student, but it is considered one of the great films and I’m happy to perpetuate that status.

Getting to revisit it now the artistry remains powerful. Just the subtle way war is revealed in the frame is beautiful, and we take for granted how many war movies we’ve seen. We’re always watching soldiers shooting and blowing things up, but these are movie sets. They’re not really firing projectiles and the explosions are timed by behind the scenes professionals. The illusion is seamless.

I think this film means more to me now that I’ve actually lived with a war going on for 10 years. In the post-Vietnam era, I’d seen the Oliver Stone films and they impacted me, but it may have been a more abstract sense. Now I’ve met people who’ve come back from war and seen what it does to them. Vietnam was a different war, but the things they experienced there created a similar PTSD result.

Coppola definitely puts you in the war firsthand, in a way that must have influenced the likes of Spielberg for his Saving Private Ryan. You are in a helicopter cockpit hearing the pilot’s commands on the headset. It’s all technically accurate but it’s just background noise. They’re talking about how they’re going to kill people and keep soldiers safe, but it’s just mundane. Then when they get to Kurtz (Marlon Brando) ’s camp, well it’s easy to see how people in that environment could be swayed by a charismatic leader.


 

Apocalypse Now Redux

I actually had never seen the extended version of Apocalypse Now. When it was released, it kind of just seemed like the longer cut of a film I’d left behind in film school. Now that I’m back on the right wavelength, I think it’s extraordinary. The whole journey Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) takes to get to Kurtz is about the individual incidents he encounters along the way, so these are more subplots and episodes in the Apocalypse Now world.

Why don’t people like this version? Because of the plantation scene? That’s a relatively short diversion in a now 3 hr. 20 minute epic, and the additions in the Playmate scene and Kilgore (Robert Duvall) scene are awesome. The plantation scene may get a little on the nose, but it’s still interesting. It’s the only time we’re reminded that there were a few other countries in Vietnam with us.

The picture on both O.G. and Redux versions are the same as the previous Blu-ray release: perfect picture, retaining 35mm film colors but perfect clarity, sharpened foreground and the color of the light palpable. In fact, this is disc one of the “Full Disclosure” 3-disc set, so it has the Coppola commentary. You’re missing the second disc of extras and the third disc of Hearts of Darkness, which is a shame because if they’d thrown Hearts of Darkness on there then it really would have been five films. But then one of the films would be directed by Eleanor Coppola and some non-Coppolas so that would’ve thrown the whole thing off.


 

The Conversation

You might know this one as the other Coppola movie from 1974. It lost Best Picture to The Godfather Part II. You should be more upset that it lost Best Sound to Earthquake, those gimmicky motherf***ers. What’s so cool about The Conversation is it’s a technological thriller based on way obsolete technology, like what people with holographic implants in the future will think of our current found footage movies.

Gene Hackman plays Harry Caul, a surveillance expert tailing a couple. He records their conversation using 1974 microphones and spends the rest of the film trying to remove all the background noise from his reel-to-reel tapes. It’s a suspenseful mystery about what the missing piece of the conversation reveals, and also a character study of a solitary man.

Perhaps the most interesting scene is a double date where Caul just has no interest in banal socializing. So if anyone ever yells at you for ignoring them while you check your iPhone, tell them Gene Hackman started it with his reel-to-reel obsession. Plus, who doesn’t want to be stalked by Gene Hackman?

This is the same disc that was released as an individual Blu-ray last year, and it is the spottiest one in this collection. The picture is never quite sure of how to present itself. It wants to be authentic to the 1974 film stock, but it’s grainy and then there’s digital grain inside the film grain so it’s not the best of either format. All the extras from that release are retained too.


 


One from the Heart

I had never seen this Coppola movie before, but I knew the legend that it was the one that bankrupted his Zoetrope studios. Looking at it, there’s no way it could have ever been conceived to make money with audiences, but you’ve got to admire the balls of a filmmaker still clinging to the experimental nature of ‘70s cinema in the post-Star Wars world of 1982.

The film takes place in old Las Vegas, reconstructed on soundstages with obviously artificial backdrops, intentionally mimicking early studio films. It’s also shot in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Hank (Frederic Correst) and Frannie (Terri Garr) break up and spend the first act and a little of act two babbling about relationships with their friends (Harry Dean Stanton and Lainie Kazan respectively). Hank meets Leila (Nastassia Kinski) and Frannie meets Ray (Raul Julia), and they try those new relationships on for size, but Hank keeps pining for Frannie.

The plot may sound like conventional romance, but the way it’s executed impossibly challenges every conventional genre safety. The characters are way too thin for us to care who ends up with whom, but that not being the point, we’re made to resent the very conventions of romantic drama. Who cares who these people in this fake town end up with? The dialogue seems to aim for naturalistic, as in real people often talk about not interesting things, but it only reeks of performers trying way too hard to appear “natural.”

I’d heard One From the Heart was a musical, but that’s a loose interpretation because no one sings per se. There is music (good music by Tom Waits) and there are dance numbers, though not quiet enough to qualify it as a “dance movie.” Man, Coppola, why you gotta make everything so hard on yourself?

There are some nice moments, like a dance number in the middle of Fremont street, another one in a junkyard, Frannie and Ray’s first date, Ray busting out a nunchuck and Hank carrying Frannie topless out of a hotel room (shockingly flirting with the notion of a sex crime). Coppola gets some beautiful scene transitions out of his manufactured and manipulatable sets, but there’s clearly no substance to the style. Yet I’ll be damned, by about 60 minutes into the film, I was rooting for One From the Heart. We should have experimental films, and the experiments in this one are all designed to entertain. Dance numbers are fun, flashy sets with bright lights are pretty. Thank you for trying, Coppola.

The Blu-ray looks solid. It maintains the artificiality of the film’s sets and it’s a clean print. It doesn’t restore an unnatural amount of clarity, and be careful with your brightness settings because too high and you’ll start to see some flickering spots. Given normal settings, you get a sharp picture with all the artificial colors that made this a grand experiment.

I can’t find any evidence of a previous Blu-ray release for this one, but the bonus features dated in 2003 must come from a previous DVD. The “Dream Factory” behind the scenes chronicles Coppola’s heartbreaking attempts to make One From the Heart work. It’s like Hearts of Darkness, where you can take the director out of the jungle but you can’t take the jungle out of the director.


 

Tetro

I never saw Tetro mainly because I was so turned off by Coppola’s previous film, Youth Without Youth. The narrative mess that is Youth Without Youth makes One From the Heart seem like a delightful exercise in narrative cohesion. Tetro is more palatable, a solid family drama with some visual tricks, just nothing special.

Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich) seeks out his estranged brother Angelo (Vincent Gallo) while docked in Buenos Aires with the cruise ship where Bennie’s a waiter. Angelo, who now calls himself Tetro, reluctantly agrees to spend time with Bennie under the condition that he not ask questions. Frankly, it’s a bit presumptuous that his secrets are so important that he needs to be so protective of them. I mean, we just met the guy. Needless to say, family secrets get exposed, Bennie becomes involved in the local theater scene, snoops around Tetro’s secret writings, threatens Tetro’s repressed emotions, etc.

I’m underwhelmed by Tetro but only because I’m not that interested in a family working out their problems. I should be. Not every family has access to therapy, and many more aren’t willing to go, so the story of Tetro is relatable and healthy in threatening the status quo. I just wasn’t up for two hours of it. It’s still got an experimental touch with black and white photography, only giving way to color (but a different aspect ratio) in flashbacks or interpretative dance segments that illustrate the mysterious family background. Those were my favorite parts.

Tetro does look gorgeous on Blu-ray. The black and white is particularly contrasty with all those exquisite shadows that Blu-ray captures so well. Shot on HD cameras, the picture is perfect except for two or three shots that flare up with digital noise. The color segments are bright and beautiful. This is also the previously released Lionsgate Blu-ray and has all the bonus features that came with that edition too.

It’s been a wonderful weekend getting to revisit Coppola films, and indeed some of THE great films. You can definitely get rid of the old Tetro and Conversation Blu-rays since they’re all here, but you may need to keep this alongside the 3-disc version of Apocalypse Now.
 

Francis Ford Coppola: 5-Film Collection:

 


Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel