"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.
Probably one of the most requested titles by the DVD community, "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse" is a masterful documentary directed by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper (using footage filmed by Eleanor Coppola), which follows Eleanor's husband, director Francis Ford Coppola, as he finds himself in the midst of a production that is slowly becoming an absolute nightmare.
The documentary opens with a discussion of Ford Coppola's opening of American Zoetrope, his company that would allow himself and others to direct films outside the Hollywood system. The first project would be "Apocalypse Now", based upon Joseph Conrad's "Hearts of Darkness", a novel that Orson Wells was going to film until he decided upon "Citizen Kane" instead.
No studios would touch "Now" (which was going to be directed by George Lucas), so Ford Coppola went on to direct the first two "Godfather" pictures, instead. After the success of those pictures, Ford Coppola decided to dust off "Apocalypse Now", funding the film himself and putting up his own personal assets as collateral. Heading off to the Philippines (whose military fleet he was able to use, since the US military would not assist) for what was supposed to be a 16-week production, Ford Coppola finds himself having to make a seriously difficult decision early on: replace his leading actor, leading to having to scrap a great deal of footage.
The issues just keep piling on, starting with the local military pilots being called away in the midst of one of the most compilcated shots in the film for the conflicts that were going on in the country at the time. The movie becomes much larger than Ford Coppola ever imagined, leading to delays and a difficult scheduling revision for Brando, who threatens to drop out of the movie and keep his million dollar advance. If things couldn't get any worse, the skies open up, and a typhoon wipes the sets out almost entirely. Yet, in the midst of filmmaking hell, Ford Coppola still tries to film what he can.
After the rains clear, things continue to go South, with Sheen having a heart attack that turns out to be serious. Things are figured out on the day, and when screenwriter John Milius is brought in to salvage things, he comes away from it convinced by Coppola that this is the first film that could win the nobel prize. To top it all off, Dennis Hopper to be largely out of his mind and Brando remains incredibly difficult to work with.
"Hearts of Darkness" is an incredibly honest (the only other "making of" that begins to come close in my mind would be "Under Pressure", the making of James Cameron's "The Abyss") look at one of the most legendarily difficult film productions in history, with taped conservations, behind-the-scenes footage and more blending together to create a look at a filmmaker who essentially risked everything, including his sanity, to pull together the film he wanted to make.
VIDEO: "Hearts of Darkness" is presented in its original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio by Paramount Home Entertainment. The low-budget documentary film, as Eleanor Coppola states in the commentary, does suffer from some minor scratches at times due to some filming issues (it's noted in the commentary that, while filming the documentary originally, that some footage came back unusable.) So, the film does have some minor nicks, marks, scratches and other debris visible in the footage. However, I didn't find these flaws too distracting.
As for sharpness and detail, the on-set footage does look soft and occasionally a tad fuzzy, but again, this is a 16mm production from the late 70's, and it looks about as good here as one would expect it to, given the way it was originally filmed. Thankfully, no artifacting or edge enhancement is seen, and colors looked natural and not smeary. "Hearts of Darkness" could use a resortation, but at the same time I don't know if it could look too much better than it does.
SOUND: The Dolby 2.0 audio sounds about as fine as one might expect from a low-budget documentary that's about 30 years old. Some patches of audio do sound a tad scratchy or otherwise problematic, but the majority of the audio is clear and easily understood.
EXTRAS: Director Francis Ford Coppola and Eleanor Coppola (the two are not recorded together) offer an audio commentary for "Hearts of Darkness". Eleanor talks about learning her way around the camera and not giving up after some early stumbles, while Francis and Eleanor both chat about their viewpoint of what happened during certain scenes in the documentary, and his feelings of embarassment regarding some scenes. Francis chats about his genuine fears about how the production was seemingly getting out of hand, as well as the fact that his wife often wanted to get these reactions on film. This commentary does have a fair amount of interesting tidbits, although I think was expecting a little more of a discussion, as there are quite a few gaps of silence throughout this track.
Eleanor Coppola gets behind the camera again for "Coda: 30 Years Later", an hour-long documentary look at Francis Ford Coppola, directing his latest picture (his first in nearly 10 years), "Youth Without Youth." While certainly not as nightmarish as the filming that "Hearts of Darkness" captures of "Apocalypse Now", "Coda" does offer an interesting portrait of an older Coppola once again trying to do things his own way, producing, writing, financing and directing this latest effort.
Final Thoughts: "Hearts of Darkness" is a fascinating, honest journey into the creative process, and how Ford Coppola nearly lost it all to come up with a masterpiece. The DVD edition offers satisfactory audio/video quality, as well as a couple of nice extras. Highly recommended.