Apocalypse Now Final Cut: With Sensual Sound, Coppola’s Wartime Vision is Fully Realized

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Apocalypse Now is coming back to theaters for its 40th anniversary—and you’ve never seen or heard it quite this way before.

Starting today, event cinema distributor myCinema is re-releasing Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War classic in select theaters nationally in a new version dubbed Apocalypse Now Final Cut, marking the third iteration of the film to be released in cinemas following the 1979 original and 2001’s longer Redux. IMAX theaters will also be playing the film for a limited run.

This latest edition may well stand as the ultimate version of the film, at least in terms of sound and visuals. In addition to being remastered in 4K Ultra HD with Dolby Vision from the original negatives and remixed and remastered in Dolby Atmos, Final Cut has also been enhanced with American Zoetrope and Meyer Sound Laboratories’ Sensual Sound, a new technology engineered to emit very low frequency sounds—i.e., those that fall below the normal limit of human hearing—to enhance Apocalypse Now‘s visceral qualities.

“It’s not about hearing it,” says Meyer Sound co-founder Helen Meyer, who worked on the original 1979 release with her husband and business partner John Meyer. “It’s about feeling it.”

Creating an immersive, gut-level impact using low frequency sound was an original aim of Coppola’s during the film’s initial theatrical release four decades ago. Enlisting the Meyers to help achieve this, the husband and wife team came up with the 650 subwoofer, a pioneering speaker that emitted low frequency sounds more effectively than any other technology at the time. But with the speakers installed in only a handful of San Francisco Bay Area theaters in 1979, the wide majority of moviegoers didn’t have the opportunity of experiencing it.

40 years later, myCinema is giving viewers another chance to hear Apocalypse Now the way Coppola originally intended. The distributor’s involvement in the re-release makes sense, given that its parent company The Kudelski Group (founded by the late Stefan Kudelski) manufactured the Nagra audio recorders Coppola and company used during the film’s famously-chaotic shoot in the Philippines in the late 1970s.  Coincidentally, myCinema also acquired distribution rights to the long-shelved adaptation of Steve Erickson’s 2007 novel Zeroville, in which Seth Rogen plays a thinly-veiled version of Apocalypse Now co-screenwriter John Milius.

“We said ‘Hmmm, this is coming out.’ It’s a movie about movies, and it’s a movie about the love of movies, but Apocalypse Now plays a key role in that,” says myCinema VP of strategy and solutions Glenn Morten.”So we said, ‘We gotta go find Apocalypse Now. And it’s the 40th anniversary, so we definitely need to release that.’”

Stefan Kudelski holds versions of the portable audio recorders used in ‘Apocalypse Now.’ (Photo Credit: The Kudelski Group)

With Zoetrope still in command of the rights, Coppola agreed to a theatrical release, and moreover became heavily invested in the film’s aural and visual overhaul. Unlike Redux, which restored 49 minutes that had been excised from the original release, Final Cut wasn’t about restoring lost footage; in fact, it shaved roughly 20 minutes off Redux’s three hour, 22 minute runtime.

“It wasn’t really about adding new scenes or necessarily deleting scenes,” says Morten. “It was about enhancing it both visually and from a sound perspective to make it even more immersive than it ever was before.”

Given Meyer Sound’s role in the original release’s innovative sound mixing, bringing the company back for Final Cut was a no-brainer. Coppola himself was extremely involved in enhancing the mix this time around, developing Sensual Sound alongside the Meyers and working tirelessly from his private post-production facility in Northern California’s Napa Valley (fully equipped with Meyer Sound systems) and later Dolby Studios in San Francisco, where the final Atmos mix was completed.

“He was there all the way through,” says Helen. “He paid attention to every single scene and every single sound, and it was really impressive to watch him work.”

In a very technical description posted to Meyer Sound’s official website, Sensual Sound (named by Coppola himself) was “implemented…using Meyer Sound’s VLFC very low frequency control element. Unlike conventional subwoofers that roll off at the threshold of hearing (about 20Hz), the VLFC bridges across this threshold to deliver infrasonic response down to 13 Hz. All very low frequency sounds are bolstered by a corporeal sensation of physical force.”

In other words, when bombs explode in the Philippine jungle, you feel it in your bones—so much so that Coppola actually dialed back the Sensual Sound element at certain points in the film, including the famous scene set at the Do Lung Bridge. “He took some of the low frequency sound out of there,” says John, “because it just became too much.”

As with Apocalypse Now’s original release, not all audiences will have the privilege of enjoying the full Meyer Sound experience in Final Cut. That’s because Sensual Sound has both a post-production and an exhibition element—and most theaters showing it won’t have Meyer Sound’s VLFC low frequency subwoofers installed. That said, the Meyers insist viewers will hear a difference no matter which theater they experience it in.

“It’s really quite an amazing experience when you hear it like that, but it’s good in any of the venues where it’s played,” says Helen.

Luckily for viewers who caught Final Cut’s Tribeca Film Festival premiere at New York City’s Beacon Theater back in April, the exhibition element of Sensual Sound was in full effect.

“[The sound] was amazing [in the original release],” says Morten, “but it’s even more amazing when you see it in a place like the Beacon and there’s 3,000 people and it’s got that Sensual Sound…I could feel the explosions in my calves.”

Even though they created the technology, the Meyers were also overwhelmed while experiencing Sensual Sound with an audience for the first time.

“It was thrilling,” says Helen. “I mean, we’d seen it several times with audiences over the years…[but] each time I see it, I’m just as thrilled as before.”

Go here for Apocalypse Now Final Cut showtimes near you.

(Correction: A previous version of this story stated that myCinema was releasing Apocalypse Now: Final Cut in IMAX theaters. myCinema and IMAX are releasing the film separately.)

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