Heard any great movies lately?

New Blu-ray releases of "Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure" and "Ladies & Gentlemen The Rolling Stones" are feasts for your ears.

Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" is, for my money, the greatest (anti-) war film ever made. It also broke new ground in film sound mixing, and the newly remastered three-disc version, "Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure" sounds substantially better on Blu-ray than it did on the previous "Apocalypse Now Redux" DVD.

The 1080p transfers were supervised by the director, and the new Blu-ray is the first disc release in the original wide-screen theatrical aspect ratio (2.35:1). The "Full Disclosure" set also includes "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse," a feature-length documentary (with optional audio commentary from Eleanor and Francis Ford Coppola) that was originally released in 1991.

I'm not going to review the Blu-ray's video quality, other than to say it looks great. The DTS Master Audio sound is truly exceptional; I directly compared it with my "Apocalypse Now Redux" DVD that was remastered in 2006 in Dolby Digital sound.

The first thing I noticed about the Blu-ray's surround mix was that it was bigger and more expansive than the DVD's. The film's sound mixer/designer, Walter Murch, produced a remarkably layered landscape. The jungle scenes are populated with a vast array of insects and birds, the sound of wind is sometimes subtly mixed with a vocal chorus, and the far away rumble of bombs exploding will test your subwoofer's stamina. Returning to the DVD's duller and muddled soundtrack was a big letdown.

The "Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure" set is jam-packed with nine hours of extras, but two short featurettes, "The Birth of 5.1 Sound" and "The Final Mix" were the standout attractions for me. The "Apocalypse Now" sound mix was so complex the engineers were required to work 12-hour days from November 1978 to August 1979 (that's about three times longer than it takes to mix the average big budget feature film). "Apocalypse Now" was the first film with stereo surround channels, which is one of the reasons it sounds so much better than other films of the 1970s or 1980s.

The "Ladies & Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones" Blu-ray doesn't quite reach the sonic highs of "Apocalypse," but it's still pretty amazing. First, because "Ladies & Gentlemen" contains some of the very best performances the band ever filmed, and this title has been out of circulation for decades.

The 1972 Stones were nowhere as polished and perfected as their latter-day selves, and that's what makes this film so satisfying. The Stones were a rock-blues band, and the rough edges of the poorly lit, imperfectly recorded film didn't bother me one bit. The mix drops the horns in and out; treble detailing is soft; and bass definition is downright soggy. If you want a technically superior picture and sound mix, pick up "Shine A Light," the 2008 Martin Scorsese directed Stones concert film. Me, I'll stick with "Ladies & Gentlemen," thank you very much. It's the best concert Stones disc you can buy.

The set list is absolutely perfect, probably because the 1972 Stones had consistently strong material to choose from--"Gimme Shelter," "Brown Sugar," "Tumbling Dice," "Street Fighting Man," and "Happy"--there's not a weak tune in the fifteen song set. The band is the best Stones lineup ever, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, are still in the band, but the second guitarist is Mick Taylor, and the bass player is the original bassist, Bill Wyman. The young Stones play all the tunes at slower tempos than their older selves; but the 1972 Stones rock harder. A lot harder, and they were never better.

The film was made when the Stones were touring the U.S. to support the release of their "Exile on Main Street" album. The Blu-ray has previously unreleased rehearsal footage with strong performances, including a terrific jam, and the two interviews with Mick Jagger from 1972 and 2010 are definitely worth watching.

The DTS Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is more than decent, if lacking in resolution compared to all of the Stones' newer DVD releases. It's surprisingly analoglike (you hear lots of tape hiss/noise), but it's raw and rich and just plain wonderful. Dynamic impact is pretty great when you crank the volume way up, and the surround mix is low-key, with hints of audience applause. If you're a Stones fan, what are you waiting for? This is the one to buy!

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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