Scenes I Love: Apocalypse Now

It’s been awhile since I put up a scene I love from a film I love. Time to change that and what better way to do it than pick a favorite scene from one of the best films ever made: Apocalypse Now.

This particular scene occurs in the last act of the film which finally puts Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen) face-to-face with his target in the off-the-reservation Special Forces  commander Col. Kurtz. This is the first time we actually see Marlon Brando in the role of Kurtz in a film that’s been obsessed with his character right from the very beginning. The glimpses we get of Kurtz are fleeting as he remains in the shadows with only his rumble of a voice giving weight to his presence in the scene. I have to admit that even after seeing this film for over a hundred times through the years it’s still pretty difficult to understand some of what he is saying. Yet, when such an occurrence would be a death for a scene it doesn’t for this scene. It only helps highlight just how far down the abyss this former paragon of American military might has put himself in to accomplish a mission given to him by people he dismissively call “grocery clerks”.

There’s no soundtrack to try and manipulate the scene for the audience. It’s just the ambient noises of the jungle and the ancient temple Kurtz and his people have called home. Even the dialogue in the beginning of the scene where Kurtz inquires about where Willard was from was full of menace and hidden dangers. It’s very difficult not to get hypnotized by this scene. There’s not a fake beat to the dialogue between Sheen and Brando. The way the scene unfolds almost acts like a metronome that lulls the viewer until the reveal in the end when we finally see Kurtz’s face in full for the very first time.

Coppola has done great work before this film with hi first two Godfather films but this scene in this film I consider the best he has ever put on celluloid.

Kurtz: Are you an assassin?

Willard: I’m a soldier.

Kurtz: You’re neither, you’re an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill”

VGM Entry 13: Darius

VGM Entry 13: Darius
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)

Taito have kindly sent me a letter informing me of their intention to sue me for this post, and in particular for its visual and audio depictions of an out of print soundtrack for an out of print arcade machine, if I do not remove such content immediately. Taito being a subsidiary of Square Enix, I highly encourage you to boycott all Square Enix products in the future. Since their games are terrible these days anyway I am probably doing you a favor.

Unfortunately Hisayoshi Ogura is the one that suffers here, since Square Enix have simultaneously expressed no intention of legally distributing his work and barred all attempts by fans to share it.

It is very easy to get on a one-track mind and focus down home gaming in total disregard for the arcade. Arcade composers rarely had the lasting impact of Nintendo and computer game music, perhaps in part because arcade gaming as a business was pretty much dead by the end of the 80s. Where arcade music is still remembered today, it is usually in the form of NES and C64 port renditions. Yet in the mid-1980s, some producers still placed their finest resources into refining the arcade game first and foremost. Taito’s Zuntata sound team most significantly, and also Konami’s Kukeiha Club and Capcom’s Alph Lyla, were composing arcade music that far exceeded in sound quality anything ever heard on a home system. Taito did it best, and among their eccentric and innovative staff no one shines brighter than Hisayoshi Ogura. When Taito released its arcade shooter Darius in 1986, it achieved a level of sound quality that would not be surpassed until at least the late 1990s.

***Video removed due to Square Enix’s corporate bullying.***
Chaos and Boss 4

A collection of experimental oddities both catchy and disturbing, it could not have been better suited for the game it represents. Darius was experimental and innovative in many ways, featuring a triple-screen ultra-wide display and a non-linear level progression which would mix up the seven stages between (I believe) twenty-six possible maps, creating a slightly different experience on every play through. It even featured multiple endings–something you might not expect from a shooter game.

You probably wouldn’t expect to be fighting giant evil space fish, either. Darius receives pretty mixed reviews from a lot of shooter junkies these days, but if I was going to spend my quarters on anything in 1986 I know it’s the first game I’d have tried. It attempts to awe and bewilder, and it succeeds.

***Video removed due to Square Enix’s corporate bullying.***

You can really tell that Ogura designed his score to exploit every technological possibility available to him. The depth and fullness of the sound is overwhelming. It reminds me of the sort of audio experience I got from Square’s Einhänder–a game I bought specifically for the music. But Einhänder was released in 1997! Darius was 11 years old by then.

If it doesn’t sound that special to you, try plugging in headphones. Much like Kenneth W. Arnold’s Ultima soundtracks, my lousy laptop speakers can’t do it justice. I also recommend you try to get your hands on a copy of the soundtrack; Taito released a version as early as 1987, fully aware of its significance. I included a gameplay video of “Chaos” to showcase the music in action, but a playlist of the ost is also available. (Youtube link removed due to threats by Square Enix.) You can find full gameplay videos of each level with music on youtube thanks to *censored*.

***Video removed due to Square Enix’s corporate bullying.***

“The Sea” might be the most eclectic song in the mix. It’s certainly my favorite. You quickly discover that it does not intend to be a typical aquatic theme when the demented chime tones come into play. The next transition back to relative normalcy is quickly derailed by an erratic explosion of mechanized blast beats, and Hisayoshi Ogura wraps it all up in fittingly weird form with what feels like some sort of proto-dubstep.

Taito knew they were kings of the arcade. Their house band, Zuntata, even went so far as to perform some of the Darius soundtrack live.

***Video removed due to Square Enix’s corporate bullying.***
Chaos, performed live by Zuntata

A lot of game developers had “house bands” in the early days. This is part of why it is difficult to attribute authorship to a lot of game soundtracks of the era. Taking a closer look at these bands could prove pretty interesting–perhaps another task for another summer. Hisayoshi Ogura was not the first video game composer to perform his material live. I believe that credit goes to Koichi Sugiyama. But this concert, dated to 1990, has to be among the first.

Darius–a 1986 video game music masterpiece. Considering how easily it might have slipped by me unnoticed, I have to wonder how much more I am leaving behind.