The Doors Of Perception: Apocalypse Now’s Ghost Helicopter Flyover

apocalypse now opening

The opening of Apocalypse Now is a phantasmagorical  fusion of imagery and sound, a strange glimpse into the mind of its hero Willard (Martin Sheen); as The End by The Doors opens, helicopter rotors swoop slowly, hypnotically in from the corner of the audience’s perception, then behind, over a jungle canopy that bursts into flame, like a deadly flower. This opening sound medley came to be known as “The Ghost Helicopter Flyover”.

Director Francis Ford Coppola had always wanted the film to be an aural revolution, to properly reflect the first “rock n roll war”. He was fascinated by a quadraphonic recording of  Japanese composer Isao Tomita. Sound editor Walter Murch, designers Richard Beggs, Randy Thom and the rest of the sound team built their own Dolby split sound system, then had the mammoth task of editing around 236 miles of image and sound.

Beggs recalled, “Despite all the time they had spent over in the Philippines, nothing beyond the basic production track had been recorded in terms of jungle, hardware, weaponry, munitions, etc. The environment on the production was horrendous too, from a sound point of view, with noises on the locations ruining a lot of the track. So we created it all in post here in San Francisco.”


One of Murch’s first assignments was to construct the opening of the film, “a strange nightmare, which blended reality and imagination.” The sound designers created a “quintaphonic track” he said, “because there were three channels of sound from behind the screen and two channels emerging from behind the audience – a left rear and a right rear.” Not to mention the low frequency sound for explosions and so on. Beggs created the first helicopter heard on a Moog synthesizer.

Richard Beggs and Randy Thom discuss the sound design for this memorable opening, with some handy visual aids, here.


Originally posted 2013-04-29 19:59:28. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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