Francis Ford Coppola
I can still remember when I was twelve years old watching Francis Ford Coppola's
Apocalypse Now for the first time. I was so completely pulled into the dark,
nightmarish vision of the Vietnam war that Coppola had created that by the time
Martin Sheen's character had reached his mission's destination, I wasn't sure if
I could watch any more of the film. It was, and still remains one of the
greatest films I have ever seen.
Now, twenty-two years later, Coppola has restored almost an hour of footage and
has re-titled it Apocalypse Now Redux. In doing so, a few questions have come to
mind: Does it work? Do the additions add to the experience or take away from it?
And what the hell was Coppola thinking when he made Jack?
Okay, neither Frankie boy nor I can answer the last question. As far as this
film goes, I can say that Redux is a version well worth your time and money. The
additions for the most part smooth out the story and make the journey a fuller,
more surrealistic and humorous journey into the Vietnam War.
For those not familiar with the movie, which was inspired by Joseph Conrad's
novel Heart Of Darkness, here is a quick summary of the plot: During the Vietnam
War, an army captain named Willard (Sheen) and a small crew of a Navy patrol
boat are sent up river into Cambodia. Willard's mission is to terminate the
brilliant but insane Colonel Kurtz (Brando), who has set up his own little
version of the war in a native outpost.
The biggest additions to the film include extended sequences with Lt. Colonel
Kilgore (Robert Duvall) and the theft of his prized surfboard, a section showing
the boat's crew exchanging fuel for some "quality time" with Playboy bunnies;
the infamous French Plantation scene that involves a group of French people who
refuse to leave despite all that is going on around them and a brief but
powerful scene with Kurtz reading an article on the war from Time Magazine to
Among these additions, I found the Kilgore scenes to be the best of the bunch.
Duvall turned in such a dynamite performance as the surf-loving Lieutenant that
any additions involving him are beneficial. Coppola has been quoted as saying
the restored Playboy Bunny scenes add an aura of sexuality to the film. I don't
believe so. While fascinating to watch, the surrealism that accompanies this
section makes it more disturbing than arousing. The new scene with Kurtz gives
Brando's presence in the film's last act more grounding and a little less
mystique. It may not make him any saner, but it does manage to make him a bit
The French Plantation sequence, however, is where the film runs into a little
bit of trouble. This section happens after the death of Clean (a 14-year old
Larry Fishburne) and before the demise of Chief Phillips (Albert Hall). Here,
Willard listens to an extended rant from the Plantation's owner, Hubert
(Christian Marquand), about France's colonial history in Indochine. Willard then
proceeds to smoke opium with a widowed young woman named Roxanne (Aurore
Clement). An interesting subtext, but it slows down the movie far too much for
its own good. Sections such as this one are better suited for the "Deleted
Scenes" section of the inevitable DVD release.
Aside from the restored footage, the movie has also undergone a visual touchup.
I, for one, never found fault with the presentation of the original. However,
Vittorio Storaro's incredible cinematography looks even more vibrant here. The
new prints have been struck from a three-dye Technicolor process that has not
been used on Apocalypse since its premiere in 1979. The colors are now richer,
more refined and natural.
Apocalypse Now is everything one could ask for out of a movie, massive in scope
and grand in its storytelling. Unlike such recent "epics" like Pearl Harbor,
this one connects with the viewer on a personal level instead of leaving them on
the sidelines. We feel as if we are one of the crew members on the patrol boat.
We share in the exhilaration (and dark humor) of Kilgore's helicopter attack,
the horror of the sampan massacre and the unnerving hell of the Do Lung Bridge
and Kurtz compound. The film speaks volumes about the madness of war and how it
can affect the human condition. None of the characters are all that likable, yet
we sympathize with practically each and every one of them and what they're going
Apocalypse Now Redux serves as a reminder of a time where Hollywood was still
willing to take chances instead of playing it safe and dumb. It harkens back to
a time where a movie could both matter and entertain. It's an epic that demands
to be seen on the biggest theater screen you can find. Not only is it the best
film you will see this summer, it may very well be the best film you see all