Monthly Archives: August 2011

Classic Films: Apocalypse Now

Next up in the list of ‘Classic films everyone’s bugging me to see’ is Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now. It was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning 2.

The action centres around Captain Benjamin Willard, a US Army officer sent on a special mission to track down and kill rogue Special Forces Colonel Walter Kurtz. It has one of the most celebrated casts of any movie in history, including Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper and a young Laurence Fishburne.

Also Harrison Ford as you've never seen him before.

Let me just say now, that as with Blade Runner, I did not watch the original theatrical release version. What I put into my DVD player was ‘Apocalypse Now Redux’, which allows for a further 49 minutes of footage cut in by Coppola himself. In total, that took the running time up to a whopping 3 hours 15 minutes.

Though, from the initial half an hour, that doesn’t seem too bad at all. After all, the very first scene in the movie is this…

Sit through it, ladies. Like we did when you wanted to watch The Notebook.

Then you have a minute or so of Martin Sheen (as Willard) method acting a breakdown, going to collect his mission, and then… oh yeah, helicopters and Wagner combine to create more explosions.

I mean, I know you girls like romance, but that was just unnecessarily soppy.

At this point in time, despite the explosions and general massacre, the mood is unnervingly upbeat. The Americans, led by Lt. Kilgore (Duvall), are fairly jovial, chatting about surfing and that most delectable smell of napalm in the morning. Then we split off with Willard and his crew on the long journey to find Kurtz (Brando). By this time in the Redux version, we get to see some extra bits added back in by Coppola. And I have to say, it almost ruins the entire film. A couple of scenes (particularly those involving Playboy Playmates and French colonialists), while vaguely interesting from a psychological point of view, kill the pace of the film dead. And its not often you can say that about Playmates.

You’ll also notice that Brando hasn’t appeared as of yet. Nor does he (having pocketed a then whopping $3.5 million fee), for the first 2 hours of this movie. But eventually Willard and Co. make it upstream to meet Kurtz. And we get the epic confrontation we’ve been waiting for since the beginning of the film. And it is fantastic… at least I think so. Because throughout the last hour, Coppola likes to obscure the principal characters in darkness. And I mean every scene.

The way I see it, I'm missing out on 50% of Brando's facial acting ability.

I won’t tell you how it goes, but yeah. That takes you up to the end of Apocalypse Now. So, how do I rate it?

Well, the visuals are staggering. From beaches to jungles, the scenery is always compelling. You can even feel the muggy Vietnamese climate on the sweat-drenched faces of the cast. A cast, I might add, that excels. Duvall won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and Brando does a superb job as ever. However, for most of the film, Sheen is left to carry scenes on his own merit, which he does expertly.

Again, note the absence of light in the scene.

The narration features his unmistakably husky voice, and helps showcase the film’s strongest point: the script. Aside from the famous napalm line, there are many unheralded gems throughout the script, as well there should be, with the numerous rewrites during filming that Coppola insisted on.

However, as I said earlier, the Redux version has a few flaws. Many of the restored scenes sap the film of its rhythm and direction. And being over 3 hours long, I can only describe it simply as too much of a good thing. So by all means watch it, but get the original. And tell me how it is.