About eight or nine years ago, Francis Ford Coppola presented a new print of the film at the SF International Film Festival, on a big screen, in the original "Roadshow" presentation he intended. The lure was too much, I ran and bought a ticket and waited eagerly to watch the film. My first experience of "Apocalypse Now" was not a pleasent one. The film is not supposed to be pleasant, but I did come away with a greater admiration of the skill of the filmmakers. Coppola, the actors, Vittorio Storraro, Walter Murch, Dean Tavoularis and others poured their heart and soul into the film. The film is a great work of art.
Francis Ford Coppola decided a few years ago to revisit this film. With the advent of DVD, it became possible to rethink the film and rerelease it. Coppola and two of his associates looked at all of the footage shot for the film (reportedly 1.5 million feet) and decided to add an additional 50 minutes of footage. They reportedly took the original negative and reedited it, adding four key scenes. This means that the original version no longer exists except on tape or in a copy.
This new version was unveiled at Cannes this year and will be released in the States in August. On Friday night, the film was screened at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Loosely based on Joseph Conrad's "Hearts of Darkness", "Apocalypse Now Redux" follows the journey of Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen), a man sent on a mission. His mission is to find a renegade Green Beret, Colonel Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Kurtz has become a God to a small group of Cambodian natives and American soldiers and the Army wants him exterminated because he is running a dangerous operation with no connection to the US. Willard must find and terminate the Colonel, with extreme prejudice. His journey up a treacherous river, from Vietnam into Cambodia is a terrible one.
Martin Sheen is outstanding as Willard. He conveys the pain and conflict this character is experiencing, yet also conveys the sense of duty the Army has drilled into him from day one. Brando is riveting as Kurtz. Reportedly, Brando wanted every scene to be filmed in shadow. It works. It makes the character mysterious, dangerous and mythical. Duvall was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Lt. Colonel Bill Kilgore. Kilgore is the first 'obstacle', if you will, Willard must overcome to get to his ultimate goal. Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, a very young Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper and Harrison Ford make memorable appearances.
The film depicts Willard's journey, up the river, to his goal, Kurtz. Most of the obstacles take the form of people. Soon, he and the rest of the crew of the boat experience a supply outpost getting ready for an appearance by Playboy Playmates. This scene is interesting more for the fact that it is pretty much the only time a female is present in the film. The journey takes Willard and the other members of the boat through the nine levels of hell as they travel up the river.
The film is memorable from the beginning depiction of Willard's memories, a helicopter flying through his subconscious as he watches a ceiling fan spin lazily to his final confrontation with Kurtz.
There are basically four major bits that have been added to "Redux". A small bit segment has been added to the scenes involving Kilgore and his men. This adds more texture to the relationship between Willard and the crew of the boat. Rumors have circulated for some time that there was an extended scene featuring the Playboy Playmates and a scene set on a French plantation. Both of these have been reinstated for "Redux". The Playboy Playmates are stranded at a base further up the river. When Willard and his crew meetv them again, they interact, adding more depth to their characters. It is also most notable for the nudity involved. Further up the river, after they have crossed into Cambodia, the ship comes across a French plantation. The plantation is now being defended by the French family that owns it. Naturally, they offer Willard and his crew a place to rest and eat. Willard soon spots a widowed daughter to the patriarch. As soon as they lock eyes, it becomes evident what will happen between these characters. Soon, everyone sits down to dinner and the patriarch and his family get into a fight about the war, who started the Viet Cong, etc. This scene was easily one of the most tedious I have ever seen on the big screen. At the time of the film's original release, the politics and ideas expressed in this segment would have been more meaningful and powerful. Today, the scene preaches what many people have already learned and come to realize. The scene is completely unnecessary and slows the film down. The final addition of importance involves Kurtz and Willard. It is a small scene but adds further texture to the characters and their relationship.
"Redux" is not a better film, or more meaningful, or more powerful. If anything, the additional scenes detract slightly from the power of the original vision. However, that vision is still one of the most powerful ever committed to celluloid and worth viewing on a big screen.