Published Aug 01, 2001Twenty-two years after the original masterpiece was released, Francis Ford Coppola's loose interpretation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness novel set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War has been given a new lease on celluloid life and the chance to reaffirm its cinematic glory to a generation that only knows its legacy through pop culture references.
Unquestionably one of the greatest movies of all time, and perhaps the best "war" movie ever made, Apocalypse Now's main themes and inherent power remain unchanged in Redux, despite the addition of a whopping 49 minutes of additional footage (Apocalypse Now Redux being a better title than Apocalypse Now Even Longer), which serves to flush out the story and the characters a bit more than in the original but doesn't necessarily make Redux a better film, despite Coppola's proclamations that Redux is the definitive version.
Apocalypse Now Redux's story, social commentary and philosophical musings remain static in the face of its intimidating running time. A U.S. army officer, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), is sent up a river leading into Cambodia via a Navy patrol boat with orders to assassinate an insane renegade U.S. Colonel named Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has set himself up as a malevolent god, complete with native followers, along the way encountering and participating in myriad events that demonstrate the madness, surrealism, absurdity and horror or war (be it an air attack complete with Wagner score by a unit obsessed with surfing, a san pan massacre, a USO show turned riot or passing units whose commanders have deserted them). As brilliant as the acting, story, cinematography and commentary on a war that was over a scant four years upon its release are, Redux's interest and impetus lays in the new scenes, some of which work and some of which simply do not, but are interesting and engaging in their failure nevertheless. A new scene where Willard steals Air Cavalry Commander Colonel Kilgore's (Robert Duvall) surfboard shortly after he utters those fabled words, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning," is a light-hearted aside that serves to establish a sense of camaraderie between Willard and the patrol boat crew lacking in the original, especially when they are hiding from Kilgore's helicopters afterwards, as does the extra footage of Willard and the crew joking and telling stories. An added scene between Kurtz and a captured Willard, where Kurtz reads Willard excerpts from Time Magazine about how America is winning the war in Vietnam, demonstrates Kurtz's mindset and rationale, and Brando doesn't even look that fat one of the suspected reasons it was cut from the original.
However, a scene where they encounter a remote Medevac base, where Willard trades fuel for sex with the stranded Playboy Bunnies from the USO show, simply drags, as does the fabled "French plantation" scene. Alluded to in the Hearts of Darkness documentary, the added segment chronicles the arrival of the patrol boat on a French plantation, the burial of Mr. Clean (a 14-year-old Lawrence Fishburne, which finally explains where his body went), a dinner-side political discussion and the seduction of Willard by a French widow. While it fails mainly because the French accents and dialogue are difficult to understand and the extraordinarily heavy-handed philosophical explanation of the two sides of Willard (one that loves and one that kills) is as subtle as a frying pan in the face, it is fascinating to watch, especially given the revisionist nature of Coppola, who claims to have originally cut it because he hated it, documented in Hearts of Darkness, but now claims to be perfectly happy with it.
Apocalypse Now Redux is a brilliant movie (although why there are no extra Dennis Hopper scenes in beyond comprehension), unquestionably the best of the summer, but is it better than the original? No. As most of the new scenes neither harm nor help the movie, simply expanding an already arduous journey, and may have been better suited as deleted scenes on the DVD, which is criminally lacking in extras. However, Apocalypse Now Redux remains one of the most powerful movies ever created.