Apocalypse Now Redux
2001, R, 196 min. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Starring Harrison Ford, Dennis Hopper, Aurore Clement, Sam Bottoms, Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, Laurence Fishburne, Robert Duvall, Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 14, 2001
The hallucinogenic chuk-chuk-chuk of an unseen gunship's rotors is the first sound you hear in Coppola's masterpiece. For filmgoers of a certain age it's a thrilling, heart-quickening sound; no other film I know of can elicit such a palpable reaction in its first several seconds with just a snatch of foley work. Then come the flames, the Doors, and 196 minutes of some of the finest filmmaking seen before or since. Francis, man, what happened to you? No matter. The filmic fossil record is testament to the man's former -- and, sporadically, current -- greatness. In this 54-minute-longer “redux” version we're treated to several key scenes that were cut from the original release for various reasons (chiefly in order to abbreviate the film's overlong running time). If you've never seen Apocalypse Now, I'll just say that it skews the Vietnam experience through Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and leave it at that. Since its release in 1979, the film has achieved a legendary, almost mytho-poetic glaze. The epic struggle to complete the project in the first place is a hellacious "man vs. nature vs. studio" tale, which only girdled the (semi-)finished product in multiple layers of time-impermeable and well-deserved hype. Few, if any, American films so accurately capture the numbing and entropic mindlessness of life during wartime. The real triumph of Apocalypse Now is that, after all these years, it's still the best, most lyrical war film out there. It not only blows your mind, it is a blown mind: the end result of so many lunatic, behind-the-scenes mental typhoons that the existing wealth of stories, books, and anecdotes haven't even scratched the surface (as Coppola himself has frequently stated). So that's that. What about the Redux? Three main segments have been added to this already tumescent film, which -- depending on what mood you're in when you see it -- either ends up making the whole thing even more bloated and unwieldy, or expands upon and clarifies the original's highly personal vision. The main addition, in which Captain Willard (Sheen) and the PBR crew encounter an enclave of French colonials living in a battered, rotting manse far past the spastic contortions of the embattled Dho Lhung bridge, is an eerie set-piece that could be straight out of some Southern Gothic. Holed up between the jungle and the river, the Frenchmen (and one woman) appear out of a silent, impenetrable mist like so many ghosts. And then the effect is ruined by what is essentially a 20-minute history lesson, complete with table-banging epithets on the French occupation of Indo-China, with assorted tangents that are historically interesting yet contextually dull. The sequence, beautifully shot by Vittorio Storaro though it may be, stops the film dead in its tracks. The forward motion of both Chief's (Hall) scuzzball PBR and Willard's unholy mission comes to a full stop, while Willard samples some opium with a Frenchman's daughter and much is made of very little. You can see why the sequence was cut. Ditto for the other two major tweaks here, including a second, far more profitable encounter with Bill Graham's Playboy Bunnies, and Lt. Col. "Charlie Don't Surf" Kilgore's hang-time wahooing. The latter is the strongest addition to the film -- anything that brings in more Robert Duvall is a good thing in my book. Do the additions (and in a few very minor instances) subtractions to and from the original detract from the film's greatness? Not a jot. They're unnecessary, sure, but no less fascinating, and they certainly add to the film's iconography. Such gorgeous explosions, such a terrible vision, such an amazing work of art. Go. Now.