Apocalypse Now Redux: Bizarre and captivating are two words I can use to describe this film.
Francis Ford Coppola‘s contribution to the Vietnam war films which has neither opening, nor official closing credits. In fact, when I first saw the film, at the Keele Film Society in the early 1990s, the print we saw had the “apocalyptic end sequence”, with the closing credits played over the top. This version was later released on video, but in this package, both versions of the film just come to an end without them and that is exactly how those who saw the original 70mm cinematic presentation the film, ending with Willard sailing off into the distance and a 1979 copyright notice appearing onscreen. As the customers left the cinema they were handed a brochure with printed credits.
Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) is back in the jungle for another tour of duty. He learns that the demented Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) is about to be arrested after he ordered the execution of some Vietnamese intelligence agents who he believed were double agents. Willard’s mission, should he choose to accept it, is to kill Kurtz but the guy is a law unto himself and it’s not going to be a walk in the park. However, we learn that Kurtz was an exceptional Colonel, so why did they want him put out of their misery? This question will be answered when you watch it.
There’s many a poigniant scene here such as when hard-nosed Sgt. Kilgore (Robert Duvall) takes to bombing the Vietnamese by organising the gunships to charge to the strains of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries to a scene a little later where he utters the memorable phrase of “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”. Dennis Hopper takes the role of a American photojournalist on the side of Kurtz and there are appearances for a much-younger Harrison Ford and Larry Fishburne, who lied about his age to get the part – he was 14 at the time of filming when production began in 1976.
Songs of the era are included as is the controversial sacrificing of a cow as Kurtz is murdered. This scene was left in because it’s part of a real-life ritual, despite the BBFC’s tendancy not to portray cruelty to animals. In addition, I only found out relatively recently that Marlon Brando never read his lines or the source so made it up on his arrival on set. No wonder he was terrible!
Sheen is superb in his role with able support coming from his boat crew (Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, Laurence Fishburne and Sam Bottoms, the latter of whom, I noted after watching this, sadly died in 2008 from brain cancer).
Apocalypse Now is still a remarkable film, 32 years on, although as I’ve always thought when I’ve watched this, it’s a fabulous film right up until Willard’s meeting with Kurtz, at which point it all slows down to a crawl and Brando slurs his words, which doesn’t make for fascinating viewing. Still, the rest of it is wonderful.
Both the original 1979 and the 2001 Redux versions are here, but having now watched them both, I would only go back to the regular version as while there’s one or two small scenes that are nice to see added back into the film, like the ones documented below, there’s an overlong segment involving some French colonials which goes on far too long and didn’t need to be included.
Of the scenes put back into the film, the following were ones that were good to see included, most of the first ones featuring all of those with Kilgore:
- In the original version, Willard first meets Kilgore when asking a fellow officer who simply replies, “He’s over there, you can’t miss him”. In the Redux, the officer now says “There’s the Colonel coming down”. We later learn that Kilgore is arriving (via helicopter) to the scene. When he arrives, he tells an officer riding with him, “Lieutenant, bomb back that tree line ’bout a hundred yards, give us some room to breathe”. He later asks another for his “Death Cards” (which he uses in the original version).
- During the raid, Kilgore looks over some of the wounded and dead. He then walks away, simply replying “Damn”.
- After Kilgore has ordered an air strike, a Vietnamese mother, with her wounded child in hand, runs to Kilgore. Kilgore immediately takes the child and tells his men to rush the child to a hospital (mother as well) on his chopper.
- After the helicopter carrying the wounded child leaves, Kilgore hands Lance a new pair of shorts to go surfing in (Note: Throughout the original cut, Lance is wearing them, but it is never explained how he got them).
- After giving the famous “Napalm” speech, Kilgore soon learns that the napalm has changed the wind current, ruining the perfect waves. Willard immediately uses this as an excuse to leave. He and Lance run back to the boat. Before they leave, Willard steals Kilgore’s surf board.
- Before Willard and Chef go to search for mangoes, there’s a scene wherein the crew is lying around in a river. Chef asks Chief if he can go get some mangoes and Willard goes with him. The Redux version contains a new scene before this, in whichit is clear that the crew are hiding from Kilgore, who is trying to get back his surf board. A helicopter soon flies by, carrying a recording by Kilgore, asking Lance for the board back. Chief then changes the subject by asking how far they are going up the river. Willard says it’s classified. Chief later asks Willard if he likes it like that, “hot and hairy” (to which Willard replies: “Fuck. You don’t get a chance to know what the fuck you are in some factory in Ohio”). Chef later asks Chief if he can get some mangoes.
- One point during their travels, the crew stop at a destroyed Medevac. The area is completely wrecked, with no real Commanding Officer (much like the Do Lung Bridge sequence). Willard tries to find someone in charge, but later learns that the Playboy bunnies’ helicopter has landed there. Willard then negotiates two barrels of fuel for an hour with the bunnies (along with the rest of the crew). Chef spends his time with his idol, Miss December (now Miss May). Lance also spends his time with the Playmate of the Year. Clean constantly interrupts, trying to get his turn. During one such interruption, a large cooler is upended, revealing the corpse of a soldier, which visibly upsets the Playmate of the Year.
And the one scene which really didn’t need to go back in:
- The longest addition to the film is a sequence that takes place after Clean’s death. The crew find themselves in a French plantation in Cambodia. Willard tells the head of the plantation (Christian Marquand) that they lost one of their men. He tells Willard that they will bury him (to pay respects to the fallen of their allies). What later follows is a funeral for Clean. Following the recital of a poem by one of the French children (played by Roman Coppola and watched by older brother Gian-Carlo), the crew then has dinner with the new arrivals. Willard, sitting with the family, asks when they are going back to France. The family soon go into a long and lengthy argument over the First Indochina War and the Vietnam War. There is a dispute over “traitors at home” (e.g., the famous Henri Martin Affair) and most of the family leaves in anger. After they all leave, one, Roxanne (the only one not in the conversation, played by Aurore Clément), apologizes for her family’s behavior. She and Willard later talk, smoke opium, and she later explains the conflicts her deceased husband had faced with himself during the Indochina War. After she undresses and approaches Willard, she tells him, “There are two of you, can’t you see? One that kills, and one that loves.” We later see the crew back on the river continuing the mission.
I had a beef with the picture of the original DVD release, but it was not the fault of the distributor. Originally shown in cinemas at 2.35:1, any print intended for viewing at home had, at the time, been cropped to 2.00:1 at the insistance of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. Most scenes were still fine, but nothing could beat the original ratio and to this day I’ve never understood his decision. I had seen a portion of this in the full widescreen ratio of 2.35:1 on ZDF TV. “Ich liebe die smell der naplam im morgen”, anyone?
Anyway, this Blu-ray release finally addresses this issue with the full 2.35:1 theatrical ratio, for both versions of the film, and in 1080p high definition. The picture is a little hazy in places, like some other Optimum releases gone by, but this only affects the film in a few scenes so isn’t majorly offputting.
The sound is in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, for which I got the 5.1 DTS version and aside from gunfire and explosions, this film is just oozing with atmosphere. That’s all you need to know.
The extensive extras, spread across all three discs, are as follows:
- Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1:35:59): Probably the ultimate documentary. If you know the film, you know the documentary. Released in 1991, this gathered so much interest that it even found its way onto a separate release on video, and later on DVD. After Francis Ford Coppola began, in February 1976, what became an overlong 16-month shoot based on Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, a documentary that sums up the director’s own sufferings also became essential viewing, pin-pointing his frustrations with the actors, locations and logistics. Footage by his own wife, Eleanor Coppola, is also included here, as she recorded a series of private conversations with her husband without his knowledge, originally intended for use as reference for her own production diary.
One of the darkest obstacles came when Martin Sheen had a heart-attack while filming and ended up in hospital, causing them to bring his brother, Joe Estevez, out to film some shots from behind of Willard, with Coppola telling the studio that Sheen only had to go for treatment due to “heat exhaustion”, for fear of production being shut down.
- John Milius script excerpt with Francis Ford Coppola notes: A series of pages from the script with Coppola’s own notes scrawled on it. It does make for a really impressive addition, but unfortunately there’s no way to zoom in on them so get your nose pressed up against the screen.
- Storyboard collection (11:14): Does what it says on the tin, and for an extra that runs longer than 11 minutes, with each storyboard image lasting around 3 seconds, that’s a great deal of images here. I’ll let you count them.
- Photo archive: Images aplenty, taken during the filming of the movie.
- Marketing archive: Here we get the 1979 Theatrical Trailer (3:56, 2.35:1), five 1979 radio spots (2:05), 1979 Theatrical program (again, you’ll have to squint), Lobby card and press kit photos and Poster Gallery.
- An interview with John Milius (49:45): A new segment, recorded last year, between Milius and Coppola.
- A conversation with Martin Sheen and Francis Ford Coppola (59:26): recorded at the same time and in the same building.
- Fred Roos: Casting Apocalypse (11:43): This is a very intriguing extra, showing how Coppola and Roos audition people by getting them all together in one room to see how they play off each other, rather than seeing them one at a time.
- The Mercury Theatre on the air: Heart of Darkness – Nov 6th, 1938 (36:34): One of the episodes from the show created by Orson Welles in the 1930s.
- The Hollow Men (16:56): Brando’s reading of the T.S. Eliot poem from the film.
- Monkey Sampan deleted scene (2:51): Blimey, there was something cut out that *wasn’t* put back?! Seriously, this does make for an intriguing addition.
- Deleted and extended scenes (26:08): Twelve more scenes. Not sure why the above one wasn’t included in with this but they’re worth a look without going on too long. Well, most of them don’t go on too long, except for a new one between Kurtz and Willard… as if we really needed that.
- Destruction of Kurtz’s compound (6:02): This is what I saw at Keele, but with the credits on top. Now the menu, itself, does state the credits are included, but they aren’t.
The DVD featured two versions of the credits, one with the destruction and one withut and it’s the former which is included here, but sadly with no way to make Coppola’s commentary optional, nor to show the credits. That’s an annoying ommision and the only fault I can find with this release.
- The Birth of 5.1 Sound (5:51): Walter Murch, re-recording mixer, starts off in this piece by saying that the film was only ever going to be shown in one cinema in the U.S. and would be played for ten years, so it’s less like the average movie and more like a landmark. Iaon Allen from Dolby Labs then goes on to tell us how we got from Mono, through Quad-surround and on to 5.1 sound.
Ioan also says that some home cinema buffs have their surround speakers and subwoofers turned up way too high. Erm… 😉
Oddly, this is one of those featurettes that is in letterbox 16:9 rather than anamorphic 16:9. Why is this?
- Ghost helicopter flyover (3:55): A piece about the disembodied helicopter at the start which uses all five speakers but is never seen initially.
- Apocalypse Now: The synthesiser soundtrack by Bob Moog: An article by electronic music pioneer Bob Moog, which originally appeared in the January 1980 issue of Contemporary Keyboard magazine, which is now known as Keyboard. Thankfully, in this case, the printed word is very easy to read.
- A Million Feet of Film: The Editing of Apocalypse Now (17:55): A featurette about the fact there was way too much footage shot than the average film.
- The Music of Apocalypse Now (14:44): I didn’t realise that music of The Doors was due to feature in the majority of this film, but that’s just one interesting fact about this featurette.
- Heard any good movies lately? The sound of Apocalypse Now (15:17): This one goes into detail about the many subtle music cues that you would’ve have spotted otherwise.
- The Final Mix (3:07): A short piece about how it took a massive 9 months to put the sound together for this flim.
- Apocalypse: Then and Now (3:42): Roger Ebert talks to Coppola at Cannes in 2000, following it winning the Palme D’Or in 1979, plus more chat.
- 2001 Cannes Film Festival: Francis Ford Coppola (38:34): The full piece between coppola and Ebert, although it says 2001 here, and 2000 in the previous extra.
- PBR Streetgang (4:07): Chat from all those who were all on the PBR boat: Laurence Fishburne, Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall and Sam Bottoms.
- The Colour Palette of Apocalypse Now (4:05): A look at the Technicolor process used to give the film its lush, vivid tones.
- Disc credits: A single screen of credits for those who worked on this disc.
- Audio commentary: From Director Francis Ford Coppola. This is the sole extra on disc one.
The menu features scenes from the film mixed in with eerie music drifting along in the background. There are subtitles in English only for both versions of the film as well as Hearts of Darkness, although in all cases you can’t seem to select them from the menu – it just takes you back to the main menu. The total number of chapters is a paltry 19, whereas Hearts of Darkness gets 31. Optimum REALLY need to address this issue.
Running time: 153/202 minutes
Cat no: G60_59415
Released: June 2011
Region(s): 2, PAL
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (Anamorphic Technovision)
Disc Format: 3*BD50
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Producers: Kim Aubry (Apocalypse Now Redux) and Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay: John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola
Music: Carmine Coppola and Francis Ford Coppola
Captain Benjamin L. Willard: Martin Sheen
Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore: Robert Duvall
Colonel Walter E. Kurtz: Marlon Brando
Jay ‘Chef’ Hicks: Frederic Forrest
Chief Phillips: Albert Hall
Lance B. Johnson: Sam Bottoms
Tyrone ‘Clean’ Miller: Laurence Fishburne
The Photojournalist: Dennis Hopper
Colonel Lucas: Harrison Ford
Lt Richard M. Colby: Scott Glenn
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.