Apocalypse Now (1979) and Apocalypse Now: Redux (1979/2001) – Drawing from a script by John Milius, rewritten under the influence of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and a production in a constant state of chaos, Francis Ford Coppola turns Vietnam into a war as drug-addled theme park ride: “Pirates of the South Seas” with real tigers, exploding sets, and Marlon Brando as a bald, bloated, philosophy-spouting Disney who’d as soon cut your throat as talk to you. Martin Sheen is Captain Willard, an officer sent on a mission up river to assassinate a Colonel who went rogue and turned himself into a self-proclaimed prophet in an ancient temple, and his journey is quite a trip. Operatic, allegorical, and full of mesmerizing images, Coppola’s vivid-as-an-LSD-trip take on the madness of war is a one of a kind film, a mess-terpiece held together by sheer audacity and imagination.
While remastering the original theatrical version for DVD, Coppola and editor/sound designer Walter Murch were inspired to create an expanded version from the hours of cut scenes and outtakes. Apocalypse Now: Redux was released in 2001 as a limited theatrical special edition with over 50 minutes of new footage (including two completely new extended sequences). The famous “plantation scene” (glimpsed previously in the documentary Hearts of Darkness) is literal where the rest of the film is suggestive, but emerges from and dissolves back into the fog like a ghostly vision of the past and offers Sheen’s lost soul of a Green Beret a last moment of human tenderness. Other additions include a ragged revisit with the Playmates (handled with an inspired mix of tenderness and horniness on the part of the lonely men), an unexpectedly playful moment where Sheen steals Robert Duvall’s surfboard, and an extra scene with Brando’s Kurtz exposing the lies that the war is built on.
I’m not convinced that the additions strengthens his story—they humanize Sheen’s character, a figure more interesting as a dead man walking—but they also fill out his psychedelic odyssey with a heft and a scope befitting an epic. It’s an interesting alternate version, but the original is still the best.
On Blu-ray and DVD and SVOD through Amazon Prime (Apocalypse Now and Apocalypse Now Redux) and other services. Availability may vary by service.
Apocalypse Now [DVD]
Apocalypse Now: Redux [DVD]
Apocalypse Now (Apocalypse Now / Apocalypse Now: Redux) [Blu-ray]