Apocalypse Now (Redux) (1979, 2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Apocalypse Now, the audacious vision of Francis Ford Coppola and John Milius, has always been a great King Lear of a movie with a tragic flaw. As a movie about European/American involvement in Asia, it has always been brilliant. The surreal quality of Willard's trip to the Kurtz compound seems to sum up the Vietnam War perfectly. A Colonel cleans out a village so he can go surfing. Troops wander through the jungle with no commanding officer and no sense of purpose. The helicopter attacks are accompanied by The Ride of the Valkyrie - a stroke of genius from the author, that music so perfectly representing the  God complex of the Americans and their obsession with air wars. A frightening glide through the utter blackness of a tropical river at night is interrupted by the unexpected glitter and glitz of a UFO show featuring Playboy Playmates. 

The movie clearly established the fact that the war seemed without purpose or structure to the people that were there. The ride into the Heart of Darkness was magnificent, the insanity of the combat supported by astounding visuals, and a perfect choice of music.

A set-up for the greatest movie ever made.

And then they found Kurtz. Things went well for a brief time as they sailed into his personal  Hieronymus Bosch painting. The original impact of those sights was an absolute stunner. And then? And then Willard found Kurtz himself, who turned out to be neither the compassionate lion pictured by his adherents nor the demon limned by the high command. He was a fat toad sitting on a mushroom, obviously having smoked too much opium, babbling incoherently like a stoked-up college sophomore in Haight-Ashbury.

There you have it. The 1979 movie was about 130 minutes of unabated brilliance and perfectly established mood and atmosphere, followed by 20 minutes of incoherent gibberish and an ending that seems to occur somewhere in the middle of a scene, as if they ran out of film, but didn't know where to go, so said "the hell with it".

The movie about Vietnam was great. The movie about Kurtz was not. 

Not only was the finale just so much babble, but the entire concept of the Kurtz assassination was hogwash. If the American high command wanted a guy dead, do you think they would send one highly trained assassin up the river on a multi-day journey in a rinky-dink boat with some 17 year old kids? No matter how good an assassin he was, his chances of getting there in the first place were approximately zero. It was a miracle that he ever got there, and even if he made it there, sailing directly into the compound wasn't exactly a stealth mission, was it? It was roughly equivalent to knocking on his door and saying. "Hi, I'm Captain Willard. I should be on the list. I'm the guy here to kill Colonel Kurtz". If you concede that the mission required one man, you'd obviously drop him in by air a ways from the compound, and let him approach through the jungle unnoticed. I suppose the actual mission would be performed by a half-dozen specialists, probably parachuted in and choppered out at a predetermined time and place. Alternatively, it would be done by simply using air power to blast his compound to Kingdom Come.

Coppola and Milius made the same mistake in evaluating their great devil of American Militarism that the very same American Military made in evaluating their own great devil, the Vietcong. They underestimated them. The American high command is not stupid. They may have been unsubtle, and lacking in the cultural sophistication to fight a jungle war in Asia, and they may have had their hands tied by the politicians, and their overall plan may have been ruined by the fact that there was no defined and tangible political goal established by the American government. All that may well have been true, and perhaps they floundered around in the jungle mistaking body count for victory because they didn't know how else to keep score. But they weren't stupid, and they weren't bad soldiers. If you told them the objective was to take city x or destroy city y, they would have done it. Problem was - what the hell were they supposed to do? Achieve victory? Well, define victory for me, as it applied to Vietnam. See what I mean? If there was such a thing, they could have progressed toward it.

So what impact did the additional 50 minutes of footage have on the film? Well, it made the journey even better, even more surrealistic. 

Many people complained about the length of the scene with the Frenchmen, but I liked that. I loved the beautiful absurdity of the French dressing for dinner in the steaming jungle, trying to maintain their colonial barony while the Cong and the Americans battled around them. This added yet another level of depth to the film's understanding of what a quagmire Vietnam truly was, because it showed that European colonialism kicked off the entire problem, which also tightened the links to Conrad's original novel (Heart of Darkness). And some of the camera set-ups were every bit as good as the material in the original 1979 version. The scene was long, maybe too long, but I found it effective and profound. The Frenchmen couldn't go back to France, as Willard suggested, because they weren't French. Generations of them had been born in Vietnam. They were French-speaking Vietnamese. The forgotten Vietnamese.


The new footage includes a lengthy topless scene with two Playmates in their stranded helicopter and the "plantation sequence, where a naked Aurore Clément pulls netting around her bed with Martin Sheen in it. The former playmates who show their breasts are Cynthia Wood and Colleen Camp.

I was less enthusiastic about the Playmate encounter. Were the Playmates so mindless that they were just lying around waiting to fuck anyone who wandered by? I enjoyed seeing the beautiful nudity, and the photography in the rain was spectacular, but I didn't think the women were portrayed as real human beings, and it seemed to me a wise decision to have cut this scene out in the first place. 

So what happened to the film overall? Well it's an even better film about Vietnam - richer, deeper, even more surreal. But there's nothing that the re-cut did or can do to change the fact that the last 20 minutes are babble, so it's still a lame film about Kurtz. The advantage of the new cut is that it changes the focus. The 1979 cut was essentially a film about the search for Kurtz. The 2001 cut is simply a film about a journey through Vietnam, with far more distractions from the Kurtz mission, thereby minimizing the part of the film that didn't work as well. Overall, I'd have to say it made a great movie even greater. It made the tragic flaw less significant, even if it couldn't eliminate it altogether.

Frankly, when I watch this, I just sort of pretend that Kurtz didn't exist. 

With the combination of the newly processed film, the richly saturated  jungle colors, the mood and music, I think you would be hard-pressed to find another film with the power and sweep of this one. I double dare you to sit through this one and not be blown away. You will feel like you have actually been in the war, and what better compliment can I give a war film? It richly deserves its place in the Top 50 of all time, and maybe it's even a bit underrated. It caught the absurdity of the war, and it caught the darkness in our hearts. It's a much bigger, more audacious film than Coppola's The Godfather, which is actually rated #1 at IMDb.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.77:1

  • no features

Tuna's comments in yellow:

Apocalypse Now: Redux (2001) is a remastered and greatly extended version of IMDb's #36 film of all time.  I planned on fast forwarding to the new exposure and calling it an early night, but I ended up watching the entire 202 minutes, and may do it again soon. Worlds like epic, magnificent,  powerful and spectacular come to mind. You can smell the rotting vegetation of the jungle and feel the hot humid air. You experience the boredom of  traveling up river, and the sudden terror of an enemy attack. Coppola had many spectacular shots in the film

I suppose you could look at this as a director's cut, still over two hours shorter than a 5 1/2 hour working print that has circulated on underground on video, but exactly what Coppola envisioned, and his vision was excellent. The DVD is bare bones, but it is a magnificent anamorphic remastered transfer, and looks fantastic. 

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: nearly four stars. Ebert 4/4, Apollo 88.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 100% positive reviews.

  • Surprisingly, the film won Oscars only for sound and cinematography, both richly deserved. It was nominated for six others.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 8.4, #36 of all time, Apollo users 75/100 
  • With their dollars ... it cost about $30 million - a fortune in 1979. It grossed $78 million, garnered about $40 million in rentals, and even brought in another $5 million in the redux re-release in 2001.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a A (Tuna) or an A- (Scoopy)

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