by John Linton Roberson
Before we start: this is not a review of APOCALYPSE NOW, but merely that which has been added to it. That being understood--one has to wonder at the obsessive-compulsive tinkering upon which certain filmmakers seem to spend all their time these days. Sometimes there are terrible results, like everything George Lucas touches. Other times it's more interesting, in some ways. This is a case in point.What we have here isn't actually Apocalypse Now(referred to henceforth here as AN). If you want to see one of the best epic poems on Vietnam, see the old version in widescreen format--the sound and visuals are the same as here, at least in terms of quality. Also if you haven't seen the normal AN, you won't have any idea what I'm talking about, so you might want to stop right here.
"A Very Interesting Appendix."
This is more an appendix, and those can be interesting in themselves. It does clarify some things, but muddies many others.
Fast-forwarding to the first new stuff, we find that Kilgore is far more of a Dr. Strangelove-type satiric character. We see Lance not exactly looking forward to surfing the battle-heavy water, and Willard whoopingly stealing Kilgore's surfboard. At which point we cut to the site of the tiger scene, as Kilgore tries to track them down the river with a helicopter and recording asking for his board back. All very funny. But what's really worth looking at here is a crucial difference between this version and the other. In AN, Willard and the men are never close. After the Sampan scene he says, "Those boys were never going to look at me the same way again." But we really don't know how they look at him to begin with, though the occasional line is dropped in that, in the original, seems apropos of nothing, an afterthought. Here, they bond, they get chummy. Willard is human here.
This isn't, however, a welcome change. Willard works better not being quite human. The fact that we know little about him in AN helps us project ourselves through Willard--particularizing him here not only seems inappropriately realistic and indeed cliche, it blocks us from him even more. It seems more of a "star" performance here. Easy to see why it was cut.
The next notable addition is, of course, the sex. The Playboy Bunnies end up marooned up ahead, past the Do Long Bridge, and Willard trades most of their fuel for sex with the bunnies(for all the men). This does explain why they're later so desperate for fuel, and the scene itself is actually a lot of fun. Coleen Camp, the bunny who likes birds, has a very amusing moment(and yes, she is gorgeous) in a sex scene in a helicopter with Chef. Meantime, the other--an actual PMOY--delivers a long monologue to Lance, as he undresses her and makes her up, about how lonely it feels to be a Playmate. All very funny, beautifully photographed, and even sexy. But beside the point. It doesn't belong in this film. So far all the additions just add humor to the film, but that wrtecks the atmosphere.
And then, the reason I rented it: the French Plantation scene, legendary since Hearts of Darkness came out. And it's excellent. Mostly expository, it tells you very swiftly just why the US is there, and why the French lost, things you almost never hear in films. This, I can't understand why Coppola cut. The whole sequence is perfectly placed and very well-done. As said by Willard, it is eerie, like a "family of ghosts." This belongs in the regular version--it provides another "station," like the Do Long Bridge or Kilgore--showing the gradual progression to Kurtz. Past the Do Long Bridge there are French ghosts, and from there the devil himself.
And then we come to Kurtz. Again, not much new here, except we get to see Kurtz, in daylight, reading to Willard TIME stories about the war. I had heard about this and immediately assumed Kurtz, who first appears to Willard like a supernatural presence, like a dead moon hanging in space and then as some kind of dark god of war, would lose his mythic presence if seen in broad daylight, fat in his black pajamas. I'm happy to report that Brando is far better than that. Kurtz loses nothing by this scene, but gains nothing either. It's merely interesting; but it doesn't feel essential, either. It's fat, and nothing else, and its trimming hurt the film not at all.
In addition, we hear more of Kurtz' thoughts as Willard goes downriver reading his letters. That fits in seamlessly, and in fact clarifies much of Kurtz' thinking in a very useful way.
So...the final verdict is: don't let this be the first version of AN you see. Watch this after seeing the real film. This is a supplement, not a "director's cut." Much of what's in THE GODFATHER SAGA is interesting too but I still would rather see the regular versions. This one lacks poetry in what it gains in narrative. Apart from the French plantation sequence(which should be re-inserted), it's interesting, nothing more.More problematic to me is: when did Coppola last direct a bearable film? I think he ought to get out of the editing room and realize those films are complete, and make something new that I can stand to watch. Four good films is not a great career.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5491&reviewer=151
originally posted: 12/05/01 17:15:09