Worth A Look: 20.91%
Pretty Bad: 1.82%
Total Crap: 5.45%
7 reviews, 68 user ratings
|Apocalypse Now Redux
"Apocalpyse Now" may be the very worst of the Great Movies. The film was a painfully ambitious attempt by Francis Coppolla, at the greatest height of his powers and success, to create the Best Film Of All Time. After a lengthy and legendary production, it was evident he hadn't made it.I would hope it goes without saying that anyone who has set themselves such a goal is in for a drubbing from reality. It is not possible to create such a thing in the first place: this is art, not a sports competition.
"Better *AND* worse than the original; a Phantom Edit might be perfect"
Still, you couldn't help but admire Coppolla's courage. How many other successful filmmakers have thrown themselves so fervently into trying to do more than they had before?
For the few who might not know, the film is a transplanting of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness to the Vietnam war. The original cut of the film was filled with searing images and sequences, but there was absolutely NO cohesion between the set-pieces, and it all lead up the river to the Waterloo of Coppolla's artistry, the Kurtz sequence, which never worked for a single minute, either then or now. And, if anything, the film was overlong. If you were to ask for a list of films that emphatically did NOT need to be any longer, Apocalypse Now would be at the very top.
In the original story, the narrator is a blank slate with no idea what he'll find up the river, where he is sent to find a lost trader named Kurtz. He finds that Kurtz, an admired and iealistic man, has given himself over to complete savagery, and set himself up as a bloody ruler over the local tribes.
In the film, our narrator is a CIA assassin, Willard (Martin Sheen) whose job is to go up the river to find a renegade officer and kill him. It might have worked, but you needed some sense of the changes happening to our assassin, Willard, and you needed some reason to think Kurtz was worse than what Willard had encountered on the journey. Both of these were missing in the original cut.
It must be admitted, the set-pieces were superb. Who doesn't remember the helicopter attack on the village, or the shooting up of the Vietnamese sampan? Who can forget Robert Duvall's superb work as Kilgore, who loved "the smell of napalm in the morning"? Or the VC attack on the bridge?
But that lack of cohesiveness kept the film from achieving anything greater than the sum of its parts. Coppolla had made his name in his earlier films from his ability to sketch in characters economically and well, and that was missing here. You gained no feeling for Willard or the crew of the boat, and the film didn't flow, it jerked from image to scene to whatever, each piece in itself memorable, but not building any dramatic arc or impression, anywhere.
Well, Redux changes that. With some small additions and a lot of re-structuring, the first half to two-thirds of this really are the great movie Coppolla so desperately wanted it to be. It moves and feels infinitely better than its original cut. The sense of traveling up the river to a more grimly primordial world is palpable, and was almost wholly lacking earlier. And the incidents no longer seem disconnected, each from the other.
What's astonishing is that such small changes make such a huge difference. For example, the ending of the helicopter attack scene has been lengthened slightly, with Willard stealing one of Kilgore's surfboards as they leave, as a joke. This gives a sense of Willard's character, because it's a direct reaction to Kilgore. In the original cut, Willard was almost entirely passive. You never saw him react to what he was experiencing, he just observed, and the portentous narration told us what he was supposed to be thinking.
The relationship between the crew and Willard is similarly improved, and much clearer. The tension between the Chief and Willard grows incrementally, instead of jumping out of nowhere as it seemed to before. And the sampan sequence has a greater resonance, as Willard's actions now have the added shock that the crew are reacting a side of Willard they didn't know was there.
Unfortunately, the film is still a grand failure. The film starts to slip with the completely extraneous addition of a second scene of the Playboy playmates (which should have been left out), skids to a stop in the famous French plantation scene (which should have been either severely trimmed or left out), and then the utter dramatic failure of Brando as Kurtz makes the end of this version as unmoving, embarrassing, and boring now as it was 20 years ago. The tremendous improvement of the first two acts of the film throw into a high relief how badly the last act doesn't work.
After the overwhelming sequences that proceeded it, the Kurtz scenes needed magic to work. And Brondo was simply not the man who could have brought magic to that part. When he showed up on the set, massively overweight and having not even read the script, the single moment of cowardice in Coppolla's production was that he didn't fire him right then.
It's actually rather sad that that single moment of cowardice defeated his intentions, considering the huge courage Coppolla showed at every other earlier point. One actor didn't work for out Willard, so he replaced him after having already shot for two weeks. A typhoon destroyed the sets, so he rebuilt them. His star had a heart attack, so he shot around him for several weeks. The production company ran past its budget, so he put his entire fortune into the film. The production of Apocalypse Now is a story of huge courage and daring, leading up to that one flinch, where he stuck with Brando and tried to make you believe him as an uber-warrior. It don't work.
I suspect Coppolla knows this, in his heart. With the re-edit, he did lots of subtle restructuring and re-editing of the first two-thirds of the film, but virtually none in the last third. There, he threw in the French plantation scene and an extra scene with Kurtz, and called it good.
As I wrote, you need some sense of the changes happening to Willard, which you now have, and you need some reason to think Kurtz was worse than what Willard had encountered on the journey, and that's still missing.I'd like to see a Phantom Edit version. Cut out the second playmate scene, cut out the French plantation, and then cut out the entire Kurtz sequence. Willard should get up the river to a vast anti-climax, with Kurtz already dead ("Mistah Kurtz, he dead"), and nothing to show for the journey. That would leave a version of the film with the good bits kept and the bad bits discarded, and an ending that might work, as opposed to the one it's got, which definitely doesn't, and which detracts from the parts that are worthwhile.
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originally posted: 07/01/03 15:45:15