I know that I’m not alone when I say that Apocalypse Now is in the top three, if not my absolute favorite film of all time. I first saw it in its full glory as Apocalypse Now: Redux which was released when I was 18. My father is a Vietnam Veteran, so I have always been interested in films revolving around one of the craziest wars in the history of the world. Later on, I saw it in its original theatrical version, which is much shorter than Redux and omits some of the wilder or more political scenes.
I was lucky enough to attend the world premiere of Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut (but is it really the final final cut?) at the Beacon Theater. Francis Ford Coppola was in attendance. One of the things he said before the film aired was that he always believed that the original theatrical cut was too short and that Redux was too long. The final cut is the Goldilocks of Apocalypse Now, what Coppola and company think to be the film in its true final form.
During Coppola’s address to the audience before the film, he brought out one of the most integral actors to this film, if his presence is only seen for a short time. That being the legendary Robert Duvall. I cheered as loud as most people do at football games because this moment was essentially my version of my home team winning the Super Bowl. It was one of the coolest moments I’ve ever experienced. He was on stage for that long, but he did say “Charlie Don’t Surf!!!!” which is an iconic line that his character Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore says to Martin Sheen’s Captain Benjamin L. Willard.
“…an army officer suffering from severe PTSD, who after one tour in Vietnam, feels a desperate need to return because he can’t function at home…”
Kilgore also has one of the best monologues in film history, (of which this film contains at least three) which goes as such after the First Air Cavalry (which is also the division my father was in) bombs a village. “Smell that? You smell that? … Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. … I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like victory. Someday this war’s gonna end.”
In case you’re one of the 30 people who haven’t seen Apocalypse Now in any of its iterations I will give you a short summation. Martin Sheen plays Captain Ben Willard, an army officer suffering from severe PTSD, who after one tour in Vietnam, feels a desperate need to return because he can’t function at home anymore. He is tasked with the mission of finding a rogue Army Ranger, Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando in one of the most epic performances ever committed to celluloid). He was a model officer who went mad and formed his own enclave on the border of Vietnam and Cambodia where he is worshipped like a god and kills indiscriminately, even American soldiers.
Willard has to travel to Kurtz by boat and is assigned to a Navy flotilla. Onboard “PBR Streetgang” we meet: Chief Phillips (Albert Hall), the no-nonsense Captain of the ship, Jay Hicks or “Chef”(Frederic Forrest), a Louisiana native who is “strung up too tight for Vietnam, and probably for Louisiana too”, professional surfer and the closest thing to a hippie in the bunch named Lance B. Johnson (Sam Bottoms), and last but not least, 17 year old wild child, Tyrone Miller aka Mr. Clean, played by a young Laurence Fishburne who lied about his age to get the part.
“…the beloved classic absolutely deserves to be seen in theaters, if only for the 4K restoration and the amazing sound…”
The PBR Streetgang crew goes down river and face all sorts of challenges along the way. None the least of which is a tiger, or perhaps more scarily, a group of existential angry French expatriates. Finally, the crew reaches Kurtz’ compound, and there they meet an acid casualty photographer and newfound Kurtz devotee, who’s unnamed but is played to absolute psychotic perfection by Dennis Hopper. Additionally, Harrison Ford plays the smallest bit part right at the beginning as Colonel Lucas, whose name is more than likely a nod to the man who was originally supposed to write the film, George “Star Wars” Lucas.
As much as George Lucas is a total genius, I’m very glad that he didn’t direct Apocalypse Now. John Milius wrote the script with Lucas in mind, and it was to be shot in a verite-style but as Coppola said at the Final Cut premiere “George was very wrapped up in his Star Wars.” and the rest is history. Coppola and the cast and crew had a very hard time making this movie. Almost everyone went nuts; Martin Sheen had a heart attack. The US Army wouldn’t cooperate, so they had to shoot in the Philippines. A lot of the insanity of the shoot can be captured in the incredibly documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse which was by Coppola’s wife Eleanor with help from George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr.
Anyone who is a fan of the original film or Redux or both should absolutely go out to see Apocalypse Now: Final Cut when it hits theaters August 15th, which is exactly 40 years after the day the film was originally released in theaters. A 4K Blu-ray will come out soon after on the 17th. This new interpretation of the beloved classic absolutely deserves to be seen in theaters, if only for the 4K restoration and the amazing sound. Also, the horror…the horror of Vietnam is never expressed in such a visceral way as this film. If you’ve never seen any of the previous versions, then for God’s sake, get your ass in a movie theater seat and witness one of the absolute best films ever made the way it was intended.
Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut (2019) Written by John Milius. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Starring Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Laurence Fishburne, Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Albert Hall, Dennis Hopper, Harrison Ford, G.D. Spradlin, Jerry Ziesmer, Scott Glenn, Bo Byers, James Keane, Christian Marquand, Kerry Rossall, Aurore Clémente, Michael Pitton, Frank Villard, Colleen Camp, Linda Carpenter, Herb Rice, Roman Coppola, Gian-Carlo Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola,
10 out of 10