Apocalypse Now is a retelling of Joseph Conrad’s classic Heart of Darkness, set in 1969 during the Vietnam War. The story traces the journey of a special forces captain (Willard) through the violent combat zones of Vietnam on a secret assignment to terminate the life of a field commander called Kurtz, who has set up a ruthless dictatorship. As Willard travels through the insanity and absurdities of the American involvement in the war, he is more and more drawn to the jungle itself, its primeval mystique and immense power. Apocalypse Now: Final Cut is the final cut as orchestrated by the director in 2019.
“Apocalypse Now has never looked or sounded better, and it’s a dizzying sensory overload to begin with. You’re gonna love the smell of Blu-ray in the morning.”
“It is, in terms of storytelling and scope, a completely different trip up the river, through your acid-fried skull, and into the heart of darkness.”
“As magnificent as the movie looks, sounds, and feels, this cut expands upon and unpeels the movie’s weaknesses both as story and meditation on Vietnam. It’s a trimmed-down version of the Redux cut’s structure. It excises the ghoulish, morbid sex-with-the-Playmates scene, but retains the stealing of Colonel Kilgore’s surfboard and the French Plantation scene.
Some devotees of the movie complain that the former scene shouldn’t be in any cut, because the shots of Martin Sheen’s Willard grinning like a frat boy as he engages in shenanigans with the other members of the PT boat crew “humanizes” the character too much. You could just as convincingly argue that it rounds the character out, but my main objection to it is that it just dangles a plot point without any interest in its resolution – something even the first cut of the movie did a smidge too often.
As for the French Plantation scene, aside from shrugging off the urgency of the quest to get to Kurtz’s compound, it does have some things to recommend it. The sequence is eerie, tense and sensuous, like a widescreen color collaboration between Luchino Visconti and Val Lewton. It’s fascinating too, in its real world cinema semiotics; it was on the set that actor Aurore Clemente met Coppola’s longtime collaborator Dean Tavoularis, and the two subsequently married. One of the decaying Frenchman is played by Christian Marquand, who was once among Brando’s closest friends (it was as a favor to Marquand that Brando appeared as the guru in the artistic and box office disaster “Candy,” which Marquand directed). But he scene adds no coherence to the already wildly spinning story; in fact, it adds to its incoherence. It’s really the only scene that tries to come to grips with the narrative of the Vietnam War, the reality of colonialism. And it can only deal with those topics with a facile imagistic simplicity, with a cracked egg metaphor that’s almost offensively tired. It underscores the other ways that Apocalypse Now fails as a consideration of Vietnam.”
“And so, ‘the apocalypse disappoints us.’ In Lacanian terms, we could reproach Coppola for having attempted the impossible: to film the unrepresentable phallus. Even Brando’s bald head doesn’t suffice. But it is as much out of calculation as out of naiveté that he had to make the film this way. For while he succeeded in shooting the film exactly as he wanted to, despite innumerable impediments, he was simultaneously forced to make a film of an almost standard length, with a real ending, etc., out of what was an enormous amount of filmed material. Perhaps he lacked the power to assume a lavish economy to the very end, to earn the right not to conclude.”
“The incomparable Tribeca event was the premiere of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now: Final Cut, the third iteration of Coppola’s 1979 Apocalypse Now. (The second, Apocalypse Now: Redux, premiered at Cannes in 2001.) According to Coppola, the first version was too short, the second too long, so he gave it another shot. That it can never be a perfect film does not make is any less of a great one. It is amazing that as specific as it is to the insanity of the war in Vietnam, it speaks just as much to deeper, permanent American insanity – the one that is upon us now. The latest version has been digitally souped up – picture and sound both intensified. Which, in theory is fine, but like all digital restorations, it looks like a scan of the real thing – no depth, no weight, no texture. After the film, Coppola was interviewed on stage by Steven Soderbergh who asked him lots of questions about financing – basically how did the film get made with virtually no industry support. Coppola mentioned that Marlon Brando had been hired for three weeks at a million a week. Brando showed up massively overweight and for the first week, he just wanted to talk; since Coppola had enormous respect for Brando’s intelligence, he agreed. Soderbergh looked aghast that anyone would pay an actor a million bucks to chat. Another big expense was hiring a fleet of 26 army helicopters and deploying them to show how Americans swooped down and rained death on people, while looking straight in their eyes. Apocalypse Now is extraordinary because the technology Coppola used matched the technology of that war. Post Apocalypse Now, war movies would increasingly rely on CGI , just as today, thanks to digital weaponry, the military can take out a target from thousands of miles away.”
- 1Charles Bramesco, “The new Final Cut promises a definitive Apocalypse Now,” Little White Lies, 29 April 2019.
- 2David Fear, “‘Apocalypse Now: Final Cut’: Coppola’s Surreal Vietnam Epic Returns,” Rolling Stone, 15 August 2019.
- 3Glenn Kenny, “Apocalypse Now: Final Cut,” RogerEbert.com, 14 August 2019.
- 4Serge Daney, “Apocalypse Now,” The MIT Press Reader, 1 September 2022. This essay was originally published in French in Cahiers du Cinéma, no. 304, October 1979.
- 5Amy Taubin, “Dispatch: 2019 Tribeca Film Festival,” Film Comment, 10 May 2019.