Saturday, June 9, 2012

Apocalypse Now


Apocalypse Now (Two-Disc Special Edition)

#28 (1998) and #30 (2007) on the AFI Top 100 Movies List

Apocalypse Now is a 1979 American epic war film set during the Vietnam War, directed and produced by Francis Ford Coppola. The central character is US Army special operations officer Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen), of MACV-SOG, an assassin sent to kill the renegade and presumed insane Special Forces Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando).

The screenplay by John Milius and Coppola came from Milius's idea of adapting Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness into the Vietnam War era. It also draws from Michael Herr's Dispatches, the film version of Conrad's Lord Jim (which shares the same character of Marlow with Heart of Darkness), and Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972). The film drew attention for its lengthy and troubled production. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse documented Brando's showing up on the set overweight, Sheen's heart attack, and extreme weather destroying several expensive sets. The film's release was postponed several times while Coppola edited millions of feet of footage.

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Apocalypse Now has a 99% "Certified Fresh" rating and was received with critical acclaim. Its cultural impact and its philosophical themes have been extensively discussed. Honored with the Palme d'Or at Cannes, and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama, the film was also deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" and selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in 2001.

* Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin L. Willard. Willard is a veteran officer who has been serving in Vietnam for three years. The soldier who escorts him at the start of the film recites that Willard is from 505th Battalion, of the elite 173rd Airborne Brigade, assigned to MACV-SOG. It is later stated that he worked intelligence/counterintelligence for COMSEC and the CIA, carrying out secret operations and assassinations. An attempt to re-integrate into home-front society had apparently failed prior to the time at which the movie is set, and so he returns to the war-torn jungles of Vietnam, where he seems to feel more at home.
* Marlon Brando as Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, a highly decorated American Army Green Beret officer with the 5th Special Forces Group who goes renegade. He runs his own operations out of Cambodia and is feared by the US military as much as the North Vietnamese and Vietcong.
* Frederic Forrest as Engineman 3rd Class Jay "Chef" Hicks, a tightly wound former chef from New Orleans who is horrified by his surroundings.
* Albert Hall as Chief Quartermaster George Phillips. The chief runs a tight ship and frequently clashes with Willard over authority. Has a father-son relationship with Clean.
* Sam Bottoms as Gunner's Mate 3rd Class Lance B. Johnson, a former professional surfer from California who spends the majority of the journey on a drug binge. After the scene at the bridge, his character does not speak for the remainder of the film (even as the final hit of acid should have worn off). He becomes entranced by the Montagnard tribe, even participating in the sacrifice ritual.
* Laurence Fishburne (credited as "Larry Fishburne") as Gunner's Mate 3rd Class Tyrone "Mr. Clean" Miller, the 17 year-old cocky South Bronx-born crewmember. He resents the inward nature of Willard.
* Robert Duvall as Lieutenant Colonel William "Bill" Kilgore, 1st Squadron, 9th Air Cavalry Regiment commander and surfing fanatic. Kilgore is a strong leader who loves his men dearly but has methods that appear out-of-tune with the setting of the war. His character is a composite of several characters including Colonel John B. Stockton, General James F. Hollingsworth (featured in The General Goes Zapping Charlie Cong by Nicholas Tomalin), George Patton IV, also a West Point officer whom Robert Duvall knew and possibly Col. David Hackworth.
* Dennis Hopper as an American photojournalist, a crazed photographer who intercuts poetry with obscene cynicism. Stranded in Kurtz's camp. Takes pictures from a camera that may or may not contain film. According to the DVD commentary of Redux, the journalist is supposed to be a real life photographer who went missing in Vietnam in 1966. Coppola stated that Hopper's character is supposed to be the real life journalist Sean Flynn years later; the real Flynn was also a character in Herr's Dispatches. The Hopper part was also based in part on the "harlequin" (patchwork) figure in Heart of Darkness that greets Marlow; Hopper repeats the harlequin's "the man's enlarged my mind" soliloquy.
* G.D. Spradlin as Lieutenant General Corman, military intelligence (G-2) an authoritarian officer who fears Kurtz and wants him removed.
* Jerry Ziesmer as a mysterious man (who is coincidentally addressed by General Corman as 'Jerry') in civilian attire who sits in on Willard's initial briefing. His only line in the film is the famous "Terminate with extreme prejudice".
* Harrison Ford as Colonel Lucas, aide to Corman and general information specialist. Despite his rank, he often appears nervous and jittery regarding Kurtz and the mission.
* Scott Glenn as Captain Richard M. Colby, previously assigned Willard's current mission before he defected to Kurtz's private army and sent a message to his wife telling her to sell everything they owned (but he goes on to tell her to sell their children, as well).
* Bill Graham as Agent (announcer and in charge of the Playmates' show)
* Cynthia Wood (1974 Playmate of the Year) as "Playmate of the Year"
* Linda (Beatty) Carpenter (August 1976 Playmate) as Playmate "Miss August"
* Colleen Camp as Playmate "Miss May"
* R. Lee Ermey as Helicopter Pilot
* Christian Marquand as Hubert de Marais (redux version), the surrogate leader of the French residents and strong vocal opponent of American action.
* Aurore Clément as Roxanne Sarraut-de Marais (redux version), a widow and influential figure at the plantation.
* Roman Coppola as Francis de Marais (redux version)
* Francis Ford Coppola (cameo) as a director filming beach combat; he shouts "Don't look at the camera, keep on fighting!" DP Vittorio Storaro plays the cameraman by Coppola's side.

Several actors who were, or later became, prominent stars have minor roles in the movie including Harrison Ford, G. D. Spradlin, Scott Glenn, R. Lee Ermey and Laurence Fishburne. Fishburne was only fourteen years old when shooting began in March 1976, and he lied about his age in order to get cast in his role. Apocalypse Now took so long to finish that Fishburne was seventeen (the same age as his character) by the time of its release.

In the film, shortly before his death, Colonel Kurtz recites part of T.S. Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men". Not only is Kurtz in the novel characterized as "hollow at the core", the poem is preceded in printed editions by the epigraph "Mistah Kurtz – he dead", a quotation from Conrad's Heart of Darkness which inspired the film.

In addition, two books seen opened on Kurtz's desk in the film are From Ritual to Romance by Jessie Weston and The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer, the two books that Eliot cited as the chief sources and inspiration for his poem "The Waste Land". Eliot's original epigraph for "The Waste Land" was this passage from Heart of Darkness, which ends with Kurtz's final words:

Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision, – he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath –
"The horror! The horror!"

When Willard is first introduced to Dennis Hopper's character, the photojournalist describes his own worth in relation to that of Kurtz with: "I should have been a pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas", from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock".

In 2001, Coppola released Apocalypse Now Redux in cinemas and subsequently on DVD. This is an extended version that restores 49 minutes of scenes cut from the original film. Coppola has continued to circulate the original version as well: the two versions are packaged together in the Complete Dossier DVD, released on August 15, 2006 and in the Blu-ray edition released on October 19, 2010.

The longest section of added footage in the Redux version is a chapter involving the de Marais family's rubber plantation, a holdover from the colonization of French Indochina, featuring Coppola's two sons Gian-Carlo and Roman as children of the family. These scenes were removed from the 1979 cut, which premiered at Cannes. In behind-the-scenes footage in Hearts of Darkness, Coppola expresses his anger, on the set, at the technical aspects of the shot scenes, the result of tight allocation of resources. At the time of the Redux version, it was possible to digitally enhance the footage to accomplish Coppola's vision. In the scenes, the French family patriarchs argue about the positive side of colonialism in Indochina and denounce the betrayal of the military men in the First Indochina War. Hubert de Marais argues that French politicians sacrificed entire battalions at Điện Biên Phủ, and tells Willard that the US created the Viet Cong (as the Viet Minh), to fend off Japanese invaders.

Other added material includes extra combat footage before Willard meets Kilgore, a humorous scene in which Willard's team steals Kilgore's surfboard (which sheds some light on the hunt for the mangoes), a follow-up scene to the dance of the Playboy playmates, in which Willard's team finds the playmates awaiting evacuation after their helicopter has run out of fuel (trading two barrels of fuel for two hours with the Bunnies), and a scene of Kurtz reading from a Time magazine article about the war, surrounded by Cambodian children.

There is a deleted scene titled "Monkey Sampan", which was used as a way to represent the whole movie in a three minute scene. The scene shows Willard and the PBR crew suspiciously eyeing an approaching sampan juxtaposed to Montagnard villagers joyfully singing "Light My Fire" by The Doors. As the sampan gets closer, Willard realizes there are monkeys on it and no helmsman. Finally, just as the two boats pass, the wind turns the sail and exposes a naked dead civilian tied to the sail boom. His body is mutilated and looks as though the man had been whipped. The singing stops. It is assumed the man was tortured by the Viet Cong. As they pass on by, Chief notes out loud, "That's comin' from where we're going, Captain." The boat then slowly passes the giant tail of a shot down B-52 bomber. The scene is ominous and the noise of engines way up in the sky is heard. Coppola said that he made up for cutting this scene by having the PBR pass under an airplane tail in the final cut.

1 comment:

Al Penwasser said...

The original or Redux:
Charlie still doesn't surf.