Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
An elaboration on an entry (August 3, 2001),
viewable in the
older Savant column Archive.
Coppola's back with a new version of his drug-soaked Vietnam opus, Apocalypse Now, a neo-classic
that was the debate rage of cineastes and film students for years. A movie that had an incredibly
stormy production history, it's truly a masterpiece of creative editing and structuring of material
that everyone, including Francis Ford himself, thought would never come together.
But this is a recut, that adds material not seen before, revising the movie for reasons that Zoetrope
and Coppola have taken great pains to insist are not commercially motivated, that were 'needed all
New scenes (51 minutes' worth) have been added to the original 1979 cut of Apocalypse Now, and a few
scenes shifted. Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) now steals Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall)'s surfboard
after the attack on the Viet Cong Village. The USO tour, the one with the Playboy Bunnies, is
discovered without fuel for their helicopters in a torrential downpour, so Willard plays pimp and
trades gasoline for sex for his men. The group come upon an anachronistic French plantation, intact
and surviving in the midst of the war, with bitter Gallic holdouts using a (Kurtz-like) private
army and swearing never to leave. Willard listens to at least a reel's worth of mostly unintelligible English
and untranslated French sermonizing, and then sensitively beds down an unattached French woman
(no Bunnies for him). Later, the deranged Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) reads randomly to Willard from
newsmagazines, while he's hogtied as a prisoner.
This is the review where Savant loses the understanding of DVD fans under 35 years old, for whom
everything new and unseen and extra about a DVD is automatically Good.
I'm afraid that this is indeed another case of the deplorable trend to go back and create new
marketable items out of established
hits, by adding scenes and details that the filmmakers originally did not intend to be included. Francis
Coppola has joined his pals Lucas and Spielberg by pulling his pretty-darn-amazing Vietnam War
movie out and retooling it. According to all the hype, this is the 'expanded version' that fully
expresses the filmmaker's intentions, etc.
That this is just so much hooey isn't making too much news. The added 'redux' word hangs over the new
Apocalypse poster like the 'now with Bleach' sticker on a box of detergent. Coppola could have
together a bunch of trims and outs in 1979 and UA would have released it - he had total control and
spent years figuring out the best final form for the movie. This recut is just commercial
opportunism ... did somebody in Zoetrope-Land see the need for some extra cash ...?
The added scenes are
very damaging to the film. For curiosity value, plenty of us will want to see this - several nice
from the famous work-in-progress rough cut are there, such as the stealing
of Robert Duvall's surfboard. But all are unnecessary. The original cut, which savagely ejected
major scenes left and right, has been a model of editorial genius for 22 years. Coppola and his
editors truly fashioned a diamond out of a lot of discordant material, and gave it a consistent
through-line. All of the new material either breaks this through-line, or slows what used to be a
deliberate picture into a static one. Worse, it re-invents the movie in a way that suggests that
something was wrong with it in the first place. At 202 minutes, it's just long, long, long.
The surfboard theft business is cute, but breaks Coppola's sombre tone. A few more details show
Duvall's Kilgore not only behaving like a silly ass about his surfboards, but being
compassionate to Viet civilians, all of which goes entirely against the grain of what was once
a consistent and eerily credible war-obsessed character. The added scene with Marlon Brando, reading
from a magazine in broad daylight, dissipate the delicate aura of mystery around Col. Kurtz. All of
these small changes lighten the story and humanize the characters, exactly what you'd expect in
a commercial movie circa 2001. Apocalypse Now was, until now, an event and a work of art
of its time and place: 1979.
Other interesting material that floated around undigested in the legendary Rough Cut are
nowhere to be seen. There is not a single frame more of the mysterious Scott Glenn character or
his fight with Willard. No death scene for Dennis Hopper. No massive chanting rituals that, even
in crude rough cut form, made you feel like joining in and stomping around the room like a savage.
Nothing challenging, nothing that takes the dark themes any further.
The two major breaks, the visit with the Playboy Bunnies and the very extended French Plantation
scene, are simply all wrong. Coppola himself has been vocal, on several occasions, about the wisdom
of not using them originally - he
is quoted as saying exactly this in the documentary Hearts of Darkness. The
Bunnies had made their impact already in the concert scene, and the footage with the sailors hopping
in the sack with them always had the 'whatever' look of improvisation, practice scenes shot to keep
the actors and the crew occupied, while sets were being repaired from a hurricane. We learn nothing new about the
soldiers and their gaga adulation of the Bunnies; the scene plays like it sneaked in from
But it's harmless compared to the French Plantation scene, which really kicks the movie
into a bucket by introducing a new tone and a 'romantic' subplot that goes nowhere. I got ZERO feel
for any idea of the movie tracing a reverse evolution of Vietnam history, as claimed by Coppola.
Worse, the scene is wall-to-wall exposition watching Frenchmen at a table harangue Willard about
Viet history ... just the kind of specific, literal chatter that the original movie avoided,
choosing instead to remain a kind of violent and dreamlike poem about Vietnam - slightly abstracted. It also reminds
me too much of John Milius' screaming right-wing harangues in real life, the kind I once heard
when he was upset that President Carter had decided to give Panama back its canal. Presented unchallenged
or even commented-on, the scene comes
off as a clear defense of colonialism as a concept. Does Coppola now back the idea of re-colonizing
the middle east, or something?
A small part of the funeral scene at the French plantation is very nice, especially for Albert
Hall's character, who was given short shrift in the old cut. But the scene's feeling of military
reverence, again, goes against the grain of what was once consistently subversive and surreal.
Now Savant has to get defensive. Why is this such a big deal? Why can't directors Coppola or
Spielberg or Lucas, or Mort Flortt for that matter, rework their movies? It's not like anyone
is censoring them. These are the original moviemakers.
Well, Apocalypse Now Redux is about repurposing, repackaging, and remarketing instead of moviemaking, and it's about
screwing up film history. Every time Lucas retools Star Wars and changes 'details' 1
, movie history is changed. Do you know that because of cuts made right after release, generations
of moviegoers actually think that Gary Cooper is fighting for the Franco side in the Spanish Civil War?
Do you know that a short about a firehouse from 1905 has the credit for all kinds of editing
innovations - which were done to the film in a 1920's revision? Do you know that it is believed
that Dumbo once had several more scenes featuring the jive crows, that have disappeared, perhaps
forever? Soon, E.T.'s sinister government agents will be changed for all time, into benign helpers
of little boys and cute aliens everywhere. This is the kind of revisionism for which we used to condemn
"Aw, but these are just movies, lighten up, Glenn." Once upon a time, as a lowly production grunt,
a big-time cameraman who hated, or didn't get, Taxi Driver, challenged me to defend it. I
quoted Hud, where granpa says, "The landscape of the country changes depending on what men we
look up to." I said I thought that it was the same with Scorsese's movie, which certainly shocked
and sickened me, but nevertheless was a big dose of Truth, especially when compared to that feel-good
Best-Picture crock Rocky. 2
Yes, they're just movies, but if they're important, they become part of us. Pictures like
Apocalypse Now and Taxi Driver are landmarks that say where and who
we were, what we believed, and what our culture was capable of. And diluting them, as is happening
more and more frequently, is rewriting & distorting history.
Savant frequently shows his impatience with DVD fans who scream about changes to relatively obscure
movies, because the DVD companies are violating Art. I've always immediately conceded that they
are 100% correct - the moment you start considering movies as pieces of Art ... artists
revisit their paintings by repainting them if necessary, but they don't call back the masterpieces
from the galleries and add new things to them. 3
Maybe the old moguls had a point when they routinely trashed trims and outs from their movies ...
even though we'd give our eye teeth to see outtakes from them now.
Paramount's DVD of Apocalypse Now Redux looks and sounds pretty much like the first DVD release,
excellent. The audio mix that so annoyed Savant in the theater (I'm now convinced I saw it at a bum venue)
sounds identical to the original in most aspects; I'm sure hardcore aficionados will find differences
in the track Savant didn't hear. The aspect ratio still hovers somewhere between 1:85 and 2:1, which is
kind of frustrating for this 2:35 original. Coppola, Murch and company clearly want to make their DVD,
their way. A nice
difference between the theatrical release and the DVD is that optional English subtitles are available,
so as to better understand the dialogue in the plantation scene. The insert card's scene index (36 chapters)
highlights the altered sequences in yellow so as to easily find them. Too bad this wasn't planned as
a special DVD from the start; perhaps seamless branching could have been employed to choose between
the original version and the 2001 cut.
Otherwise, the disc is plainwrap city. At 202 minutes, perhaps it was a good idea to conserve all the bit space
for the best feature possible, but the extras-oriented fans aren't going to be pleased. The definitely
2001-styled trailer is the only added-value item.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Apocalypse Now Redux rates:
Movie: "Hmph" (sound of grumpus grumping)
Supplements: New trailer
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: November 13, 2001
1. Like making dashingly cuttthroat hero Han Solo into a Dudley Do-Right
wimpus - the Greedo "shoot second and wear a halo" revision.
2. Don't worry, my attempt at converting any of the effects 'geniuses'
fell totally flat. I think Doug Trumbull gave up on any hopes of my ever being
a special effects guy right then and there.
3. When I get impatient, it's that DVD fans don't understand that in
functional reality (not our high-toned ArtSpeak), movies and DVDs
are commerce plain and simple. If the studios thought they'd earn more money by showing their
films upside-down dubbed into Latvian, some corporate edict would make them do it. You can't combat this reality by ignoring it, or
crucifying every studio employee who has to compromise with it. If Coppola collects a bundle of money
from Redux and uses it to make another masterpiece, super .... then with his millions he can
insure that the original Apocalypse becomes the official version again.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2001 Glenn Erickson
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