Apocalypse Now: Redux (18)

Review by Simon Bell

DVD FEATURES: Scene access, theatrical trailer and subtitles in English.

IN THIS time of “humanitarian conflict”, in the direct aftermath of the Western world’s greatest loss of life in recent times, could Francis Ford Coppola have hoped to unleash such potent anti-war rhetoric and something finally so devastating as this, his Year 2000 rendering of the 1979 near masterpiece Apocalypse Now?

One thing is certain: Redux has lost none of the power of its (two) original(s). But the question does still remain: Has the new version actually gained from the modern day tinkering of its auteur and his editor?

The now-familiar tale of the spaced out American captain sent in to the heart of a hostile jungle mid-Vietnam to hunt and assassinate with extreme prejudice a renegade colonel who is waging an unlicensed and bloody campaign in Cambodia, drew from Joseph Conrad’s Hearts of Darkness for its story and macabre tone.

Standing at the dark heart of the 20th Century is the character of Kurtz – expertly begot by Conrad in his classic colonial era novella and given much weight (in both style and substance) by Marlon Brando’s iconic performance. Among the 49 minutes of never-before-viewed footage is a scene where Kurtz, surrounded by Vietcong children, mulls over the futility of a combat praised only by Pentagon press releases printed as journalism in old copies of Time magazine.

Earlier, and even closer to screenwriter John Milius’ source material, is the much discussed riverside encounter at the French plantation, which includes the seduction of Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) by a young French widow (Aurore Clement).

As sensual as the misty mosquito net through which we glimpse the undressing Roxanne, this sequence also proves to be the necessary calm before the storm. The overwrought family dinner that precedes the sequence, meanwhile, adds much to the theme of long-evaporated ideals such as those of the American in Vietnam.

Earlier still, where one witnesses the long-evaporated mental stability of Lt Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall as the screen giant meant for the giant screen) is added footage of the navy patrol boat and crew at the beginning of their journey up river. The camaraderie evoked in the stealing of Kilgore’s surfboard allows a peep at our central characters’ humanity (seen again during another new sequence of horseplay with Playboy playmates, desperate and stranded at a remote Medevac base along the river after their helicopter ran out of fuel) that can only accentuate the tragedy that is to befall them in later reels.

This, evidently, is a world the crew have difficulty trying to comprehend: a world where “boys are taught to drop fire on people, but are not allowed to write ‘fuck’ on their helmets”.

Of course, one can only truly appreciate this fresh cinematic magnificence, including flaming bridges, awe-inspiring pyrotechnics and Wagnerian air strikes all cultivated before the days of CG effects and other digital trickery, in the movie theatre.

Frequently in people’s Top 5 and often revered as one of the most important and memorable films to be made since Hollywood’s Golden Years, this spectacular war opera is now also a little more inquiring philosophically and is richer in theme.

Coppola, together with sound designer Walter Murch, depicted an experience of battle most of us will never directly confront: the insanity, the surreality, the invigoration, the nightmare and, of course, the horror. In the current climate it seems all the more resonant.

RELATED STORIES: To find out where this movie rated in Simon Bell's top 10 films of 2001, click here...