APOCALYPSE NOW: FINAL CUT
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Screenwriters: Francis Ford Coppola and John Milius, based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness.
Runtime: 180 mins.
Australian release date: In limited release from 25 July 2019.
Recently screened on a balmy July summer’s evening in Bologna’s majestic Piazza Maggiore as part of the Cinema Ritrovato festival, Apocalypse Now: Final Cut is Francis Ford Coppola’s third attempt to reach absolute perfection in tying up the loose ends of his 1979 masterpiece. His second endeavour was Apocalypse Now: Redux in 2001, during which he added previously unseen footage, including scenes at the home of a French colonial landowner in the backblocks of Vietnam. The multi-award-winning Apocalypse Now is considered by many film critics as one of the finest films of all time (and certainly in this reviewer’s top 10) and this new cut is only screening at selected cinemas in Australia for a short season, so movie-lovers will have to move fast to catch it. This version is just over three hours long, which adds 36 minutes to the original but chops almost a quarter-of-an-hour off Redux and the ‘print’ is now restored in 4K with Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision, which has the visceral effect of fully immersing the audience in the midst of the action. It’s like you’re in in that steamy hotel room with Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) when he utters the famous words, “Saigon… shit; I’m still only in Saigon.”
When asked about the various editions, Coppola has explained that, “Given that the Apocalypse Now original was not only long, but also unusual in style and substance for a film at that time, we tended to cut wherever possible, not only in time but also in what then was considered ‘weirdness’. Maybe 15 years later I happened to catch a TV viewing of it in a hotel and, as I always enjoyed seeing the beginning, started watching and ended up seeing the whole film. I realized that just with that time elapsed, that the film was not as weird as I had thought, and had become more ‘contemporary’. The avant-garde art of the present often becomes the ‘wallpaper’ (mainstream) art of the future. That plus the opinion of many people (including the distributors) that so much great stuff had been cut out, led to what was later called Apocalypse Now: Redux. That version had all that had been cut out, restored. Later on, once again, when asked which version I personally wanted to be shown, I often felt that the original 1979 was too abruptly shortened, and Redux was too long, and settled on what I now felt was the perfect version, which is called Apocalypse Now: Final Cut.”
This is not only the most incredible sensory experience but it is still, to this day, a stark reminder of “the horror,” as Brando’s Colonel Kurtz puts it, of war. The Vietnam War was the first time that people could view the daily carnage of battle from the safety of their living rooms as up-to-the-minute footage played out on the news every night. Remember the words of the old Skyhooks song, “Horror movie, right there on my TV, horror movie, it’s the six-thirty news”? Apocalypse Now was also one of the first films to honestly depict the chaotic reality of the Vietnam War, albeit through a kind of stoner haze, rather than glorify it as earlier movies like The Green Berets had done. Capt. Willard (who would today be diagnosed with PTSD) sums it up best when he says, “Oh man, the bullshit piled up so fast in Vietnam, you needed wings to stay above it.”
As many know, the original production was hampered by terrible events and sheer bad luck and it’s interesting to acknowledge that Eleanor Coppola wrote in her book Notes, a diary she kept on location, that “many of the people who worked on the film were also changed.” Not least Martin Sheen, who had a heart attack during the shoot. It’s almost as though the gods of film knew that something different was going on here and they weren’t too sure how they felt about it. Luckily for us, Coppola and his crew persevered and it’s fair to say that Apocalypse Now changed the way movies were made. From the opening credits, as you watch bursts of orange napalm explode in the verdant Vietnamese jungle and hear the unearthly ‘whoop whoop’ of chopper blades while listening to Jim Morrison and the Doors sing The End, you know you are in for a confronting, adrenaline-charged, exhilarating, helluva ride. This is a war film unlike any other.