If Apocalypse Now was a fascinating mess at its original 1979 release time of two-and-a-half hours, then is it going to seem deeper and richer and more coherent with nearly 50 minutes of additional, nonessential footage? Well, no. It’s just going to seem longer.
Watching Apocalypse Now Redux is like watching the original film with a few digressions thrown in, some interesting, some curious and one long and seriously miscalculated (a stop at a French plantation which is full of unenlightening talk). But the film survives this dubious fleshing out, mainly because its episodic structure can absorb this kind of tinkering. The added time enhances the gravitas that was always there, making it seem more than ever what it always was, a big-budget blockbuster art film.
Apocalypse Now was written by John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola, and is loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s longish short story, “Heart of Darkness.” Milius, always extravagantly macho and politically provocative (he wrote and directed 1984’s Red Dawn), supplied the film’s title and basic adaptation. Though his concept and script were reworked during production, his influence can be felt in the way the story progresses as a series of tests for its protagonists (most of which they fail), before the surviving hero arrives at the castle of the man who has seemingly conquered fear.
It’s a classic quest tale. Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen) is given the assignment of finding and killing the rogue Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a once-brilliant and dedicated officer who has “gone native” and set up shop in an ancient Cambodian temple, along with several worshipful followers. As Willard and his small crew (which includes a 15-year-old “Larry” Fishburne) sail up river, they have a series of increasingly bizarre encounters, most famously with Robert Duvall’s Col. Kilgore (“I love the smell of napalm in the morning ...”), a war lover with an even greater love for surfing. (This touch is pure Milius, as is the use of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” during Kilgore’s helicopter attacks.)
The reason that the movie doesn’t quite mesh is that Coppola, who’s never better than his scripts to begin with, is temperamentally at odds with Milius’ conception — he’s more attuned to the absurdity than the heroics of the situations. It’s the more sophisticated point of view and the druggy ambiguity that permeates the film (Coppola’s visual flair is undeniable) which is grimly flavorful. Still, there’s a feeling of unresolved purpose as Coppola’s humanism continually trumps Milius’ hairy-chested bravado. By the time Brando’s ogre appears swathed in horror-movie shadows, one has been conditioned to settle in for another compelling set piece, another brilliant fragment in a movie that grips and entices but never satisfies.
Showing exclusively at the Star Southfield (12 Mile Road between Northwestern Highway and Telegraph Road). Call 248-372-2222.
Visit the official Apocalypse Now Redux Web site at miramax.com/apocalypsenow.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].