Apocalypse Now (1979)
May 7, 2018 7:55 PM - Subscribe

During the Vietnam War, Captain Willard is sent on a dangerous mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade Colonel who has set himself up as a god among a local tribe.

WaPo: The atmosphere of Francis Coppola's lamentable magnum opus, "Apocalypse Now," a ruinously pretentious and costly allegorical epic about war in Vietnam, recalls nothing so much as the notorious campfire scene in Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles." It's the cumulative effect generated by mixing richly portentous imagery with absurdly portentous prose, starkly portentous sound and flatulently portentous music.

Vincent Canby(NYT original review): Apocalypse Now is a stunning work. It’s as technically complex and masterful as any war film I can remember, including David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai, which comes to mind, I suppose, because both productions were themselves military campaigns to subdue the hostile landscapes in which they were made. Kwai was shot in Ceylon; Apocalypse Now in the Philippines, which became, for Mr. Coppola, his Vietnam, swallowing men, money, and equipment as voraciously as any enemy.

Apocalypse Now, though, wants to be something more than a kind of cinematic tone poem. Mr. Coppola himself describes it as “operatic,” but this, I suspect, is a word the director hit upon after the fact. Ultimately, Apocalypse Now is neither a tone poem nor an opera. It’s an adventure yarn with delusions of grandeur, a movie that ends—in the all-too-familiar words of the poet Mr. Coppola drags in by the bootstraps—not with a bang, but a whimper.

Empire: Francis Ford Coppola's astonishing Vietnam epic was conceived in 1969 and developed over five years by gung-ho, pro-war writer John Milius with Coppola's Zoetrope colleague and fellow anti-war liberal George Lucas (originally set to direct) as a loose adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness, made pertinent to the war then being fought. The novella is about a man's journey up the Congo to find Kurtz, a cultured man who intended to bring civilisation to the jungle and instead became a savage. Milius' other main source of inspiration was Homer's epic poem about Odysseus's ten-year voyage home from the Trojan War, The Odyssey, prompting Coppola in a moment of levity amid his exhausting travails to dub his movie "The Idiocy."

The struggles and disasters of filming what became Coppola's obsession are legend, the subject of several books and the fascinating documentary Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991). A 16-week shoot in the Philippines became 238 days of principal photography between early 1976 and summer 77. In the first month Harvey Keitel was fired as Willard because his performance was not sufficiently impassive. The Philippine Army kept recalling its helicopters in the middle of takes to chase Marxist rebels. A typhoon destroyed sets, forcing a hiatus. Stress, frustration, heat, booze and drugs did in people's heads. In March, 1977, Sheen, only 36, suffered a near-fatal heart attack, but returned to the fray five weeks later. Brando showed up overweight and unprepared, forcing yet another re-think of how the hell to end the picture before it killed them all.

NYT: Assuming control of a long-deferred project, one that had once been planned by Orson Welles (before "Citizen Kane") and that Mr. Coppola himself expected to make before "The Godfather," he declared plans for a relatively modest $13 million undertaking. Among the things that destroyed any hope of such simplicity or economy were a major monsoon, civil unrest in the Philippines, the firing of one leading man (Harvey Keitel) and the serious heart attack suffered by his replacement (Martin Sheen), and the 11th-hour arrival of a colossally unhelpful Marlon Brando, whose haunting appearance in the finished film is revealed here as a major triumph of mind over matter.

Roger Ebert: "Apocalypse Now" is more clearly than ever one of the key films of the century. Most films are lucky to contain a single great sequence. "Apocalypse Now" strings together one after another, with the river journey as the connecting link. The best is the helicopter attack on a Vietnam village, led by Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall), whose choppers use loudspeakers at top volume to play Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" as they swoop down on a yard full of schoolchildren. Duvall won an Oscar nomination for his performance and its unforgettable line, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning." His emptiness is frightening: A surfing fanatic, he agrees to the attack only to liberate a beach said to offer great waves ("Charlie don't surf").

Ebert on Apocalypse Now Redux: To the majesty of these scenes in their progression to Kurtz's words "the Horror," Coppola has now added 49 minutes, most of them devoted to a visit by the crew to a French plantation, a colonial leftover that somehow survives. At dinner the Americans and French discuss the colonial history of Vietnam, and Willard's eyes meet those of Roxanne (Aurore Clement), a widow who will spend the night in his arms. Other new footage includes dialogue and byplay on the boat, a second encounter with the Playmates, and additional dialogue by Kurtz.

In a note released with the film, Coppola emphasizes that this new material was not simply shoehorned into the original version of the film, but that "Redux" is "a new rendition of the movie from scratch." He and his longtime editor Walter Murch "re-edited the film from the original unedited raw footage -- the dailies," he says, and so possibly even some of the shots that look familiar to us are different takes than the ones we saw before.

The 1979 version "terrified" him, he says, because it was "too long, too strange and didn't resolve itself in a kind of classic big battle at the end." Facing financial disaster, he shaped it for the "mainstream audience of its day," and 20 years later, seeing it again, he found it "relatively tame."

Variety: “Apocalypse Now” will also have trouble avoiding political pigeonholing, since it’s the first film to directly excoriate US involvement in the Indochina war. To be sure, inhumane attitudes surfaced on both sides as inevitable consequences of a misunderstood conflict, but Coppola wields a wide tabrush in painting Americans as either “conspiratorial” or “homicidal,” with no one in between.

Thus it seems ironic that the most widely heralded production of the last 10 years may find its niche co-opted by a pic dealing with a common subject, the effect of the Vietnam conflict on its participants, “The Deer Hunter” and “Apocalypse Now” are widely differing treatments in tone and viewpoint, but in the eyes of the film-going public, if you’ve seen one Vietnam war pic, you might have seen them all.

Which possible reaction would be a shame, because Coppola here reaffirms his stature as a top filmmaker. “Apocalypse Now” takes realistic cinema to a new extreme – Coppola virtually creates World War III on screen.

Rolling Stone: Yet the film is more than a visceral experience. Its core narrative idea, based on Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness, provided Coppola and co-screenwriter John Milius with a true dramatic spine. And setting the adaptation amidst the terrors of the Vietnam War allowed them to explore the idea that our civilization had pursued its own catastrophe. The film introduces us to American might in all its mechanized glory, then methodically reduces that power to nothing. Our violence had rebounded against us. Apocalypse Now, like so many national myths, showcases the intimate connection between the establishment of order and the violence upon which that order is founded.


Ride of the Valkyries

I love the smell of napalm in the morning

Charlie Don't Surf

History of Film: ‘Apocalypse Now’

Strangers in Strange Lands: Comparing and Contrasting 'Apocalypse Now' and 'Silence'

Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’ must be the key lecture in anyone’s filmmaking education

The Sound of Helicoptors in Apocalypse Now

Here's How The Score Of 'Apocalypse Now' Originally Sounded

The strained making of 'Apocalypse Now'

Area Girlfriend Still Hasn't Seen Apocalypse Now
posted by MoonOrb (22 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Favorite movie ever. Recently watched the doublewide full-boat (plantation sequence) edition. Never get off of the boat.
posted by mwhybark at 10:43 PM on May 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I love this movie and Redux seemed so completely unnecessary. Every more subtle idea of the original was turned into a sledgehammer by Redux.
posted by kokaku at 3:33 AM on May 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have, without the slightest exaggeration, seen this movie around 200 times.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:33 AM on May 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

I agree, kokaku. Redux felt kind of like Francis couldn't bear to leave a scrap of successfully photographed film on the floor. Still, I am glad for the opportunity to see the plantation sequence. One wonders if he'll eventually re-track it with the unused score as a novelty-sales ploy.
posted by mwhybark at 9:55 AM on May 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

People might always quote the "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" bit, but my favourite is "Someday this war is gonna end", as a mortar explodes nearby.
posted by lmfsilva at 10:19 AM on May 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

... my favourite is "Someday this war is gonna end", as a mortar explodes nearby.

Seconded. With that chagrined look on his face, before walking off frame, and out of the film.

I don't even know what to say about this film except that I love it unreservedly, and that it went a long way toward shaping my idea of what makes a great film. Not sure I've seen it as many times as poffin boffin, but getting there. (Methinks I'll be one viewing closer tonight, actually.)

Large parts of Redux didn't really work for me, but the plantation sequence — particularly the dinner-table conversation — was excellent, and the only part I wish hadn't been cut.
posted by myotahapea at 11:44 AM on May 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

That WaPo review is regrettable. I love reading reviews panning great works of art before they are firmly recognized as great works of art. You know you're getting what the author really thinks rather than what he believes he should think.
posted by Justinian at 9:45 PM on May 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

Damn, WaPo. If I ever want to take a master-class in missing the point whilst simultaneously using as many five-dollar words as possible, I know who to look up.

Gary Arnold's picks of the best of 1979 may provide some insight into that opinion.
posted by myotahapea at 2:01 AM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

If things had worked out differently, Apocalypse Now would have been directed by George Lucas in 1970, guerrilla-style in Vietnam itself, while the conflict was still raging.

What the ever-loving fuck. Imagine what Star Wars might have been like if he'd done so.

Also, my favorite AN parody.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:30 AM on May 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

Gary Arnold's picks of the best of 1979 may provide some insight into that opinion.

'12. "Allen," directed by Ridley Scott.'
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:39 AM on May 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

The crew of the Nostromo didn't know what to expect when they explored the unknown planet, but nothing could have prepared them for... ALLEN.

(I wonder what Arnold thought of Robert Cop?)
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:54 AM on May 9, 2018 [7 favorites]

Also, my favorite AN parody.

Porklips Now, by the "Hardware Wars" people. For completeness' sake.
posted by rhizome at 12:06 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

The crew of the Nostromo didn't know what to expect when they explored the unknown planet, but nothing could have prepared them for... ALLEN.

Imagine going through a dark ship in the middle of space and listening to this out of nowhere, echoing through the corridors.
posted by lmfsilva at 12:44 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

One of my all-time top films, too. (I once had to take part in a corporate team-building [ugh] exercise, and we all had to go around in a circle to state our favorite movie. I followed someone who said "Bridget Jones Diary" with "Apocalypse Now," and the room went weirdly silent for a minute.)

Favorite line, which I can never resist saying aloud along with Sheen's voiceover: "They were gonna make me a major for this. And I wasn't even in their fucking army anymore."
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 1:08 PM on May 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

I followed someone who said "Bridget Jones Diary" with "Apocalypse Now," and the room went weirdly silent for a minute.

And I will bet you that most of them had never seen AN, and were merely responding to what they had always heard about the movie.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:50 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Speaking of parodies: Apocalypse Pooh.
posted by FrauMaschine at 5:48 AM on May 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

And I will bet you that most of them had never seen AN, and were merely responding to what they had always heard about the movie.

"It's only, like, arguably the most ambitious anti-war statement in American movie history. Jesus!"
posted by lunasol at 9:29 AM on May 11, 2018

I'm gonna be that guy.

I like boring movies. I love 2001, but I might like Barry Lyndon even more. I could watch Badlands over and over again. Tokyo Story is my jam.

I find AN to be a very, very boring movie. I've tried watching it three times, and have fallen asleep every time. That interminable murky final sequence with mush-mouthed Marlon Brando is especially infuriating. Dull, dull, dull.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:53 PM on May 14, 2018

It might have been my mission, but it sure as shit was the Chief's boat.
posted by zooropa at 5:20 PM on June 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

@poffin boffin - based on your sentence above, I will watch it again this week - it's been too long
posted by growabrain at 7:39 AM on March 28, 2020

I watched this movie dozens of times in my twenties. I recently had occasion to rewatch it after having not seen it for perhaps 20 years.

When I was younger, I thought of Willard as a kind of hero. Carrying the "message to Garcia" and putting his mission first. Sacrificing for the greater good. Being "tough" and making hard decisions. Facing down the evil and insane Kurtz.

I was really struck by how obvious it was to me as an older and wiser person that Willard is a villain.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:12 AM on March 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ringer review From yesterday
posted by growabrain at 8:17 AM on August 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

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