The Film: Apocalypse NowThe Principles: Starring Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne, Albert Hall, Harrison Ford, Scot Glenn and Dennis Hopper. Written by John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The Premise: During the height of the American conflict in Vietnam, an Army Captain named Willard is sent on a classified mission to seek out a crazed Green Beret Colonel named Kurtz and relieve him of his command with “extreme prejudice.” Willard travels up the Nung river in a U.S. Navy patrol boat with a small crew along, encountering one surreal situation after another until he finally arrives at Kurtz’s nightmarish compound across the Cambodian border, where he’s taken prisoner in an attempt for the Colonel to explain the “method” of his madness. “My movie is not about Vietnam. It IS Vietnam.” – Francis Ford Coppola at the ’79 Cannes Film Festival premiere of Apocalypse Now Is it any good?: I consider this to be not only one of the finest Vietnam war movies ever made (and there are many), but one of the single greatest artistic statements about the insanity of war ever created. It’s also one of the best examples from this incredible era of cinema that shows the power of independent filmmaking and what can happen when an artist risks everything for his vision. If there was ever a film brave enough to show the world the ugly side of American diplomacy, then this is it. My parents took me to see it in 70mm at a theater in the suburbs of Chicago when I was eleven-years-old. I guess you could say that this was my first exposure to a war movie. Sure, I kind of half-watched the old WWII flicks with John Wayne that my dad loved, and I knew about the Korean war because of the T.V. show M.A.S.H., but the only thing I really understood about the Vietnam war at the time was that it was long and extremely unpopular. My family was never affected by it directly, but we knew of many that were. I was lucky to grow up in an era where people questioned things more and art reflected that. Some would say they were cynical times, but I look back at it now as a moment of great cultural criticism and social self-awareness. The bottom line is: war sucks and it should be shown as the ridiculous, horrifying beast it is. Francis Ford Coppola accomplishes this spectacularly and creates a film that entertains as much as it enlightens us about the darkness in all of our souls. Apocalypse Now is a hallucinatory journey through the hellish jungles of ‘Nam, fueled by drugs and a rock n’ roll soundtrack, that keeps delving deeper and deeper into the core of man’s primordial nature with one perfectly executed scene after another. Coppola took a script from his friend John Milius, that loveable, gun-loving, macho man maverick of Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn fame, which was a loose adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, a story that many filmmakers including Orson Welles had attempted to make but failed. Milius took this as a personal challenge and wrote Apocalypse Now, but if you’ve ever read the original script you’ll know that Coppola took it to a whole other level by adding a little more conscience and thought to the material. For me, this is what makes it so monumental of an achievement and the reason why it still resonates as strongly now as it did over thirty years ago. Is it worth a look?: Mr. Ebert wrote in his original review, “Apocalypse Now achieves greatness not by analyzing our ‘experience in Vietnam’, but by re-creating, in characters and images, something of that experience.” It’s true, Vietnam is merely the setting of the story that was adapted from another source, yet any ‘Nam vet will tell you that Coppola’s ‘Nam was exactly what it was truly like to be there. By taking us on an adventure movie quest he comments very critically on a war just by moving the audience through its landscape and allowing us to experience it the way most of the men that fought it did. If you’ve never seen it before than you simply must if you consider yourself at all a cinephile in any way. Seeing this film at an early age has made me grow into an adult that is highly critical of our American foreign policy and a total hater of war in general, except in the movies of course. This one came from an age of angry Vietnam war cinema like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, which really shows me how times have changed because I consider the recent and current wars we fight now to be just as wrong as ‘Nam ever was, but “Hey, Hollywood! Where are the films?” As far as I’m concerned, The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty are nothing more than beautifully shot propaganda in comparison to Coppola’s masterpiece. It makes me miss that era of Easy Riders and Raging Bulls all the more. I, like the late Mr. Ebert, have it placed permanently in my all-time top ten. In my opinion, the film should have received a Nobel Prize. Random anecdotes: George Lucas was the first filmmaker originally set to direct Apocalypse Now, which would have been shot on location in ‘Nam during the war on 16mm black & white film stock, the type used by news photographers covering the fighting that was shown on televisions across the U.S. during the time. I would love to visit an alternate universe where this version of the film exists. There are many endings to this film. The first time I saw it there were no credits at all. When I saw it for the second time at a historic movie palace in my hometown of Park Ridge called The Pickwick Theater (which ironically was the cinema used in the opening of Siskel & Ebert’s At the Movies) the ending credits featured the legendary air strike destruction of the Kurtz compound. Every release including the Redux features the credits entirely in black. This was because Coppola felt that the air strike betrayed the message he was sending in the film’s final conclusion. Apparently, there was one ending that was shot where Willard replaces Kurtz as leader of his army. In Apocalypse Now: The Workprint (which was released bootleg-style on VHS sometime in the mid-nineties) there are many, many scenes that were removed from the original and they’re not in the Redux, including one where Scot Glen’s Colby kills Dennis Hopper’s character for taking Kurtz’s photo, only to be killed by Martin Sheen with a throwing knife. Colby’s dying words to Willard are, “Kill Kurtz!” It’s insane. Also, the conclusion replaces the song “The End” by The Doors with another one of their tunes called “When the Music’s Over” and features a sequence in which Willard eliminates all of Kurtz’s bodyguards outside the compound Rambo-style. There is one particularly graphic shot of Sheen in a kill frenzy spearing both a green beret and a Vietnamese baby simultaneously, which the soldier uses as a human shield. It’s unbelievably shocking and I can understand why it was removed in the final cut because you really change the way you view the character of Willard. Cinematic soul mates: Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Apocalypse Now: The Workprint, Apocalypse Now Redux, The Boys in Company C, The Deer Hunter, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill and Casualties of War.