Apocalypse Now Redux

Rated: R
Runtime: 3 Hours and 17 Minutes

Reviewer: Dale
Grade: A-

There are many images from "Apocalypse Now" that one finds impossible to shake after your first viewing. They are the reason that one revisits it so often (at least, the reasons that I have): the Napalm airstrike that lights up an entire section of Vietnamese (Philipino) jungle like a bonfire, Martin Sheen's camouflaged face emerging from the river covered in fog, Marlon Brando (truly larger than life) glimpsed half in shadow like a wily demon trying to sell Sheen on his own imagined brand of truth.

"Apocalypse Now" is a film that one will never forget once they have seen it. It is a classic meditation on good and evil and the short distance between the two. It is an intoxicating journey up a river into Madness, Despair and Insanity. It is about a man in a war transported to more primal events and times. As he moves up the river, it is as though he is traveling through time. On his journey, we see the technology of the modern stripped away and replaced by something more basic. Bullets give way to arrows. USO shows give way to tribal cults. The war is never any fun in this film (except perhaps for Duvall's fascinating Lt. Col. Kilgore) but as the film and Sheen's journey progress, the war becomes more and more demonic and frightening. It spins further and further out of control until we emerge at the end into the total madness of the Kurtz compound with its decapitations and invented morality. Kurtz has invented his own value system, one that is far removed from the army's, and they send Willard (Sheen) to make him pay for it.

"Apocalypse Now Redux" is still about such fascinating and intoxicating ideas as Madness and the duality which exists within the human soul. And some of the additional scenes added in the extra fifty minutes of footage are worth seeing. There is more footage of Duvall's remarkable performance as Col. Kilgore (including the theft of his surf board, which garners more than a couple laughs). There is a scene in which Willard trades a barrel of fuel to get the men on his boat a few hours with some Playboy bunnies who have crash-landed in the midst of this moral chaos. I'm not sure what to make of this scene. It does heighten the insanity of the whole affair (a movie in which a man can sleep with the Playmate of the Year in the middle of the Vietnam War is a movie in which ANYTHING can conceivably happen) but it isn't really necessary. It doesn't detract from the rest of the film, however, unlike the "Plantation Scene".

The Plantation Scene is the biggest mistake Coppola has made between the original vision and the new one. I can see why it ended up on the cutting room floor. It is disastrous. Important dialogue is given to characters whose accents we can't understand (a lesson Francis might have learned from his friend George Lucas's inclusion of Jar Jar Binks into "The Phantom Menace") but that isn't even the worst thing about it. The worst thing is that it fatally disrupts the flow of the entire film. Before this point (and after it) the mood of the movie is one of sustained intensity and insanity. But this scene takes the film out of its mood and into twenty minutes of talking. It even includes a disastrous romantic subplot. This film is the completely wrong film for a romantic subplot. Romance has no place in "Apocalypse Now". It's actually quite horrible. And the film's political agendas are no longer hidden subtext, they are now made painfully clear, which is a very wrong move. But, as I said, the worst thing about this new scene is that it disrupts the mesmerizing flow of the film and makes it nearly impossible to invest one's self in it once again. It's a bad move. When I buy "Redux" on DVD, I plan to skip this scene entirely.

But is it worth seeing on the big screen? Indeed. Even though it is now three and a half hours long (and it certainly feels it) you still get to see an impossibly young Laurence Fishburne, reminding us how many young men have been lost in our skirmishes over the years. You still get to see Robert Duvall embrace the madness of war and continue to surf, despite the presence of Charlie all around him. You get to see the "Ride of the Valkyries" attack in throbbing, digital surround and on a huge screen before you. You get to sit in the dark with total strangers (and a few friends) for three hours and take a dark, dangerous ride. I'd have preferred to see the original version on the big screen, but I will take what I can get.

You still get to smell the Napalm in the morning. And, despite the horrible French plantation episode, it still smells like victory.