Apocalypse Now Redux
dir. Coppola
Opens Fri Aug 17
Regal Cinemas

For a two-dimensional projection on a flimsy white screen, the experience sure does a job of getting all five senses hot and bothered.

The relentless thwap of Huey blades through humid tropical air. The metallic taste of LSD on the back of the tongue. The image of a slicked-down head emerging from the primordial ooze, cold-blooded and reborn. The tactile rumble of an air strike.

And, of course, the smell of napalm in the morning.

Apocalypse Now stands tall as an immersive masterpiece, a mythic cinematic accomplishment, a sprawling, cobbled-together, damn-the-torpedoes, hell of a film. Generally, when people ask, in their well-meaning but too-frequent way, for my favorite movie, Apocalypse Now is the default response (Branded to Kill is too obscure, Persona is way too pretentious, and Raising Arizona is a little too silly).

Francis Ford Coppola's repotting of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness from colonial Africa to war-torn Southeast Asia was legendary before it was ever seen; the difficulties of the lengthy shoot prompted Coppola to declare famously: "This movie isn't about Vietnam. This movie is Vietnam." In the intervening years since its completion, rumors have circulated of a longer cut, as have bootleg tapes of a six-hour work-print version.

Now, at long last, we have an officially sanctioned "director's cut" of Apocalypse Now, title appended with the ridiculous "Redux." Nearly a full hour of footage has been restored under Coppola's watchful eye, perhaps in an attempt to avoid taking jobs like Jack or The Rainmaker to fund his winery. (If so, more power to you, Francis.)

So what was restored? Well, as is often the case with newly untruncated editions, there's generally a reason this stuff was cut in the first place. That doesn't mean it's worthless or uninteresting, but it does mean that Apocalypse Now isn't necessarily improved by the reinstatement of this footage.

There's no additional footage of Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen) weeping drunk and naked in his hotel room, and that legendary scene of Harrison Ford and Marlon Brando gettin' it on is just that--legendary. There is, though, a fairly humorous episode tacked on just after Willard's encounter with Col. Kilgore, the maniacal, surf-loving Air Cavalry commander realized by Robert Duvall in perhaps the greatest supporting performance in film history. Maybe to ingratiate himself with the four grunts taking him up river, Willard steals Kilgore's surfboard, providing a modicum of levity early on the hellish journey.

Among the other significant sequences added back in is a rather sordid sequel to the surreal Playmate exhibition the boat stumbles onto, in which the soldiers trade helicopter fuel for sex with the girls. It's a fitting addition to the sequence of increasingly insane tableaux Willard encounters, but the casual misogyny of the G.I.s, however realistic, interferes with their likability.

Viewers of the documentary Heart of Darkness have seen a tantalizing glimpse of the plantation sequence, in which Willard and crew bump into a bunch of never-say-die, possibly spectral Frenchmen holding their own in the middle of the jungle. Although beautifully shot, this sequence lasts far too long and brings the narrative to a dead stop just before the climactic appearance of Marlon Brando's Kurtz.

Do the new bits improve the film? Overall, no. Should you go see this film? Absolutely. A chance to catch any version of Apocalypse Now on the big screen is worth it, be it dubbed in Italian and cut for airplane play. The Redux release has warranted the creation of brand new prints, and the soundtrack has been juiced up for modern theatre sound.

Coppola's finest hour seems to come from another age, a time when filmmakers had to use real helicopters if they wanted to film a battle; when audiences welcomed challenging, visceral stories; and when filmmakers had the vision and power to create testaments to the darker aspects of the human condition. If you've never seen Apocalypse Now, this is your chance. If you have, well, then--this is your chance too.