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Apocalypse Now Redux
2001 - R - 202 Mins.
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Producer: Coppola, Kim Aubry, Shannon Lail
Written By: Coppola, John Milius, Michael Herr
Starring: Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Albert Hall, Laurence Fishburne
Review by: Jake Cremins

I must admit that I am getting pretty tired of director's cuts, which used to be rare enough to seem like an artistic choice but now work mostly as a selling point. It was good to see the new version of 'Blade Runner,' but that was a film tinkered with by the studio, and there was a palpable need to see it as it was originally intended. With some movies, the urgency to rework and rerelease them is less clear; what, exactly, was wrong with the original 'Alien,' except that it came out in 1979 and couldn't make any more money at the box office?

I wonder the same about 'Apocalypse Now,' which is such a bizarre, invigoratingly original film that, had United Artists tried to make it more "commercial" with creative editing the first time, they would have found it impossible. Sifting through a first cut that ran a staggering five and a half hours, Francis Ford Coppola and his editors finally emerged with a 153-minute film that remains one of the finest made about Vietnam, or any other war. You would think the first version *was* the director's cut, but no, apparently Coppola was itching to put in the much-talked-about French plantation sequence, even though you can see him in the documentary 'Hearts of Darkness' talking about what a mistake it was, right there on location.

So now we have 'Apocalypse Now Redux,' which runs about an hour longer than the original film and has had the sound and picture restored for a 2001 rerelease. Ever since the movie was made, there has been no end of curiosity about the missing material (you can find bootlegs with *everything* included, if you look hard enough), but alas, most of it deserves to remain missing. My optimistic side is telling me that I must have understood less about Coppola's vision than I thought, if this is his preferred cut; my pessimistic side wonders if he just needs the money.

I won't bother recounting the plot here. Instead, let's get right to what's different about the new version. To start, the entire movie has been reedited from scratch, so even the scenes that were already there have slightly different rhythms and occasionally use different angles and takes. It is still a wonderful job of editing, done by the great Walter Murch, though if you've seen the original more than once the effect is a bit disorienting. And then there are the new scenes, which at best keep in step with the original film and merely make it longer, and at worst are -- it pains me to say this -- really bad.

I've just watched the French plantation scenes again on the DVD, in which Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) and his crew stumble upon a group of French men and women living in a mansion on the river deep in Vietnam, stubbornly staying despite the danger. There is a very long scene where Willard joins them for supper, and my memory of seeing this in the theater was that the accents of the actors were all but impenetrable, but I was wrong: it's not that we can't understand what they're saying, it's that the conversation is so disjointed, complicated and rambling that after five minutes we just don't care. I'm willing to concede that this is my problem; if I were at a dinner party where everyone else started jumping from one political topic to another, and I didn't know much about what they were talking about beforehand, I would tend to tune out. So I did.

Undeniably awful, however, is the following scene in which Willard goes to bed with the beautiful woman who hasn't said a word during dinner, while the treacly "Love Theme From Apocalypse Now" (yes) plays. The woman's accent *is* impenetrable, although we can still unfortunately make it out when she says, twice, "There are two of you, don't you see? One that kills...and one that loves." Equally disastrous is an additional scene with the Playboy Bunnies who, in both versions of the movie, are introduced at a USO stage show that descends into chaos. Now we see Willard and his crew finding them further down the river, their helicopter out of fuel. The men gallantly offer to trade some of theirs for time alone with the Bunnies, in a series of scenes that are genuinely creepy in the way they treat the girls like conveyances for sexual organs, instead of actual characters. These scenes -- which include a spectacularly uncomfortable shot in which the camera chops off the top of one girl's head as she speaks, so that we can get a clear view of her breasts -- play as though they're supposed to be funny, which is kind of bewildering; in a movie full of mordant humor that has you torn between laughing and cringing, this is the only point where the choice is clear.

I would be remiss not to mention that there are indeed some interesting new moments. I liked especially a scene with Marlon Brando, in which he reads aloud to a dazed Willard from a years-old article in 'Time' about how that little problem in Vietnam is going to go away any day now. (Unfortunately, despite there being much more material in the Kurtz compound, this seems to be all that made it.) We also get a funeral after one character is killed which strikes an appropriately solemn note, and makes an interesting contrast to the way another character's body is handled later on. Even the Bunny scene contains an intriguing moment, when "Chief" (Albert Hall) refuses to take part in the festivities for reasons that aren't quite made clear.

But if there are a few scenes that have us perking up with interest, there are many more in the take-it-or-leave-it area, such as a bigger role for Robert Duvall as the deranged Colonel Kilgore. He gets a grander introduction, but does nothing new and unexpected for those who have seen the film already. There's also much more material with Laurence Fishburne talking about this and that, perhaps because he's a well-known actor now and Coppola figured we'd want to see more of him. This stuff isn't harmful, but it doesn't really add anything, which I'm sad to say is more or less typical. At any rate, as good as some of the new scenes are, not one of them ever gives us the feeling that it urgently needed to be included. There are no new revelations and the film as a whole isn't affected in any startling way, and when it now groans under the weight of a three-hour-plus running time this is bad news. I've given 'Redux' four stars simply because it is still a fascinating, vibrant, amazing film (and it still puts most of the other movies sharing the marquee to shame), but this is despite the new footage, not because of it.

I should mention that the main reason to see 'Apocalypse Now Redux' in the theaters was that it looked amazing, thanks to a fantastic remastering job and prints that had been treated in a rare dye transfer process that left the colors looking more lush and vibrant than they ever had. A side-by-side comparison of the DVDs shows that this holds true on video; the short version looks very good, if a bit grainy, but 'Redux' blows it away in picture and sound quality. For this you may want to see it, or out of simple curiosity, but if you're looking for a director's cut that improves on the original, see 'Blade Runner' instead.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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