Monday, June 30, 2014

Apocalypse Now: Redux

Apocalypse Now: Redux
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duval, Frederick Forrest, Larry Fishburne, Albert Hall, Harrison Ford, Christian Marquand
Length: 3 hours 16 minutes
Rated: R

I anticipated the original release of "Apocalypse Now" like no other movie. During the last two years of high school I scanned the newspaper for any stories about Francis Ford Coppola's epic Vietnam War saga. I ended up riding a motorcycle over 500 miles to see the movie on its limited run in Los Angeles. I was happy to find that "Apocalypse Now" was worth the wait. I have waited several months now for the release of "Apocalypse Now Redux," the supposedly restored director's version of the movie. What I found this time was a greatly changed movie which loses so much of what made the original work.

"Redux" contains about 45 minutes of footage that include two major set pieces not in the original and several deleted scenes involving the famed helicopter attack sequence and the film's final sequence with Marlon Brando. There were a couple of scenes which did help the movie, however for the most part, the cut scenes should have remained so. It was interesting to see the sequences, but they should have remained nothing more than a "deleted scenes" feature on the DVD. I hope that when "Redux" is released on DVD that both versions will be available, because "Redux" is inferior to the original in many significant ways.

The helicopter attack sequence on the Hamlet of Vin Drin Dop is one of the greatest war scenes ever filmed. Coppola's direction, Vitorrio Storaro's cinematography, excellent editing (both visual and sound) and a gonzo performance by Robert Duval as Col. Bill Kilgore combined to exhilarate audiences everywhere. The "Redux" version has two scenes which, I feel would have improved the original. Sadly though, the many other added scenes involving surfing dissipate the power of Duval's famous "I love the smell of napalm" speech and also change the Col. Kilgore character into something out of "Dr. Strangelove." In "Redux" Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen) asks where the commanding office is during the scene in which the PBY boat first meets up with Col. Kilgore's air calvary battalion. Willard is told that Kilgore is in an approaching helicopter. Coppola cuts to a shot of several landing helicopters. Kilgore's helicopter with its "Death From Above" logo painted on the front lands midscreen. Coppola quickly cuts to a shot of Kilgore getting out of the helicopter. Shot from the ground up, Kilgore appears in heroic proportions. He barks an order for his soldiers to move the tree line back 100 feet so he can have "room to breath." This introduction made me smile. The intro works well with the Kilgore of the original film. It is a powerful piece of film making. Unfortunately things go bad very quickly. There are several superfluous scenes during this introduction and the resulting helicopter attack sequence which show Kilgore helping wounded children. They are designed to show a caring side of Kilgore. The first of these scenes would have been enough. There is a similar scene in which a Vietnamese woman approaches Kilgore as he calls in the napalm attack. She cradles her wounded son. Kilgore takes the child and orders his men to fly the kid to a hospital immediately. The scene isn't bad, but it breaks the rhythm of the sequence. The real sin is what happens after the "smell of napalm" speech. In the original the sequence ended after the speech. A dumbfounded Willard looked at Kilgore as he left. It was powerful stuff. In "Redux" the entire sequence is ruined by a slapstick sequence in which Kilgore throws a temper tantrum because the heat of the napalm caused the surf to stop. Now he can't watch Lance (Sam Bottoms) surf. He tries to force them to stay but Willard rushes Lance to the boat. Almost as an after thought, Willard runs to Kilgore's helicopter and steals Kilgore's surf board. The PBY speeds off down the river. There is a scene later on, just before the "tiger" scene in which Kilgore flies overhead looking for his surfboard. Kilgore's voice blares over the loudspeaker begging Lance to return his surfboard. The PBY is hidden under a tree. The men on the boat laugh at the juvenile army officer.

These scenes alter Kilgore's character from a quirky but heroic hawk, to a spoiled prima donna. I seriously doubt that Duval would have been nominated as Best Supporting Actor had this been the original version of the film. The changes also change the way Willard appears to the soldier's escorting him. In the original, he is an outsider who is resented by the others. By stealing the surfboard, he becomes one of the guys. He is accepted by the sailors rather than resented. In fact it makes the later scene in which Clean (Laurence Fishburne) gets on Willard's nerves nonsensical.

"Redux" also includes two long sequences left out of the original. There is a sequence involving the soldier's encountering three stranded Playboy Bunnies as a deserted base. The boat pulls up to the rain drenched base. There are a few stoned soldiers sitting around. A helicopter is parked on the pad. Willard arranges for the boys on the boat to have sex with the Bunnies in exchange for some fuel for the chopper. Chef (Frederick Forrest) gets to do it in the helicopter with Terri Turee, Miss May (his real life wife Colleen Camp) while Lance experiments with body paint with the Carrie Foster, Playmate of the Year (Cynthia Wood). Lance's playmate appears to be tripping on acid as she rambles incoherently about all the things she was forced to do to become a Playmate. The scene serves no purpose other than to introduce nudity and female character to the movie. It is poorly filmed, written and conceived. It should have remained on the cutting room floor. The only mystery it solves is where Lance got the acid he took before the Dolong Bridge sequence.

I'm undecided about the second major sequence that was restored. The sequence is well done, but it too breaks the rhythm of the movie. Late in the film the boat pulls up to what looks like a deserted fuel dump. As Willard explores the dock for fuel, a group of French and Vietnamese men in army fatigues appear. It turns out that the boat has stumbled upon a plantation which a French family refused to dessert. The sequence has four major sections. The introductory scene, the funeral of Clean, a dinner sequence and a lovemaking scene. I enjoyed the funeral scene. After taps is played, Chief (Albert Hall) takes the tattered flag from Clean's bodybag, folds it and presents it to Willard "on behalf of a grateful nation." The pain and sarcasm with which Chief says these words implies that he blames Willard for the teenage soldier's death. If the boat hadn't been ordered to escort Willard up the river then Clean would have not been killed.

The dinner sequence is interesting as a history lesson. Hubert deMarais (Christian Marquand) heads the determined French family. He says that his family will stay on their land until they die. The viewer is given a brief history of France's involvement and defeat in Vietnam and in effect the folly of America's involvement in the war. After a long rant, the dinner breaks up and Willard retires with Marqaund's widowed sister, Roxanne Sarrault (Aurore Clement). They smoke opium and make love through a mosquito net. It is erotic but pointless. The sequence as a whole is interesting, but it is a detour which doesn't really fit into the journey up the river.

During the final sequence with Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) there is one extra scene with Brando. The scene takes place after Chef's decapitation. Willard is held prisoner in a shed. Kurtz opens the door, surrounded by children and releases Willard. He reads Willard a couple of articles from Time magazine. The scene also adds nothing to the movie. The only thing unique about the scene is that it is the only time that Brando appears in broad daylight. In the original, Kurtz was always shown in shadows and darkness as if Coppola was saying something about the twisted soul of a man driven mad by war.

Content aside, "Redux" suffers from another problem. The film was not restored for theatrical release. The print was full of scratches and spots. A couple of the restored scenes had obviously been damaged as the film seemed to struggle through the projector's sprockets. I hope that the DVD transfer is made from a restored print. All in all, I'm glad I saw "Redux," but my final thought on the film is "Thank God for editing!"

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