In my English class way back in college - a whopping three years ago - we read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, a strange and twisted journey of a British officer who descends into the heart of Africa (get it) where he encounters Kurtz, a once decorated officer who has become influenced by the natural surroundings and has become a God-like figure to the locals. So, I decided that I would finally take a look at what is considered one of the best movies ever, Apocalypse Now.
Apocalypse Now is based on Conrad's novel, but instead of taking place in the Congo, it takes place in Vietnam during the war, and stars Martin Sheen as the American soldier who is hired to venture into Cambodia and retrieve or kill Kurtz, who has seemingly gone mad. Some of the plot points are different, but the symbolism remains the same, and you do not have to be a genius to get the theme of the movie.
The movie is anti-war for sure, but it does it in such a way that it makes an irony of the older pro-war films. In the title sequence, we get to see a forest get destroyed by napalm, all along to a rather upbeat song. Apocalypse Now does similar things throughout the entire length of the film, making an irony of all things that glamorize war.
As Sheen's character goes deeper into Vietnam and finally ventures into Cambodia, things get darker and darker. The first real instance of war is seen at a base where Robert Duvall is stationed, and he has definitely lost his marbles. He thinks it is fun to go on a killing spree, and the movie takes its time to note that this is not normal.
But that is only the beginning. As the little boat goes farther and farther up the river, things get darker and darker. The other soldiers on the boat have heightened tensions, and begin to act a little strange. Other soldiers they encounter along the way definitely are not all there, either. When they reach the border of Cambodia, things are absolutely out of control, and it is hard to imagine that the people there have homes back in the United States. Of course, there is the scene with the dancers, which is so strange because it catches you off guard. You have to see it to believe it, and while the scene may seem a little farfetched, it is also an easy way to show just how messed up American soldiers have become.
As for acting, it is excellent. I really haven't seen that many Martin Sheen movies but this one has to be up there among the best. He is incredible. Robert Duvall has a smaller yet extremely effective role. And then there is Marlon Brandon (Kurtz), who is stunning.
When this review was originally written, I said, "the only thing that hurts the movie is the running time. It is by no means unbearable, but Apocalypse Now is a strange movie and you can only take so much. The entire Kurtz sequence seems drawn out at times." I don't know what the fuck I was thinking.
Having run this website for eight years now, I am now entitled to receiving a variety of DVD packages for free, the latest being "Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier Dual Feature Edition." If that title is long-winded, perhaps it is because the movie includes both versions of the film, the two-and-a-half hour original, and the three-hour-and-twenty-minute "Redux" version. The "Redux" version is absolutely amazing. With fifty minutes of added footage, the movie is consistenly involving from beginning to end, and with every passing minute, every step closer to darkness, it engages you all the more.
Except for the French village scene. In the latter half of the movie, the added French village scene is the dullest part of the movie, and really throws off the pacing of the entire film. This was one sequence that could have been left on the cutting room floor.
Of course, "Redux" has been available on DVD for quite some time now, ever since its theatrical release in 2001. What does this version have to offer? Well, just something like eighteen special features, ranging in time from 3 minutes to nearly twenty. I don't know how many of these have been included in previous editions, but that sure seems like a lot of features, doesn't it?
The only shortcoming of this new edition is that even though the film comes with two DVDs, both versions of the film are spread out over both discs, which means that no matter what you will have to switch discs at some point. This is a neat homage to older films, but a nuisance nowadays.
Still, this "Dossier Edition" is a great package, and highly recommended if you don't already own the film.Apocalypse Now will remain as one of the benchmarks for anti-war movies for a long time to come.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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