War Films, Part 3

I never saw Apocalypse Now in the theatres and I don't remember why. It was later, on home video, where I first encountered Capt. Willard journeying up the Nung River into the deepest recesses of the jungle and toward an awaiting Col. Kurtz. About 10 years ago I watched the plus 40 minute Redux version of the film and truth-be-told, found the original preferable. It was tighter. The extra footage didn't seem to add anything to the story or our understanding of the characters. I'm pretty sure I watched Redux on VHS as well.

Two scenes always bugged me about Apocalypse Now; The night scene at the besieged, psychedelically-lit, American-held Do Lung bridge and the ending, which I never thought provided any closure to the story. The Do Lung bridge scene comes well into the film, at the height of Willard's personal conflict about the journey. Tellingly, the scene is dark, claustrophobic, unsettling and confusing - mirroring Willard's own thoughts about his mission to kill Kurtz. I've changed my mind about this scene after finally seeing it properly framed and reasonably close to its original theatrical presentation. On VHS, the scene is frustrating and nearly impossible to see. The Blu-Ray print is nothing short of a revelation, particularly for the final third of the film, which quite purposefully plays out in darkness with slashes of light illuminating the screen like lightning bolts. The Do Lung Bridge scene is improved immensely by the simple act of seeing it as Coppola had intended.

The ending..... some say it's brilliant and maybe it is. I've read that Coppola fiddled over what would be the 'final cut' version of the 35mm film, so various editing and differing release versions were screened at showings in 1978 and 1979 - many with alternative endings. The ending he went with wasn't modified in Redux, so it must have provided the effect he wanted. Even though Apocalypse Now is well past the point where critical analysis is either needed or of much value (and it's almost sacrilegious to question anything about the film among cinephiles anyways), I still think the ending is missing something. Neither of the two possible eventualities foreshadowed early on in the final act come to pass, the first being the bombing of the compound and the second being Willard taking over from Kurtz as the compound's leader. It briefly appears that Willard might consider the later, but as he wanders through Kurtz's followers, collects Lance and heads back to the boat, it becomes clear that Kurtz will not have a successor. Apparently, several of the earlier alternate endings included the destruction of the compound in the background as Lance and Willard start their journey back. To me, it's the ending the film should have – the period at the end of the sentence that I think is missing from what is otherwise an acknowledged masterpiece of film making.

The Blu-Ray boxset includes both cuts, the original and Redux and the brilliant documentary about making the film: Hearts of Darkness, A Filmmaker's Apocalypse.



the coelacanth said...


stonerphonic said...

I'm a Full Metal Jacket man myself...

Withnail said...

I too prefer the original cut. What I found the most interesting about the redux vs the original is that the redux has Willard smile, which I think is beyond this character. He smiles after stealing the surf board - which again seems way beyond this man's caring.
And the entire French colony scene was just absurdly not needed, and again showed a side of Willard's character that I think has been sucked up by the war; his ability "to be intimate."
Whenever I re-watch this film I always skip past the redux scenes.
Except for the bunnies that is.