Friday, June 15, 2012

Apocalypse When

Viewing the extended version of "Apocalypse Now" has made one thing very clear--sometimes a director really needs arbitrary studio suits to force them to edit down a lot of their unnecessary scenes!  Well, that and I don't remember so much synthesizer music last time I saw the film.  It gives it the feel of a cheap '80s action film.

"Apocalypse" is certainly a great film, easily Francis Ford Coppola's third best, and one of the best films made about the Vietnam War (after "Full Metal Jacket").  It follows the story of Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), sent deep into the jungle via riverboat to find and "terminate the command" of a brilliant but insane Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando).  Along the way, they (Willard and the boat crew) encounter all sorts of horrors, from a wild tiger to a ferocious helicopter assault (led by Air Cavalry Colonel Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall in a scene stealing role) on an enemy-held village (which happens to also be a great place for surfing after the battle).  The journey culiminates in the loss of the whole crew, meeting Kurtz in his jungle empire (where the natives consider him a god) and ultimately the assassination. 

There were many notable bits of trivia about the film, including:

1) A small cameo with Harrison Ford, as the filming was done in 1976 but the movie was released in 1979, after he became famous as Han Solo;

2) The opening scene of Willard's drunken stumblings were actually ad libbed, as Sheen was quite drunk at the time and Coppola just filmed it;

3) The crew used extras and helicopters from the Phillippine government for filming, but that country was undergoing a war against its own rebels at the time and frequently had to take back some of the helicopters on loan;

4) One of the soldiers on Willard's boat is played by a 14 year old Laurence Fishburne.

The long version--which I'm only 2/3 of the way through by now--runs for over 3 hours, and I can understand why the studio insisted on cutting it down.  Among the scenes that could have been left out:

1) Kilgore flying over the boat, asking for his surfboard back.  In the edited version, it leaves Kilgore the way it found him, as a larger than life figure.  The added comedy of him trying to get his surfboard back should have been left on the floor.

2) A scene where the crew meets some French holdouts at a decayed plantation in the jungle, where they bury their dead.  It doesn't really add anything and breaks the flow of the film.

3) A scene where the crew finds a largely abandoned river base where the Playboy bunnies they saw earlier are staying, and the bunnies are pimped out to them in exchange for some fuel.  It seems odd that the no-nonsense Willard (who is so mission oriented he kills off a wounded peasant so it wouldnt' slow him down to get her to help) would trade necessary fuel so the crew could get some quickie sex.  It just seemed unnecessarily unpleasant.

Of course, there's still another hour to go in this film, so there may be more new scenes that might or might not be a benefit to the film as a whole.  But the extra length itself--as well as that the extra scenes dont' do much to flesh out the characters or story--already makes me prefer the shorter, theatrical release.

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