APOCALYPSE NOW: FINAL CUT – A BEAUTIFUL NIGHTMARE

I love the smell of Salty Popcorn in the morning. With The Ride of The Valkyries playing in my head as I write this intro piece, I’m pleased to present you the latest Vaulty Popcorn review for your home-streaming pleasure. Long lauded as one of the greatest films ever made, we were strict on Kernel Sam when he requested to review this classic for our Grange Range. He took his time, did his research, patiently submitted a re-write and here we are. The Kernels are slightly agast that I’ve been allowed to retain my Cinema Critics Card without seeing this cinematic classic and after reading Kernel Sam’s review, I think my Saturday isolation plans are sorted! Enjoy Kernel Sam’s review. He worked really hard on this one and it shows. Kudos Sam. We asked for a review and for his sins he gave us one.

APOCALYPSE NOW: FINAL CUT is rated MA. It runs for 182mins and is released by the grunts at Studiocanal. It’s available for home streaming and home entertainment.
– Kernel Claire

We Will Fight Them On The Beaches…

BY SAM PHILLIPS

SYNOPSIS:

It’s the height of the Vietnam War. Captain Benjamin Willard is sent on a mission into the jungle to assassinate Colonel Walter Kurtz, a renowned war veteran. Driven to madness by the ongoing carnage in South Asia, Kurtz has started a cult in the Cambodia Jungle. Willard, along with four other men, are required to travel down a never-ending river, facing the dangers of the war. Eventually the men are driven to madness, forced to not only fight the enemy, but themselves as well.

IN PREPARATION:

In a little over two weeks, I’ve watched this film three times in preparation for this review. I first experienced the REDUX version. It left me slightly anxious about my upcoming review, as this version had some incredible pacing issues. It became tedious several times throughout my viewing experience. I then watched the original theatrical release, which also left me slightly disappointed. Many of the aspects that I had enjoyed from the Redux edition had been cut for a shorter runtime.

So, I took a break from watching APOCALYPSE NOW, instead watching the documentary HEARTS OF DARKNESS – A FILMMAKER’S APOCALYPSE. This film was about the making of APOCALYPSE NOW and I had a great experience with it. I enjoyed it more than either of the versions I had watched previously. After seeing the documentary, I knew I had to watch APOCALYPSE NOW one last time. Coincidentally, there was only one official version of the film I was yet to see, FINAL CUT. FINAL CUT was released last year, and once I finished it, I knew I was prepared to write this review. APOCALYPSE NOW: FINAL CUT is easily the best version of the film and is the version I’ll write about. So, buckle up, and never leave the boat, it’s going to be a long review.

Martin Dream…Err…I Mean Sheen…in Apocalypse Now

AN APOCALYPTIC PRE-PRODUCTION:

APOCALYPSE NOW has some of the most interesting behind the scenes information of all time. I spent over an hour just reading trivia for the film on IMDb. A good place to start is back in 1939 with director Orson Welles (CITIZEN KANE, F FOR FAKE). Orson Welles was originally set on making an adaptation of the book HEART OF DARKNESS his first film. After presenting the 174-page script to RKO, it was turned down due to worries it would be too expensive. Instead Orson Welles created CITIZEN KANE. After this we cut forward to the early 70’s. A script by John Millus (CONAN THE BARBARIAN, JEREMIAH JOHNSON) has just been completed. George Lucas (STAR WARS, THX 1138) is set to direct. Francis Ford Coppola (THE GODFATHER, THE CONVERSATION) is working as a producer. In the end, the deal falls through and APOCALYPSE NOW is delayed once more. 

Fast forward a few years, both Lucas and Coppola are powerful names in Hollywood. APOCALYPSE NOW is a possibility again. Unfortunately, Lucas is currently working on STAR WARS, and allows Coppola to direct in his place. So, it’s 1975 and Coppola has one of the most harrowing scripts in his hands. So, he gets to work casting. The role of Willard was offered to several famous actors. Clint Eastwood (UNFORGIVEN, GRAN TORINO) was offered the role, as well as Al Pacino (SCARFACE, THE GODFATHER PT 2). Eventually Harvey Keitel (RESERVOIR DOGS, BAD LIEUTENANT) got the job. Coppola also had his eyes on Marlon Brando (ON THE WATERFRONT, LAST TANGO IN PARIS). Brando had recently come off the success of Vito Corleone in THE GODFATHER. He agreed to play Kurtz in the film if he was given one million dollars in advance payment. All was said and done, and APOCALYPSE NOW began filming.

Sheen enjoys a refreshing mud-mask-treatment in Apocalypse Now

THE PHILIPPINES JUNGLE:

Originally planned to be a six-week shoot, APOCALYPSE NOW ended up taking sixteen months to film. Over two hundred hours of film was shot in total. Many of the factors that resulted in this were related to the unreliability of the Philippines government. Ten percent of the 230 hours of footage was shot during the ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ scene. Several times throughout the filming of the scene, the Philippines government took helicopters from set. Sending them to fight in the war raging in the country. This resulted in thousands of dollars of destruction that had to be fixed every day. Every new day of filming, the helicopter pilots were replaced. Coppola had to provide the new pilots their directions afresh. Over one million dollars was spent on this scene alone, a lot of it being cut from the film.

Two weeks into the filming of APOCALYPSE NOW, Coppola finally told Keitel that he wasn’t right for the role. He replaced Keitel with Martin Sheen (THE DEPARTED, BADLANDS). Sheen now had the pressure of being the lead actor in a Francis Ford Coppola film. This title was shared by Gene Hackman and Al Pacino, who were, and still are, critically acclaimed actors. At the time Sheen was a severe alcoholic. Half-way through the production of the film, he suffered a heart attack at only thirty-six years of age. This led to large delays in the film, many scenes had to be filmed with Sheen’s brother taking his place. One of the most iconic parts in the film wasn’t even in the original script. This was just Coppola filming Sheen in a drunken rage. This became the infamous mental breakdown scene and is one of the best scenes in the movie.

Apocalypse Now – All In

WAS IT ALL WORTH IT?

Yes it was. APOCALYPSE NOW is one of the greatest films of all time. Even if I don’t personally consider it to be perfect, many people do. APOCALYPSE NOW has impacted many people’s lives. It was one of the most interesting viewing experiences I’ve had so far. Going into the movie, I had very high expectations. I heard many people call it the best film of all time. So, sitting down to turn the film on was a somewhat thrilling experience. I had been avoiding the movie for many years, so finally watching it was a very intense moment. Was I going to love it as much as everyone else? Was it going to be as good as THE GODFATHER movies? Was I even going to give it four pops? No, I was going to give it an even higher score.

I rate films by both my personal experience and the film’s technical aspects. It needs to be perfect in both ways for a film to be a 5 out of 5. APOCALYPSE NOW is as close to perfect in a technical way as a film can get. Something I noticed whilst watching this film for the first time was the absolutely masterful sound editing and mixing. For a film released in 1979, it has the most impressive sound out of any film I have watched. This is especially notable in any scene that features helicopters. They have such incredible sound design that I thought that they used real audio from the scenes without changing anything. However, most of the helicopter sounds in the movie were created using synthesisers, which just makes it more impressive.

“That” Music Is Playing In Your Head Right Now, Isn’t It?

THE RIDE OF THE VALKYRIES:

Easily the best scene in the film, is the Ride of the Valkyries scene. It is the best example for what this film gets so incredibly right. For starters, it has that fantastic sound design which is at its peak here. Outside of this it also has the incredible editing that APOCALYPSE NOW is known for. Perfectly timed cuts and music which creates for truly awe-inspiring visuals. Robert Duvall (THE GODFATHER, THE APOSTLE) is heavily featured in the scene. He was nominated for his performance despite only having eleven minutes of screen time in the original cut. He plays Kilgore, who is easily the best character in the film. Kilgore delivers the film’s most iconic line ‘I love the smell of Napalm in the morning’. This leads into another aspect of the film that is so great, the writing. This is one of the best scripts ever.

As Coppola said, ‘The movie isn’t about Vietnam, it is Vietnam’, which is a statement I whole-heartily agree with. Despite sounding a tad pretentious when first heard, the writing in the film feels real. The Vietnam War was hell for every person in it, and that fact is perfectly represented in the movie. Cinematography is also another key aspect of why this film is so great. Many iconic shots like ‘The Horror’ and helicopters flying to the sound of ‘The End’ coming from this film. The scene is also tied to another fantastic aspect of this movie. The Ride of the Valkyries scene is also the reason I like the Final Cut more than the theatrical. A large portion of Robert Duvall’s scenes were cut from the film for a shorter runtime. This aspect is sorely missed from the film.

Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now – Dragonfly Uncredited.

IT ISN’T PERFECT:

As much as I love APOCALYPSE NOW, there are some flaws that are important to address. This mostly relates to the ending of the film, and Marlon Brando’s performance. It isn’t the worst performance in the film, that title going to Dennis Hopper’s (BLUE VELVET, WATERWORLD) photographer character. However, it is certainly the most disappointing. It’s obvious that Brando was not at all invested in playing the character of Kurtz. He didn’t even read HEART OF DARKNESS when he was specifically requested to. 

Brando also had become extremely overweight before filming had begun. Brando refused to let this be acknowledged in APOCALYPSE NOW. This meant Coppola had to shoot many of his scenes in the dark. Brando gives a downright mediocre performance in the film. This is incredibly disappointing as he is considered one of the best actors of all time. Brando takes away a lot from those final scenes in the film. He is solely responsible for why I don’t give this film a perfect rating.

Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now

IN CONCLUSION:

APOCALYPSE NOW earned the title of one of the greatest films of all time. Despite the fact it’s not personally one of my favourite films, it certainly is a masterpiece. The sixteen months Coppola put into APOCALYPSE NOW definitely paid off. With perfect sound, music, editing, directing, writing, cinematography and set design, the movie has stood the test of time. Even if Brando didn’t give it his all, I love APOCALYPSE NOW. It still holds up as one of the most important films ever made.

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YOUR CRITIC:

Kernel Sam is both the youngest and newest member of Salty Popcorn. He spends every spare moment he can watching films. When he is not watching them he is talking about them. See more film discussions on his Instagram @sam_talks_movies or on his Youtube, Sam Talks Movies

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.