Movie Name: Apocalypse Now
Studio: Zoetrope Studios
Release Date(s): August 15, 1979
MPAA Rating: R
Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) has been called in for a secret mission. He is to head up river and locate a rogue U.S. Special Forces agent named Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who has moved into Cambodia and allegedly had gone mad. With his crew, makes his way deep into the jungle, Willard finding increasing darkness, and madness along the way. From the craziness of the war to the darkness inside man, Willard will have to tap into this animal side to find the strength to complete the mission…but can he and Kurtz come back?
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now is a modernized version of the 1899 story Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Met with horrible production problems, Heart of Darkness was released to positive reviews, but since its release has been recognized as one of films of the period. The movie won the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and won Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Sound. It also received nominations for Best Picture (losing to Kramer Vs. Kramer), Best Supporting Actor for “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” Robert Duvall, Best Art Direction, Best Directing, Best Film Editing, and Best Writing. In an extended version of the film Apocalypse Now Redux released in 2001 reincorporated scenes that were cut from the original version due to its length.
Apocalypse Now is a great film that really grows on you. It is one of those movies that you can watch over and over again find new meaning and acting nuances that might have evaded you on the first viewing. It is also one of those influencial films that needs to be seen to understand other films. I had the opportunity to see it at the IMAX it was a very impressive experience with the whole theater booming and looming images…if you have the change I highly recommend seeing the great film this way.
Apocalypse Now’s greatness can be contributed to Conrad’s great story. Though the movie does modernize the story, and most of the events didn’t occur, many parallel events take place and the ideas remain the same. The original story had an Englishman headed up the river into the dark recesses of Africa, but the story about madness and crossing that threshold is still relevant.
When Apocalypse Now was made, the U.S. was still recovering from the pain it endured in Vietnam. The war brought out the worst in people and induced fear that many had never experienced. There was a lot of disorganization and chaos in a war that handed the U.S. its first major defeat. The movie catches that chaos perfectly and through it shows how a person can be driven mad by the situation.
It is amazing that Apocalypse Now even exists. The movie went way over budget and a war broke out during the filming, plus huge storms destroyed expensive sets. Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack, Coppola was having breakdowns, Dennis Hopper was constantly stoned, and Coppola had tons of problems with the movie’s “star” Marlon Brando…he showed up weighing a ton (hence the dark lighting) and demanding top billing.
The movie looks fantastic however. The explosion, the camera work, etc. all benefit from the non-CGI cinema that existed at the time. It looks and sounds great and new Blu-Ray transfers have really aided in a great look and amazing award winning sound.
While Apocalypse Now Redux does add a lot of story aspects, it feels a bit unnecessary. Yes, it develops the story more, but an already long movie becomes tediously long with scenes like the French plantation help develop aspects of Conrad’s vision. If you have a choice see the original first, then see the Apocalypse Now Redux…you’ll still probably like the first better.
Apocalypse Now is one of those monumental films that “changed” me and is probably in my top 10 films. It showed me that a simple story with some great visuals can really become an art. If you ever get a chance see the great 1991 documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse which chronicles the rough journey.
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