apocalypse now redux(2001)
director: francis ford coppola
martin sheen, marlon brando, robert duvall

. It’s rare that a filmmaker gets a chance to make the same movie again. Until the moment it was released, there were people who thought Apocalypse Now, a troubled, over-budget, over-schedule production, should never have been made. Today, of course, it’s considered a classic, and likely the last really decent film Francis Ford Coppola ever made.

Apocalypse Now Redux, the expanded version of the already epic original film, is Coppola’s shot at making, 22 years later, the film he wanted to release. The original, he states today, was more like “a ‘normal’ war film”, a surprise for fans, like myself, who regard Apocalypse Now as probably the trippiest, most original war film ever made. In fact, there are schools of thought that insist it’s not really about war -- in any case only circumstantially about Vietnam -- but more of a meditation on the blasted state of the human soul near the end of a bloody, awful century.

The story should be familiar by now: Captain Willard, an army assassin, is sent upriver into Cambodia to kill Col. Kurtz, a military luminary who has gone insane in the midst of the war that no one could win. As Willard, Martin Sheen brilliantly plays a tightly-wound career soldier clearly at the end of a very frayed tether. As Kurtz, Marlon Brando gives a performance that famously teeters between monumental and sheer parody. 

It’s with the restoration of scenes like the mythical “French Plantation” sequence that Coppola’s claim of transcending the “normal” war film is made ridiculous. It’s a pause in the journey that allows Willard to be lectured on the history of the Vietnam conflict, as it slips in the obligatory, tamely erotic “love scene” that never ceases to seem absurd in war films. Mostly, it gives the europhilic Coppola a chance to indulge his love for French wine, cinema, cuisine, and that peculiarly attractive Gallic decadence. Far from making the film less conventional, it brings the whole doomed journey to earth with a skid.

Another “new” sequence, with the Playboy bunnies in a rain-sodden medical camp, does nothing for the film that the famed, hallucinogenic “Dho Long Bridge” scenes ("Who's in charge here, soldier?" "Ain't you?") didn’t do already. It feels dated, a nod to the druggy, incoherent mood of once “groundbreaking” films like Easy Rider.

The second time around, Coppola obviously felt a need to fashion an essay on the war in Indochina, years after the sad truth of that conflict has been absorbed. A new viewer, or an old fan returning to the film, will want to watch the new version for the same old reasons: to go on a wild and unsettling journey, pulled along by some of the most indelible images ever put on a movie screen.