40 years ago, Francis Ford Coppola released what is arguably his greatest film. Since its first screening at Cannes in 1979, Apocalypse Now has had a life seemingly reserved only for itself and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. That is a life coloured by the existence of numerous cuts, different endings and the existence of numerous pieces of footage captured over the infamously hellish production. Starting with the three-hour working cut initially screened at Cannes, leading to the original 153 minute theatrical cut, to the 202 minute ‘Redux’ and the existence of a bootleg 289-minute first assembly cut, Apocalypse Now has had a storied history with many a discussion surrounding just what is the definitive version of Coppola’s journey into the heart of darkness that is the Vietnam War.
Well, the man himself may have just provided an answer with the definitively titled Apocalypse Now Final Cut. Operating as an amalgamation of the theatrical cut and the ‘Redux’, with a few bits of extra footage thrown in for good measure (and clocking somewhere in between the two at 182 minutes), this ‘Final Cut’ also comes with the added bonus of a fresh lick of paint, courtesy of a 4K clean-up and a Dolby Atmos sound mix, which makes this an absolute must on the big screen.
From the opening beats of helicopter propellers merging with the ethereal notes of the opening of ‘The End’ by The Doors, you become instantly enveloped into the headspace of Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard. A man torn apart by the conflict of Vietnam, he is nonetheless given a mission of high priority. He is charged with travelling up river, deep into the dangerous jungles of Cambodia in order to take out the renegade Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a man who has deemed to have gone insane as a result of the war.
Apocalypse Now is a film that has gone far beyond its own constraints. It holds a unique status in the history of Hollywood cinema, both due to its quality and its storied production history. Often regarded as one of the best films ever made, there has been a fascination around it ever since its release, thanks to the reams of footage Coppola shot, and also for the infamous production history that saw the shoot become worthy of a film itself (check out the documentary ‘Hearts of Darkness’ if you never have). Therefore, any inclination of a new cut, let alone one overseen by Coppola himself, is more than enough to get any film fan watering at the mouth.
‘Final Cut’ offers a chance to see the film in what we imagine is as close as possible to the three-hour version that initially screened at Cannes. Re-inserting some of the encounter at the French Plantation from the ‘Redux’ that occurs up river just before heading deep into Cambodia, this cut seemingly takes notes from those that deem ‘Redux’ to be slightly too meandering. While the encounter with the French Plantation owners adds another layer to the film’s concern with the effect of Vietnam’s seemingly endless wartime history on the makeup of the country itself, there is no denying that it is an extra topping that you may not feel is as essential, if only because it feels so much more direct in its message than the rest of the otherwise rather abstract film.
But what truly makes this cut worth paying the ticket price for is the restoration. The colours of the film have never been more alive, particularly during the earlier sequences of Willard and his crew being led through the Nung’s coast. The sound alone is enough to convince those that truly love this film to go out and see it. The nightmarish qualities of the imagery and sound have never felt more vivid or more penetrating, pulling you deeper into Willard’s journey as we witness just how far the knife of conflict has been plunged into the belly of Vietnam and its surrounding countries.
While the argument certainly can be made that the extra footage that comes from the ‘Redux’ makes this journey up river a little more bloated than it needs to be, any chance to revisit this classic on the big screen should be taken, particularly when it looks and sounds as spectacular as this 4K clean-up does. It remains one of the greatest American films of all-time, and is the definitive Vietnam film text, one that is unafraid to explore the morally dubious actions of the American forces, as well as the corroding effect the war in Vietnam had not just on the men who fought it, but also on the country in which it was fought.
Dir: Francis Ford Coppola
Scr: Francis Ford Coppola & John Milius with narration by Michael Herr
Cast: Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne and Dennis Hopper
Prd: Francis Ford Coppola
DOP: Vittorio Storaro
Music: Carmine Coppola
Country: United States
Runtime: 182 minutes
Apocalypse Now Final Cut is in select cinemas from 13th August and out on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-Ray and DVD from August 26th.