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IN SHORT: Not the original. Redux is a different movie experience. [Rated R for disturbing violent images, language, sexual content and some drug use. 197 minutes]
Anybody remember the one war which most Americans past a certain age remember as a living nightmare? Men of Cranky's age (45) spent all of their high school years fearing that the monstrosity of Vietnam would never end (we missed it by less than a year). Vets who did their duty came back to find themselves, sometimes, despised in the communities they had left "to defend from the encroaching villainy of Communism". It is a war we lost because it is a war we didn't try to win or it was a war we never should have been involved with in the first place -- pick a side, there were many to choose from in the protests of the time. The Vietnam War, like the Eveready Bunny, kept on going and going and going. . .
Kind of like Apocalypse Now Redux, the new, from scratch, edit of Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 classic Apocalypse Now. When the original opened, it was so hard to get a ticket to its initial run at New York's Ziegfeld theater that bootleggers had a field day. We were doing film and radio sound work at the time. The opening sequence, sound-wise, was brilliant. Apocalypse Now, the movie, was worth every penny of the ten bucks I paid for the five dollar ticket.
The 1979 edit began with a black screen and a whup whup whup sound moving back and forth over our heads; left to right and front to back for what seemed to be at least thirty seconds, in the dark. Then the screen came to life and The Doors' "The End" started to play and the rest was history. The whup whup whup of what turned out to be a helicopter on a napalm run became the sound of a ceiling fan in a small Saigon hotel. Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) lies in a rumpled bead in that disheveled room, staring up at the fan, waiting for the first assignment of his second tour of duty.
Twenty years later Francis Ford Coppola and his editor Walter Murch went back into the vaults and did something unusual. They didn't grab the scenes they liked that didn't make the original cut and stick 'em back in for a so-called "director's cut". They recut the entire film. If, like a lot of other reviewers, we were to go back and watch the original and write up a comparison, we'd be bitching about how the opening scene has been mangled beyond all of its beauty -- and we'd be talking like a sound man and you wouldn't care. So, one last point, and we'll leave the original in the past. In 1979, the war in Vietnam was still an open, festering wound for this country. Apocalypse Now was a remarkable film in that it provided enough material to support any side of any argument about our participation in the war.
More to the point, Redux is significantly not the same film as the original. The additional material contributes layers and layers of moral ambiguity and questions to the journey of a boatload of soldiers into the "heart of darkness" that was the compound of rogue Special Forces Officer Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Willard follows orders. Kurtz has crossed the border into Cambodia and set himself up as godlike lord of is own community of natives. Convinced that the war is being fought with no intent to win, Kurtz' "troops" uncover and document the activities of a quartet of South Vietnamese government officials who are double agents for the north. His findings ignored by official channels, Kurtz has the four terminated. Things improve greatly in the war zone, and the well fed officers with stars on their collars are not pleased.
Willard gets his assignment from an uncomfortably tight lipped pair of superiors. One a South Vietnamese government official. One a General. All the specifics are given by a very young Harrison Ford. Willard is assigned to a navy patrol boat whose crew will take him up the river -- they have no idea what their destination is -- and he is to track Kurtz' trail and, when he finds the officer, "terminate with extreme prejudice." Kurtz' ability to warp the mind is such that Willard is told that he is not the first man to be given the assignment. The previous officer that went up the river joined the rogue army.
Inspired by Joseph Conrad's novel "The Heart of Darkness," Apocalypse Now Redux is a journey into the depths of "darkness" or depravity that can affect soldiers under the pressures of war. As Willard and his team move farther in to North Vietnam -- ultimately they will make an illegal incursion into Cambodia -- they are confronted not only with what remains left behind by Kurtz' actions, but by remnants of colonial actions that had come before and those in place "right now". In the middle of a war for men raised on John Wayne flicks of hardship and C rations, the food is hot, the entertainment consists of Bunnies flown in from the Playboy Mansion in Chicago. It is as much a madhouse on the "good" side of the war as it is said to be on Kurtz' "bad" side. Though Dennis Hopper is waiting on the other side, as a non-combatant photographer who has embraced Kurtz' vision as something akin to a head trip.
Redux is not so much about a mission to murder a "renegade" as it is a meditation upon how Vietnam, as an entity, is an intractable foe who always manages to win. Thank the two "new" sequences for this. On the voyage upriver, our soldiers come across the ruins of a French plantation, still occupied by its owners. Vietnam has let them think they have won their battle to dominate the land. They will always be winners as long as they stay. Thus, they never leave and Vietnam wins. For the Playboy Bunnies, the second time we see them their chopper has gone down. A trio of miserable women bare their souls to our GIs as a storm threatens and they can't get off the grounds of a ruined military base.
And it all, simply, comes down to this. With 53 additional minutes, Apocalypse Now Redux is, indeed, the definition of epic storytelling. It is still deep in story; offers up many points for philosophical discussion; is a visual feast and, to some, an emotionally affecting piece of work. But if you served in 'Nam, sitting through the additional minutes is damned near impossible. The new focus of the film, at least the way it struck us, makes the earlier film superior if only because the hell that was Vietnam was fresh. We can't speak for how you feel about it now. We can only speak for the fact that this was very difficult to take in one sitting.
If you can, and if this is your first exposure to Apocalypse Now in any form, then we'd hazard the guess that it's still better than butter on toast.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Apocalypse Now Redux, he would have paid . . .
That's the highest we'll go for a movie that should be seen on the big screen, despite any and all reasons to the contrary (ie. to wait for the luxury of tape, a comfortable couch and liberal use of the pause button).
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