Now, as Then, Size Shouldn't Matter

Forget about its length. For the love of God, forget about its length.

Apocalypse Now Redux, the newly restored and re-edited version of Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 Vietnam War film, clocks in officially at 197 minutes. For many of you, the fact that this epic extends past two and a half hours--let alone (gasp!) three hours--is reason enough to not see it.

I urge you--in fact, I implore you--to ignore its length and experience an American classic in its full glory. Take a night where you don't have much work, aren't in the mood to party or for the first time in a long time simply want to squeeze every penny out of your seven dollars.

Apocalypse is a classic in every sense of the word. Its visual scope is enormous and captivating (it's Vietnam, after all), the story and themes are vigorously intense (it's based on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness) and the acting is first-rate (Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper headline).

The film is an odyssey of sorts. We follow Sheen's Captain Willard as he travels up a river in Vietnam toward Cambodia. He is on a mission to find and "terminate with extreme prejudice" Brando's insane Colonel Kurtz, who has taken the war into his own hands and set up a renegade base among the locals.

Kurtz is one of America's greatest soldiers, but he does his job too well, adhering to strange killing methods and combatting the Army's status quo. Willard must travel up-river with a crew of young, terrified soldiers--including a 17-year-old Larry Fishburne (Mr. Clean), who is brilliant even as a teenager--to kill Kurtz, one of his own.

Willard and Co.'s adventure is interestingly the antithesis of Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, in which the mission is to find and save--not kill--the allied soldier. But the differences run deeper than plotlines. While Ryan projects itself as an anti-war film by showing intensely graphic and realistic violence, a potent "Americans are good and Nazis are evil" message underlies the production. Apocalypse is an anti-war film straight to the bone. Coppola stresses the insanity of America's involvement in Vietnam and the inherent horrors of war.

For those who have seen the original, 49 minutes of new material have been added, including a deeper look at the camaraderie of the crew after stealing Colonel Kilgore's (Duvall) surfboard, an added sequence with Willard on a French-controlled plantation and an encounter between the men on the boat and the Playboy bunnies that appear only fleetingly in the original.

Some have argued that these extra scenes make the film drag on. Indeed, the 30 minutes or so on the plantation and with the Playboy bunnies are the slowest moving. But a Vietnam War movie with neither mention of the French nor soldiers' yearning for their stateside lives would be incomplete.

While Coppola often receives credit as the auteur of Apocalypse, special mention must also go to his visual collaborators--cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, production designer Dean Tavoularis and the film's four editors. Apocalypse is simply gorgeous to look at. The shadows of the jungle, the rich colors of the landscape and the constant dissolves make us yearn for the days when films actually had style.

Despite its length, this is the way Apocalypse Now was meant to be seen.


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