francis coppola is still tinker-ing with Apocalypse Now 22 years after the fact. His "director's cut," almost an hour longer than the original, now fulfills his vision. But Coppola's "vision" actually comes from John Milius's script, an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness transposed from the ivory trade in turn-of-the-century Africa to the Vietnam War. The plan for Apocalypse Now was that it would be a low-budget film directed by George Lucas, then fresh from his success with American Graffiti.
The first Apocalypse Now was an awesome spectacle with severe third-act problems. I saw it half a dozen times during its initial release. After the third viewing, I started leaving the theatre when Dennis Hopper shows up as a brain-fried photojournalist who's attached himself to Marlon Brando's Kurtz.
The new version is 49 minutes longer than the original, with most of the added footage concentrated in two scenes: an encounter between the crew of Willard's boat and the Playboy centrefolds who've been marooned by lack of fuel, and a 25-minute scene at a French plantation that the owners refuse to abandon.
The good news is that the good stuff is all still there, more or less intact: Robert Duvall and the Air Cavalry attack to Wagner, Frederic Forrest's great performance as Chef, the nightmare sequence at Do Lung Bridge.
The bad news is that the expanded version doesn't improve on the original. The third-act problems are unresolved, and it turns out that the added scenes were cut for a reason -- they stop the film dead in its tracks. For what it's worth, John Milius, in an interview in the July 30 L.A. Times, available at www.latimes.com, agrees with me.
In interviews, Coppola talks about the excised scenes' philosophical importance to the film. He says he bowed to what he thought contemporary audiences would stand for back in 1979, which means that he thought they wouldn't sit still for long, meandering scenes loaded with "philosophy."
Well, Coppola isn't a philosopher. He's a talented director of actors with a great feel for grandiose spectacle. When those skills are applied to the right material, it works -- but most of the core theme material of the Godfather films comes straight out of Mario Puzo's novel. Coppola ain't Kierkegaard, whatever the lapdog press at the Cannes festival -- whose reviews read as if they were dictated by the director -- might think.
Coppola has said that when the longer version is released, the original will be allowed to go out of print, to be superseded by the new one as the official version.
So hang onto your DVDs and cassettes of the original.
Apocalypse Now Redux directed by Francis Ford Coppola, written by John Milius and Coppola from the novel Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, produced by Kim Aubry and Coppola, with Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Frederic Forrest. 202 minutes. An American Zoetrope production. A Paramount release. Opens Friday (August 10). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 65. Rating: NNN