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Original versus Redux (see comments section for my "Redux" DVD review),
This review is from: Apocalypse Now (DVD)
I'm a hardcore Apocalypse Now fanatic, and this, the original version of the film, is what made me one, several years ago. Reviewers like to debate endlessly over which version is better, this or the Redux. Personally, I like both, but I find this original version to be more surreal, relentless, and, to quote another reviewer, more "dangerous." The fact is, Coppola used different shots and edits in the Redux, in some cases diluting the surreal impact of the original. Plus the characters Kilgore and Kurtz come off more strongly in the original; sure, we get to see more humanity from Kilgore in the Redux, but his exit in the original is much more memorable, much better than the "tossing megaphone into the air" antics as shown in the Redux. And Kurtz is a more powerful Evil One in the original version, not much more than a shadow.
What gets me is that, in the press releases that came out with Redux, Coppola claimed that he no longer considered the 1979 version of Apocalypse to be "unusual." He felt that, today, it comes off as a rather ordinary film. So he integrated an extra 50 minutes into the movie, to make it more unusual. The thing is, the Redux is, if anything, MORE normal than the original. After all, you get more character development, a romantic subplot, etc; all the things the unusual (and unique), original version lacked. The very lack of these things is what gives the original such a mysterious, dangerous edge. There is no levity in the original, no stealing of surfboards, no Playmates for the PBR crew. Only the dark jungle, and the mission.
If it's true that Coppola wanted to make the original version even more unusual, then I wonder why he chose to add the Plantation sequence and the Playboy Bunnies escapade. Having seen the Work Print, I know that there is a wealth of material Coppola could've used. Bizarre? Unusual? How about a scene in which Martin Sheen's Willard, trapped in a bamboo cage, writhes in pain as the montangnards (and Kurtz's American soldiers) dance and chant around him, as they sacrifice a pig? Or how about Willard, still in the cage, being questioned by Kurtz, who tells Willard that he's as weak as his "colleagues in Washington?" Or how about possibly the most bizarre scene of all: Dennis Hopper's Photojournalist being shotgunned to death by Scott Glenn's character Colby?
Coppola could have used any or all of these scenes to make a truly "unusual" film, one that would successfully create a darker film. If anything, the extra scenes in Redux lighten the film's mood. Coppola could have even improved on the end of the movie. That's one thing that's always bothered me about Apocalypse Now. Willard's hired to murder Kurtz; when he finally does, all he has to do is just walk into Kurtz's temple, take out one guard, and then get to hacking at Kurtz. It comes off as so easy, you wonder why the Army even bothered hiring Willard. This problem is solved in the Work Print, which features Willard taking on a host of guards, including one grisly scene in which he spears an American guard who cowers behind a young, Vietnamese boy. Now, if you ask me, that's more "unusual" than a bunch of French people arguing politics at the dinner table! But unfortunately, Coppola has chosen not to use these scenes, in either official version of the film.
I don't intend to mislead, though. I think the Redux is fine, a five-star movie. It expands on the broader themes of Apocalypse Now, but at the same time lessens the impact of the movie itself. After having watched the Redux a few times, I popped the original in for the first time in a few years. I was amazed at how the film seemed so different than the Redux, so much more psychedelic and surreal. Even the fades and images shown in the beginning and the end are different in the original, more disturbing. And that's the main difference between the two versions: the original is much more disturbing.
I'll finish with another quote, taken from the web. Which director do you think is better, the Francis Coppola of 1976/1979, or the Francis Coppola of 2001? Of these two very different directors, whose vision would you be more willing to trust?
1/27/09 update: Six years ago I also had a review for the "Redux" DVD here on Amazon. Somehow it's been removed from the site -- it seems Amazon has combined the reviews for the original Apocalypse Now DVD release with the reviews for the "Redux DVD" release. And since Amazon has a policy that a reviewer can only post one review per item, it appears that my "Redux" review got the boot. I've rescued it from oblivion via a Google cache search; please see the Comments section, below, for the review.
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Initial post: Oct 1, 2007, 6:54:24 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Apr 28, 2017, 5:38:38 AM PDT]
Posted on Mar 22, 2008, 5:54:20 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 22, 2008, 5:56:31 AM PDT
Marc Wilson says:
You're troubled by how easily Willard kills Kurtz in both "official" versions of the film. I just want to toss in the thought that the film becomes increasingly symbolic as it approaches the end. And the way I see it is that Kurtz is submitting willingly - more than that, he actively wills - his own demise. A telling detail is when the camera pans through Kurtz' room, showing us the book he's been reading: "The Golden Bough", a sociological/mythological work whose theme is the necessity in every culture of the sacrifice of its king.
More to the point, I think the subtext of Willard's and Kurtz' conversations is that Kurtz is sussing out whether Willard is worthy of being his killer. It's a long job interview. Because Kurtz intends to die, but believes it must happen in mystical accord with the law of the jungle. Unlike Colby, Kurtz sees in Willard a righteous agent of that task. --How else to explain the fact that Willard's boat crew isn't attacked or captured (except for Chef, of course, but again, his murder is used as a prod to Willard)? There is a certain inevitable, but definitely dreamlike, logic behind the whole thing. Anyway, that's what I see when I watch the movie.
In reply to an earlier post on May 11, 2008, 12:28:03 AM PDT
Joe Kenney says:
Marc, you're right of course...and the Golden Bough is a favorite of mine (particularly the re-edit released by Oxford in the mid-90s, edited by Robert Fraser). One of my favorite things about Apocalypse Now is how it descends into a dreamlike sort of fantasy toward the end. Willard's killing of Kurtz is the logical conclusion of this; something I failed to mention in the review I posted here, years ago. At the time I think my focus was more on what had been excised from the work print, with Willard making his way through a succession of guards, on his way to Kurtz. I wished at the time that some of that had remained in the released print(s).
Anyway, thanks (and thanks to D. Scott as well) for your comments!
Posted on May 26, 2008, 10:27:48 AM PDT
Whitley Weekyl says:
I think the original is better. None of the extra footage added to the movie, and, as you mentioned, some of the footage he could have used just might have added to it. Poor Coppola has grown dumber over the years, especially about his own movies; Robert Duvall said in an interview that Coppola was the only one who thought The Godfather Part III was as good as the first two. And he was going to make a fourth Godfather before Mario Puzo died. So, I don't completely trust the man today with re-editing his older and better movies. If I buy one, I think I'm buying the original.
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 3, 2008, 12:08:24 PM PDT
"Apocalypse Now" is my all-time favorite film. I went to the theater in late 2001 to see the Redux version and was quite disappointed. Everything you say is right on target concerning the differences of the two versions. I later bought the Redux version to see if I could warm up to it but never did. After about 5 years or so of only seeing Redux I finally viewed the original and, like you, was struck with how different and BETTER it is compared to Redux.
Very little of the extra footage adds positively to the film. What I don't get is why didn't Coppola simply put this extra footage on the 'deleted scenes' section of the dvd rather than mar a masterpiece (i.e. create a Frankenstein)?
Also, a compliment to Marc Wilson and his exceptionally worded comment. It's obvious in the film that Kurtz wanted to die and wanted to find someone not only worthy of delivering his words to his son but also worthy of slaying him. When he says, "the horror, the horror" I believe he's talking about the horror of life itself in a world gone mad. He didn't want anymore and death was the only way out (as far as he could see, that is). I appreciate Marc's relating Kurtz' interrogation to a long job interview. I never looked at it that way before. Great insights!
Posted on Jan 27, 2009, 1:06:05 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 29, 2009, 3:18:22 PM PST
Joe Kenney says:
Originally I had a separate review here on Amazon for the Apocalypse Now Redux DVD -- but it seems Amazon in the ensuing years has conflated the reviews for each DVD. As you'll note, the review above is actually for the "original" Apocalypse Now DVD, NOT for the "Redux" DVD. In other words, my "Redux" review got lost in the process. Since Amazon has a policy (one of many, it seems) that you can only post one review per item, I'll have to post my original "Redux" review here.
My "Redux" DVD review:
(Five stars) The Original version, the Redux, and the Rough Cut, April 18 2003
By Joe Kenney "buttergun"
Apocalypse Now is a movie I've been obsessed with since I first saw it in the late '80s. That a movie could be so chilling, epic, and poetic nearly overwhelmed me upon my first viewing, and forever changed what I looked for in a film. So then, around 1999 or so, I jumped at the chance to get a copy of the never-released, underground work print of the film; the 5 -hour "Rough Cut" that Coppola used to edit together the film we now know.
Seeing the Rough Cut, which of course was of sub par audio and visual quality, I was amazed at the level of work it must have taken Coppola and his editors to piece together the movie. When I read that a Redux version was coming out a few years later, I was eager to see what scenes Coppola would place back into the film. I was upset to see that he included many I had found unnecessary, and had still not included those I found memorable.
For example, everyone complains about the French Plantation sequence. And rightly so. What was an effective scene in Milius's script is here a tedious and preachy argument about politics, from a group of people who can barely speak English. Sheen's character Willard watches them in speechless boredom, as do we the viewer. The entire Plantation scene could have easily remained on the cutting room floor, or at least cut down a bit. I only wonder how the Coppola of '76, who is heard to yell "Forget it ever happened!" when referring to the Plantation scene in the excellent documentary "Hearts of Darkness," could change his mind entirely decades later.
The Playboy Bunny sequence likewise harms the flow of the film, but less so. But it isn't the Bunnies who make this scene memorable, anyway. It's the soldiers who populate this blasted way-station; they're as burnt out as those we encounter later at the Do Lung Bridge. The hammering rain goes far in giving a sense of the apocalyptic environment Willard et al have found themselves in; the cackling soldiers they encounter, who seem to be beyond any "normal" insanity, only add to the chaos. And where some might decry the pretentious dialog the Bunnies exchange with the PBR crew, I've always found these scenes to be just as bizarre as any other in the film, such as Chef's girl talking ad infinitum about her exotic birds, or the corpse locked in a freezer beneath Lance and his Bunny.
But let's discuss what Coppola still has not inserted into the film. Possibly my favorite deleted sequence in the entire Rough Cut: the death of the Photojournalist, aka Dennis Hopper. In both the original and Redux versions, Hopper is last seen after Marlon Brando's Kurtz throws a book at him, and calls him a "mutt." Hopper says "I'm splitting," and he does. However, in the Rough Cut, he comes back, in a scene directly after this.
It starts off with Willard roaming around the camp. He's guarded by Colby (Scott Glenn), the soldier who preceded him here, but instead chose to join Kurtz. Standing in a small stream littered with corpses, Willard looks up, to see Hopper's Photojournalist, who's sneaking around above. The Photog reveals that he's taken yet another photo of Kurtz, and this time for sure Kurtz is going to have him killed for it. And he does. Colby stalks up behind the Photog, and pumps three blasts into him with his shotgun. Hopper screams horribly after each shot, in one of the more bizarre sequences in the movie (which is saying something!).
Acting fast, Willard pries a knife from one of the corpses at his feet. He throws it up at Colby, and it embeds itself within his chest. In an almost Simpsons-esque moment, Colby looks down at the knife and mutely exclaims, "Special Forces knife." Then he falls to Willard's feet, and proceeds to ask him to tell his (Colby's) wife everything Willard has seen here (a line from the script, originally meant for Kurtz). Colby finishes this off by demanding that Willard kill Kurtz, then he dies. Willard runs off into the jungle, and directly after this we have his nighttime murder raid on Kurtz.
This scene is important for two reasons. One, it explains why Willard was able to free himself, in order to complete his mission. And two, it adds depth to the character of Colby, who only has one scene in the original and Redux versions. Colby is an important character, because he's the only American Kurtz loyalist we get to meet in the film, an example of the type of US soldier who would chose to join Kurtz's mad army.
Long-winded observations aside, the fact remains that Apocalypse Now is a moviemaking milestone, and certainly one of the best films ever made. The Redux version does nothing to harm this image. Instead, it only serves to add to the myth and the majesty of the spectacle. Whereas some already felt the original version was too long and overwhelming, now the Redux is a total blast to the mind, and is a perfect companion piece to the original release. The only thing that bothers me is the DVD itself. Talk about bare boned.
Perhaps a Deluxe Edition of the DVD will be released, which could include Commentary, production notes, and maybe even the long out-of-print "Hearts of Darkness," which is required viewing for anyone interested in the film itself. Better yet, perhaps this fantasy Deluxe release could include a Deleted Scenes featurette, which would include the scenes I've mentioned above, as well as others in the Rough Cut that I haven't (such as the revelation that Willard shares his bed with a prostitute in the opening moments of the movie, or more action in the climax, as Willard takes out more guards). I can only wait for the day.
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 30, 2009, 9:15:17 AM PST
Great thinking and delivery. Those thoughts were v. interesting to me and will direct my purchase accordingly. Best, Julie Farrar-Hamann
Posted on Feb 18, 2009, 1:36:30 AM PST
James L. Dickinson says:
REDUX 4 STARS (Original is a 5) - Good stuff on both your reviews and I sure wish I could see that working cut of the film. I saw the original when it was fresh in the theaters with my oldest pal and we both were a bit stoned on some green mother earth before the show which made for an interesting experience. We left the the movie theater that day back in 1979 with our minds blown. I have watched this movie at least 10 or more times over the years and never tire of it. I bought it on VHS then DVD and the DVD Redux and finally the Complete Dossier (I wish I had saw Redux in the theater in 2001). The redux is for hard core Coppola fans and for sure is not better then the original. I did enjoy the new scenes but after the first few viewings I kind of head for the kitchen for a snack. Anyway, great reviews and I will watch the original again after seeing the Redux again tonight. RIP Marlon Brando & Sam Bottoms.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2009, 7:00:38 PM PDT
You're absolutely in line with my reactions when I first saw the film. Kurtz is waiting (and wanting) to die. I think the" dreamlike logic" is more apparent ( and better played) in the original version. Michael Herr, who wrote Willard's narration, said that when you read the outline for "Il Travatorre", you do a spit take and laugh out loud. When you watch the opera you're transported and "Apocalypse" is operatic in nature. I think "Redux" is overthought, more linear and less effective. As a viewer who was transported by the original release in an empty huge screened theater back in Calumet City, I'm grateful for any additional sequences or outakes from a purely personal perspective. But to beat an old hackneyed cliche to death, when it comes to which version is more haunting, which version burns into your interior vision, which version is better - Less is more.
Posted on May 13, 2009, 2:23:03 PM PDT
This review, and the comments related to it, are absolutely amazing in how it encapsulates the experience of watching this movie.