Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

" I can safely say at this point that we are lost. "
— Heather Donahue, The Blair Witch Project

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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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By the grace of God, Francis Ford Coppola has decided to bring Apocalypse Now back to the big screen with an additional 49 minutes of footage. He pulls out all the stops by integrating an antiquated but beautiful printing process and including far more sex, political complexity, and general strangeness.

As if you need them, here’s ten damn good reasons to see the film, no matter how far you have to travel:

1. It’s Apocalypse Now - on the Big Screen

I don’t know about you, but I was too young when this film came out to see it in the theaters. Even on video, Apocalypse Now always struck me as this amazingly rich visual and sonic amalgam - begging to be seen and heard in its full glory. The opportunity to interact with this one face to big ol’ screen was a monumental moment and by far the best as a film critic.

2. The Colors

Part of what made the film so amazing in its original form was the use of color. As in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (on which the film was partially based), what makes the story engaging is the kind of confused thick air about the character. Coppola did an astounding job of translating that sense of the numinous onto celluloid.

In bringing Apocalypse Now back to the big screen Coppola and his staff have opted to use a long-forgotten dye transfer process that imbues the film with a certain ineffable glow. As the promo materials state, “the process is more like magazine printing or lithography in that it involves color separation: the primary colors-yellow, cyan and magenta-are on separate pieces of film. Each of these masters (or matrices) is then rubbed up against the film-creating a dye transfer.”

From the opening spots when agent orange ventures in and out of the palm trees to the infamous Wagner-fueled battle scenes, you can tell the difference in the best possible way.

3. Aurora Clemente

In Hearts of Darkness, the stunning documentary about the incredible production process of Apocalypse Now) Coppola’s wife Eleanor catches Francis Ford while filming the infamous French Plantation scene - a lengthy, telling sequence that results in Colonel Willard sleeping with a lovely and talented Aurora Clemente after smoking hash from a hookah. Coppola apparently hated the scenes at the time - but one of the blatantly maniacal moves he made while putting the flick together.

I was actually moved by Clemente’s scenes. The tangible sexuality reminded me a little bit of silent film goddess Louise Brooks, or a young Catherine Deneuve. Had the plantation scene made the film’s final cut, the actress’ career and American cinema would have been forever impacted. Her presence leaves an indelible mark on the work.

4. Reasons

Revisions aren’t always good. Lucas brought back the Star Wars Trilogy, integrating some digital scenes that were almost embarrassingly bad compared to the majesty of its original. Pumped as I was to see the films again, it would have worked far better to have simply replayed the originals. Not the case with Coppolla’s work. Both the reasoning for a renewal and the results are quite sound.

“More than 20 years later, I happened to see the picture on television. What struck me was that the original film-which had been seen as so demanding, strange and adventurous when it first came out-now seemed relatively tame, as though the audience had caught up to it. This, coupled with calls I received over the years from people who had seen the original 4-hour plus assembly, encouraged me to go back and try a new version.”

5. New Scenes

As mentioned earlier, the Redux includes forty-nine minutes of additional footage. Coppola includes a scene where Colonel Willard steals Kilgore’s surfboard, the aforementioned legendary plantation scene, a creepy, sexy, bizarre interlude involving the Playboy bunnies, and an additional scene where Kurtz puts his philosophy on a far more comprehensible tangent.

The extensions serve to give the film more of a long, strange trip kind of feel - adding an element of weird variety and contradictions, while bringing the conflicts of western culture more sharply into focus. Plenty more to say, but I wouldn’t want to ruin the film for ya.

6. Sound

To fulfill Coppola’s vision of a psycho-swirl of sound, Walter Murch basically invented the standard for film sound - Dolby 5.1. From the opening Doors introduction, to the infamous Wagner sequence, to surf scenes with confused, jumbled explosions -Murch’s sound is phenomenal. Unfortunately, the addition of new songs to accompany the additional pieces ends up sounding conspicuously inconsistent.

7. You Should Support This Kind of Thing

All respect to Jackie Chan and Angelina Jolie - but do you think anything they’re plodding through on the big screen can compete with the chocolate cheesecake of cinema? I think not. When audiences go to see good films, studios pay attention.

8. You Owe it to Yourself

When was the last time you spent three plus solid hours in the movie theater, buried in a tub of popcorn, nursing a cold soda and surrounded by an honest to goodness quality film? Bet it’s been a while.

9. Art

Francis Ford Coppola takes a screenplay about Vietnam, melds in a literary masterpiece about the Congo written by a genius author in his third language, takes years to finish the flick, loses a ton of weight, has his set sabotaged by a hurricane, gives Martin Sheen a heart attack, deals with a pompous, blubbery Marlon Brando, has to mortgage his house, deals with extras leaving with his helicopters because they have to go off and fight a war, and does a heapload of drugs so he can write all night long. Now that’s art.

10. Star Power

Martin Sheen at his finest, a young Laurence Fishburne, a young Harrison Ford, a hilarious Robert Duvall, a monstrous Marlon Brando, and a crazed Dennis Hopper. Most of these actors put in some of their finest performances and most of them were high the majority of the time.

So there’s ten reasons the see Apocalypse Now Redux. It lasts over three hours, so you might want to bring a catheter so you don’t miss anything. Over and out.