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Apocalypse Now

Francis Coppola’s Vietnam epic receives a welcome re-release in a spanking new print which does full justice to its breathtaking technical qualities and provides an opportunity to reassess one of the key films of the ’70s.

Apocalypse Now is the testament film of America’s Movie Brat generation. It’s the film with which Coppola, the generation’s guru, sought graduation from brat to mogul, demonstrating that he could become more Hollywood than Hollywood, while at the same time doing something equally radical, equally grandiose, on an artistic level.
The film’s beginning was Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, and a script by John Milius which updated its account of dark colonialist adventure. Now Kurtz, the rogue white man who has established a satanic kingdom in the jungle, has become a maverick Green Beret colonel (Marlon Brando), conducting a brilliant but brutal war in Cambodia. Another army man, Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) is sent to find Kurtz and kill him.

Coppola wanted to produce ‘a film experience that would give its audience a sense of the horror, the madness, the sensuousness, and the moral dilemma of the Vietnam war.’ Willard’s journey upriver certainly fulfils this ambition, through such brilliant set-pieces as the ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ helicopter attack on a Vietnamese village, the drug-laced sun ‘n’ surf ambience Willard’s small squad takes with them, and a Playboy Bunny show staged by airlift in the middle of the jungle. Given its troubled production (see Hearts of Darkness), it’s extraordinary that Apocalypse Now should have emerged not only as a coherent work but also a commercial success that would lead Coppola to continue his dream of operating a studio (Zoetrope) to rival the old Hollywood.

U.S.A., 1979.
150 mins.

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