Francis Ford Coppola (director)
16 September 2019 (released)
18 September 2019
“I love the smell of napalm in the morning” – those iconic words uttered by psychopathic Lt. Colonel Kilgore in director Coppola’s equally iconic war film APOCALYPSE NOW have become movie legend. This epic, multi-award winning masterpiece celebrates its 40th anniversary and Studiocanal just released the movie in a brand-new 4K restoration, with an abundance of Special Features thrown in.
Loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella ‘Heart of Darkness’, both screenwriters John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola (who also directed) decided to change the book’s original action to the dirty Vietnam War, in this case set in 1969. In Saigon, an already severely traumatised US-Army Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is assigned by Generals Corman and Lucas (G.D. Spradlin and a young Harrison Ford respectively) to carry out a very special mission. So special in fact that the mission does officially not exist – nor will it ever exist: Willard’s task is to track down a mysterious Green Beret Colonel named Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando) whose make-shift army has crossed into Cambodia, carrying out executions and hit-and-run missions against the Viet Cong and the NVA. According to Corman and Lucas, Colonel Kurtz has lost the plot in more than just one way and needs to be eliminated at all costs! Willard joins the motley crew of a US Navy river patrol boat under command by ‘Chief Phillips’ (Albert Hall), and crewmen ‘Chef’ Hicks (Frederic Forrest), Lance (Sam Bottoms) and Tyrone ‘Clean’ Miller (a young Laurence Fishburne). A while later they meet up with trigger-happy Lt. Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall), a surfing enthusiast who initially belittles Lance but changes his tune after learning that Lance is in fact a famous Californian surfer dude. Eventually Kilgore agrees to escort the small river patrol boat through the Nung River, a Viet Cong held coastal stretch. Cue for the first set of atrocities when Kilgore orders his helicopter squadron to carry out a napalm strike on the local cadres.
As the tension and body count on both sides mercilessly mount, Willard fancies himself as the Commander of the patrol boat while Chief Phillips has other ideas as far as priorities are concerned. Willard is now in a bit of a pickle because ‘Chief’ demands to know why the boat should proceed going upriver in such dangerous circumstances but of course, Willard it bound to silence as far as his ‘secret’ mission is concerned. He only reveals vague bits and pieces to ‘Chief’ to persuade him enough to carry on with the journey. That same night they reach the American-held Do Lung Bridge outpost but cannot find their Commander. Just as Willard insists they carry on with their upriver boat journey an invisible enemy savagely attacks the bridge. The following day Willard finds out through a dispatch courier that another MACV-SOG op, Lt. Colby (Scott Glenn), had also been sent on a ‘secret mission’ to eliminate Kurtz but instead has joined Kurtz and his followers. While the other crew-members also read letters from home Lance accidentally activates a smoke grenade, prompting an attack by a camouflaged enemy during which Tyrone ‘Clean’ is killed. A little later, ‘Chief Phillips’ also meets his maker. Seemingly unfazed, Willard carries on with his mission and together with the remaining crew the patrol boat pushes further into dangerous territory. When Willard finally reveals his true mission to ‘Chef’ Hicks he is at first infuriated, however, he and Lance agree to accompany Willard. Finally arriving at Kurtz’s outpost, the crew of three are greeted by a manic US photojournalist (a seemingly stoned-out-of-his-head Dennis Hopper) who reckons that Kurtz is in fact some sort of genius. Willard soon discovers that Kurtz’s hideout is a morbid mix of ancient pagan temples and a death cult that proudly displays the severed heads of their victims. They also come across the defected Lt. Colby who has obviously been brainwashed and is by now almost completely apathetic. Back in the patrol boat, Willard tries to come up with a plan: he and Lance will return to Kurtz’ outpost while ‘Chef’ is supposed to guard the boat. In the case of Willard and Lance not returning, Chef has orders to call an airstrike on Kurtz’s followers and their compound. Things go awfully wrong, however, when Willard is captured and bound before being brought to Kurtz’s sinister dark temple hideout… while ‘Chef’ literally loses his head… After several days of torture, Willard is released and subjected to Kurtz’s ramblings about the theories of war, the human condition and civilization per se. As things stand, Kurtz’s ‘ramblings’ turn out to contain a lot of truth. In another iconic (and disturbing) scene, the indigenous people slaughter a water buffalo during a ceremony. Parallel to the scene, Willard enters Kurtz’ chamber and fatally wounds him with a machete. The dying Kurtz utters the words “The horror! The horror!” before he succumbs to his wounds. With a collection of Kurtz’s writings under his arm, Willard exits Kurtz’s chamber and the natives bow down before him as they now see him as their new ‘demi-god’. Unlike Lt. Colby though, Willard has no intentions on staying and together with Lance – the only other surviving member of the crew – the two men climb back onto the patrol boat and sail away.
And if all this sounds epic then this is in fact only the nutshell version! There is so much more going on and watching the film really makes you think about the madness of war and the havoc it creates – and how it turns humans into monsters and heroes alike. The action is perfectly complemented by The Doors song ‘This is the End’ also Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Walkyries’ – used to chilling effect during the napalm attack sequence. The performances are as intense as the script had called for, notably Sheen suffered a mental breakdown during filming which is hardly surprising considering the challenging conditions. Despite being in almost in every single scene, Sheen’s name only appears third in the credits, with Brando first billed even though he only appears towards the end – but of course, the performance is all the more powerful despite Brando arriving on set overweight and unprepared.
With 4 discs and a truly staggering amount of Special Features this cult war epic really makes for a breath-taking experience thanks to its glorious new 4K restoration.