- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2001

Strictly speaking, this week's haunted-house movie is Alejandro Amenabar's "The Others." However, a legendary haunted hulk from the late 1970s has chosen this season for a return engagement. It has a new title of sorts with a Latinized gloss, "Apocalypse Now Redux."
Francis Ford Coppola's portentously misbegotten allegorical epic about a guilt-trip military mission from Saigon to a remote, barbaric river outpost during the Vietnam War was titled merely "Apocalypse Now" when begun in 1975 and released in 1979. It derived from Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," an account of terminal colonial depravity encountered at the end of a voyage into the Belgian Congo.
The chief selling point of this revival is that Mr. Coppola has restored about 50 minutes of footage sacrificed from the original release, bringing the running time to 197 minutes.
The "Redux" edition should look better than it does, although that wasn't decisively evident in the screening print. Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro has been able to take advantage of the dye-transfer process recently revived by Technicolor, which had suspended it for a couple of decades. Ironically, the last major movie that took advantage of this vintage color-printing technology before its retirement was "The Godfather Part II," the Coppola feature that preceded "Apocalypse Now."
"When I went to oversee the color timing on the new version, I almost cried, it was so beautiful," he says. "The dye-transfer process allowed us to recoup so much more color as well as light and darkness from the original negative."
Those too young to have followed the extended, disaster-prone buildup to the original film release missed quite a pop-culture spectacle — a far more entertaining spectacle than "Apocalypse Now" or "Redux." Three texts will fill you in on this: the biography "On the Edge," by Michael Goodwin and Naomi Wise, who deal with the "Apocalypse" saga in Chapters 12 and 13; "Notes," the behind-the-scenes journal of Eleanor Coppola, the filmmaker's wife, who had to forgive quite a lot while her spouse was playing both tormented cinematic genius and adulterous deceiver; and the overtitled but indispensable 1991 documentary chronicle "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse," which recalls the storm-tossed production in the Philippines with admirable discernment, using some of the anecdotal footage shot by Mrs. Coppola.
"Redux" arrives as an art-house restoration classic rather than a new movie expected to make a considerable splash. It also arrives near the end of a summer season in which nothing remotely prestigious has emerged from the major studios. The timing could be ideal for overrating "Redux."
In a "director's statement" calculated to encourage such an outlook, Mr. Coppola says: "This time we weren't working out of anxiety, so we were able to think more about what the themes were, especially about issues related to morality in war. I feel any artist making a film about war by necessity will make an 'anti-war' film. My film is more of an 'anti-lie' film in that the fact that a culture can lie about what's really going on in warfare is what horrifies me and perpetuates the possibility of war.
"This new, complete and definitive version extends this idea to all young people, boys and girls, who are sent out to function in an established immoral world expected to function in a moral way. Ultimately, my aim was to achieve a richer, fuller and more textured film experience that lets audiences feel what Vietnam was like: the immediacy, the insanity, the exhilaration, the horror, the sensuousness and the moral dilemma of America's most surreal and nightmarish war."
Sooner or later, one must confront "Apocalypse Now," the movie, and it continues to present insurmountable obstacles to coherence and admiration. At the time, it seemed the most unwieldy, hot-air prestige vehicle since Bernardo Bertolucci's "1900."
When shooting began in March 1976, Mr. Coppola could draw on the back-to-back luster of "The Conversation" and "The Godfather Part II" in 1974. By the time he finished "Apocalypse Now," a dark-horse allegorical epic, Michael Cimino's "The Deer Hunter" had beaten him to the marketplace with a provocative impression of war in Vietnam — and also won the Academy Award as best picture of 1978. Ultimately, the Vietnam combat classics appeared in the last half of the 1980s: Oliver Stone's "Platoon" and John Irvin's "Hamburger Hill."
Mr. Coppola's "Apocalypse" strains for greatness and never lets up. The introductory sequences establish dependence on a know-it-all, self-consciously sardonic voice-over narration, commissioned from Michael Herr, author of the esteemed Vietnam War chronicle "Dispatches." His vigorous literary style turned to hard-boiled pulp when read aloud by Martin Sheen, cast as the burnt-out but tenacious protagonist.
The actor portrays a spook in Army uniform, Capt. Willard, who has been instructed to locate and assassinate a renegade Green Beret officer, Col. Kurtz. Kurtz materializes in the final sequences as a bald and corpulent Marlon Brando. Once the pride of West Point, Kurtz has gone despotically loco and native among Montagnard tribesmen somewhere up a river of no return in Cambodia. Willard's raspy voice quotes from a letter Kurtz sent to his son shortly before rebuffing the Army's attempts to recall and discipline him: "I am beyond their timid, lying morality, so I am beyond caring."
A Navy patrol boat with four crew members — Albert Hall as Chief, Frederick Forrest as Chef (not really a sound-alike problem in the movie), Sam Bottoms as Lance, and a 14-year-old Laurence Fishburne as Clean — ferries Willard to his infernal destination. Several encounters on the way are meant to explore sinister and deplorable byways in a theater of war.
Like the original screenplay, the movie peaks early, when Willard is swept into the powerful wake of Col. Kilgore, a cheerfully brutal, gung-ho air cavalry officer played by Robert Duvall. Kilgore bombards a coastal village under Viet Cong control, in part because he hears that the surfing is great. His helicopter gunships charge out of the clouds while blaring "The Ride of the Valkyries."
This hyperbolic caprice illustrates whatever points the filmmaker feels he needs to make to emphasize wanton American violence in Vietnam. If further elaboration was necessary, it's supplied in a subsequent episode about the patrol suffering a trigger-happy lapse and shooting up a peasant sampan on flimsy suspicions the boat was transporting contraband.
It's no accident that everyone ends up remembering Mr. Duvall's exultant line, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like victory." Love him or fear him, Kilgore has metaphoric clarity.
The theoretical scheme of a descent that reveals intensifying variations of corruption and lunacy the farther upstream the patrol boat journeys is never realized. When Mr. Brando's character finally is found among the charnel-house decor and exquisitely protective shadows of his encampment, there's nothing left but the camp diversion of listening to recitations from T.S. Eliot ("The Hollow Men") and speculating about whether Kurtz or that poor water buffalo will supply the village with a more succulent sacrificial feast.
Obviously, Mr. Coppola would reject Kurtz. He certainly endorses the eventual execution entrusted to Willard, who looks elaborately bloodthirsty as he stages it.
In part because of this reliance on bloodbaths, the movie misplaces a coherently contradictory view of Kurtz. Later on, of course, we discovered that the filmmaker had helped confuse things by perceiving the movie as his own perilous psychodrama.
According to Mrs. Coppola: "We talked about how the film was a parallel for the very things Francis was living out. How he had been Willard setting off on his mission to make a film and how he had turned into Kurtz for a while. We talked about opposites, about power and limits, good and evil, peace and violence. I told him about the Zen book which talks about mind and body not being two separate things and not being one thing, but being both two and one."
Clearly, things could get a little muddled. I'm not sure the muddle is relieved to a significant extent by the restored footage. The first sequence, which permits some incidental impressions of the typhoon that destroyed many of the film's settings, recovers the Playboy Bunnies originally seen departing prematurely from a USO concert that threatens to get nasty. They reappear stranded at a drenched medevac outpost. Babbling and complacent, they provide fleeting comfort for the patrol-boat guys who want to play dolly with life-size dolls.
The second major chunk is a legendary French plantation sequence. It's takes place at the port of call right before the Kurtz fortress. A die-hard French clan is discovered defending its dynastic patch of cultivated jungle. Willard is invited to a dinner party where arguments for and against colonial intervention in Southeast Asia are expressed vehemently by family members, sometimes in French. Afterward, Willard and a needy widow played by Aurore Clement retire to her chamber for brandy, opium and sex. It's easy to see why the sequence originally was regarded as expendable and why Mr. Coppola would want to revive it as evidence of his intention to "address the issues" — in a town-meeting format that also permits a bonus of exotic hanky-panky.
The original strong points remain intact and endearing. These include the performances of Mr. Duvall as Kilgore and Dennis Hopper as a demented photojournalist who has become a Kurtz camp follower. They also include the phenomenal sound-effects recording supervised by Walter Murch, who achieved a sensational illusion of immediacy with the swift throbbing of helicopter blades, the din of rockets and automatic weapons and especially the ping of tracer bullets off armor plating.
"Redux" convinced me that I had underrated Albert Hall as the good and steadfast Chief. In retrospect, his fundamental decency and simplicity become rebukes to the movie's whole obsessive nature. In fact, he could be the best reason for catching up with "Apocalypse Now" in this form.

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