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'Apocalypse Now Redux' a stunning remake of Coppola's 1979 masterpiece

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"I love the smell of napalm in the morning" - surfing-fanatic Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall, center) firebombs a Vietnam village in Francis Ford Coppola's remake of his 1979 classic "Apocalypse Now." The film is in theaters now.

By Graig Uhlin

Friday August 31, 2001

'Redux' features 49 minutes of never-before-seen footage

Grade: A

This is the age of the DVD. Audiences have come to expect when renting a movie on DVD a series of special features including interviews, behind-the-scenes features and, when they're lucky, the director's cut of the film.

This version of the film is most prized by diehard fans and cinephiles because it renders irrelevant all the focus-group hoops that a director must jump through in order to make his film ripe for the commercial market. In the print that goes to theaters, forget about artistry. Forget about the director's vision. Forget about relevant social messages and important scenes that push the running time too long or are too graphic for a commercially viable MPAA rating. But for the DVD version, all bets are off - which is not to say that the studios are not making a truckload of money off this only-see-it-here marketing, but at least audiences can still get a glimpse of unadulterated filmmaking.

Enter "Apocalypse Now Redux" - which, after a slight bastardization of the original Latin, translates to "Apocalypse Now Returns." This rerelease is not just like the director's cut on a DVD - it is the director's cut, reedited from scratch from the original negatives and released into theaters. Of course, a regular ol' rerelease of this 1979 Vietnam-War masterpiece would merit a trip to the cineplex - just to hear the helicopters and jungles noises in surround sound is an experience not to be missed. "Apocalypse Now Redux," however, is what Francis Ford Coppola originally intended to do with his anti-war film - he calls it an "anti-lie film" for its indictment of the horrendous and lethal consequences of a culture's propagation of lies, especially in times of war.

The end result, with its 49 minutes of never-before-seen footage, mostly succeeds in Coppola's intentions of creating a more expansive, all-encompassing war film that feels free to stray at times from its adventure-up-the-river structure - originally, Coppola felt obliged to stay close to this narrative to keep the story simple and straightforward for audiences.

By the way, for all those who have not seen the original, "Apocalypse Now" follows Captain Willard's (Martin Sheen) journey up river into Cambodia where his mission is to kill Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) whose renegade ways have made him an enemy of his own government. The film is based on Joseph Conrad's novel "Heart of Darkness," although no where in the credits is the book credited as the inspiration. One may also recognize from its many quotable lines such as "I love the smell of napalm in the morning," "terminate with extreme prejudice" and "the horror, the horror."

There are four main additions to the original: a French plantation scene, an extended scene with the Playboy bunnies of the USO show, an additional Marlon Brando scene and extra scenes of Willard's Navy patrol boat at the start of its journey. These scenes are fascinating to watch - although one can see why they were cut in the first place. It's not that they're bad but simply that they often don't push forward the narrative - which can get grating as audiences endure/enjoy the three-hour-plus running time of this remake. They do, however, explore the complexities of war a bit deeper than the original, expanding on Coppola's indictment of the sanctioned lie. Some of the film's more open-faced criticism of the war lies within these scenes, somewhat undermining Coppola's more illustrative style.

"Apocalypse Now Redux" is a remarkable achievement. Audiences can now examine what happens at the crossroads where artistry and commercialism meet and, most importantly, revisit the eternal themes raised by this cinematic work of art, which was relevant in 1979 just as it is relevant today.


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