When Saving Private Ryan was released, many touted it as the best war movie ever made. Although the first thirty minutes were gut wrenching, the rest of the film was typical post-E.T. Spielbergian emotional manipulation. You can't award a film the title of "best war movie ever made" based solely on the first thirty minutes.
A better contender for the title, I think, is Apocalypse Now. I watched it, truthfully, because I'd never seen it and I thought I should. It's like reading War and Peace: Nobody likes it, even if they appreciate it, but they read it because they should. Plus, Apocalypse Now was a big part of the "Buffy" season finale. I hate not being in on the pop-culture references.
There are some movies to which the question "Did you like it?" just doesn't apply. Accordingly, this review has nothing to do with like or dislike. Apocalypse Now blew me away. Plain and simple. The sheer force of its brilliance (if I may wax purple) was staggering. Seriously.
Based loosely on Josef Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now follows the journey of Captain Ben Willard through Vietnam during the "conflict." He's been assigned by the higher-ups to, ahem, neutralize "with extreme prejudice" the threat posed by a Colonel gone native. Col. Kurtz has apparently taken this war into his own hands and isn't fighting it Uncle Sam's way.
The movie is almost dreamlike in its horror (the unmasking and exploration of "the horror" being its overriding theme). Lt. Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall) embarks on the bloody infiltration of an enemy-held beach because he wants to surf the break. Scene after scene builds the overarching dehumanization of the war, putting the audience on edge. When a puppy suddenly landed in the middle of things, I thought I was going to have to turn the movie off. That puppy scared me more than anything else. The possibilities of what would happen to it. Shudder to think.
When Willard finally reaches Kurtz, things get even better. Dennis Hopper shows up and recites expletive-laden T. S. Eliot. He's just a parrot, however, repeating (with license) the poetry he's heard sitting at the feet of his guru, Kurtz.
The main appeal of the movie is Kurtz. I'm not a big fan of Marlon Brando. At. All. I can't begin to describe, though, what he brings to his portrayal of Kurtz. When you get down to it, it's not a very big role. I think that all that precedes our introduction to the Colonel would have been for nothing if any other actor had played the role. Amazing since Brando showed up late to the set, not having read either Conrad's book or Coppola's script.
As odd as it sounds, watching Apocalypse Now for the first time was almost a religious experience for me. Yes, it's that good. On a lighter note, watch for a fourteen-year-old Laurence "Larry" Fishburne and a brief appearance by (yummy) Harrison Ford. (Ben Willard's name, by the way, was based on Ford's sons, Ben and Willard.)
The print for the most part is excellent. Coppola's use of color comes through loud and clear. He's the kind of director for whom DVD is the perfect format. Some parts are a little grainy, but very few. The sound transfer is also excellent.
There are very few extras with the disc. The film was originally presented in 70mm without credit sequences. The audience was presented with a printed program containing credits information, which is reproduced here as an extra. There's also the footage from the burning of the Kurtz compound, both with and without Coppola's commentary. When the film was released in 35mm, the footage was used as a background for the closing credits, which some took to be a continuation of the story. It's actually just really cool footage that Coppola tacked on. Interpreting it as the outcome of the narrative completely changes what the director intended. Why he didn't realize this to begin with is quite a mystery.
Lisa McInnis, 10/9/00