Some 20 years after Francis Ford Coppola's vision of the Vietnam War as Hell's Disneyland was first unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival as a "work in progress," the director found himself watching it on television and was startled to realize that the film, once perceived as "demanding, strange and adventurous," now looked positively conventional. Coppola began toying with the idea of returning to it, and in March 2001, he and editor/sound designer Walter Murch went back to the original dailies and spent six months remaking APOCALYPSE NOW in the editing room. They added entire sequences, lengthened others (adding 49 minutes to the 139-minute running time), and scrounged up unused music composed by Coppola's late father. More than a conventional re-release with some additional footage, APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX is a rethinking of Coppola's hallucinatory masterpiece. And it's a mixed blessing, in some ways even richer and more atmospheric than the original version, in others attenuated and logy. Coppola retrieved a second sequence involving the Playboy Bunnies (Colleen Camp, Linda Eastman), whose helicopter ran out of fuel upriver after the chaotic USO show. Willard trades two barrels of diesel for a couple of hours with the bedraggled girls for the patrol boat's crew, and one of the girls has a rambling but poignant monologue about her humiliation at being a commodified cog in a marketing machine dedicated to selling antiseptic sexual fantasies. In addition, there's more footage of Kurtz's (Marlon Brando) ramblings, and a sequence near the beginning of the trip in which Willard steals Lt. Colonel Kilgore's (Robert Duval) surfboard for Lance (Sam Bottoms). All this material adds depth without making the film feel longer.
Ironically, the new version's greatest liability is the legendary French plantation sequence, of which tantalizing fragments were seen in the 1991 documentary HEARTS OF DARKNESS: A FILMMAKER'S APOCALYPSE. Immediately following Clean's death, the crew chug through a patch of dense fog, and find themselves face to face with the inhabitants of a ghostly, devastated plantation, owned for 150 years by generations of the DeMarais family. The sequence includes Clean's funeral, a heated discussion of Western involvement in Indochina, and Willard's (Martin Sheen) brief liaison with young widow Roxanne (Aurore Clement), who lost her husband to the family's determination to stay. The war rages around them, and yet the DeMarais family continues to play out a bizarre pantomime of civilized French country life in the middle of the burning, corpse-littered jungle. On the one hand, the sequence is a haunting respite from the carnage and strengthens some of the movie's themes. "We fight to keep what is ours," explains patriarch Hubert DeMarais (Christian Marquand). "You Americans fight for the biggest nothing in history." But it stops the journey into the heart of darkness in its tracks, and the music (a fragment labeled "Love Theme" that Coppola found among his father's papers) is unfortunately reminiscent of the synthesized tinkling common to soft-core European sex pictures. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh