The quintessential war film that more than stands the test of time, for the first time in glorious high-definition.
The quintessential war film that more than stands the
test of time, for the first time in glorious high-definition.
chapter to Andy McNab’s Brave Two Zero tells a story of his
final night at home before setting out on his now infamous mission. Sitting at
home with his girlfriend McNab made the clinical mistake of watching Apocalypse
Now on TV. According to McNab “two hours of carnage and maiming” was not the
right thing to see before going to war. While the famous ex-SAS soldier
certainly had a point it misses the idealism of Francis Ford Coppola’s film. Yes war is hell, this is made
abundantly clear, but it is a point that has been made by almost every war film
before or since Apocalypse. What Coppola achieves through his odyssey into
mayhem is the contradictions of war, the ironies, the idiosyncrasies of man’s
eternal folly with our own nature.
Captain Willard (Sheen) is a special forces solider
slowly going mad in a Saigon hotel room, during the Vietnam War. But the war is
not finished with him yet and he is sent on an assassination mission to hunt
down and kill a renegade Green Beret deep in the heart of the Cambodian jungle.
Along the way Willard will learn more about the elusive Colonel Kurtz (Brando) and will have to make the
ultimate decision of whether he will follow through his commands.
Early on in the
film it becomes apparent that it is less about war and more about the surreal
nature of man, an absurdist look at our constant desire for destruction.
Coppola and screenwriter John Milius
based the film loosely on Joseph Conrad’s
Heart Of Darkness, an existential
journey into the human psyche. Apocalypse is no different. The plot here is
circumstantial to the epic size of themes and moods the film conjures.
film we are bombarded with images and ideas that directly contradict each
other. Take Colonel Kilgore’s comments as a woman throws a grenade into one of
his choppers; “Fucking savages” is so wonderfully self-referential, as his
cavalry mindlessly destroy the village, that it almost pains to hear it. Or the
opening image of a line of forest suddenly ignited by napalm, serenaded by The Doors’ ‘This Is The End’, as the
perfect realisation of nature against man’s need to dominate not just each
other, but the world itself.
Coppola puts us in the same frame of mind as his soldiers. You can feel the
utter delight as the choppers swoop in to attack, to the overtures of Wagner’s Ride Of The Valkyries, before
realising the devastation that these glorious ‘toys’ have left in their wake.
But it is through Willard’s ever-glazed expression and voice over that we truly
begin to drift into this hallucinogenic nightmare. Through the endless mist and
smoke filled battle grounds Coppola allows us to see and hear through the fog
of war. There is no victory to be had here, nothing to gain and everything dear
to humanity to lose. Furthermore, Coppola’s visuals are staggering, comparable
to visionary filmmakers like David Lean
and John Ford. One moment we can be
bathed in a pink sunset, the next drowned in a sea of mud, rain and blood. His
score is reminiscent of John Carpenter’s
80s horror classics and as such heightens the terrifying truth at the heart of
the film; that despite all the good intentions man has lost his way and the
only thing we truly know how to do is kill “with extreme prejudice”.
through which we witness this madness, are a rare thing in cinema. Some of them
so much larger than life that they beggar belief, whereas others are so
reserved and withdrawn making them all the more vulnerable to the insanity they
are exposed to. Brando, in the pivitol role of Kurtz, is so poetic you wonder
if he may not have been smoking something to find such a performance. Much has
been made of his weight in the film but it pales in comparison to his soft
tones that lull you into his psyche. Robert
Duvall, in possibly his most expressive role of his career, brings a
deranged logic to Kilgore’s thinking. While all around panic and plunder the
Vietnamese village he thinks only of catching the perfect wave. In the wrong
hands the character could have become cartoonish but in Duvall’s it is insanely
paternal. But it is Martin Sheen, replacing Harvey Keitel two weeks into production, who gives a master class
performance. If ever there was an example needed of an actor doing less and
achieving so much more it is Sheen’s Willard. In the confines of his hotel room
Willard’s madness burns through his retinas. But when set loose on his quest
Sheen’s performance is controlled, a cool head while all those around lose
The making of
Apocalypse Now nearly drove all those involved mad, indeed the documentary
Hearts Of Darkness proves as much, but in taking a journey to the dark side
Coppola and Co accomplished something truly marvelous. As Dennis Hopper says of
Kurtz “The man is clear in his mind but his soul is mad” the power of the film
has the ability to do the same to the viewer. Indeed by the climax Kurtz has
become the sacrificial cow that can end the madness, or is it simply to let the
insanity reign? Either way Apocalypse
Now is a film that will go down in cinematic canon as one of the greatest films
ever made. Witness it in full HD to be transported to a Lynchian like
nightmare portrayal of war, NOW.
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Also released on a 3 disc Special Edition on blu-ray June 13th. To Pre-order Apocalypse Now On Blu-Ray Click Here