Photo by: Unknown / public domain

Apocalypse Now and Then

Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, Apocalypse Now, is being reissued in a new Final Cut to celebrate its fortieth anniversary. It’s a whole new chance for audiences to try to get to grips with the madness and mayhem that surrounds Marlon Brando’s off-the-rails officer, Colonel Kurtz. So just what is it that makes this movie so enduring, and why do we need another version?

A timeless classic

The fact that this 1979 movie is based on a book from 1899 about a totally different situation in the Congo tells you everything you need to know about the timeless themes of Apocalypse Now. Yet this is no ordinary movie; while Coppola’s famous Godfather trilogy was, at its heart, about succession, Apocalypse Now is fundamentally about loyalty and morality. The fact that its themes still ring so true for the modern viewer speaks volumes about how little attitudes and motivations have really moved on since the 70s, or even the turn of the last century if it comes to that.

Apocalypse Now will, however, change the way you see the world, not only the big picture, on issues like morality, power and its corrupting influences, but in many subtler ways too. The way Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore deals his 1st Air Cavalry deck on to each of his victims in the film might not inspire you to take up poker in the same way that films like Molly’s Game or Rounders do, but you will certainly never look at a playing card quite the same again. The same is true about water buffalo, riverboat trips and so many other things that the movie changes forever. Its influence has also loomed large over many other movies since, not least 2017s Kong: Skull Island.

Apocalypse how many?

You might be wondering why we need a re-release of a film that any serious movie buff already owns, and which is available on Netflix for those who don’t. After all, we’ve already had two official versions and a bootleg cut. The original, 147 minute cut took the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1979 as well as eight Oscar nominations and two wins. However, Coppola felt like he had compromised his vision to try and make the film make sense.

In 2001, he decided to put everything back in and just go with the crazy, releasing the 3hr 16 minute Apocalypse Now: Redux. There was also a bootleg work print that did the rounds, running at a mighty five and a half hours. All of which was a fraction of the 200-plus hours of footage that was originally shot. The Final Cut represents the movie that Coppola originally intended to make, carefully trimmed back from the warts-and-all Redux to a coherent, yet still edgy, version of the classic. This is the Goldilocks version of the movie; not too short and tame, yet not too long and wild.

 image by CC BY 2.0
Apocalypse Now has been a lifetime’s work for Francis Ford Coppola

A forty year journey

The shooting of Apocalypse Now is the stuff of legend, with a planned six week shoot degenerating into sixteen months of madness in the jungle. Star, Martin Sheen had a heart attack mid-shoot, the set was destroyed by a typhoon and the Philippine government, who had supplied them with kit and equipment, kept asking for it back. What debuted, and won, at Cannes was a three hour rough cut, and Coppola has been trying to complete the film properly ever since.

The Final Cut represents the film as it was intended to be seen. It was scanned from the original negative after all 300,000 frames had been carefully cleaned and restored. It is presented with ultra-vivid, colour-rich image quality (thanks to Dolby Vision), immersive sound (thanks to Dolby Atmos), and it even has Sensual Sound – below the threshold of human hearing – to give those Ride of the Valkyries helicopters an even more menacing feel. If nothing else, this level of investment proves that the re-release is not simply a way of making more money from the same old movie.

Don’t miss it

Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut offers a unique chance to see the film where it belongs – on the big screen. It will also be released as a multi pack – with the original, the Redux and the Final Cut on Blu-ray and the Final Cut on 4K Ultra HD. In a world dominated by the same old superhero movies and franchises delivering ever diminishing returns with every new version, Apocalypse Now is a breath of fresh air. Even if you already own it, the chance to see it as you’ve never seen it before – clearer, more colourful and more visceral than ever – is not to be missed. After all, how often do you get to see Harrison Ford send Martin Sheen to face-off against Marlon Brando in a remote Asian jungle? I love the smell of celluloid in the morning!