Coppola reloads with Apocalypse Now Redux
August 17, 2001
by Steve Daly
Picture Editor: Denise Sfraga

Bamboozled. Sheen, with Brando, finds himself in a sticky situation on the Philippines set of Apocalypse Now.

For years, it sat in a cave in Pennsylvania. Every scrap of film that Francis Ford Coppola shot for the Vietnam fantasia Apocalypse Now ‑all 250 hours of it, from which the two‑and‑a‑half‑hour original version was winnowed in 1979‑ lay in an environment perfect for preserving movie negatives. So what spurred Coppola to strip‑mine this cache after more than two decades to create Apocalypse Now Redux, a 3‑hour, 16‑minute reedit that Miramax is unspooling in theaters? "It wasn't some great life thing I had to do," says the director, 62. "It was a relaxed sort of decision." That's understandable, since the avalanche of unfavorable, he'll‑never‑finish‑it press Coppola got while struggling to complete filming evidently still hurts. "I thought... Why are they pick­ing on me? Why don't you pick on Warner Bros. putting their money in Superman ‑a comic‑book character?"

For that matter, why revisit Apocalypse Now now? The answer can be traced to the original film's French distributor, Paul Rassam. He'd long wanted Coppola to restore a 20‑minute sequence in which Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) stumbles upon a French plantation while on a mission to kill traitorous Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando)‑especially after seeing excerpts in the 1991 Apocalypse Now documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse. The trick was convincing Oscar‑winning editor Walter Murch, one of the original's key architects, to help with the reconstructive surgery. "Certain bones in the script had to be broken," Murch, 58, says of the 1979 version, which required reshoots to cover narrative holes that opened in the scramble to compress the film to a commercial length. "It was such a delicate balance, I was frightened of going back into it." What "broke the ice" for Murch was his pleasant experience revising Orson Welles' Touch of Evil in 1998, so he called Coppola and finally consented to rework Apocalypse Now. Here's a handy guide to their new version:

MORE KILGORE Redux resurrects a borderline‑slapstick segment that Coppola felt would play as tastelessly com­ical with 1979 audiences. 'We had to make it more of an action‑adventure film at the time," Coppola says. Now it plays like Catch‑22 as napalm-intoxicated Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall) escalates his bombing assault to ludicrous heights in search of the perfect wave, while Willard and surfer Lance (Sam Bottoms) abscond with the colonel's board, knocking fellow soldiers around like the Three Stooges.

BOAT BACKGROUND There's more footage establishing the naïveté of Willard's shipmates Chef (Frederic Forrest) and Clean (Laurence Fishburne), and some rearranging makes their progression from innocence to decadence clearer.

SOGGY PLAYMATES The Playboy bunnies from the concert-riot scene show up again at a rain‑drenched medevac station, where their own manager pimps them out to Willard's companions. Clean is the grunt who doesn't get any nookie‑which helps explain his trigger‑happy behavior later in the movie.

TIME FOR TIME Kurtz imprisons Willard in a tin hut as he reads a magazine story aloud.

Of course, there's plenty more footage Coppola shot that's still not in the expanded Redux, including a subplot involving Scott Glenn as Colby, one of Kurtz's zombie-like acolytes. Murch insists none of this material will show up in the supplements to an upcoming DVD edition. The sole potential bonus, says Murch: audio outtakes from Brando's rambling monologues as Colonel Kurtz. Here's hoping they include the immortal, oft‑parodied outtake "I swallowed a bug."