Apocalypse Now is an American movie directed by Francis Coppola released in 1979. It tells a story of Captain Willard, who is assigned a dangerous mission to find and assassinate a renegade colonel Kurtz in the jungles of Cambodia. The movie was adapted from a novella “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, which raises issues of racism and imperialism. Today, it is recognized as an epic movie about the Vietnam War, but at first, it was highly criticized for its darkness and unusual plot.
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After more than two decades, Coppola released an extended version of the movie in a digital format called Apocalypse Now Redux. This essay will discuss the central theme of the movie, compare and contrast the original Apocalypse Now and its Redux version, and discuss their historical significance to the cinema.
In 2001, Zoetrope Studios released a director’s version of the film extended from the original movie, entitled Apocalypse Now Redux. It included some materials that were not used in the theatrical release. A new, more complete director’s version of the film was supplemented by philosophical meaning, sexual scenes, and intriguing political discussions. The second release was explained by the director’s desire to reconstruct the movie from falling into a conventional war movie because the political situation changed (Shao and Liu 101).
Over the twenty-year period, technological conditions in cinema editing advanced dramatically as well as economic conditions in cinematography. Producers used the opportunity to enhance the visual and audio experience. The Redux version had improved aesthetically and context-wise: improved color restoration and enhanced soundtrack, Paramount logo was present at the beginning, some scenes had semantic ligament, and it had better color separation, high definition, screen ratio, and synchronous sound (Apocalypse Now Redux).
A cultural study found that this version added new narrative elements that “paid more attention to minority groups, the darkness in war and media quagmire, which is related to different historical and political contexts” (Shao and Liu 100). Indeed, characters in the newest version had more humanity in their attitudes. While the initial release was surrealistic and somewhat insane, the Redux version reminded of a documentary.
Events in the original version went by at a faster pace and did not necessarily follow a correct timeline, making it more exciting and entrancing, whereas, in Redux, many scenes were rearranged. Overall, Apocalypse Now Redux depicted improved attitude to minority groups and provided a more comprehensive reflection of the Vietnam War, added more humanity and content, and was improved aesthetically (Shao and Liu 106).
Previous works of Coppola differed significantly: he started off his career with a pornographic movie that lacked any style whatsoever. The Godfather, an epic gangster drama with impressive and laconic dialogues, excellent performances of the cast, and superb editing, made him famous and established Coppola as a serious director in cinematography. Apocalypse Now used various techniques, for instance, a shadow technique – people’s faces were half-lit to dramatize; saturated colors made it look like everything was on fire, dissolve effect made a smooth transition between scenes; camera shots used different angles such as extreme close up to Willard, and low angles of Kurtz.
Some critics said Apocalypse Now was a metaphoric portrayal of Coppola himself. He wanted full freedom in creating this film and had to deal with challenges imposed on this freedom. Compared to his previous works, Apocalypse Now required more effort and skilled directing as the shooting location depended on the weather conditions; actors often lacked discipline and were unprepared, even the script was not finished. Eventually, Coppola overcame these challenges and created a masterpiece of cinematography.
Every viewer can interpret this movie differently. However, one of the most important aims of the movie is to open criticism of Western imperialism. Hiding behind an idea of “fighting for freedom,” the United States performed massive killings of innocent people, at the same time, misspent their own human resources.
For instance, take a look at the scene where Lieutenant Kilgore completely changed his military plans disregarding the possible human losses to have the opportunity to ride the surf with a celebrity (Apocalypse Now). The war was shown not as a planned operation to destroy a village where some enemies have settled, but a set of accidents and impulses driven by U.S. intervention.
The dramatic premise of the movie is that Captain Willard- the main character, emotionally unstable and undecided about his life, is assigned a dangerous mission after a long stagnation. Willard was dedicated to war, as he had nothing else: no cozy home or family waiting for him. At first, he showed little care for the mission and Kurtz’s personality. As Willard got closer to Kurtz, he tried to understand what prompted a brilliant officer to organize a riot and desert from the army.
Willard became more sympathetic to the former colonel and at the end began to identify himself with Kurtz. Under the influence of the surrounding events, Willard gradually lost the sense of reality as he approached the goal and ceased to understand what to do next. Willard changed from his drunken, lonely, self-pitying state to insanity: he too rethought a lot about war and followed Kurtz’s philosophy. The plot is not so much about the war as about the path of a man. The film takes the viewer far into the depths of the human psyche, and war serves only as a backdrop for the manifestation of those human qualities that usually do not lie on the surface.
Many things distinguish Apocalypse Now from all movies about war regarding its historical significance to cinema. Firstly, this film encountered significant obstacles during the shooting. For instance, the U.S. Army refused to support it, some cast members were physically unprepared, and weather conditions troubled shooting and more (Travers 69). Thus, movie production, suffering from a finance shortage, lasted for three years: one year of shooting and two years of editing.
However, the film turned out to be visually magnificent. All scenes had a perfect combination of sound, light, music and overlapping transitions that created a surrealistic atmosphere. Throughout the movie, a viewer could feel the physical representation of the characters’ inner feelings and emotional states achieved via excellent cinematography techniques.
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Full of meaning, this is not an action movie, but a psychological drama that makes one think about the imperfection of this world with wars and violence. It distinguishes from other war movies by its thought- provoking plot and presentation style.
Producers masterfully manipulated dialogues, sound effects, light, and various scenes to deliver the exact emotional state depicted in the movie. In my opinion, the original version was more artistic and lively due to the director’s ability to portray reality as something surreal. It involved more creativity and editing skills. Redux version, on the other hand, was re-edited like a documentary with a deeper insight into the historical aspect and created a different mood.
Apocalypse Now. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, performances by Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, and Robert Duvall, Omni Zoetrope, 1979.
Apocalypse Now Redux. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, performances by Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, and Robert Duvall, Paramount, 2001.
Shao, Bing-qing, and Xiao Liu. “The Vietnam War in the New Century: The Evolution of Apocalypse Now Redux (2001) in Narrative Perspective.” Journal of Literature and Art Studies, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 100-106. Web.
Travers, Steven. Coppola’s Monster Film: The Making of Apocalypse Now. McFarland &Company Inc., 2016.