Apocalypse Now is the granddaddy of the war movie, and a film whose production seemed as much of a warzone as that depicted on film. It’s hard to believe that in the intervening years there’s been only a handful of films that match both the scope and scale of this gargantuan epic. And yet if this newly restored, new cut of this New Hollywood classic tells us anything, it’s that this film was the last of its kind.
For those uninitiated few yet to experience the wonder (and horror) of Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam war drama, screenwriter John Milius transposed the action in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness from 1800’s Congo to 1960s Vietnam. The film follows the journey of Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) as he journeys upriver to find and assassinate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a Special Forces commander who, according to Willard’s commanding officers, has gone mad in the jungles of Cambodia and now commands a small army of local soldiers who consider him a god.
The infamous production of Apocalypse Now is just as interesting as the film itself. The film cost $30 million, coming in at twice the predicted budget, with $3.5 million of that going to Marlon Brando – who turned up on set heavily overweight despite playing a special forces commander who’s been living in the jungle. Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack, a monsoon destroyed thousands of dollars of equipment, and Coppola himself underwent what can only be described as a nervous breakdown as the frustration and escalating costs (he had taken financial responsibly for the film to get it completed) got the better of him. There’s no better accompaniment for the film than Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, one of the greatest making of documentaries ever made that chronicled the growing madness on set, directed by Coppola’s wife Eleanor.
Not content with a simple restoration to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Apocalypse Now, Coppola has returned to the editing room for the third time to create what he now terms the ‘Final Cut’. In terms of running time, the new cut sits somewhere between the theatrical cut and the ‘Redux’ cut that Coppola released in 2001. However, it’s the restoration itself that really makes this rerelease special. The ‘Final Cut’ offers what I can only describe as the greatest sound mix I’ve ever heard in a cinema (and I’ve been in a fair few). While the original release broke new ground with it’s 5.1 surround mix, the audio has been remastered in Dolby Atmos for this cut, offering some of the most stunning sound design imaginable – there’s nothing quite like hearing the blades of a chopper overhead as it moves across the room.
For me, that’s what’s so special about this Final Cut. Instead of another anniversary cash-in, Coppola has created both a definitive cut of his masterpiece, and a truly cinematic experience that will never be replicated in the home – no matter how good your speakers are. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen Apocalypse Now or know it like the back of your hand; this is the film like you’ve never seen it (or heard it) before. So make the most of this window of opportunity and see it, as it was meant to be, on the big screen. And preferably with Dolby Atmos!Find your cinema and book tickets