A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
Francis Ford Coppola (“The Godfather”) has created the greatest war film ever made, unsurpassable by comparison with anything subsequently produced. War films usually enthral violence and conflict-obsessed enthusiasts, whilst they alienate those without an iota of interest regarding the subject. Fitting the profile of the later, I can honestly say that “Apocalypse Now” is the most engaging and masterful mix of visual drama and spooky anticipation, combining to create a unique and unparalleled dramatic war film that has been granted the title of “seventh best film ever made” according to Empire Magazine.
Set during the US-Vietnam War, “Apocalypse Now” tells the story of Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) who is assigned the task of embarking on a dangerous mission to locate and assassinate Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a renegade officer who has become so obsessed with power, that he has brainwashed a entire Cambodian tribe into believing he is a God. The premise itself is mouthwatering, as it is unlike any other film synopsis that deals with war. A film adaptation of “Heart of Darkness”, a novel written by Joseph Conrad in 1899, “Apocalypse Now” is dark, ominous and eery in it’s portrayal of not only war, but the psychological and physiological effects of war.
As with most of the “classics”, “Apocalypse Now” has it’s fair share of stories that go along with it, adding to the spectacle of the piece. For example, apparently Marlon Brando arrived on set, late, unprepared and overweight. This was highly unproductive and required Coppola to completely rewrite Brando’s character so it fitted in with his physique and overall look; it wasn’t what he originally envisaged. Another ‘story’ about “Apocalypse”, more specifically, Brando, is that the monologue scene of Kurtz supposedly went for 50 minutes and was simply Brando improvising his speech. Each time his face is covered by the constant sweeping shadow, it is a disguised edit between the single shot.
Another involves Martin Sheen in the film’s opening scene where Sheen is truly intoxicated and actually punches a solid glass mirror with his bare hands; the blood is genuine. Anecdotes such as these, whether or not they are true, definitely add significant character to such a powerful film such as this and they contribute greatly to the legacy and timelessness of the piece.
“Apocalypse Now” is nearly 3 hours long, but it’s so exhilarating that it literally flies by. Sure, the scenes involving Willard’s voice-over and countless cinematic shots of the still and seemingly lifeless Cambodian landscape are long and repetitive, but it adds an incredible amount tension and anticipation to Willard’s ultimate confrontation with Kurtz. The majority of the film revolves around the ominous presence of Kurtz, who up until the last twenty minutes, lives vicariously through myths and photographs and is not seen in the flesh. This makes the film incredibly spooky, and Willard’s narration as the film progresses proceeds to make more and more references to this.
According to many sources, (not including the documentary “Hearts of Darkness” that is about the filming of the piece, and that I am yet to watch), the filming process was riddled with problems and at numerous stages, stood to sabotage Coppola’s career (Martin Sheen’s heart attack for example). Shooting in the vast, deep Philippine jungle took over a year and nearly wrecked every single cast and crew member completely. However, sheer determination and incredible passion meant that Coppola and his team could carry on and make the greatest war film of all time, and we are eternally grateful for that.
The colour pallet of “Apocalypse Now” is something that is both unique and stunningly powerful. War films tend to have 3 distinct colour ranges, them being greens (often dark), browns (of all sorts), and reds (for obvious reasons); “Apocalypse Now” exhibits this standard war-film colour spectrum but adds deliberately bold splashes of vibrant colours including yellow, blue, pink and purple. This is not only a bold move, but a magnificently spectacular one. In amongst the labyrinthian jungle, with nothing but olive green for miles, an invasion of thick purple smoke stands out immensely; it is truly a wonderful and unusual sight to see.
The perfect mix of conflict, combat, violence, camaraderie, self evaluation, philosophy and eeriness, “Apocalypse Now” evokes a strong sense of dread, change, suspense and fatality, particularly when it’s bookended by The Doors’ “The End” and the broody vocals of Jim Morrison. Truly a classic war epic that is so unlike the others, it thoroughly deserves it’s rating on the list, and should (in my opinion) move ahead of “Goodfellas” which sits ahead at number 6, an insult to this absolute masterpiece.