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“Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut”: Coppola’s magnum opus returns to theatres

Photo by Kelly Baker.

A group of soldiers sit crouched down around a foxhole on a beach, still dazed from a sudden air strike that landed on the tree line opposite them, on the other shoreline. “Smell that? You smell that?” says the colonel. “What?” one man says in reply, confused as to what he is supposed to be smelling. “Napalm, son” the colonel says to him, “Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed for 12 hours. The smell, you know that gasoline smell? The whole hill smelled like . . . victory.” He pauses, and then says “Someday this war’s gonna end,” before getting up and walking away.

Any film-lover will know right away where this dialogue is from. Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 magnum opus, “Apocalypse Now.” It’s undoubtedly one of the best films in Hollywood history, one of the best war films ever made and the surrealist film. Finally, years later, the film is relevant once again as a new cut of the film called “Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut” has been made, and has been out in select theatres since August, giving new generations of film buffs the chance to see it on the silver screen once again.

What is important about this cut is that it is the product of years of work by a director to tell a story.

Years after its original release in 1979, the now 80-year old Francis Ford Coppola and some longtime friends have been working tirelessly to produce what Coppola himself believes to be the definitive cut of the picture. Taking over 11 months and 2,700 hours to make, the team behind “The Final Cut” took the original negative for the film and laboriously scanned it in order to make the final product an ultimately better looking, and much better sounding version of the film.

One question that remains, though, is “why?” Why do another recut of the film after the “Redux” version?

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, the auteur explained his reasoning: “I always felt that the first version was too shortened — not too short, too shortened — and the other version was… well, maybe we shouldn’t have put everything back in. A movie is in service to a theme that runs through it, and I always felt that Redux never quite supported the theme of the film as fundamentally as I wanted. So we started with the second version, because that already had the restorations and corrections, and we began to tweak from there. I didn’t intend to make a new version… but I felt that this being longer than one and shorter than the other was the perfect blend.”

“The Final Cut” is an interesting mix. It’s 14 minutes shorter than the “Redux” cut of the film, but thankfully not too short. The most notable difference is that the “Final Cut” excludes the second scene with the Playboy bunnies in the deserted MASH where corpses have been stuffed into lockers. “The Final Cut” includes the scene where the crew of PBR Streetgang have one of the very few moments of levity in the entire film, where Lance is water-skiing behind the boat and Clean is rocking out to “Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones. What makes this cut exceptional is how it expands upon the scene where the crew comes upon the French plantation and gives the subtle insanity of the French reason for staying in a country where the people they once ruled over more depth.

As mentioned before, though, the film truly shines through its larger-than-life video and audio reproduction. The most important thing that the team behind “The Final Cut” set out to do was to use the modern technologies of video and audio production to create a much deeper, richer and more immersive experience of the picture — the one that Francis had originally wanted to create.  This might seem deceptive, though, as the famous opening sequence of Willard inside his hotel room, when upgraded to current picture resolution, seems to really bring out a distracting graininess of the film footage, but this can just attribute to the bump in picture quality.

As for the rest of the film, “The Final Cut” is breathtaking at times with its revamped visuals that are balanced well enough to bring out the color, lighting and darkness in a way that does justice to Coppola’s original vision. The new sound design though feels like a real kick to the chest, with the use of the new Dolby-Atmos mix, culminating what feels like a much more alive version of the film than ever seen before! One example is the famous helicopter attack on the village, where, I swear, it felt like the whole theatre was electrified by this new sound design.

Having seen “Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut,” I cannot be completely certain that this is the only real version of the film that is the most artistically pure, but Coppola seems to believe that it is. What is important about this cut is that it is the product of years of work by a director to tell a story. An unforgettable story about the horrors of war, a dark journey into the dusty recesses of the human mind and the goal of one man going upriver to kill a man who sees himself as a god now.

Kelly Baker is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a minors in journalism and film criticism. KB819687@wcupa.edu

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