Apocalypse Now is a 1979 epic Vietnam War film directed by Francis Ford Coppola and co-written by Coppola and John Milius, starring Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, and Martin Sheen. It was loosely based on Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness.
In 2001, an extended cut, Apocalypse Now Redux, was released that restored 49 minutes of deleted scenes.
The film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2000.
Green Beret Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) has gone insane and is leading a tribe of Montagnards to fight the war on his own accord in Cambodia, setting himself up as a demigod. The American high command decides to send in 173rd Airborne Brigade Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) to assassinate him. Serving as his escort is the crew of a US Navy PBR known as the "Street Gang", consisting of Chief (Albert Hall), Lance (Sam Bottoms), Clean (Laurence Fishburne) and Chef (Frederic Forest).
As they go up the Nung River to Kurtz's compound, both Willard and the PBR crew begin to slowly lose their sanity to the horrors of war around them and succumb to the darkness that lurks within humanity.
Why It Rocks
- Has a dark and gritty story that is excellently done.
- Amazing acting, especially from Marlon Brando.
- Breathtaking (and oftentimes disturbing) cinematography.
- Lots of iconic dialogue and scenes. Some of the dialogue, especially Kurtz's, were notably ad-libbed.
- An eerie and haunting soundtrack that boosts the film's atmosphere. The movie also makes great usage of "The End" by The Doors and Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries".
- All around excellent sound design, which showcases many surround sound systems beautifully.
- The uniforms, weapons and vehicles used are very much accurate and feel authentic.
- Memorable quotes such as "I love the smell of napalm in the morning." and "The horror... the horror..."
- As iconic as the helicopter raid scene is, it ended up polarizing audiences because of its cinematography and usage of "Ride of the Valkyries". To this day, people are divided over whether the film is pro-war or anti-war because of this scene.
- The rather long French plantation scene in Redux was also met with polarizing reception. The Final Cut remedied this.
- The movie used to have an end credits sequence, but it got removed because the audiences misinterpreted it as Kurtz's compound getting blown up by a U.S. airstrike, which wasn't Coppola's intention (the film was shot in the Philippines and the government required that the set be destroyed; Coppola decided to capture footage of the set's demolition and chose to use it as a graphical background).
Apocalypse Now has received critical praise, with a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert gave the film 4 stars, added the film to his Great Movies list and considered it to be the finest Vietnam War film ever made.
The film also performed well at the box office, grossing $150 million worldwide out of a $31 million budget.
Awards and nominations
The film won the Palme d'Or at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival, and has won two Academy Awards, Best Sound (for Walter Murch, Mark Berger, Richard Beggs and Nathan Boxer) and Best Cinematography for Vittorio Storaro.
It also won three Golden Globe Awards: Best Director for Francis Ford Coppola, Best Supporting Actor for Robert Duvall, and Best Original Score for Carmine and Francis Ford Coppola, not to mention two British Academy Film Awards (Best Supporting Actor for Robert Duvall and Best Direction for Coppola) and earning a spot on the AFI 100 Years... 100 Movies list, ranking at #30.
- The usage of Ride of the Valkyries was supposed to invoke that the gunship crew were the villains, as Wagner's music was a favourite of Nazis and was often blasted through concentration camps (Wagner himself was not a Nazi, as he died before Hitler was even born)
- Due to there being no film processing laboratories in the Philippines at the time, Coppola did not see a single second of the film before he returned to the States, meaning he shot the film blind. He had to sort through hundreds of hours of film, and post production took two years.
- The reason The Godfather got a TV adaptation was because Francis needed the budget for this film.
- The film had a notoriously troubled production, during which Martin Sheen suffered a near-fatal heart attack, Dennis Hopper got Laurence Fishburne addicted to heroin, and Francis Ford Coppola attempted to kill himself, amongst other setbacks. Coppola even said during the film's premiere in the Cannes Film Festival that "my film is not about Vietnam; it is Vietnam". The production and its problems were chronicled in the 1991 documentary film, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse.
- Laurence Fishburne was only fourteen years old when shooting began in March 1976, as he had lied about his age in order to get cast in his role. The film took so long to finish that Fishburne was seventeen (the same age as his character) by the time it was released in 1979.