Film: Apocalypse Now – Final Cut

Hellucinations ‘R US

Here in House of Flush, we’re constantly and justifiably praising the incredibly talented folk over at Studio Canal, not only for their outstanding record in new high quality releases, but their profound love of the history of global cinema, and the absolute care that they apply to the restoration and re-release of key moments in the art form.

There are few movies as important to the distinct evolution of cinema as Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 death opus ‘Apocalypse Now’. After the enormous success of his Godfather series Coppola was in a position to put everything on the line to fund the making of a true epic, that nearly lost him everything, including the life of his leading actor.

The movie was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness, but distinctly moving the conflict from the Congo to Vietnam, which had just ended a few years before, but was still an extremely raw scare in the American psyche.

As with the absolute chaos that was the war itself, the production was beset with madness in the form of set destroying weather (it was filmed in the Philippines), an actual war going on, changing the leading actor after production had started, who nearly died of a heart attack, Coppala’s own health issues and one of the key stars (Marlon Brando) turning up hugely overweight and extremely unprepared, and that’s only the tip of the madness.

Despite everything, it somehow got finished, and its insane journey is well documented in the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991). Coppala was never happy with the original cinema release apparently to studio interference, and later released a new version Apocalypse Now Redux (2001) which added an endurance testing extra 49 mins to an already sprawling behemoth (153 mins).

Now after two years spent by Coppala personally overseeing a complete 4K restoration from the original camera negative we have ‘Apocalypse Now: Final Cut’ (2019, 182 mins), in Dolby Atmos, Dolby Vision, and basically one of the greatest cinematic experiences of my life.

Irrespective of how many times you may have seen the movie, it is very safe to say you have never actually seen the movie before. Such is the extent of what they have achieved in purity of image, sound and all round experience, human darkness has never shone so brightly, vividly, nor viscerally. 

Continuing the praise for the creatives over in Studio Canal, the artwork for the latest version is almost an homage to the black light posters that were a distinct element of 60s counter culture and around the time of Vietnam itself. With a prolific use of hallucinogenic drugs, black light posters had inks used within them that glowed under ultraviolet light. These lights/colours were used to enhance the trips, turning up the intensity and stimulation of the environment. It’s extremely apt, as entering the world of the Final Cut feels like a trip, dropping an LSD tab, and falling into an extremely dark and beautiful carnage.

The journey follows Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen), effectively a C.I.A. assassin who has been instructed to ‘terminate, with extreme prejudice’ Special Forces Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who according to the powers that be has gone ‘insane’, having become some sort of death messiah vanquishing anyone and everyone who gets in his way.
There’s a palpable cognitive distortion going on in that in a war that went on for nearly 20 years and murdered hundreds of thousands of people, that the masters would have an issue with one of their finest, who was extremely good and effective at murder. Kurtz may very well have lost his sanity, but it has been replaced by such a purity of focus, that it terrifyingly makes sense in a world where sense was the first thing to be napalmed. In all likelihood the military industrial complex demands endless conflict, not final, and Kurtz could possibly instigate the end of the guzzling blood money.

Kurtz is based deep within the jungle of Cambodia, and Willard’s only way in is via the meandering rivers, the veins leading to the heart of darkness. Stepping aboard the military riverboat Erebus (the Greek god of evil), his and our journey into hell begins.

It’s too much and entirely wrong to try and attempt to describe the movie. It is enormous in scope and vision, and without doubt, this is the finest, purist and most affecting version of it full stop. Breathtaking in aspiration (that it achieves), this is a truly stunning creation in any form.

After years of watching it on various formats (VHS, TV, Blu-ray etc), that with the greatest respect where piss poor quality, despite having a ridiculous amounts of stunning moments in it, the key sequence for me was the fabled scenes in disquieting darkness where we hear the mumblings of a madman (think Trump before twitter, in a New York power cut), but can’t actually see him. Not any more. There’s a key moment with Kurtz succinctly explaining his psychosis, and it makes sense, you find yourself agreeing with a madman, and as you stare into the black screen, you see Death starring back at you.   

‘Apocalypse Now: Final Cut’ is released on 13 August in the UK. There will be a special screening in selected cinemas, for one night only on 13 August, featuring a conversation with Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Soderbergh. Check  for details and tickets. It will also be released on home entertainment on 16 September.

Steve Clarke

Born in Celtic lands, nurtured in art college, trained by the BBC, inspired by Hunter S. Thompson and released onto the battlefront of all things interesting/inspiring/good vibes... people, movies, music, clubbing, revolution, gigs, festivals, books, art, theatre, painting and trying to find letters on keyboards in the name of flushthefashion. Making sure it's not quite on the western front... and beyond.