100 Movies to See Before You Die- “Apocalypse Now”

So here is one of those films that is among the most highly regarded in cinema history but which I had not seen. The movie was both a critical and box office smash and has maintained a strong following in the more than 30 years since its initial theatrical run. The version that I watched of the film was the 3 hour version (Redux) on the recent Blu-Ray release. So the burning question is, do I agree with the multitude of people who claim that Francis Ford Coppola’s film is one of the finest examples of the art form?

 

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning!”

Should this film be considered a classic? I will wholeheartedly agree with the critics here that this film deserves its accolades. It is a truly masterful piece of cinema. It has characters and scenes that are memorable (and oft parodied). It ranges in feeling from epic to utterly claustrophobic. The use of light as the characters journey down the river is among the most effective I have seen. The progression of the story from civilization to savagery and how the characters mental states mirror that progression is so tightly woven together and naturally flows with the story. This is an artistic film that works because all the elements fit together perfectly.

“Apocalypse Now” is basically Conrad’s Heart of Darkness set in the Vietnam War. It has been a long time since I read Conrad for my Western Civilization class in college, but the movie definitely made me want to dig up a copy of the book to read again. That, fellow movie lovers, is a sign of well made picture when a movie makes you want to return to the classic source material in order to both better understand the book and the movie.

 

Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz

Would I own this film? Once again, I find myself having to say no here. It’s not because of excessive violence or language (both expected in films about war), but the sexual content is what will keep this movie from finding a place on my Home Theater PC. I have observed something from movies in the late 70s and early 80s (and this spans all genres), they include a lot of nudity that does very little to advance the plot. This was likely Hollywood rebelling against many years of the Hayes Code and enjoying America’s new found apathy towards the morality of The Greatest Generation, but it makes it far more difficult to enjoy movies from that time period because you can almost count on totally excessive sexual content from an R rated movie from the late 70s and early 80s . By contrast, two of the best war movies of the last fifteen years, “Saving Private Ryan” and “We Were Soldiers” keep intact the realistically salty dialog of soldiers, but avoid the blatant nudity that is typically unnecessary for telling a story about war.

With that said, if you are a film buff, this is one of those films that has to be watched at least once. It is a true work of art in terms of its story telling and art direction. Also, it reflects the strong anti-Vietnam sentiments of the time and thus also displays most of the soldiers as blood-thirsty, drug addled, and often mentally unstable. There is no counterbalance to this view in “Apocalypse Now.” While there were undoubtedly atrocities and committed during the Vietnam War (as there are in any war) and there were soldiers who were unstable (as there are in any war), “Apocalypse Now” portrays all the soldiers that way. For a more positive take on the soldiers who fought in Vietnam I recommend that excellent “We Were Soldiers.”

Here’s a trailer for the Blu-Ray release of the film:

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