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and Bobby Farrelly
Animation directed by Piet Kroon
and Tom Sito
With 53 minutes of excised footage added, Apocalypse Now is still roughly what it was when first released in 1979: a shambles, a letdown, an electrifying mess. Yet it’s unquestionably the summer’s most compelling Hollywood epic. Compared with such pointless, weightless duds as Pearl Harbor, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and Planet of the Apes, Apocalypse Now Redux is a fireball of a movie, a meditation on war and madness that cuts deeper and burns brighter than any American battle movie made sincewith the possible exception of its younger brother, Platoon.
“Redux” can mean either “brought back” or “restored,” and Coppola’s expanded version both returns and revamps. A behind-the-scenes nightmare worthy of its own documentary1991’s Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s ApocalypseApocalypse Now took more than three years to make, bedeviled by a typhoon, a heart attack, a prima donna, and directorial dithering. Coppola frantically second-guessed himself as he cut the film from 240 to 153 minutes for its original release. Lost in the deadline maelstrom were two entire sequencesthe “French plantation” episode and the second half of the Playboy Bunny segmentas well as many shorter scenes. Redux reclaims those two chapters and also expands two other sequences, including the one that nearly every Apocalypse Now viewer finds most problematic: the meeting of U.S. Army assassin Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen) and his quarry, the ponderously deranged Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando).
For those who haven’t made this trip before, Willard is the film’s central character, narrator, and hard-boiled everyman. A “special-ops” agent who thinks he’s seen it all, Willard comes on like a cross between a film-noir detective and a war correspondent, thanks to the terse voice-over commentary written for him by veteran Vietnam journalist Michael Herr. After opening with its bravura vision of heaven and hellverdant jungle, napalm blossoms, and the Doors’ “The End”the film cuts to Willard, essentially fighting the war alone in his room, where helicopter rotors meld with the ceiling fan and the mirror is his enemy. Summoned from his agitated reverie, Willard is assigned to travel clandestinely upriver into Cambodia, locate Kurtz, and “terminate the colonel’s command.”
Thus, for two-thirds of its running time, Apocalypse Now is a waterborne road movie, with Willard and the crew of the boat that’s transporting him (including Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, and Laurence Fishburne) encountering a darkly surrealistic array of characters and situations. There’s Lt. Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall), the hot-dog ‘copter-cavalry officer who loves “the smell of napalm in the morning” almost as much as Wagner and surfing; he’s the film’s first embodiment of the insane American warlord fighting a purposeless fray. There’s the mistaken massacre of an innocent family on a sampan, meant to represent the horrible civilian cost of U.S. bewilderment in Vietnam. (As the recent revelations about Bob Kerrey remind us, however, many of the bloodbaths perpetrated by American troops in Vietnam were not accidental at all.) There’s the dance number performed to “Suzy Q” by airlifted Playboy Bunnies, exemplifying the disconnect between the wild party that was late-’60s America and the savage war that (understandably) few young men wanted to leave home to fight. And there’s the psychedelic firefight at Do Lung Bridge, the most spectacular expression of Coppola’s notion that the Vietnam experience was refracted through the prism of LSD, pot, and opium.
It’s easy to understand why the two restored episodes were originally deleted. The second appearance of the Bunnies, which finds them marooned upriver and reduced to selling themselves for food and fuel, was shot on sets destroyed by heavy rain and never actually finished. Coppola and editor Walter Murch managed to finesse the scene so it doesn’t seem incomplete, but the notion that the Bunnies would be entrapped by the Vietnam quagmire is not especially cogent; they’re more evocative as symbols of the clueless home front, dropping in for a casual appearance and flying away without any real understanding of the inferno they’ve briefly shimmied through.
The French plantation episode is considerably more complex. Willard and the crew emerge from a mist to find a family that has somehow held on to its colonial fiefdom more than a decade after France lost control of Indochina. The captain is invited to dinner, where his hosts engage in the film’s only extended political discussion of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. Elsewhere in Apocalypse Now, the Vietnam War is presented as a nightmare, but herein what is essentially a dream sequencethe conflict is discussed rationally. “You Americans fight for the biggest nothing in history,” announces the plantation’s patriarchan insight that resonates strongly amid the film’s predominantly visceral portrayal of war as lunacy without any comprehensible cause.
It’s significant that both of these previously expunged sequences add women to the movie’s unbalanced universe, which is distorted as much by testosterone as by acid. Willard enjoys a tender, opium-hazy one-night-stand with a French widow (Aurore Clément, the wife of Apocalypse Now production designer Dean Tavoularis) before continuing his bad trip. Then it’s on to “the horror” summoned by three macho men: Joseph Conrad, whose Heart of Darkness inspired the movie; John Milius, who wrote the original script; and Brando, who plays the godlike (if ridiculous) Kurtz.
Village Voice critic J. Hoberman suggests that the new scenes “are welcome mainly in that they serve to forestall the movie’s inevitable collapse.” That may be true of the Bunnies’ reprise, but the French plantation sequence alters the mood dramatically. Coming just before Willard encounters Kurtz, the episode establishes a hallucinatory tone that makes the final sequence less jarring. That’s not to say that Willard’s encounter with Kurtzand Kurtz’s court jester, a blown-mind photojournalist played by Dennis Hopperis more convincing in Redux than it was before. Brando’s Kurtz is still a hopeless excuse for a character, a platitudinous construct who impossibly combines aspects of Vito Corleone, Charles Manson, and Bill Moyers. Still, the new version’s rhythm and pitch have been altered, improving the overall effect by giving the final scenes less consequence.
Like its 1979 predecessor, Apocalypse Now Redux is hardly a profound analysis of the Vietnam War, and its various literary referencesConrad, T.S. Eliot, Raymond Chandler, and Heraclitus among themare just so much intellectual stage dressing. Yet the film packs immense power, in part because even its most astonishing images are clearly actual rather than virtual. Aside from intensity and sweep, the qualities that most distinguish the movie are originality and sheer conviction. At a time when nearly all Hollywood movies are effectively remakes, Redux insists on traveling into the unknown and encountering the unseen. The results are chaotic but frequently triumphant. Unlike the U.S. forces in Vietnam, Coppola lost the battle but won the war.
In 1966’s Fantastic Voyage, a miniaturized crew entered a man’s body to repair a blood clot. In keeping with the era, the film had a Cold War premisethe patient was a defecting scientist injured in a commie murder attemptand a worshipful approach to new technology and expanding medical knowledge. Thirty-five years later, such earnestness is as exotic as the virus that threatens Osmosis Jones’ central character, slobby zookeeper Frank (Bill Murray). A chance to enter the marvel that is the human anatomy? Set the controls for the heart of Boogerdom!
A collaboration between gross-out clowns Peter and Bobby Farrelly and veteran animators Piet Kroon and Tom Sito, Osmosis Jones is cleaved ironically, if predictably, into grungy live action and clean animation. Despite the wise counsel of his grade-school-age daughter, Shane (Elena Franklin), Frank shaves infrequently, exercises never, and eats badly. He precipitates the movie’s crisis when he eats a hard-boiled egg he wrestled away from a chimp; the creature’s saliva harbors a lethal virus, which upon entering Frank’s body becomes suave, devilish villain Thrax (the voice of Laurence Fishburne). Frank’s only hope is a white blood cell, Osmosis Jones (Chris Rock), a disgraced hotshot who forges the usual bickering cop-buddy-flick relationship with his new partner, officious cold pill Drix (David Hyde Pierce).
Although Kroon and Sito show us such sites as the bowels, the bladder, and the interior of a festering pimple, their sleek animationcombining hand-drawn and computer-generated imagerynever looks putrid. Putridity is left to the Farrellys, who make sure that Frank regularly explodes, drenching Shane’s teacher (Molly Shannon) with vomit and pus. (The PG rating bars other substances that are among the Farrellys’ faves.) Inside Frank’s disgusting corpus, however, everything is metaphor: The nerves are electrical wires, the stomach is an airport, the armpit is a gang hangout, and the subconscious is a movie megaplex. Even a cameo by “Kidney Rock” can’t make this place look mucky.
Although it never approaches the realm of Apocalypse Now, Osmosis Jones does find Fishburne on an odyssey, this time headed for the glands of darkness. In its modest way, the movie reveals how Hollywood’s ambitions have been downsized: The Farrellys, Kroon, and Sito are content merely to recombine timeworn genres, as if nothing could be more satisfying than to fuse Fantastic Voyage, Innerspace, Lethal Weapon, and Antz. There are no surprises on this journey, in which the quest is for nothing more profound than a concluding fart. CP