As did his movies of ‘The Godfather’ trilogy, Francis Ford Coppola’s hallucinatory Vietnam war epic entered the culture on a mythic level, less concerned with getting every detail right than with delivering a cosmic gut-punch. If we all know the smell of napalm in the morning – or that ‘Charlie Don’t Surf’– it’s because ‘Apocalypse Now’ spoke in an irreverent language unlike any combat film made. It’s a late-1970s expression of an unencumbered filmmaker looking back on a crazy war that was still fresh in the memory.
Neurotically, Coppola continues to toy with it, getting further away from his original impulses each year. This latest and ‘final’ edition adds some of the additional footage we saw in 2001’s ‘Redux’ version, but not all of it. The idea that we would want even a few of these draggy, didactic scenes (the poorly paced French plantation sequence plays better with self-satisfied critics than with audiences) may remind you of one of Marlon Brando’s immortal lines, the one about an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill.
Regardless, there’s a compelling reason to see this again, and that’s to submit to Coppola’s vision in an Imax theatre, where his remastered sound will boom like you’re in an actual war zone. Technically, the experience has been tweaked into something majestically immersive; the rumbling may not work as well at home or even in a smallish cinema. ‘Apocalypse Now’ will always be with us – it needs no further help from its makers. Open your ears and eyes and re-enlist.