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I just finished watching Apocalypse Now - for the first time - about 20 minutes ago. I feel like I need to watch it about seven more times and wait about three more years before I could even begin to write something about it, but I'm afraid I've painted myself into a corner with this blog-a-thon.
As I've stated a number of times over the years, it's difficult for an as-yet-unseen "classic film" to deliver shock and awe to viewers that have seen their clones for decades - carbon copies of Xeroxes of scans of screenshots. What was once brilliant and new is now (or was eons ago) commonplace; what was once controversial is now the norm, if not passe. On top of all that, mountains upon mountains of hype and praise are thrown into the mix, convincing the new viewer that what they are about to see is the apex of cinematic glory, or at least something like that. Frankly, the odds are stacked against the new viewer towards experiencing the film sans baggage.
Visit IMDb's trivia section and you'll see the following (truncated, to be sure) list of accolades heaped upon Apocalypse:
* Voted #7 On Empire's 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time (September 2008)
* The movie's line "I love the smell of napalm in the morning." was voted as the #12 movie quote by the American Film Institute, and as the #45 of "The 100 Greatest Movie Lines" by Premiere in 2007.
* In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #30 Greatest Movie of All Time.
* The movie's line "The horror... the horror..." was voted as the #66 of "The 100 Greatest Movie Lines" by Premiere in 2007.
* Voted No.1 in Film4's "50 Films To See Before You Die".
* Was voted "Best Picture of the last 25 years" by the Dutch movie magazine 'Skrien' on December 3rd 2002.
* IMDb Top 250: #38
So, I'm sure by now that you're all wondering what the verdict is - did it live up to the hype?
It did. From the opening scenes of the face of Martin Sheen juxtaposed with the blades of a fan set to The Doors classic opus "The End" to the final shots of Martin Sheen's face juxtaposed with the face of a statue set to The Doors classic opus "The End," I was sucked into this portrait of two men on the verge of insanity (or quite possibly, well beyond it). This was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, minus Sin City and some of the drugs, plus a water buffalo and Dennis Hopper. No amount of Hot Shots or Tropic Thunder could steal away the significance and power of the sights on display, and the iconic lines - so many of them - only managed to become more powerful, my anticipation for them somehow making them better.
What I found most surprising and striking was that, when I had thought of this film in the past, of course the "crazy" label would be applied to Marlon Brando's Colonel Kurtz and potentially to Sheen's Colonel Willard, but the true standout of the film for me - and quite possibly the craziest of them all, was Robert Duvall's Lt. Kilgore, a psycho that's at once menacing, caring, and out of his mind, intent more on surfing than anything else. His lack of flinching with shells landing mere feet from him killed me, as did his infamous "Charlie don't surf!" line, which I had forgotten about. He was far and away my favorite character.
As for the main loon in question - Colonel Kurtz - I loved the setup of the film and how it was more about the journey than the destination. What we learn about Willard and the War prior to his arrival at Kurtz's base seemed much more important than what was actually going on there. Kurtz might have been dangerous to his bosses at the bases, but his clarity of vision made him seem more a tragic figure than a nut job. Willard sees this and empathizes with him, all the while conflicted about his mission, one that is simultaneously driving him mad. The third act is lengthy but offers a satisfying conclusion.
Which leads me to where I might have started here. It seems as though, thirty-one years later, writing about Apocalypse Now is akin to shooting at a moving target. With multiple versions of the ending being seen even upon its release, not to mention the Redux version and any subsequent editions, it can be confusing to know what you're reading about, much less which version you're watching. Far as I can tell, I saw the original version with the original ending, and I'm glad for that - aside from not being psyched about the prospect of another hour's worth of material tacked onto an already 2.5 hour movie, it sounds as though the original original has the most apt ending. Getting all this straight could drive one mad.
Tomorrow: filmgeek hangs out with Winona and Angelina in Girl, Interrupted.