In March 1976, film director Francis Ford Coppola and his crew marched into the Philipino jungle to begin filming "Apocalypse Now", an odyssey set during the Vietnam war. Based on the Joseph Conrad novellette, "Heart of Darkness", Coppola's epic follows the journey of US army captain, Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) up river to the compound of insane Green Beret colonel Walter E Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Willard's mission becomes a journey into himself as he sees aspects of the demented Kurtz in his own soul.
The film opens with a gaggle of helicopters strafing the dense jungle, and a napalm strike on the triple canopy. A superb narration (written by "Dispatches" author Michael Herr) accompanies the film and gives the viewer an excellent insight into the character of Willard:
"Every minute I stay in this room I get weaker and every minute Charlie squats in the bush he gets stronger".
This segment of dialogue preceeds a part of the movie which was originally going to be left out. In it Willard does a drunken dance and ends up cutting his hand. In actuality the scene was fimed on Sheen's 36th birthday when the leading man was in a drink-and-drugs induced haze. This type of voyeuristic filming was typical of the madness that surrounded the making of the movie.
The polt begins when Willard is offered a dangerous mission to track down the insane Kurtz. He is told to "terminate with extreme prejudice" and that officially the mission does not exist. He accepts the mission and moves off down the river in a Navy patrol boat with four other crewmen. On his journey he meets some very intriguing people, most notably Lt Colonel William Kilgore (Robert Duvall) and an American photojournalist played by Dennis Hopper.
Kigore is the eccentric commander of a helicopter division who leads his men into battle to the strains of Wagner's "The Ride of the Valkyries". He decides to attack a village around the delta of a river because the surf is good there. When told by one of his junior officers that the point belongs to Charlie, Kilgore, typically gung ho replies "Charlie don't surf".
Hopper's character is a harlequin type figure whose drug induced observations on Kurtz's philosophies are often crazed and irrational. Coppola had at first been afraid to put Dennis Hopper and Marlon Brando in the same room together, but in the end the two worked well.
When Willard comes to the end of his mission he finally meets the insane Kurtz. Kurtz captures Willard but does not kill him, instead he tries to figure out why Willard was sent to kill him. Willard completes his mission by killing Kurtz and escaping with the last remaining Navy crewmen.
The final speech of the movie is given to Kurtz and is simply "the horror, the horror". A man is driven mad with the war. "Apocalypse Now" is one of the greatest war movies ever, showing the messed up side of a messed up war. Excellent performances by the four main actors, particularly Martin Sheen (who suffered a severe heart attack during filming and was given last rites), make this a classic film and easily Coppola's best movie.
So over to you guys. Which movie, TV programme or book would you recommend in the "What do you mean you've never seen/read..." thread?