Apocalypse Now: Final Cut

As the busiest UK script consultant in the business I’m always watching movies and this week I caught up with the ‘Final Cut’ of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now  (1979).

Now, we’ve had quite a few versions of this film, but I have to say. I think ‘Final Cut’ is my favourite version. In the words of the great Factory Records music producer Martin Hannett, this version plays ‘faster and slower’ and it takes out some of the bits that the ‘Redux’ version put in, which would have best been left on the cutting room floor.

So, for the movie geeks – gone from Redux are the sex with the Playboy girls, which was pretty odd to start with. There is a new sound mix, and it feels to me like shot for shot, some of this is cut a little tighter in places.  Sheen’s character still steals Kilgore’s surf board and the French plantation sequence is still there, but kind of works better this time with some of the other material inserted into the ‘Redux’ version now pulled back out.

So, this is really a kind of tidied up ‘Redux’ and is befitting the ‘Final Cut’ term.  It’s better than the original release (for me) and is a big improvement on the ‘everything goes’  Redux.  Of course, all versions are worth seeing, but this has the definitive stamp. The new transfer in 4k from the negative is stunning, and you almost get a bit dulled from the amazing imagery created by Coppola and cameraman Vittorio Storaro, shot after breath taking shot is tiring in a good way after a while.

We all know the story; Francis nearly went mad filming this, with his own money in the Philippines jungle. Marlon was fat, he turned up late and didn’t like the script or the end, Sheen had a heart attack (during the shoot), stopped drinking (he’s really shit faced in that first scene, and clearly not well) Laurence Fishbourne was actually about 14 years old. Everything went out of the window and the film started making itself. All the sets were destroyed at least twice in freak weather. The studio (in a funny mirror of the film’s own plot) sent John Milius down to the Philippines to talk to Coppola because they thought he’d gone mad.  Milius arrived to talk Francis around and then went a bit loco himself and told the studio that Francis was a genius, and he wasn’t coming back etc. The film nearly bankrupted Coppola and the subsequent financial turmoil may have marred the rest of his career as he struggled to pay off creditors and retain control of his Zoetrope Studios and his home and winery. Francis’ marriage nearly collapsed too (see the documentary Hearts of Darkness) and of course, Harvey Keitel was set to play the Sheen character – and was sacked early on and everything had to be reshot. Apart from that, it was all plane sailing…

Was any of this worth it?  Well, it’s a great film.  I’d put this version especially in the top ten films of all time.  It’s a towering cinematic achievement. But was Francis ever the same afterwards? The ambition to realise this took a toll on the maker.  The original plan was to shoot this with a low budget, on handheld 16mm cameras. Would that film have equalled this? The film just got very big, very fast, and maybe, the scale was wrong. Grand can quickly become grandiose. But it’s masterpiece and will stand the test of time.

For now at least, the ‘Final Cut’ is the version to see. And you should see it.

Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire, UK Script editor  and UK script consultant for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. His UK script coverage service and script development service are highly sought after.

You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb.His directorial debut, the rubber reality horror thriller Markham will be released in 2020. You can find out more about Matthew’s work as a director here.

You can get in touch with Matthew on matcoop23@yahoo.co.uk.