Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Apocalypse Now is a 1979 American film by Francis Ford Coppola, inspired by Joseph Conrad's classic novella Heart of Darkness. Set in the Vietnam War, a taciturn American soldier is sent to "terminate with extreme prejudice" a rogue Green Beret colonel. The narrative of his journey and its culmination is studded with events which, while bizarre, partake of real Vietnam stories. The soldier's journey becomes increasingly nonlinear and hallucinatory. Coppola's agenda clearly includes larger themes of life and war.
The film features performances by Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Marlow in Conrad's novel), Marlon Brando as Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, Dennis Hopper as a fast-talking hallucinogenic photojournalist and Robert Duvall in an Oscar-nominated turn as the borderline-psychotic Lt. Colonel Kilgore. Several other actors who were (or later became) prominent stars had minor or supporting roles in the movie including Harrison Ford, R. Lee Ermey and Laurence Fishburne (who, only fourteen years old during filming, was credited as 'Larry Fishburne') .
- Marlon Brando - Col. Walter E. Kurtz
- Martin Sheen - Capt. Benjamin L. Willard
- Dennis Hopper - "American photojournalist"
- Robert Duvall - Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore
- Frederic Forrest - "Chef", sailor
- Albert Hall - Chief Phillips, Navy boat commander
- Sam Bottoms - Lance B. Johnson, sailor and famous surfer
- Laurence Fishburne - Tyrone, AKA "Clean", sailor
- G. D. Spradlin - Gen. Corman, G-2
- Harrison Ford - Col. Lucas, aide to Corman
- Scott Glenn - Lt. Richard M. Colby, previously assigned Willard's current mission
- Tom Mason - supply sgt.
- Colleen Camp - Playmate, "Miss May"
Filmed in the Philippines, the film went far over budget and schedule: a typhoon destroyed many of the sets, the Philippine Army helicopters used for shooting were constantly called back by Ferdinand Marcos to be used in actual combat, the lead role was recast (Martin Sheen replaced Harvey Keitel after shooting had begun), Sheen then had a near-fatal heart attack, Brando was intractable and out of shape, and Coppola himself was mentally fragile. After the first edit, the film was six hours long and had to be severely edited; the original released version was just over two and a half hours long. (Coppola re-released the film in 2001 under the title Apocalypse Now Redux, restoring footage and sequences and lifting the running time to 200 minutes.) For background information on the film, see Eleanor Coppola's documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, released in 1991.
U.S. Special Forces Captain Benjamin L. Willard is stationed in Saigon; a seasoned veteran, he is deeply troubled and apparently no longer fit for civilian life. A group of intelligence officers approaches him with a special mission up-river into the remote Cambodian jungle to find Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, a member of the Green Berets.
They state that Kurtz, once considered a model officer and future general, has apparently gone insane and is commanding a legion of his own troops deep in neutral Cambodia. Their claims are supported by very disturbing radio broadcasts and/or recordings made by Kurtz himself. Willard is asked to undertake a mission to find Kurtz and dispose of him 'with extreme prejudice'.
Willard studies the intelligence files during the boat ride to the river entrance and learns that Kurtz, isolated in his compound and in a strange mental state, has assumed the role of a warlord and is worshipped by the natives and his own loyal men. Another officer, sent earlier to kill Kurtz, has apparently become one of his lieutenants.
Willard will begin his trip up the Nung river on a PBR ("patrol boat, rigid"), with an eclectic crew composed of by-the-book and formal Chief Phillips, a black Navy boat commander; GM3 Lance B. Johnson, a tanned all-American California surfer; GM3 Tyrone, AKA "Clean", a black 17-year-old from the Bronx; and the Cajun Engineman, Jay "Chef" Hicks.
The PBR arrives at an LZ where Willard and the crew meet up with Colonel Bill Kilgore, the merciless commander of the AirCav in the region, following a massive and hectic mopping-up operation of a conquered enemy town. Kilgore, a keen surfer, befriends Johnson and announces that down the coast there is a beach with perfect surf that also marks the opening to the river, which he is more than happy to capture. The problem is, his troops say, it's "Charlie's point" and heavily fortified. Dismissing these gripes, Kilgore orders his men to saddle up in the morning so that the AirCav can take town and the beach. Riding high above the coast in a fleet of Hueys, Kilgore launches an attack on the beach. The scene, famous for its use of Richard Wagner's epic "Ride of the Valkyries", ends with the soldiers surfing the barely claimed beach amidst skirmishes with infantry and VC. After helicopters swoop over the village and demolish all visible signs of resistance, a giant napalm strike in the nearby jungle dramatically marks the climax of the battle. "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" Kilgore remarks to Willard and the boat crew, explaining that it "smells like...victory."
The lighting and mood darken as the boat navigates upstream and Willard's silent obsession with Kurtz deepens. Episodes on the journey include a run-in with a tiger while Willard and Chef search for mangos, an impromptu inspection of a Vietnamese boat that leads to accidental slaughter, a surreal stop at the last American outpost during a Vietnamese attack against a wood bridge under construction there, and the shocking deaths of both "Clean" and Chief Phillips during a gunfire ambush with hidden Vietnamese soldiers and a spear thrown by a native on the shore, respectively.
Once arrived at Kurtz's palatial compound, Willard leaves Chef behind with orders to call in an air strike on the village if he does not return. They are met by a rather eccentric freelance photographer (played by Dennis Hopper) that explains the greatness and philosophic skills of Kurtz to provoke his people into following him. At this point, the narrative becomes increasingly nonlinear and abstract, and slows to an excruciating pace. While brought before Kurtz and held in captivity in a darkened temple, Willard’s constitution appears to weaken as Kurtz lectures him on his theories of war, humanity, and civilization. When bound outside in the pouring rain, Kurtz places the head of Chef in Willard's lap. Coppola makes little explicit, but we come to believe that Willard and Kurtz develop an understanding nonetheless: Kurtz wishes to die at Willard's hands, and that Willard, having subsequently granted Kurtz his wish, is offered the chance to succeed him in his warlord-demigod role. Juxtaposed with a ceremonial slaughtering of a cow, Willard enters Kurtz's chamber during one of his message recordings, and kills him with a machete. Lying bloody and dying on the ground, Kurtz whispers "The horror...the horror," in reference to the war and man's potential for great power and violence. The natives and soldiers do not try and stop Willard and Lance from slowly leaving the temple area and departing downriver in the patrol boat.
Coppola denied having any actual alternative endings. In the DVD commentary, he states that they simply had a massive amount of footage to edit with and thus had some choices to make. They did consider using the explosion footage made during their destruction of the Kurtz compound, but he later decided that implying that the air strike had been called in was contrary to his wish to offer some slight hope that we could overcome the horrors of war.
However, there are multiple slightly varying versions of the ending credits.
Although inspired by Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness the film deviates from it extensively. Time and location are changed: from the Congo Free State (colony of King Leopold II of Belgium) at the end of the 19th century to Vietnam in the middle of the 20th century. Subsequently Willard (Marlow, in the book) and Kurtz are not commercial agents of a Belgian ivory company thats seeks fortune by brutally exploitiong African native workers, but soldiers of the American Army in a war. There is no Kilgore character either, a major player in the film. Captain Willard is not sent to bring Kurtz back, as in ‘’Heart of Darkness’’, where he dies of natural death (most likely a peaceful heart attack while on Marlow's boat), but to kill him instead.
In spite of this, Coppola has maintained many episodes (the spear and arrow attack on the boat, for example) that have respected the spirit of the novel and in particular its critique of the concept of civilization and progress. The fact that Coppola substituted European colonization with American interventionism does not change the universal message of the book. 
- Cannes Film Festival : Palme d'Or
- Academy Award for Best Cinematography (Vittorio Storaro)
- Academy Award for Sound (Richard Beggs , Mark Berger , Nathan Boxer and Walter Murch)
- Golden Globe Award for Best Director (Francis Ford Coppola)
- Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor (Robert Duvall)
- Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score - Motion Picture (Carmine Coppola & Francis Ford Coppola)
- Academy Award for Best Picture
- Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Drama
- Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor - (Robert Duvall)
- Academy Award for Best Art Direction - Set Decoration (Angelo P. Graham , George R. Nelson and Dean Tavoularis )
- Academy Award for Directing (Francis Ford Coppola)
- Academy Award for Film Editing (Lisa Fruchtman , Gerald B. Greenberg , Richard Marks and Walter Murch)
- Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Francis Ford Coppola & John Milius)
- WGA Award for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen (John Milius & Francis Ford Coppola)
- Grammy Award for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture (Carmine Coppola & Francis Ford Coppola)
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