A lot of superlatives have been attached to Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now, it’s every bit as mesmerizing, trippy, and poetic as it was when it stunned audiences back in 1979.
The Vietnam War opus directed by Francis Ford Coppola is a monumental movie and is so despite being burdened by so much trouble, the problems that haunted its production have become quite legendary. Harvey Keitel was cast only to be soon replaced by Martin Sheen, who later suffered a heart attack on set. Typhoon Olga did a number on the Philippine sets, leading to a closure of production. Marlon Brando’s unexpected weight problems—no pun intended—proved an additional burden for Coppola and the crew, as they were forced to alter the screenplay.
The 1979 epic film about the Vietnam War was both directed, produced, and co-written by Francis Ford Coppola. The screenplay, co-written by Coppola and John Milius and narration written by Michael Herr, was loosely based on the 1899 novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. It stars Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne, and Dennis Hopper.
The novella setting was changed from late 19th-century Congo to the Vietnam War (1969–70) instead, as the film follows a river journey from South Vietnam into Cambodia undertaken by Captain Benjamin L. Willard (a character based on Conrad’s Marlow and played by Sheen), who is on a secret mission to assassinate Colonel Kurtz (Brando, with the character being based on Conrad’s Mr. Kurtz), a renegade Army Special Forces officer accused of murder and who is presumed insane.
The helicopter attack scene with the Ride of the Valkyries soundtrack was chosen as the most memorable film scene ever by Empire magazine (this same piece of music was also used in 1915 to similar effect to accompany The Birth of a Nation). Wagner’s imposing score combine wonderfully with the visuals to emphasize the military dominance of the American forces. This is the intent; emphasizing the power and grandiosity of the military force from the US in Vietnam on the surface, but underneath we all know how that tale ends. In madness and embarrassment, that the rest of the film ultimately explores.
“Walkürenritt” in the third act of Wagner’s 1870 opera Die Walküre. The opera revolves around Valkyries, mythic figures in Norse mythology who take half of the warriors slain in battle to Valhalla, a celebratory hall of the afterlife where they will prepare for the final apocalyptic battle, Ragnarok. Coppola’s scene opens both literally, and figuratively, by pressing play on the tape, commencing the tense thrills and fast, high-register scalar runs of the “Walkürenritt” theme.