A lot of superlatives have been attached to Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 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 film 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.
Apocalypse Now’s centerpiece is the air attack on the Viet Cong-held village, with the ‘The End’ by The Doors serving as an effective frame for a series of unforgettable moments, like when all hell breaks loose as the helicopter squadron swoops down. The opening sequence is a captivating inculcation and representation of war and post-traumatic stress disorder. A beginning realized with an aesthetic vision that anticipates the way war is depicted in the film, the horror of war.