As Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece celebrates with a newly restored 'Final Cut' version, we look at some things you might not have know about this cult classic...
Celebrating its 40th anniversary with a newly restored ‘Final Cut’ version, Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam masterpiece Apocalypse Now remains an absolute must-see for film lovers. After screening as a work in progress at Cannes in 1979 (and sharing the Palme d’Or with Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum), it would take another 40 years for a true ‘Final Cut’ to emerge.
Running 183 minutes – half an hour longer than the 1979 original but shorter than the 2001 ‘Redux’ edition – this new cut offers Coppola the chance to embrace the strangeness of it, as well as the opportunity to apply new tech advances to ensure it’s as visually arresting as he originally envisioned. In the run up to our screening on Sunday 30th June at 3.00pm, we look at some key facts about Coppola’s psychedelic Vietnam war epic.
The film was plagued by disaster
Coppola originally planned for the film to be shot over a 14-week period in the spring of 1976, but soon after filming began, Typhoon Olga hit the Philippines, ruining almost all of the equipment and sets - bringing production to a halt for 8 weeks. After refusing to shoot the film on location in Vietnam, Coppola agreed to relocate to the Philippines after striking a deal with President Ferdinand Marcos, who offered to lend the production as many helicopters as required.
However, these were constantly recalled for Marcos to fight his own war against anti-government rebels, delaying the filming even further. 14 weeks soon turned into 16 months, with post-production lasting a further 2 years.
Harvey Keitel was originally cast as Captain Benjamin Willard
After seeing him as Charlie in Scorsese’s Mean Streets, Coppola cast Keitel as the film’s lead. After a few weeks of shooting, Coppola decided he didn’t like Keitel’s portrayal of the role, saying that the actor "found it difficult to play him as a passive onlooker" and replaced him with Martin Sheen, who had previously auditioned for the role of Michael Corleone in Coppola’s The Godfather.
When he arrived, he found the production in chaos - Coppola was frequently deviating from the original screenplay and crew members were dropping out on a daily basis.
Martin Sheen almost died while filming
Coppola shot a variety of different endings, but decided to bring the crew back for reshoots after he was dissatisfied with the outcome. During this time, Martin Sheen suffered a near-fatal heart attack and Coppola - already highly strung due to the amount of money he’d personally invested into the production - convinced himself he was to blame and had a nervous breakdown.
Both of them were worried that support would be withdrawn from the studio if news of Sheen’s heart attack leaked, so they both kept it quiet and it was reported Sheen was hospitalised due to heat exhaustion. While he was recovering, Sheen’s younger brother Joe Estevez stood in for him for some body shots and his voice was used for voiceovers.
The opening scene was completely unscripted
In the early scene in which Captain Willard is drunk and alone in his hotel room, he smashes a mirror and smears blood all over his body. The scene was filmed on Sheen’s 36thbirthday, and years later he admitted that he improvised the scene when he was drunk and could hardly stand.
At the time he was grappling with alcoholism amongst other issues, and in her autobiography Sheen’s ex-wife reflects: “He had gotten to the place where some part of him and Willard merged.” Sheen later told Rolling Stone: “I did identify pretty closely with the character. Making that film was an ordeal, not just physically but emotionally.”
Real cadavers were used on set
In the unforgettable scene in which Willard and his crew arrive at Kurtz’s compound, dead bodies can be seen hanging from trees in the background. According to co-producer Gray Frederickson, the production designer – aiming for authenticity - sourced real cadavers he intended to be used for this setting.
He’d secured them from a local who, after a police investigation, was revealed to be a grave robber who had been supplying cadavers to medical schools...