Apocalypse Now (1979)

R | 146 or 150 mins | Drama | 1979

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HISTORY

Filmmaker Francis Coppola’s development of Apocalypse Now began in the late 1960s when Warner Bros. Pictures bought the original screenplay by John Milius to be produced by Coppola’s American Zoetrope Co., as announced in briefs from the 14 Oct 1969 DV and the 15 Oct 1969 HR. George Lucas was attached as director with plans for a small scale $1.5 million production shot on 16mm. While funds were being secured, Lucas became unavailable due to preparations for Star Wars (1977, see entry), as explained in a 12 Aug 1979 NYT article. According to a Sep 1979 American Film article, Milius was also approached about directing, but declined because of other commitments.
       The project remained stalled until 1975 when Coppola, who now owned the rights, decided to self-finance the production as a $10 million independent feature for his new company, Coppola Cinema Seven Co., as reported in a 29 May 1975 DV article. Coppola would direct and was considering changing the title to Heart of Darkness, the name of author Joseph Conrad’s turn-of-the-century story and a source of inspiration for the original screenplay. Milius was hired for rewrites, which led him to speculate in a 2 Sep 1975 DV article that the final film would be “‘the most violent movie ever made.’” The 25 Oct 1975 LAT described the project as “the first major dramatic movie about American involvement in Vietnam.” A 3 Nov 1975 Box brief announced United Artists Corp. would release the film in the U.S. ... More Less

Filmmaker Francis Coppola’s development of Apocalypse Now began in the late 1960s when Warner Bros. Pictures bought the original screenplay by John Milius to be produced by Coppola’s American Zoetrope Co., as announced in briefs from the 14 Oct 1969 DV and the 15 Oct 1969 HR. George Lucas was attached as director with plans for a small scale $1.5 million production shot on 16mm. While funds were being secured, Lucas became unavailable due to preparations for Star Wars (1977, see entry), as explained in a 12 Aug 1979 NYT article. According to a Sep 1979 American Film article, Milius was also approached about directing, but declined because of other commitments.
       The project remained stalled until 1975 when Coppola, who now owned the rights, decided to self-finance the production as a $10 million independent feature for his new company, Coppola Cinema Seven Co., as reported in a 29 May 1975 DV article. Coppola would direct and was considering changing the title to Heart of Darkness, the name of author Joseph Conrad’s turn-of-the-century story and a source of inspiration for the original screenplay. Milius was hired for rewrites, which led him to speculate in a 2 Sep 1975 DV article that the final film would be “‘the most violent movie ever made.’” The 25 Oct 1975 LAT described the project as “the first major dramatic movie about American involvement in Vietnam.” A 3 Nov 1975 Box brief announced United Artists Corp. would release the film in the U.S. and Canada.
       Filmmakers previously interested in bringing Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness to the screen included Orson Welles, producer Jeffrey Selznick, Polish director Andrzej Wajda, producer Robert L. Lippert and director James B. Clark, as reported in briefs from the 22 Aug 1968 HR and the 23 Jun 1965 DV. Milius was influenced by Conrad’s narrative of a boat going up a river as a way to view the Vietnam War, but was not aiming for a literal adaptation. In a 15 May 1977 NYT feature article, Milius said he also based the character of “Colonel Kurtz” on Colonel Robert B. Rheault, a Green Beret officer who was arrested for killing a double-agent.
       Milius and Coppola, particularly during the early stages, disagreed about the politics of the film with Coppola favoring a more pacifist approach, but Milius felt that they eventually developed an “apolitical” common ground by focusing on moral ambiguity and obsession with power. As Coppola became involved in the writing, he incorporated elements from other sources, which are listed in the production notes in AMPAS library files, such as James Fraser’s The Golden Bough, Jesse Weston’s From Ritual to Romance and T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland and The Hollow Men.
       Early references to casting appeared in the 2 Sep 1975 DV article and listed Marlon Brando as “Colonel Kurtz,” Steve McQueen as “Captain Willard,” and Gene Hackman as “Wyatt Kharnage,” a character who would later be renamed “Lt. Colonel Kilgore.” Other actors mentioned for leading roles included Robert Redford in a 5 May 1975 LAT item and James Caan and Al Pacino in a 23 Feb 1976 People brief. Complaining about the unaffordability of star salaries in a 9 Feb 1976 LAT article, Coppola said the production was not able to reach an agreement with McQueen who was asking for $3 million and was reluctant about being on location for sixteen weeks in a jungle. As a result, Coppola was forced to return $5 million to European distributors who had made a financial commitment based on the involvement of certain major stars, as noted in a 23 May 1979 Var article.
       Apart from the roles of Kurtz and Kilgore, the director refocused his efforts on casting up and coming talent whom he could sign to long-term contracts with Coppola Cinema Seven. In an unconventional advertisement published in the 3 Mar 1976 Var, Coppola announced the names of actors who were “first choices for the principal roles,” noting that “since, with the exception of Mr. Brando and Mr. Duvall, this is the first notification of our choices, the above castings are of course subject to final negotiations of deals.” Harvey Keitel was now listed for the role of Willard and Robert Duvall for Kilgore. According to a 10 Mar 1976 LAT article, five actors on the list, Keitel, Sam Bottoms (“Lance”), Frederic Forrest (“Chef”), Albert Hall (“Chief”) and Larry Fishburne (“Clean”) would be signed to contracts with Cinema Seven. Later, the 23 May 1979 Var article speculated whether the contracts were actually enforced.
       In addition to Keitel, who was later replaced by Martin Sheen, many actors on this list did not appear in the final screen credits: Ben Piazza (“Capt. Cameron”), Harry Dean Stanton (“Col. Dean”), Robby Benson (“P.F.C. Boyd”), Tony Cummings (“Mike”), Ken Wolger (“Tom”), Greta Ronningan (“Playmate”), Lynda Carter (“Playmate”), Nick Surovy (“Lieutenant”), Tom Johnston (“D.C.M.”), Charlie Robinson (“Kurtz’s Green Berets”) and Michael Learned (“Kurtz’s Wife”). Although an item in the 26 Mar 1976 LAT reported that George Stevens, Jr., founding director of the American Film Institute, traveled to the set on short notice to play a small part as a “high level government official,” no additional information was available in the AMPAS library file about the outcome of his role.
       As reported in articles in the 29 May 1975 DV and the 24 Sep 1975 Var, to represent Vietnam, Coppola initially scouted locations in Georgia and Florida and also considered filming in Queensland, Australia, but was denied support by the United States Pentagon and by the Australian Defense Ministry. The production notes explained that the project’s decision to shoot in the Philippines was aided by the cooperation of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. The filmmakers negotiated the use of the country’s American-made military equipment, as well as assistance with logistics in remote locations. During shooting, Philippine helicopters and their pilots were often summoned for actual combat operations against revolutionary guerillas on the island of Mindanao, requiring the film crew to frequently change the fake U.S. insignia on the machinery back to Philippine Air Force markings.
       A timeline of significant production dates was included in the film’s official program, which was distributed to audiences during the 70mm presentations in 1979 and is available at AMPAS library. The production phase has also been well-documented in an on-set diary by Coppola’s wife, Eleanor, excerpts of which were published in the 5 Aug 1979 NYT Magazine and later as a 1979 book titled, Notes: On the Making of Apocalypse Now. Additionally, she directed behind-the-scenes footage of the production that was later used as the basis for the documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalyse (1991, see entry).
       According to the program timeline, shooting began 20 Mar 1976 at a lake on the outskirts of the capital of Manila. Meanwhile, elaborate sets were being constructed at multiple sites throughout the Philippines, primarily on Luzon, the country’s largest island. The fishing village targeted by Kilgore’s Air Cavalry squadron was located on a coconut plantation near the town of Baler on the Pacific coast and required building seventy huts and a 250-foot pier. Another primary set, the military supply depot and U.S.O. amphitheater, was created in the town of Iba along the South China Sea.
       Soon after production commenced, headlines in a 19 Apr 1976 LAT article reported that Keitel was fired. A spokesperson for Coppola remarked that the actor “wasn’t right for the role as it shaped up,” and Coppola made the decision after four days of shooting, whereas Keitel’s agent indicated that there were also contract and scheduling concerns. According to an item in the 27 Apr 1976 DV, Jack Nicholson was approached as a replacement, but he turned down the opportunity because of a scheduling conflict. Martin Sheen, an early candidate for the role of Willard, accepted the part and arrived on set 26 Apr 1976.
       A more extensive delay occurred when Typhoon Olga halted filming in mid-May 1976, costing the production an estimated $1.3 million in damages. The 28 May 1976 Var reported that forty to eighty percent of the sets were ruined. As Coppola explained later in an interview for the 12 Aug 1979 NYT, “A storm came in off the South China Sea, split, and one part hit one obscure town, the other part hit another obscure town 200 miles away – and both were our main sets.” With the exception of construction personnel, most of the cast and crew returned to the U.S. during the two-month hiatus. The storm forced the production to abandon a planned recess during mid-summer that would have allowed Coppola time for preliminary editing.
       Filming resumed at the end of Jul 1976 in the village of Pagsanjan, a mountainous jungle region, where production rebuilt the U.S.O. stage and repaired the sets for the Cambodian temple and the Do Luoug Bridge. Ifuago aborigines were hired to depict Kurtz’s followers, the Montagnard tribesmen, and Coppola simply documented their real sacrificial ceremony of a water buffalo to intercut with Kurtz’s death.
       Eleanor Coppola’s diary and documentary footage captured how Coppola adjusted to two unexpected developments with actors during the latter part of the production schedule. Arriving on set in early Sep 1977, Brando was approximately ninety pounds overweight, according to the 12 Aug 1979 NYT article and appeared unprepared. Also, Sheen was hospitalized and required rest for several weeks after suffering a heart attack on location in Mar 1977. The director was able to shoot around the Willard character until Sheen returned to the set 19 Apr 1977.
       Although a news item from the 9 Feb 1977 Var reported that principal photography ended in mid-Dec 1976, the program timeline confirmed that shooting continued until 21 May 1977, which marked 238 days of filming.
       During 1977 and 1978, the release date was postponed at least five times. An article in the 18 Nov 1977 HR revealed that United Artists informed nervous exhibitors that the delay was caused by editing 1.5 million feet of footage and the complicated post-production sound. An item in the 13 May 1978 LAT referred to the title as Apocalypse When? and noted that some exhibitors were unenthusiastic about the rough cut Coppola screened for them in May 1978.
       By early 1979, as indicated in studio press releases, United Artists and Coppola had settled on a world premiere for 15 Aug 1979. The film would be presented in 70mm with Dolby Stereophonic Sound at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City, the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles, CA and the University Theatre in Toronto, Canada. After receiving permission from the entertainment guilds, Coppola planned to show the 70mm version without screen credits, “a first in modern film history” as reported by a 14 May 1979 DV article. For the 70mm presentation, a program listing crew and cast would be handed out to the audience. The 35mm presentation would be shown with full screen credits starting 10 Oct 1979 and would launch a wider engagement in over 300 theatres, as noted in a 13 Aug 1979 DV article.
       In the meantime, Coppola continued to preview the unfinished film. On 11 May 1979 at the Westwood Bruin Theatre in Los Angeles, he showed three consecutive screenings of “the answer print,” which he was viewing for the first time that evening, as he explained to the audience in a written statement, a copy of which is available in AMPAS library files. As reported in articles in the 14 May 1979 LAT and DV, the event was attended by 2,000 critics, fans, industry executives and celebrities and was a benefit for the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA. President Jimmy Carter screened the same version days earlier at The White House. On 19 May 1979, the film played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, as Apocalypse Now (A Work in Progress). According to a 21 May 1979 NYT article, the reaction was mixed, but the film tied for the top prize, the Palme D’Or, with the German film The Tin Drum.
       Throughout the various trial screenings that began in 1978, the film’s length ranged from 139 min to 165 min and, leading up to Aug 1979 premiere, the press speculated about alternate endings. In an interview for the 12 Aug 1979 NYT, Coppola clarified that he was only interested in one ending, a quiet fade out as Willard leaves Kurtz’s compound. However, certain foreign distributors pressured Coppola to end the film with an explosive resolution. As a compromise, Coppola decided that, in the 35mm version, the end credits would scroll over explosions of the compound, as a “graphic device, not a story point.” The final 70mm print ran 146 min and the final 35mm print, with the additional four and a half minutes of credits, ran approximately 150 min.
       The closing explosion was actual footage of the detonation of the Philippine sets, which the filmmakers were required to destroy after production, as Coppola mentioned in the production notes for Apocalypse Now Redux (2001). However, he soon realized that the 35mm version left an impression with audiences of a militant theme, opposed to what he had intended. Therefore, Coppola pulled the 35mm prints from the theaters and re-circulated them with the end credits rolling over a black background.
       The $5 ticket price for the initial 3-city engagement of the 70mm presentation made headlines since it was considered a “new high” for special event releases in Los Angeles, as reported by a 12 Jul 1979 DV article.
       The original budget was $12 million, but, by end of shooting, the costs had almost doubled, as stated in the 23 May 1979 Var article. The initial financing came from United Artists, which paid $7 million for domestic distribution, and from foreign distributors that paid a total of $7 million for their territorial rights. When the production costs climbed towards $31.5 million, as reported by an 18 Mar 1980 NYT article, Coppola used his estate as collateral to guarantee a loan and cover the overage. In several sources, such as the 12 Aug 1979 NYT article, his financial obligation to the film was listed as $16 million, while in a 22 Oct 1979 DV article, he claimed it was $22 million. Coppola would own the film, including television rights, once the debt was satisfied.
       Based on encouraging box-office reports, United Artists stated in a 3 Oct 1979 DV article that they were confident about recouping the studio’s $45 million investment, which included approximately $9 million in advertising expenditures. By the end of 1979, after sixteen weeks of release, the film was progressing towards breaking even with a worldwide box-office close to $70 million, $36.8 million of which were domestic earnings, as reported in a 24 Dec 1979 DV article.
       Critical reaction began on a note of controversy. During the Cannes Film Festival, Coppola criticized DV for reviewing the film after the 11 May 1979 preview. The director had reached an agreement with critics not to issue reviews based on a work in progress. However, in an editorial in the 29 May 1979 DV, the publication stated that they agreed to the embargo as long as other media organizations did not issue evaluations in print, on television or radio. After columnist Rona Barrett commented on the previewed film during the television show Good Morning America and called it a “‘disappointing failure,’” DV considered the ban terminated and published early reviews 15 May 1979 in DV and 16 May 1979 in Var that expressed admiration, but doubts about the film’s box-office potential.
       Following the official opening, the film was acclaimed as a masterpiece by some critics and dismissed as a catastrophe by others. The 13 Aug 1979 HR praised it in every respect and “came away with the firm conviction that this United Artists release is one of the major films of our era,” while Frank Rich in the 27 Aug 1979 Time wrote that it “is but this decade’s most extraordinary Hollywood folly.” Between the extremist opinions, other critics admired the technical achievements and grandeur of certain sequences, but were often disappointed by the ending or the last half hour, which led Vincent Canby in the 15 Aug 1979 NYT to conclude that it was a “profoundly anticlimactic intellectual muddle.” The reviewer from the 3 Sep 1979 New Yorker wrote that “the movie collapses...in a final attempt to show the unshowable.”
       The film received two Academy Awards: Cinematography and Sound and was nominated in six additional categories: Actor in a Supporting Role for Robert Duvall, Art Direction, Directing, Film Editing, Best Picture and Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium). The film also won three Golden Globes: Best Performance by an Actor In a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture for Robert Duvall, Best Director-Motion Picture and Best Original Score-Motion Picture and was nominated for Best Motion Picture-Drama.
       Apocalypse Now was ranked 30th on AFI's 2007 100 Years...100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving down from the 28th position it held on AFI's 1997 list.
       Almost twenty-two years after the world premiere, Coppola and distributor Miramax Films released Apocalypse Now Redux. In production notes, Coppola referred to it as the “new, complete and definitive version,” explaining that the film was re-assembled “from the original unedited raw footage – the dailies” and contained additional footage that extended the running time to 196 min. After premiering at the Cannes Film Festival on 11 May 2001, the film opened in limited release in US theatres on 3 Aug 2001.
       Francis Coppola is listed as “Francis Coppola” in production credits, except in the credit, “Francis Ford Coppola Presents.”
       End credits include the following written statement, “We Wish To Gratefully Acknowledge The Cooperation Of The People Of The Philippines For Their Help In Filming This Motion Picture.” End credits also include a literary acknowledgment: The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot, Courtesy of Mrs. T.S. Eliot and Messrs. Faber & Faber Ltd., London. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Film
Sep 1979
p. 57.
Box Office
3 Nov 1975.
---
Box Office
24 Nov 1975.
---
Box Office
26 Apr 1976.
---
Daily Variety
18 May 1965.
---
Daily Variety
23 Jun 1965.
---
Daily Variety
14 Oct 1969.
---
Daily Variety
29 May 1975
p. 1, 8.
Daily Variety
2 Sep 1975
p. 3.
Daily Variety
28 Nov 1975.
---
Daily Variety
21 Feb 1976.
---
Daily Variety
25 Feb 1976.
---
Daily Variety
23 Mar 1976.
---
Daily Variety
27 Apr 1976.
---
Daily Variety
28 May 1976.
---
Daily Variety
2 Jun 1976.
---
Daily Variety
14 May 1979
p. 3, 12, 14.
Daily Variety
15 May 1979.
---
Daily Variety
29 May 1979.
---
Daily Variety
12 Jul 1979.
---
Daily Variety
13 Aug 1979
p. 1, 3, 6, 15.
Daily Variety
3 Oct 1979
p. 1, 18.
Daily Variety
22 Oct 1979
p. 1, 2, 10.
Daily Variety
24 Dec 1979
p. 1, 2.
Daily Variety
19 Aug 1987
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Aug 1968.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Nov 1968.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Oct 1969.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Mar 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 Mar 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Apr 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Nov 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
11 May 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 May 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jul 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Aug 1979
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Jan 1985.
---
Los Angeles Times
5 May 1975.
---
Los Angeles Times
25 Oct 1975
Section A, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
9 Feb 1976
Section E, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
26 Feb 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
10 Mar 1976
Section F, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
26 Mar 1976
Section E, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times
19 Apr 1976
Section E, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
24 Apr 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
29 May 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
13 May 1978.
---
Los Angeles Times
14 May 1979
Section E, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times
12 Aug 1979
Calendar, p. 1.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
29 Aug 1979
p. 25.
New York Times
15 May 1977
p. 13, 25.
New York Times
21 May 1979
Section C, p. 15.
New York Times
12 Aug 1979
Section D, p. 1.
New York Times
15 Aug 1979
Section III, p. 15.
New York Times
18 Mar 1980
Section C, p. 7.
New York Times Magazine
5 Aug 1979
p. 8.
New Yorker
3 Sep 1979
pp. 70-72.
Newsweek
3 Nov 1975.
---
Newsweek
28 May 1979
pp. 100-101.
Newsweek
20 Aug 1979
pp. 56-57.
Parade
21 Mar 1976.
---
People
23 Feb 1976.
---
People
31 May 1976.
---
Rolling Stone
1 Nov 1979
pp. 46-50, 51-57.
Saturday Review
5 Jan 1980
p. 44.
Time
27 Aug 1979
p. 55.
Variety
24 Sep 1975.
---
Variety
3 Mar 1976.
---
Variety
2 Feb 1977.
---
Variety
9 Feb 1977.
---
Variety
17 May 1978.
---
Variety
16 May 1979
p. 21.
Variety
23 May 1979
p. 5.
Variety
30 May 1979.
---
Variety
15 Aug 1979
p. 30.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT

PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Francis Ford Coppola Presents
An Omni Zoetrope Release
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
Prod mgr
Asst dir
2d asst dir
Addl asst dir
PHOTOGRAPHY
Cam asst
Cam asst
Cam asst
Cam asst
2d unit dir of photog
Insert dir of photog
2d unit cam
Insert cam op
Still photog
Still photog
Gaffer
Best boy
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
Prod illustrator
Prod illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Supv ed
Addl ed
Addl ed
Assoc ed
1st asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Apprentice film ed
Negative continuity
SET DECORATORS
Const coord
Leadman
Sculptor
Const foreman
Set artist
Prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
MUSIC
Mus prod
Master synthesist, Mus realized by
Synthesist, Mus realized by
Synthesist, Mus realized by
Synthesist, Mus realized by
Synthesist, Mus realized by
Synthesist, Soloist, Mus realized by
Guitarist, Mus realized by
Percussion based score, Mus realized by
Mus prod asst, Mus realized by
Mus prod asst, Mus realized by
Performed with, Mus realized by
Performed with, Mus realized by
Performed with, Mus realized by
Performed with, Mus realized by
Performed with, Mus realized by
Performed with, Mus realized by
Performed with, Mus realized by
Spec thanks to, Mus realized by
Mus ed
SOUND
Sd montage and des
Re-rec
Re-rec
Re-rec
Re-rec
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Dial ed
Dial ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Prod rec
Prod rec
Post prod rec
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Spec eff coord
Spec eff man
Spec eff man
Spec eff man
Spec eff man
Spec eff man
Spec eff man
Spec eff man
Spec eff man
Spec eff man
Co-ord, Opticals, Modern Film Effects
Co-ord, Opticals, Modern Film Effects
DANCE
Playmate show choreog
PRODUCTION MISC
Creative consultant
Spec asst to the prods
Exec asst
Exec asst
Aerial coord
Aerial coord
Foreign post prod coord
Post prod coord
Post prod coord
Prod exec
Marine coord
Marine coord
Marine coord
Military adv
Military adv
Military adv
Military adv
Military adv
Military adv
Fixed wing pilot
Transportation coord
Transportation coord
Prod accountant
Prod controller
Asst prod controller
Scr supv
Scr supv
Casting
Casting
Montagnard tribesmen casting
Philippine casting
Philippine casting
Casting asst
Casting asst
Casting asst
Casting asst
Campaign coord
U.S. & Canadian prods' representative
Foreign prods' representative
Marketing dir
Foreign pub coord
U.S. prod liaison and research
Prod coord
Prod coord
Documentary supv
U.S. prod secy
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Philippine military liaison
Hemisphere Productions
Hemisphere Productions
Philippine Department of Tourism
Prod and post prod facilities furnished through
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Omni Zoetrope Studios
Watercraft supv
Vietnamese cultural adv
Exec prod mgr
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
COLOR PERSONNEL
Supv col tech
Supv col tech
SOURCES
LITERARY
Inspired by the novella, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, published in Youth, A Narrative, and Two Other Stories by Joseph Conrad (London, 1902).
AUTHOR
MUSIC
"The Ride of Valkyries," from "Die Walkure" by Richard Wagner, conducted by Sir Georg Solti, The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, courtesy of Decca Record Company Ltd., London Records Inc.
Excerpts from "Mnong Gar Music of Vietnam," courtesy of OCCRA, Radio France "Collection Musee de l'homme."
SONGS
"The End," by The Doors, performed by The Doors, The Doors courtesy of Elektra/Asylum Records
"I Can't Get No Satisfaction," by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, courtesy of ABKCO Records, Inc.
"Love Me and Let Me Love You," by Robert Duvall
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SONGS
"The End," by The Doors, performed by The Doors, The Doors courtesy of Elektra/Asylum Records
"I Can't Get No Satisfaction," by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, courtesy of ABKCO Records, Inc.
"Love Me and Let Me Love You," by Robert Duvall
"Let the Good Times Roll," by Leonard Lee
"Suzie Q," by Dale Hawkins, S. J. Lewis, E. Broadwater, performed by Flash Cadillac, courtesy of Private Stock Records.
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DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Heart of Darkness
Release Date:
1979
Premiere Information:
Cannes Film Festival (as a work in progress): 19 May 1979
Los Angeles and New York openings: 15 August 1979
Production Date:
20 March--mid May 1976
late July 1976--21 May 1977 in the Philippines
Copyright Claimant:
Omni Zoetrope
Copyright Date:
7 August 1979
Copyright Number:
PA54814
Physical Properties:
Sound
Recorded in Dolby Stereo
Color
Color by Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Filmed in Technovision; 70mm
Duration(in mins):
146 or 150
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25751
SYNOPSIS

In 1968, while waiting for his next assignment during the Vietnam War, Army Captain Benjamin Willard gets drunk and wrecks his hotel room in Saigon, South Vietnam. Because of his experience with reconnaissance operations, Willard is soon escorted to COMSEC Intelligence and briefed on a priority, classified mission to terminate the command of Special Forces Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, a decorated and brilliant officer who has apparently gone insane and is wanted for the murder of South Vietnamese intelligence agents. The General and Colonel at COMSEC relay that Kurtz has deserted the military and crossed into Cambodia with his own army of Montagnard Indians who regard him as a god-like figure. Although privately ambivalent about assassinating a fellow American officer, Willard accepts the mission and boards a Navy patrol boat (PBR), commanded by Chief, that will ferry him up the Nung River towards Kurtz’s outpost in Cambodia. Chief’s three young crew members consist of a saucier from New Orleans, LA known as Chef; champion surfer Lance Johnson from Southern California; and Clean, a teenager from the Bronx, NY. Needing an escort into the mouth of the Nung, the PBR seeks the transport assistance of the First of the Ninth, an Air Cavalry division of fighter helicopters led by Lt Colonel Kilgore. When Willard and the crew reach the Air Cavalry, the division is busy finishing up a raid on a coastal village, but Kilgore, an avid surfing fan, stops immediately upon learning that the famous Lance Johnson is present. Motivated by the surfing possibilities, Kilgore plans to transfer the PBR and its crew to an access point near the river that promises great ... +


In 1968, while waiting for his next assignment during the Vietnam War, Army Captain Benjamin Willard gets drunk and wrecks his hotel room in Saigon, South Vietnam. Because of his experience with reconnaissance operations, Willard is soon escorted to COMSEC Intelligence and briefed on a priority, classified mission to terminate the command of Special Forces Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, a decorated and brilliant officer who has apparently gone insane and is wanted for the murder of South Vietnamese intelligence agents. The General and Colonel at COMSEC relay that Kurtz has deserted the military and crossed into Cambodia with his own army of Montagnard Indians who regard him as a god-like figure. Although privately ambivalent about assassinating a fellow American officer, Willard accepts the mission and boards a Navy patrol boat (PBR), commanded by Chief, that will ferry him up the Nung River towards Kurtz’s outpost in Cambodia. Chief’s three young crew members consist of a saucier from New Orleans, LA known as Chef; champion surfer Lance Johnson from Southern California; and Clean, a teenager from the Bronx, NY. Needing an escort into the mouth of the Nung, the PBR seeks the transport assistance of the First of the Ninth, an Air Cavalry division of fighter helicopters led by Lt Colonel Kilgore. When Willard and the crew reach the Air Cavalry, the division is busy finishing up a raid on a coastal village, but Kilgore, an avid surfing fan, stops immediately upon learning that the famous Lance Johnson is present. Motivated by the surfing possibilities, Kilgore plans to transfer the PBR and its crew to an access point near the river that promises great breaking waves, but also heavy enemy artillery. The next morning at dawn, the PBR is lifted out of the water, and Willard and the crew climb aboard Kilgore’s helicopter for the ride to the mouth of the Nung. As the squadron assumes attack formation, their speakers blare Richard Wagner’s opera music, Ride of the Valkyries. Landing on the beach amidst enemy mortar fire, Kilgore orders his men to “surf or fight,” and, as warplanes bomb the nearby jungle, he remarks, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” With their boat back on the water, Willard and the crew continue their journey toward Cambodia. Farther upriver, while the PBR is refueled at a supply station, the crew stays to watch a raucous U.S.O. show featuring Playboy playmates. When the boat trip resumes, Willard keeps to himself, avoiding the antics of the crew, who are often under the influence of drugs, and studies Kurtz’s impressive dossier. While tracing Kurtz’s deviation from the U.S. military, he also begins to admire the Colonel’s nerve to become a Green Beret at the ripe age of thirty-eight and his execution of unauthorized operations. Willard reads letters that Kurtz wrote to his son describing the “unjustified” murder charges against him. Along the way, Chief decides to search a Vietnamese fishing boat for illegal trafficking of military supplies. In the confusion, a jittery Clean guns down the civilians on board, and Willard shoots a wounded woman dead, so as not to delay the mission. At the Do Luoug Bridge, the last Army outpost along the river, Willard is unable to locate a commanding officer in the mayhem of nighttime gunfire, but retrieves a mail shipment for the crew as well as ammunition before continuing upriver into Cambodia. The next morning while the crew is reading letters from home, the boat is attacked by artillery fire from the jungle, and Clean is shot dead. Later, they encounter a harmless barrage of toy arrows, but the crew is tense and begins firing into the trees. Suddenly, a spear pierces Chief and kills him. While Lance buries Chief, Willard reveals to Chef the actual purpose of his visit, to kill a deranged Green Beret colonel. Although angry about the absurdity of the mission, Chef agrees to accompany Willard to his destination. As the river leads them to the entrance of Kurtz’s compound, the PBR navigates slowly through a grouping of Montagnard Indians in canoes and cautiously approaches the bank where dead bodies, severed heads and pagan idols are displayed. A fanatical American photojournalist, who is a devotee of Kurtz, greets them on the riverbank and cautions them that the Indians are very protective of Kurtz. Chef stays with the boat while Willard and Lance look around the area and track down the Colonel's location. Before leaving to meet him, Willard instructs Chef to radio for an air strike if he is not back by a certain hour. The Indians handcuff Willard and lead him inside a temple. In a darkened lair surrounded by armed bodyguards, the philosophical Kurtz interrogates Willard and acknowledges the assassination orders by ridiculing Willard as an “errand boy sent by grocery clerks.” While Willard is held captive in a bamboo cage, the photojournalist tries to convince him that the “genius” Kurtz has plans for Willard, otherwise he would not be alive. With no sign of Willard, Chef radios for the air strike, but soon afterwards, Chef is decapitated, and Kurtz drops the severed head into Willard’s lap. Eventually, Willard is carried back to the temple and offered food, water and his freedom. Over several days, Willard remains inside the temple close to Kurtz and listens as the Colonel reminisces and lectures on topics such as horror and judgment. In case he is killed, Kurtz wants his son to know the truth of what happened and asks Willard to tell him. Willard senses that Kurtz is ready to die and decides to complete his mission. One night, as the Indians engage in a ritual slaughtering of a water buffalo, Willard covers his face in war paint and attacks Kurtz with a machete. Dying, Kurtz whispers his final words, “the horror, the horror.” As Willard descends the stairs of the temple, he throws down the machete and in turn, the crowd of Indians lay down their weapons as he passes by them. Grabbing Lance’s hand, Willard leads him back to the boat, and the two soldiers pull away from the compound. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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