Is it possible to make a great movie better? More often than not, no. All the CG-tweaking techniques at ILM's disposal couldn't make the Star Wars movies more impressive than their original incarnations, while James Cameron's T2, Aliens and Abyss "Special Editions" merely substitute tightness and muscular pacing for extra running time. As most DVD-heads know, deleted scenes are usually deleted for a good reason... But Apocalypse Now Redux is a reassuring rarity. It's an extended, re-edited version of Francis Ford Coppola's 'Nam masterpiece, with 49-minutes' worth of extra material spliced in, and the result is a genuinely stronger film. That's right - one of the best movies ever made just got better.
Firstly, there are the new scenes. We get more of Robert Duvall as the fearless, surf-obsessed Kilgore, chasing Willard (Martin Sheen) and co as they make off with his surfboard. We witness the boat catching up with the stranded Playboy Playmates, with the crew exchanging fuel for a few hours with the bunnies. Then there's more from Kurtz (Marlon Brando) on the insanity of war, which vastly improves the devastating climax. And there's the French plantation scene, which, while the weakest of the Reduxions (it's a little too slow, and the dinner-table argument about America's presence in 'Nam is too didactic), lends the film some unexpected eroticism when Willard hooks up with young widow Roxanne (Aurore Clément).
None of these feel like clumsy insertions, because Coppola and editor Walter Murch created Redux by re-editing the entire movie from the original footage, which took six months and involved many of the cast returning to loop new lines. But it's not simply the additional material which makes Redux so impressive, it's also Murch's remastering of the sound back to its original Dolby Digital 5.1 format (it's amazing to hear the opening chopper thrums whirling from one end of the auditorium to the other).
More importantly, Apocalypse Now is a movie which most of us discovered on video and which screams to be re-discovered in the cinema. After the hollow CG-burnished melodramatics of Pearl Harbor, it's good to be reminded that while making this Coppola really used all those helicopters, all those people were real extras, and all those explosions really happened.
That, combined with superlative performances from Brando, Duvall and Sheen - and Coppola's disturbing, yet beautifully hallucinatory visuals - make this one of the most powerful and deeply immersive cinematic experiences you'll ever have.