Apocalypse Now Trailer (1979)

The trailer for Apocalypse Now.

U.S. Army Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) has returned to Saigon; a seasoned veteran, he is deeply troubled and apparently no longer fit for civilian life. A group of intelligence officers (G. D. Spradlin, Harrison Ford, and Jerry Ziesmer) approach him with a special mission: journey up the fictional Nung River into the remote Cambodian jungle to find Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a former member of the United States Army Special Forces. It is 1969 and the war is at its height.

They state that Kurtz, once considered a model officer and future general, has allegedly gone insane and is commanding a legion of his own Montagnard troops deep inside the forest in neutral Cambodia. Their claims are supported by very disturbing radio broadcasts and/or recordings made by Kurtz himself. Willard is ordered to undertake a mission to find Kurtz and terminate the Colonel's command "with extreme prejudice."

Willard studies the intelligence files during the boat ride to the river entrance and learns that Kurtz, isolated in his compound, has assumed the role of a warlord and is worshipped by the natives and his own loyal men. Willard learns much later that another officer, Colby (Scott Glenn), sent earlier to kill Kurtz, may have become one of his lieutenants.

Willard begins his trip up the Nung River on a PBR (Patrol Boat, Riverine), with an eclectic crew composed of the obstinate and formal Chief Phillips (Albert Hall), a Navy swiftboat commander; GM3 Lance B. Johnson (Sam Bottoms), a tanned all-American California surfer; GM3 Tyrone (Laurence Fishburne), a.k.a. "Mr. Clean", a black 17-year-old from "some South Bronx shit-hole"; and the Engineer from New Orleans, Jay "Chef" Hicks (Frederic Forrest), who Willard describes as "wrapped too tight for Vietnam, probably wrapped too tight for New Orleans".

The PBR arrives at a landing zone where Willard and the crew meet up with Lt. Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall), the eccentric commander of 1/9cav AirCav, following a massive and hectic mopping-up operation of a conquered enemy village. Kilgore, a keen surfer, recognizes and befriends Johnson. Later, he learns from one of his men, Mike, that the beach down the coast which marks the opening to the river is perfect for surfing, a factor which persuades him to capture it. The problem is, his troops explain, it's "Charlie's point" and heavily fortified. Dismissing this complaint with the explanation that "Charlie don't surf," Kilgore orders his men to saddle up in the morning to capture the town and the beach. Riding high above the coast in a fleet of Hueys accompanied by H-6s, Kilgore launches an attack on the beach. The scene, famous for its use of Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries," ends with the soldiers surfing the barely claimed beach amidst skirmishes between infantry and VC. After helicopters swoop over the village and demolish all visible signs of resistance, a giant napalm strike in the nearby jungle dramatically marks the climax of the battle. Kilgore exults to Willard, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning", which he says smells "like... victory" as he recalls a battle in which a hill was bombarded with napalm for over twelve hours. However, in the Redux version, this ruins the waves and Willard uses this as an excuse to steal Kilgore's surf board. The PBS crew then run away from Kilgore and hide. Kilgore then uses a recorded conversation to get his surf board back but the crew doesn't respond to this.

The lighting and mood darken as the boat navigates upstream and Willard's silent obsession with Kurtz deepens. Incidents on the journey include a run-in with a tiger while Willard and Chef search for mangoes. The boat then moves up river and watches a USO show featuring Playboy Bunnies and a centerfold that degenerates into chaos.

In the Redux version, Chef shows that he has a crush on Miss December, one of the Bunnies, but Clean then tells a story about a soldier who got obsessed with a Bunny and how it resulted to him killing a "gook", just because the Vietnamese damaged the picture. Willard also reads one of Kurtz's letters which states that if the U.S. Army and their South Vietnamese allies has the same commitment as do the Vietcong, the war could be won. Another letter also is addressed to Kurtz's son that shows Kurtz's reasoning for killing the double agents. The Redux version also shows the crew harboring at a destroyed Medevac station, where all the soldiers seem to be at odds with each other. The Playboy helicopter has also landed there. The adversarial mood in the Medevac seems to rub off on the crew, who start to fight with each other, with even Chief getting involved while trying to break up the fight, while Willard negotiates two barrels of fuel for a couple of hours with the Bunnies. Chef decides to spend time with his idol, Miss December, Lance spends time with the Playmate of the Year, whilst Clean is kept locked out of the helicopter where these trysts take place, always seeming to interrupt them at key moments. During one time, the Playmate of the Year knocks down a cooler, which reveals a dead body. She gets frightened but then kisses Lance.

Moving up the river, Phillips spots a sampan and against Willard's advice they make the boat stop and inspect it. As Chef hostilely searches the sampan, one of the civilians makes a sudden movement, causing Clean to open fire on the wooden boat, killing all the civilians save for one badly wounded survivor. An argument breaks out between Willard and Phillips over whether to take the survivor to receive medical attention. Willard ends the argument by shooting the survivor, calmly stating "I told you not to stop."

The boat moves up river to a surreal stop at the American outpost at the Do Long bridge, the last U.S. Army outpost on the river. The boat arrives during a North Vietnamese attack against on the bridge, which is under constant construction. Upon arrival Willard receives the last piece of the dossier from an officer named Lt. Carlson, along with mail for the boat crewmen. Willard and Lance go ashore and they make their way through the trenches where they encounter many panicked, leaderless soldiers. Willard asks a machine gunner who the CO is; the gunner replies "Ain't you?" As they talk, a North Vietnamese soldier hiding under a pile of his dead comrades screams obscenities at them. The gunner finds his friend, Roach (Herb Rice), who is armed with a tiger-striped M79 grenade launcher and with it promptly dispatches the NVA soldier. Willard decides it's not worth it to find the CO and he and Lance return to the PBR. As the boat departs, the NVA launches an artillery strike on the bridge, destroying it.

The next day the PBR, while its crew is busy reading mail, is ambushed by Viet Cong hiding in the trees by the river which results in Clean's death as he listens to a tape from his mother. Chief, who had a father-son relationship with Clean, becomes openly hostile to Willard.

[this entire scene is found in Redux version only until specified] The crew also discovers a recently-destroyed building, filled with thick smoke. As Willard eagerly tries to find out who he is, they realise that they are the French and their allies. Hubert DeMaris (Christian Marquand) comes forward and says that he has a plantation and that they will bury Clean.At Hubert's house, Hubert has a discussion with his family and Willard during dinner. Willard doesn't realise why they are staying there but Hubert says that the plantation was his only home. Hubert also goes further to say about politics and how the Americans had started the war in the first place. All of the family members then leaves in disgust. Roxanne (Aurore Clément), one of the family members talks about who she lost to Willard and also reminisces on what her husband said "There are two of you. One that kills and one that loves." She then sleeps with Willard, although not implied.

As they approach the outskirts of Kurtz' camp, Montagnard villagers begin firing toy arrows at them. The crew opens fire until Chief is hit by a real spear. As Willard hovers over the mortally wounded Chief, Chief attempts to strangle Willard. Willard subsequently smothers Chief with his bare hands. During dusk, Willard takes Chief's body and sets his body out onto the river until it sinks.

After arriving at Kurtz' outpost, Willard leaves Chef behind with orders to call in an air strike on the village if he does not return. They are met by a seemingly crazed freelance photographer (Dennis Hopper) who explains Kurtz's greatness and philosophical skills to provoke his people into following him. Willard also encounters Colby, in an apparently shell-shocked state. The people also drop Willard onto the ground while his face gets darkened with mud. Brought before Kurtz and held in captivity in a darkened temple, Willard's constitution appears to weaken as Kurtz lectures him on his theories of war, humanity, and civilization. Kurtz explains his motives and philosophy in a famous and haunting monologue in which he praises the ruthlessness of the Vietcong he witnessed following one of his own humanitarian missions. The photographer also extends Kurtz's credibility early next morning.

While bound outside in the pouring rain, Willard is approached by Kurtz (who has now painted his face), who places the severed head of Chef in his lap. In the Redux version, Willard is kept inside a metal container while Kurtz reads articles from Time Magazine, early next morning. Kurtz reads several extracts and each of them shows America's success during the war. Kurtz also frees Willard and keeps him under guard.

Coppola makes little explicit, but we come to believe that Willard and Kurtz develop an understanding nonetheless; Kurtz wishes to die at Willard's hands, and Willard, having subsequently granted Kurtz his wish, is offered the chance to succeed him in his warlord-demigod role. Juxtaposed with a ceremonial slaughtering of a water buffalo, Willard enters Kurtz's chamber during one of his message recordings, and kills him with a machete. This entire sequence is set to "The End" by The Doors, as is the sequence at the very beginning of the film. Lying bloody and dying on the ground, Kurtz whispers "The horror... the horror," a line taken directly from Conrad's novella. Willard walks through the now-silent crowd of natives and takes Johnson (who is now fully integrated into the native society) by the hand. He leads Johnson to the PBR, and floats away as Kurtz's final words echo in the wind as the screen fades to black.

3 min 44 sec


Posted On
November 17, 2009
Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola

United Artists

August 15, 1979
Martin Sheen
Marlon Brando
Robert Duvall
Frederic Forrest
Sam Bottoms
Trailer Tracks
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