Trivia / Apocalypse Now


  • Actor Allusion: Dennis Hopper playing an unstable hippie photographer is quite fitting.
  • AFI's 100 Years... Series:
  • Backed by the Pentagon: Or rather the Filipino military, who provided the F-5s for the napalm sequence and the helicopters for the famous helicopter attack preceding it.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty!:
    • Kurtz's final line - "The horror...the horror" - is all too often misdelivered by people imitating (or worse, parodying) the line. It's said a lot more slowly than most people think, and without the melodrama that Narm-happy fans are too eager to give it. Ironically, in fact, there is very little actual "horror" in Brando's voice; he says it more in the tone of a Shell-Shocked Veteran, which is of course exactly what Kurtz is.
    • Similarly, Colonel Kilgore's "I love the smell of napalm in the morning!" is almost always said with the wrong emphasis. Parodists tend to deliver the line as a Badass Boast, while Robert Duvall actually speaks it with the jaded voice of a man who has become Bored With Insanity — the delivery of the line is very nonchalant and not with the kind of relish that imitators use. In fact the Blood Knight characteristic that Kilgore embodies makes the sad intone of "Someday this war is gonna end." the principle line in the quote: he's bored that the insanity of the war is going to end.
    • The quote is also gotten wrong. Kilgore does not say, "I love the smell of napalm. It smells like victory." This is what he actually says:
      Kilgore: Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for twelve hours. When it was all over I walked up. We didn't find one of 'em, not one stinkin' dink body. The smell, you know, that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like (beat) victory. (bomb explodes behind him - Kilgore sighs) Some day, this war's gonna end.
  • Billing Displacement:
    • It's flat-out amazing how little Marlon Brando there actually is in this movie. Not to mention that Robert Duvall gets second billing despite not getting much more screentime than Brando.
    • On most DVD covers (for the Redux version at least) it lists off the cast members who became famous after the fact such as Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper and Harrison Ford, despite Ford's role being a very brief bit-part at the start.
  • Career Resurrection: Dennis Hopper had bottomed out with 1971's The Last Movie, which was fittingly the last time he directed or wrote a film. He didn't act again until 1979, when Francis Ford Coppola cast him in Apocalypse.
  • Creator Breakdown: Very much so.
  • The Danza: The civilian who sits in on General Corman's briefing, and who orders Willard to "terminate" Kurtz "with extreme prejudice", is addressed by Corman as "Jerry" and is played by the movie's assistant director, Jerry Ziesmer.
  • Dawson Casting: Inverted. Laurence Fishburne lied about his age to get the role, as he was only 14 years old at the time. In an odd way, it makes the film better, showcasing such a young man in such a horrible place. By the end of the long production, he was 17, the same age as his character.
  • Enforced Method Acting:
    • Martin Sheen actually punched a mirror for real in his introductory scene where he has a psychotic break in his hotel room. So all that blood on the sheets? His. His idea, too. To shoot this scene, Francis Ford Coppola basically just gave Sheen as much whiskey as he could drink, put him in a room, and filmed the results. Apparently, Sheen's behavior was so disturbing to the camera crew that they wanted to stop the shoot, but Sheen insisted they press on. You can see the results for yourself. In Hearts of Darkness, the scene is shown making-of style. Coppola directs Sheen to shadowbox at the mirror, and Sheen (as noted, very drunk) misjudges his aim.
    • Also, this was the case (albeit unintentionally) with Dennis Hopper and Marlon Brando. According to Hopper, after Brando yelled at him over a simple misunderstanding he then decided to deliberately antagonize Brando whenever he could. This resulted in Brando refusing to share the set with him and the one scene they share together being shot on separate nights. So when Kurtz throws the book at Hopper's photojournalist character and calls him a "mutt" one can only assume that's Brando's genuine feelings about him.
    • The character of Kurtz was also supposed to be rail thin (as he was in Hearts of Darkness). The production and director were shocked to discover Brando had gained an enormous amount of weight, and had to shoot around it, such as shooting him in darkness to conceal his features.
    • Notice, too, the books read by Kurtz: From Ritual to Romance and The Golden Bough. Both are identified by T. S. Eliot's notes to The Waste Land as key to the work, which was (prior to Ezra Pound's edit) to contain the epigraph "The Horror! The Horror!".
  • Fake Shemp: While he was recovering from his heart attack, Martin Sheen was doubled by his brother Joe Estevez.
  • The Other Marty: Harvey Keitel was originally cast as Willard. After a week, Francis Ford Coppola felt that he wasn't right for the role and replaced him with Martin Sheen/
  • Studio Hop: The film was originally distributed United Artists. Since then, ownership has switched from them, to MGM/UA, to Zoetrope Studios, to Paramount Pictures.
  • Troubled Production: And how! This was a case so famous that it has its own documentary dedicated to it, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse. Coppola himself summed it up by saying "My film is not about Vietnam, it is Vietnam" and famously explained that "We had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane." Let's see, where do we start?
    • Like many projects here, Apocalypse Now was a modest idea subjected to development creep. John Milius and George Lucas conceived the film in 1969 as a low budget docudrama modeled on The Battle of Algiers. Gradually, Milius expanded his script into a surreal black comedy based on Heart of Darkness. As Lucas focused on other projects and Milius was reluctant to direct it himself, Coppola took over in the mid-'70s, toning down the story's humor while emphasizing its surreal qualities. Coppola, fresh off The Godfather Part II, convinced United Artists to back the project, and the tumultuous production began.
    • Filming in the Philippines went on for a year, going nine months behind schedule and $17-19 million over budget.note  Among other setting-related problems, Typhoon Olga in May 1976, combined with constant rainfall, destroyed most of the sets and totally ground production to a halt for six weeks. The United States military refused to lend Coppola any military equipment, due to the order to "Kill Colonel Kurtz" (Coppola refused to change it to a Deadly Euphemism). Coppola instead had to borrow local military equipment, and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos disrupted production by recalling the equipment he lent to Coppola to fight against the Communist insurgents in the South.
    • There were also many problems with the various cast members. Marlon Brando was cast as Colonel Kurtz, being his usual prima donna self. He showed up to the set morbidly obese rather than the muscular physique that was called for, leading to the decision to film Kurtz solely from the shoulders up. Worse, when he arrived on set he had read neither the script nor Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness like he had been told to. The actors were disgruntled because Coppola forced them to sign term contracts with his production company. Unsurprisingly, many cast and crew members were drunk or stoned while filming; Dennis Hopper got a teenaged Laurence Fishburne addicted to heroin.
    • Meanwhile, Harvey Keitel, cast as main character Captain Willard, was fired a few weeks into filming because Coppola wasn't satisfied with his performance. Martin Sheen took over the part, soon becoming dangerously immersed in the role. Filming the hotel scene, he drunkenly cut his hand open shattering a mirror and, in an unrelated incident, later suffered a heart attack and had to struggle a quarter-mile to get help. The latter of these two meant that some of his scenes had to filmed from the back, using his brother, Joe Estevez, as a body double.
    • The ending had to be re-written on the fly and the script was frequently discarded for improvisation. Most notably, the ending (in which Willard cuts an unresisting Kurtz to pieces, then emerges from the hut to find the natives revere him now) had to be changed from its action-heavy original due to neither Sheen nor Brando being in any sort of state to film it.
    • Even post-production was no walk in the park. For one thing, the Philippines had no professional film laboratories at the time, meaning the raw camera negatives had to be shipped to the US to be processed. Coppola never saw a shot on film until after returning to California. The entire movie was shot blind. For another thing, Coppola had to edit through several miles of film to create the final cut. The set piece on the French plantation, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to film, was thrown out.note  On top of that, Sheen was unavailable to provide the voice-over narration, so, once again, Coppola had to turn to Joe Estevez. All told, post-production took two years.
    • To put the film's disastrous shoot in perspective, Laurence Fishburne lied about his age to get cast as a 17-year old in the movie when he was actually 14. By the time the movie was released, he actually was 17 years old. The film took the heaviest toll on Coppola himself; he lost 100 pounds, threatened suicide several times, and attempted it once. The film also severely strained his relationship with wife Eleanor, not least when Coppola had an indiscreet affair with a production assistant.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • The original director assigned this script? George Lucas. God knows what kind of film this almost became. Cracked.com also makes one interesting assumption. Considering how long this movie dragged on, it's possible that if Lucas made this, he never would have gotten around to making Star Wars. According to Coppola's audio commentary, a documentary-style 16mm film shot in northern California with a couple of helicopters.
    • John Milius' early drafts had a less nihilistic ending, with Kurtz going out fighting against an overwhelming NVA attack, and Willard returning to America to take the news to Kurtz's wife and son. Willard's predecessors also played a larger role.
    • Harvey Keitel was cast as Willard first but was fired after two weeks. Steve McQueen, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino and Robert Redford were considered but had the foresight to know how horrible the shoot would be. Clint Eastwood turned it down on the grounds that it was too dark.
    • Lynda Carter was cast as one of the Playboy Bunnies, but when the typhoon delayed production she had to go back to the States to continue with Wonder Woman and Colleen Camp was brought in to replace her (There's a centerfold shot of Carter briefly visible in the movie and still floating around online, though some question its authenticity).
    • Coppola first offered the role of Kurtz to Orson Welles (who had previously tried to adapt Heart of Darkness to the screen himself), but for some reason or another he declined. The documentary on the film includes the audio of a radio version that Welles did during his prime.
    • James Caan was offered the role of Col. Lucas, but he wanted too much money for such a small part.
    • In the special features on the "Complete Dossier" edition, it is said that Coppola wanted the film to be a special event by having it play in ONE theater somewhere in Kansas in the geographical center of the country built especially for the film with a specially made sound system where the film would run continuously for ten years and then hopefully anybody who wanted to show the film in their theaters would have to approach Coppola and exhibit it on his terms.note 
    • Kurtz's character was called Leighley in the original script. Worth noting that the reason for the change from Kurtz to Leighley was due to a conversation between Marlon Brando and Francis Ford Coppola when the latter was trying to describe the role to the actor. Brando, never having read Conrad's novella, said that an American Colonel would never have a name like "Kurtz" and would instead have something more English. After reading the novella, and understanding the reference, Brando demanded that his character's name be changed BACK to Kurtz after the film's completion, and Ford's lines were dubbed.
    • In the director's commentary Coppola spoke of how the ending for the movie was not figured out for a long time. Originally he had intended for Kurtz and Willard to fight off a massive NVA invasion of Kurtz' base and have Kurtz go out in apocalyptic intensity. The phrase, "The horror..." would still be uttered by Kurtz nonetheless. Eventually Coppola decided upon letting Willard assassinate Kurtz as the plot had been implying was going to happen.
    • The original choice for the soundtrack was to be made by Isao Tomita, as Coppola liked his version of Holst's Planets. Tomita even traveled to the Philippines to see the filming. Because Tomita's contract was with RCA Records, and the film was released through United Artists, he couldn't compose the score.

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