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A seminal film becomes tied forever to an equally horrific and life-altering moment of reality for this reviewer. 

Visions of War

Transfixed by the repeating horror on my television screen, watching the split-second deaths of untold thousands of my countrymen and one friend of a friend, I was in the middle of composing my thoughts on the rerelease of Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 masterpiece "Apocalypse Now." This only added to the surreal nature of the tragic events of Sept. 11.

For me, on Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, the unrealistic rationalization of "somewhere else" was once again shattered.

And somehow, it seems surreal and yet so appropriate that I would be reliving my "views" of the Vietnam War in relation to Coppola's hauntingly beautiful and disturbing film when a terrorist attack on America was set in motion.

While the images we will see in our sleep for decades to come — the second tower being struck by a United Airlines jet — are oh so real, for many Americans, the images of Vietnam as brought to life in Coppola's masterwork have become their reality. Though you may be enticed into seeing any of the current spate of movies promising titillation or mindless entertainment, I can promise you this: You won't see any film this year as beautiful, as resonant, or plain thrilling as "Apocalypse Now Redux."

This expanded version of the 1979 masterpiece has been re-edited by director and co-writer Coppola and co-editor Walter Murch to include more than 50 minutes of footage excised from the original because of time constraints. The main story line, about a Special Forces captain named Willard (Martin Sheen) sent up river to assassinate a supposedly insane American colonel (Marlon Brando) with his own Montagnard army, has not changed. Nor has Michael Herr's brilliant narration, echoing his own literary masterpiece "Dispatches." The nature of the journey from a place where war is played by "civilized" rules by a democratic state to one where there are no inhibitions or restraints remains the same as well.

The first sign of something new comes with the entrance of Robert Duvall's Lt. Colonel Kilgore on a helicopter bearing the slogan "Death from Above." After the "Ride of the Valkyries" attack sequence, still sensational after all these years, there is new footage of Kilgore obsessing about surfing, preparing to do so himself, then, more significantly, comes a section-ending episode in which Willard and his men steal Kilgore's prized surfboard. Fans of the original will enjoy this belated explanation of a scene in the original where the surfboard pops up in a place it would not normally be. This is followed by a fresh river interlude in which the men hide under some shade while Kilgore's voice is heard booming from a circling chopper, asking for the return of his beloved board.

In terms of the picture's artistic arc, "Apocalypse Now," now and then, ascends to a plateau of greatness the very moment Willard assumes his mission and lingers there for a very long time.

At the 82-minute mark, there comes a substantial passage of new material that was once part of the lore of Coppola's original. For decades, fans pondered if the "supposed" Playboy Playmates sex scene was apocryphal or real. While I cannot say it adds much to picture's dramatic theme, its presence is one "Apocalypse" aficionados will cheer. In a driving rain, the men arrive at a small U.S. encampment where Willard quickly strikes a deal: He'll hand over some fuel if his men can spend two hours with the Playmates. While there is nudity and implied sex, the overall impact of these exchanges is heartbreakingly melancholy: The women are filthy and frantic, desperate to get out.

At 115 minutes, the lengthiest new passage emerges. After Clean has been killed, the patrol boat breaks free of mist and fog, to be greeted by a small band of French colonial soldiers. A ghostly sequence, these scenes at the French plantation represent "Redux's" longest layover.It runs 25 minutes or more, and we watch as Clean is afforded a military burial (we never knew what happened to his body in the original), and Willard is seduced by a young widow. More so than the added Playmate scenes, the French interlude is thematically significant because it puts the conflict in some sort of historical perspective for both the voyagers and the audience.

Thinking about Coppola's powerful imagery against a background of Tuesday's poignant and powerful imagery of terror and pain, one cannot help but wonder about what the historical perspective of Sept. 11th's bombings will become.

For many, "Apocalypse Now," marked the end of American cinema's great period of independent-minded films. Equally, Tuesday's bombings, caught dramatically and painfully on tape for all eternity, will mark the end of America's sense of superior security.

"Apocalypse Now Redux" is a lengthier and often richer experience than the original. Still breathtaking at times, still mysterious, but always flirting with sheer
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