Apocalypse Now (1979)


A.R. Duckworth:  In Apocalypse Now’s combat scenes we are given a fragmented, disjointed view which Coppola used to communicate the true nature of the Vietnam war and every modern war. Coppola commented, in a brochure released with the first screenings, that ‘The most important thing I wanted to do in the making of Apocalypse Now was to create a film experience that would give its audience a sense of the horror, the madness, the sensuousness, and the moral dilemma of the Vietnam war. . . . I tried to illustrate as many of its different facets as possible. And yet I wanted it to go further, to the moral issues that are behind all wars.’1 In the now famous battle scene where the Air Cavalry attack a Vietcong position while playing Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries Coppola achieves that which he set out to, namely the horror, madness, sensuousness and moral dilemma of Vietnam. The choice of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries is interesting as it serves an important function in the film. The music is majestic, composed and a symbol of both heroism and riding into hell itself. … The music basically represents both heroism and dubious moral justifications. The soldiers are heroic riding into hell, but they are here for a rather poorly justified reason. The horror of the war is indicated in the smashing of helicopter fire into the Vietcong town, the strafing of machine gun fire into the village. The madness is indicated in the personal motivation in attack; the search for a good surfing position. The insanity is also indicated by bounty for making a good shot; a large case of beer. While the helicopters are in the air, and the music remains, the editing ensures a decent level of spatial continuity is maintained, we are regularly allowed to see the helicopters in formation and every attack is shown with a corresponding target, conflict and resolution of that conflict. When the helicopters sit down we lose a sense of spatial continuity, the camera circles around a wounded victim intimating a panicked soldiers swirling terrified head filling with nerves at the sight of blood and guts. Another interesting feature in communicating the sensory confusion is when the American bombers drop napalm on a line of trees the sound waivers and drops out of existence relating the deafening madness that is modern warfare.

Roger Ebert:  Apocalypse Now achieves greatness not by analyzing our "experience in Vietnam," but by re-creating, in characters and images, something of that experience.  An example: The scene in which Robert Duvall, as a crazed lieutenant colonel, leads his troops in a helicopter assault on a village is, quite simply, the best movie battle scene ever filmed. It's simultaneously numbing, depressing, and exhilarating: As the rockets jar from the helicopters and spring through the air, we're elated like kids for a half-second, until the reality of the consequences sinks in.

Roger Ebert: Apocalypse Now is more clearly than ever one of the key films of the century. Most films are lucky to contain a single great sequence. Apocalypse Now strings together one after another, with the river journey as the connecting link. The best is the helicopter attack on a Vietnam village, led by Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall), whose choppers use loudspeakers at top volume to play Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" as they swoop down on a yard full of schoolchildren. Duvall won an Oscar nomination for his performance and its unforgettable line, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning." His emptiness is frightening: A surfing fanatic, he agrees to the attack only to liberate a beach said to offer great waves ("Charlie don't surf"). 

DAS BOOT(1981)

From the official Das Boot site: The state-of-the-art sound and film quality - taking the realism of every ping and creak to a new level - further adds to the minute-by-minute build-up of tension on the submarine. "Here we had a rare and unprecedented opportunity to take one of the most intense movie experiences ever created and bring it up to the expectations of 1990's audiences," says Ortwin Freyermuth, who produced the restored director's cut of DAS BOOT. "It is amazing how well the film stands up even fifteen years later, perhaps because it was so ahead of its time originally. It is not only one of the most riveting action movies ever made, it continues to be one of the all-time most successful depictions of the human experience of war - audiences really feel the fear, the tension, the excitement, the boredom, the desires, the hopes and the incredible tragedy of these young men on the U-boat as they were used and abused by a war machine."

"My vision for DAS BOOT was always to show the gritty and terrible reality of war, and to combine it with a highly entertaining story and fast-paced action style that would pull audiences into the experience of these young men out there," says Wolfgang Petersen.

Richard Propes -  (film critic): Peterson's film, which received six Oscar nominations (this is amazing for a foreign film), utilizes meticulous attention to detail in every production aspect, from stellar cinematography that enhances the mood of the film with closed quarter and fast-paced boat-length shots to the haunting sound mix that captures, perhaps more vividly than any other film, the sounds of war and desperation. Peterson's direction keeps the pace moving frantically, ever enhancing the claustrophobic feel of the situation and the increasing peril in which these soldiers find themselves.

Because the U-Boat is German, I believe the film played as increasingly suspenseful for American audiences. Ebert makes the point that American audiences expect their war movies involving Americans to be triumphs with happy endings. We are not typically a nation that responds strongly to war films in which we are actually defeated (such as the incredibly made "Blackhawk Down"). In "Das Boot," the crew in question are Germans and, thus, we are left hanging. It's nearly impossible to know the resolution of the film before the film is, in fact, resolved. The end result is a more realistic, captivating and hypnotic story that American audiences could enter without expectation and, thus, the suspense is simply horrifying.

Roger Ebert: …the cinematographer, Jost Vacano, hurtles his camera through the boat from one end to the other, plunging through cramped openings, hurdling obstacles on the deck, ducking under hammocks and swinging light fixtures. There are long sequences here--especially when the boat is sinking out of control--when we feel trapped in the same time and space as the desperate crew.

The centerpiece of the film is an attack on an Allied convoy; the U-boat torpedoes three ships. We share the experience of the hunt; they drift below the surface, waiting for the explosions that signal hits. And then they endure a long and thorough counterattack, during which destroyers criss-cross the area, dropping depth charges. The chase is conducted by sound, the crew whispering beneath the deadly hunters above.

Then comes the episode that was endlessly discussed when the film came out in 1981. Having finally outlasted the destroyers, the sub surfaces to administer a coup de grace--a final torpedo to a burning tanker. As the ship explodes, the captain is startled to see men leaping from its deck: ``What are they doing still on board?'' he shouts. ``Why haven't they been rescued?'' Drowning sailors can clearly be seen in the flames from the tanker. They swim toward the U-boat, their pitiful cries for help carrying clearly across the water. The captain orders his boat to reverse at half speed, to keep it away from them. What does he think of having let the victims drown? He does not say. Only one sentence in the ship's log (``assumed no men were on board'') gives a hint. It is against the instinct of every sailor to let another sailor drown in the sea. But in war, it is certainly not practical for a submarine to take prisoners. Somehow it is easier when the targets are seen through periscope sights, and the cries of victims cannot be heard….That scene supplies another example of why it is effective that ``Das Boot'' is a German sub. One cannot easily imagine a Hollywood film in which American submariners are shown allowing drowning men to die. The German filmmakers regard their subject dispassionately; it is a record of the way things were.