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Director’s Cuts: The Good, The Bad and The Unnecessary
The intriguing stories behind special editions

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Undisputed masters on set, even the great directors can come off second best in a showdown over a Burbank boardroom table. The director’s cut has proved a handy way of restoring jobbed theatrical cuts to their intended form. Some improve the original out of sight (Daredevil), some do the exact opposite (the ‘Love Conquers All’ edit of Brazil), and some just add seafood (Spartacus). But why didn’t they appear in this form originally? We investigate some of the most famous examples…

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Director’s Cuts: The Good, The Bad and The Unnecessary | Apocalypse Now Redux (2001)
Apocalypse Now Redux (2001)

Theatrical release running time: 153 mins
Redux running time: 202 mins

The production of Apocalypse Now was like filmmaking reimagined by the writers of Lost. There was the humid, camera-snagging jungle, illness, typhoons, psychological breakdowns, overweight stars, disappearing helicopters and yet more illness. All that was missing was an outbreak of psychotic polar bears. A calm 20 week schedule stretched into 14 clammy months mired in the Philippines, overseen with increasing desperation by Francis Ford Coppola for whom every day seemed an opportunity for fresh calamity. The temptation to get off the boat must have been overwhelming. Instead, he reached further into his own pockets and borrowed a motza from United Artists. Under pressure to release a film that had picked up the moniker ‘Apocalypse Never’ by an increasingly sceptical media, Coppola and Walter Murch edited 1.25m feet (or 200 hours) of film into a 153 minute theatrical cut that lacked nothing in terms of narcotic genius but shed some of the historical context of John Milius’ script.

What we missed
Like Ridley Scott on Kingdom Of Heaven, Coppola was deterred by screening reactions. “The first people saw it and said, ‘This is surreal,’ he reflected. “I got sort of shy, and so we cut it. Years later, I was in a hotel room in London and it came on, and I watched and I thought, ‘Hey, this isn't strange at all.’ I realized that over the years we, the audience, had changed.” And so the Redux version was born. Reunited with Murch, Coppola recut from the dailies, adding 49 minutes to Willard’s lysergic journey into Conrad’s heart of darkness. The odyssey is given humour (the theft of Kilgore’s surfboard), context (a now more, ahem, rounded Colonel Kurtz reads Willard a Time magazine article on the war) and richness (the Technicolor dye-transfer transfer).

What we could have lived without:
The plantation scene is the weak link. Does Apocalypse Now really need a moody love scene? Aurore Clément apart, the contextualising feels a bit clunky (let’s blame the French!) and the dinner party set piece, basically a potted lesson of Indochinese history, drains the pace from the film. The added Playboy Bunnies don’t add much either. And we don’t say that lightly.

It may be Coppola’s preferred version but it’ll polarise fans forever. The trimmer, shorter version remains the definitive cut.

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