How do you improve on perfection? The easy answer is, you don’t. However, that hasn’t stopped Hollywood producers with visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads from remaking classic films from yesteryear.
Certain movies should be untouchable, but in reality, nothing is sacred these days. Despite monumental failures like 1998′s Psycho and 2008′s The Day the Earth Stood Still, the powers that be are not shying away from updating some of the big screen’s best. Like for instance, The Wizard of Oz, which is being considered by four major studios.
The box office success of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Peter Jackson’s King Kong will only serve to reinforce the notion that revisiting classic works isn’t only a smart idea, but a necessary one in an age when audiences have several ways to get their entertainment fix that don’t include paying for a ticket at the local multi-plex.
If a Tinseltown executive believes he or she can milk the cash cow, any project, no matter how questionable, will get a greenlight. I would like to think no one would dare touch masterpieces such as Citizen Kane, Casablanca and The Godfather, but the cynic in me knows better. Trusting anyone in the biz would be foolish.
Which brings me to one of my favorite movies: Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 war epic Apocalypse Now. My sincere hope is a remake would never be attempted, but that doesn’t mean I can’t play a game of “What If?”
As a purely hypothetical exercise, what might a re-imagining of Apocalypse Now look like? Here’s one possible scenario.
For those unawares, the film is partly based on Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, which tells the story of Marlow, an ivory trader in Africa dispatched to sail downriver to bring a mysterious man named Kurtz back to the civilized world.
Apocalypse Now changed Marlow to Willard, made him a soldier, and moved the setting to 1969 Vietnam. But the journey downriver, and all its symbolic implications, remained pretty much the same. What better place to set a story about man’s innate instinct to destroy one another and the environment he exists than one of history’s most famous wars?
So, where would the updated version take place? The original text and the film both used jungle locations. In order to keep the war theme intact, which is important, the filmmakers would have to go where the fighting is. With this in mind, Iraq makes the most sense.
The parallels between the Vietnam War and the current conflict in Iraq are too hard to ignore. Bogged down in an endless battle that has become increasingly unpopular with the American public and the rest of the world is just the most obvious comparison. The unorthodox tactics used by the Viet Cong and insurgents would be another. If an Army Colonel is going to lose his shit and turn rogue, it wouldn’t be too big a stretch to have him do so inside Iraq.
We need a river. As luck would have it, Iraq has two: the Tigris and the Euphrates. The Tigris, which runs up the heart of the country and into Turkey is the winner. The area surrounding the river is marshy, fertile and full of vegetation and forests. It’s not a thick jungle, but it’s still remote enough to make a suitable setting for the story.
Kurtz has crossed the border into Turkey and is holed up in the mountains with an enclave of loyal Kurdish rebels. He and his gang have been attacking suspected insurgent hideouts throughout the northern sections of Iraq and as far south as Baghdad. The Army brass wants him dead, so they task Captain Willard to take a patrol boat up the Tigris to find Kurtz and assassinate him. It’s the same story, just updated for the modern era.
The obvious choice to helm this epic, besides Coppola himself, would be one of his peers, like Spielberg or Scorsese, but neither would accept the job out of respect for their pal. Guys like Michael Mann (The Last of the Mohicans, Heat, The Insider) and Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight, Inception) would be excellent choices, but I’m going with a guy on the cusp of greatness. Mexican writer/director Alfonso Cuarón.
Cuarón has directed smaller, personal films (Y tu mamá también), big budget blockbusters (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and bleak science fiction dramas (Children of Men). He’s more than capable of staging elaborate action sequences and has experience shooting scenes of intense combat. He’s also a two-time Academy Award nominee for Best Screenplay, so he’d be able to adapt the story to the Iraq conflict without much difficulty. Of all the up and coming filmmakers, I think Cuarón could handle this daunting task.
Besting Marlon Brando and Martin Sheen is impossible. In order to approach any sense of legitimacy, heavyweights must be cast to play Kurtz and Willard. No messing about with fresh faces or old faces looking for a comeback. You go right to the top of the heap. First up, Daniel Day-Lewis as Kurtz.
DDL is 52, roughly the same age age as Brando was in the late ’70s. He is in the prime of his acting career and anyone who saw Gangs of New York and There Will Be Blood knows he can pull off the villainous wacko with ease. At this point, I don’t think there is anyone on the same level. The only other guys in his league are probably Sean Penn and Leonardo DiCaprio. Speaking of Leo, he’d make a fantastic Captain Willard.
Again, Leo at 35 is in the same range as Sheen was when Apocalypse began filming. DiCaprio’s resume speaks for itself. He puts in the work and delivers every time. He also proved in Blood Diamond he can portray a brooding soldier of fortune who is both hero and anti-hero. Leo and DDL together again has a nice ring to it.
What about Lt. Colonel Bill Kilgore, the slightly deranged, but ultimately badass commander of the Air Cavalry Regiment? Sounds like a job for Brad Pitt.
Kilgore’s antics make for some of the most memorable moments in Apocalypse Now. You need an actor who can be both tough and funny, which makes Pitt the pick. He doesn’t have to be front and center for an entire movie, as evidenced by his ensemble work in Snatch, Babel, Burn After Reading and the Ocean’s series. Watching him bark orders at his men, and trade barbs with Leo would be entertaining as hell.
Rounding out the cast:
Giovanni Ribisi as ‘Chef’ – Ribisi is good. Most of the flicks he’s appeared in are shit. Nevertheless, he has the chops to play the high-strung saucier from Louisiana.
Michael Pitt as Lance – Pitt’s boyish good looks and naive demeanor will suit him as the surfer turned soldier who loves to drop acid. All he needs is a few trips to the tanning salon.
Michael B. Jordan as ‘Clean’ – Jordan killed on HBO’s The Wire and can currently be seen on Friday Night Lights as quarterback Vince Howard. He’s fairly unknown, just like Laurence Fishburne was back in ’79.
Anthony Mackie as Chief – Mackie stole a lot of thunder in The Hurt Locker. He’d steal some more as the by-the-books Chief of the boat.
Sam Rockwell as the Photojournalist – I think of Rockwell as the modern day Dennis Hopper. He’s a bit of a wildman who would thrive in the role.
CGI and blue-screens were virtually non-existent back in the mid ’70s, and for Apocalypse Now, that was a good thing. Coppola went to hell and back trying to corral the necessary military equipment needed to recreate Vietnam. All the helicopters and explosions were the real deal. The authentic look and feel to the film is one of its strongest attributes. Using today’s arsenal of effects would likely subtract more than add.
Having Alfonso Cuarón at the controls would balance the production. He understands how to employ CGI from his days on Harry Potter, but he also excels at letting the camera and characters set the tone and pace the action as he did in Children of Men. Going bonkers with intricate CGI would be a mistake. Let’s face it, you’re not going to get better than this:
Fucking epic. Although shifting the attack to an insurgent compound and using Apache Gunships would make for some cool shit. Imagine watching eight or ten of these monsters pound an enemy location into oblivion:
Should Apocalypse Now be remade? NO!!!!! Could it be redone? Yes, provided the right people were put in charge. I think the scenario I’ve laid out would result in a damn fine movie. It wouldn’t be an improvement on the original, but like Scorsese’s Cape Fear, it wouldn’t be a complete disaster either.
Now, if you think what I’ve proposed is ridiculous, it could be worse. For example, hiring Michael Bay to direct and getting John Travolta to play Kurtz and Will Smith to play Willard. See what I mean?