The work in progress he showed at Cannes in 1979 won the festival's top honor, the Palme d'Or, and the Vietnam epic went on to critical and commercial success that pulled Coppola out of a sinkhole of debt resulting from the production.
Coppola returned to this year's festival with the rendering of Apocalypse Now that he did not think he could get away with then: A three-hour, 16-minute cut with refreshing humor, a restored love scene and new insights into Marlon Brando's character.
I think there had been concern and advice that to make our money back, we had to make it as much like an action genre war film as we could, which means, kind of, all male action and tension, he said in an interview.
As a result, many darkly comic or romantic scenes were cut.
Financed by Coppola himself, Apocalypse Now was fraught with delays and disasters, including a typhoon that shut down production in the Philippines and a heart attack that disabled one of the stars, Martin Sheen.
Bad press mounted, the budget doubled to $32 million, and Coppola was on the verge of losing his family's wine estate to cover his debts.
After positive reaction at Cannes, Coppola released the movie and made his money back, though he wound up deeply in debt again with his next film, One From the Heart, a light musical that bombed.
Last year, Coppola got together with Walter Murch, an editor on the original, and sifted through raw footage to create the new version, Apocalypse Now Redux.
It runs an hour longer, but Coppola said audiences may find it moves more briskly than the 1979 cut.
Ironically, I think it plays better for the public, Coppola said. I think it's more absorbing and therefore plays faster in a funny way than the old version because it has more facets. It has humor. It has women, thank God.
Apocalypse Now Redux, which opened in French theaters this weekend, makes its debut in the United States in August.
Inspired by Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the movie recounts a nightmarish journey upriver through Vietnam by Capt. Willard (Sheen), ordered to execute the maverick Col. Kurtz (Brando), who rules a tribal outpost decorated with rotting corpses.
One new scene sheds light on why Kurtz inexplicably deranged in the original went off the deep end.
As he holds Willard prisoner in a shed, Kurtz reads magazine articles about the war, condemning the reports for their optimistic assessment of U.S. war efforts.
Kurtz quotes an intelligence analyst who told President Nixon that things felt much better and smelled better in Vietnam. Then Kurtz asks Willard, his captive, How do they smell to you, soldier?
Kim Aubry, a producer on Apocalypse Now Redux, said i the original film Kurtz always seemed like a madman.
Now he's talking in a dispassionate way about hypocrisy of news coverage, he said. You can read a lot more into his character now.
Nearly half the 53 minutes of restored material is taken up by Willard's visit to a French plantation. There, Willard witnesses a fierce dinner table debate on the French settlers' stake in the land and why they refuse to leave amid the chaos of war.
Willard also has a dreamlike affair with a French widow (Aurore Clement), who tells him he has two sides, one that loves, and one that kills.
The new version is more complete, said Clement, whose entire part was cut from the 1979 release. You have sentiment, familiarity. You have sensuality. More life.
Sheen's character, a stoic footsoldier in the original, is shown in the restored footage mischievously swiping the beloved surfboard of a beach-crazed colonel (Robert Duvall). Sheen also gives stranded Playboy playmates helicopter fuel in exchange for sex for the men on his patrol boat.
This is really a rebirth of the film in a new world in which it could be long and in which it could be slightly more ambitious, Coppola said. That's why I call it `redux.' It's like a rebirth of it. It's a remaking of it.
Written By DAVID GERMAIN © MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed