They say youth is wasted on the young and I’ll find it hard to disagree. Just like your average teenage I had the whole world in front of me and instead of exploring and living every ounce of it to the fullest, I found myself in a darkened room on a Friday night, computer purchased on my lap and the Netflix logo glaring bright red in front of me. I was in the mood to watch a few films and just by chance I stumbled upon two masterpieces, Platoon and Apocalypse, just my luck. Upon watching them and subsequently loving them! I decided to porous the credits, and lo and behold I realised that not only were both films centered around the same subject matter – the Vietnam war, but one featured a father and the other a son. Thus, with too many coincidences to ignore, I simply had to take up the fabulous opportunity to compare and contrast the two films on such things as: story, cinematography, sound and of course the two leading performances of Martin and Charlie Sheen underpinning both films.
Prostitutes…drugs…alcohol… well, when it comes to addiction it’s safe to say Charlie Sheen wins out on this one. However, venturing into the career archives of both father and son, Charlie is certainly not #Winning. In fact, his paltry cinematic credentials of Hot Shots! Scary Movie and their various questionable sequels, certainly leaves a lot to be desired. While Martin is practically cinematic royalty with his numerous Box Office smashes firmly under his undoubtedly diamond encrusted belt. From All the Presidents Men to Badlands and Ghandi, wadding through Martin Sheens’ CV is like being immersed in a treasure trove of legendary films. But alas, this piece isn’t about careers, otherwise Martin Sheen would have demolished his son well before I even started typing. Instead it’s a bitter battle between Apocalypse Now and Platoon, and the performances of their leading men respectively.
When it comes to comparing the two films, it is virtually impossible to ignore the superficial surface – awards received and the profits made. Well, firstly on the awards front they are relatively similar: 4 awards (3 Oscars and 1 Palme d’Or) for Apocalypse Now (France Ford Coppola, 1979), but piping it to the post with 5 awards (4 Oscars and 1 BAFTA) is Platoon (Oliver Stone). But in terms of the actual prestige of the wins, Apocalypse Now more than levels the playing field! Yes, Platoon did win the Best Picture Oscar, however, Apocalypse did what very few mainstream, big budget (more on budget later) American films do and it won the Palme d’Or, which is widely considered the truest indicator of artistic accomplishment. Such a fete places Apocalypse Now in the same bracket as The Conversation, (another from Francis Ford Coppola) Taxi Driver and Pulp Fiction – a very select group indeed. On the awards front, this clearly goes to Apocalypse Now
Luckily, getting up from that one two punch, Platoon is able to come back swinging with an almighty profit margin thanks to a mammoth Box Office taking of $138 million against a paltry budget of 6 million. While in comparison Apocalypse Now was only able to rustle up a meager and disappointing $83 million from a $31 million budget. To be fair and playing devil’s advocate, I have to admit that Apocalypse Now was dogged with plenty of hardship and turmoil during production. Unfortunately, Coppola had to contend with budget problems, typhoons, fire and oh yeah, an alcoholic lead to add to the growing ordeals.
Now it’s time for my favourite aspect of the article, the plots. Firstly, I have to start of by waxing lyrical over the holy trinity Apocalypse Now was blessed with: great script, legendary director and an almost god like actor. Anyway, back to the story: Apocalypse Now is set in a world teetering on the verge of darkness and a descent into primal madness. Sent into the flames of hell is Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen) who has the sole instructions of finding and killing AWOL Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando – whose very name is translated into greatness in almost every language known to man).
On the other hand, we have Platoon which follows young and naive Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) as he joins up with the army believing in his heart that he is fulfilling a patriotic duty, and in the back of his mind thinking Vietnam would be a simple case of firing a few bullets and returning home as a hero. But, upon reaching the underworld, he encounters and links up with a diverse platoon of men, who in the outside world would never rub shoulders with one and another. The platoon is led by two men, Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) a man with a scared appearance and the other is Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe), who with a conveyor belt of mind altering drugs is able to maintain an air of calm in a middle of a storm of chaos. Soon as the days’ progress, Chris Taylor’s dreams of heroism is quickly obliterated as the platoon delve deeper and deeper into enemy territory. Witnessing acts of despicable evil dished out nonchalantly to other human beings by his fellow soldiers, it becomes abundantly clear to Chris how naive his ideas on war were – war it’s certainly no rite of passage nor coming of age, it’s hell on earth.
So, hopefully from the synopsis’ above you can see that from the onset both characters saw war from completely different perspective and ages, and I believe this was conveyed in both films narrative style and unique choice of focus. Apocalypse Now focused on the bigger picture and grandiose statements about war and man, while Platoon focused more on the loss of innocence and the increasing isolation experienced by young soldiers.
When it comes to cinematography, this is when Apocalypses Now’s with it bigger picture comes into play as aesthetically the film is a work of fine art, which means it wouldn’t look a smidge out of place at the Tate Modern. I would even go as far as to say that Vittorio Storaro cinematography was like witnessing a walking and talking Picasso piece in the flesh, such was the extent of the visual art mastery he conjured up in Apocalypse Now. For instance, the final few scenes with Marlon Brando was simply captivating, Vittorio Storaro’s blending of engulfing darkness and the shimmers of light streaking across Brando’s face, for me it gave Brando an almost god like aura and epitomised the constant moral ambiguity of war. Although, next to any other film, Platoon would’ve looked impeccable with its dark gritty colours that really capture the drudgery of war, in truth it’s no real match for Apocalypse Now.
The haunting melody of “The End,” the majesty and power of “The Ride of the Valkyries,” the Apocalypse Now soundtrack is part of those rare moments in cinema where the sound track alone can stand by itself and be considered masterful without the need for the source movie to prop it up. Even after the first listen, instantly the Apocalypse Now soundtrack has the heft and emotional resonance to remain with you forever. Like a scar it embeds itself into the back of your mind and forever echos in your memories. When it comes to soundtracks, Platoon isn’t even worth mentioning, so I won’t.
Ever felt star struck? Well, if you’ve read the cast list for either film you certainly would’ve in abundance. When it comes to star power and acting arsenals, both Platoon and Apocalypse Now would leave you salivating and giddy with joy. Platoon has: Laurence Fishboune (The Matrix), Willem Dafoe (Born on the Fourth of July), Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), Keith David (The Thing), Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean) and Kevin Dillon – I can guarantee at least one of these bad boys is one of your favourite actors. Then you have Apocalypse Now with the likes of Marlon Brando (The Godfather), Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper (Easy Ryder) and Harrison Ford (Star Wars). On the Talents stake, I would have to say both films are completely even considering the quality of actors shown by both is simply out of this world!
Finally, it’s time for a comparison between father and son… Charlie Sheen (yes, the same guy from Hot Shots!) was able to stand tall and deliver a convincing portray of a conflicted man caught up in the ultimate battle against inner demons and what is right and what is wrong, when surrounded by men losing their souls everywhere he turned. I also felt he was incredible at conveying complex emotions with such convictions, man and role almost seemed to blend together and as the film progressed it slow became more difficult to separate the two. However, Martin was also captivating with his note perfect portrayal of a man becoming disillusioned by war and quickly losing sight of his moral compass. And I believe the way Martin was able to blur the lines between black and white, Good and Evil, brutality and saviour until they were virtually interchangeable was acting at its finest. Ultimately, such was the complexity and gravitas of Charlie’s performance (again, yes the same guy from Hot Shot!), I have to give it up to the son on this occasion – come on, after seeing Platoon who couldn’t?
From my analyses above, you could be forgiven for thinking I would ultimately side with Apocalypse Now on accounts of me waxing lyrical about the films technical achievements – beautiful cinematography and majestic soundtrack… However, for me it as always been substance over style and Oliver Stone’s Platoon is all about substance! Why? Well, Apocalypse Now focused too adamantly on the bigger picture and in its haste to wow you with its visual allure, it lost sight of the little details and the little details in war aren’t the explosions and bullets, but the young men risking their lives every day for their country. Platoon offers audiences a profound and uncompromising leap into the very depths of the human condition; never shying away from exposing the sinister side of us all and penetrating through the sense of false bravado involved with blind patriotism, while also offering a sincere exploration of our collective humanity.