Apocalypse Now, Again

A lot of information is hitting me at the same time right now. People are making an Apocalypse Now game, Francis Ford Coppola is involved, and there is a lot of talk about how video games are ready as a medium to add something of genuine meaning to Coppola’s initial artistic offering.

Says the auteur genius behind Apocalypse Now, The Godfather (Parts I and II) and Jack:

Forty years ago, I set out to make a personal art picture that could hopefully influence generations of viewers for years to come. Today, I’m joined by new daredevils, a team who want to make an interactive version of Apocalypse Now, where you are Captain Benjamin Willard amidst the harsh backdrop of the Vietnam War. I’ve been watching videogames grow into a meaningful way to tell stories, and I’m excited to explore the possibilities for Apocalypse Now for a new platform and a new generation.

As I said, a lot there.

First off: it’s great they have a roster of talented people who have worked on good games before, but that doesn’t guarantee anything.

Secondly, I’m not really sure how making a game with Willard as a protagonist really adds to the original vision. I’m also not much of a fan of the phrase “interactive recreation of Willard’s journey” being used on the Kickstarter page. It doesn’t really mean anything of course, and doesn’t commit people to much, but it does reek of another video game existing mostly as a prematurely vestigial appendage of an existing work of art.

In fairness, what a work of art. My Vietnam class this past fall (which I will write up soon, I promise) watched Apocalypse Now and it remains stunning. If anything, I recommend that people who have seen the film at a young age watch it again after a decade or two. It was an entirely new experience, akin to the one I had reading Brave New World in my 30s, a testament to the film’s enduring artistic merit.

It means something, something tangible, that Coppola would make such a show of his investment and confidence in the project. There is no reason not to take him at his word. The game has the potential to be a genuine crossover as well, and if there is a medium best suited to mixing together established classics and something new, I think the video game is right up there with the novel. It is of course very difficult to do.

It also begs the question of what the game is setting out to do artistically. Apocalypse Now, in addition to being a tour de force from a young director in his prime, is a film seeking to explore the American misadventure in Vietnam in ways both explicit and indistinct. The film is soaked in the symbolism of American failure and confusion, but Willard’s journey enters the metaphysical. Apocalypse Now is as much about the limits and arrogance of modernity as it is the morality of the American war in Vietnam.

So, what to expect from a game produced in the early twenty-first century amidst the swings of populism in the West and a democratic consensus seemingly enshrined forever in the postwar twentieth century under siege? I’m not sure I know, really. I want it to work out, but it is not clear just yet what this game is going to be. I am far from won over from comments like this one:

“It’s like Fallout: New Vegas on acid in the middle of the Vietnam War.”

In fairness, they are trying to sell a game they are not able to start making yet. They deserve a lot of leeway. I am pulling for them, but I hope this proves to be a lot of pre-sale guff that makes something interesting possible.