Director Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film Apocalypse Now is one of the most studied and discussed movies in motion picture history. Scholars and fans alike have discussed the nuances of the Vietnam War-themed story ad nauseam. Adding to the legend of Apocalypse Now are the well-documented difficulties that Coppola encountered in his unwavering drive to complete the project. When Paramount released Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier last year, most critics agreed that not including Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse was a glaring omission.
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse is comprised of behind-the-scenes footage shot by Coppola's wife Eleanor, originally meant for her own diary and consisting of private conversations she had with her husband, interspersed with 1990 interviews with cast and crew members discussing their work on the film. The tense, frenzied atmosphere that surrounded the filming of Apocalypse Now is established at the beginning of Darkness, with a clip of Coppola's infamous speech at the 1979 Cannes film festival just prior to the film's world premiere. The anxious-looking director states matter-of-factly, "My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam. It's what it was really like. It was crazy."
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse gives viewers a front row seat to watch one of the most difficult film shoots in history. Apocalypse Now started shooting in the Philippines in 1976, but after a week Coppola fires Harvey Kietel from his role as Captain Willard in the film and replaces him with Martin Sheen. Sheen agrees to do the part, but warns Coppola that his three packs a day smoking habit, among other things, have left him feeling unsure about his health. Coppola has also worked out a deal with the Marcos government for military assistance, but has to deal with frequent interruptions so the helicopters used in the film can fight rebel troops in the country. Finally, a typhoon destroys nearly all the sets and shuts down production for nearly two months.