The Godfather - The Coppola Restoration – Blu-ray Review
By Frankie Dees Sep 22, 2008, 14:21 GMT
THE GODFATHER: Popularly viewed as one of the best American films ever made, the multi-generational crime saga The Godfather (1972) is a touchstone of cinema: one of the most widely imitated, quoted, and lampooned movies of all time. Marlon Brando and Al Pacino star as Vito Corleone and his youngest son, Michael, respectively. It is the late 1940s in New York and Corleone is, in the parlance of organized crime, ...more
Making a surprisingly quick debut to Blu-Ray, 'The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration' comes to high-def with meticulous restorations for 'The Godfather' and 'The Godfather II' and a newly remastered 'The Godfather III'.
Brand new special features on a collection that includes two of the best American films ever made looking the best they ever have might just be an offer you can't refuse.
Truly a cultural phenomenon and the most iconic franchise outside of the sci-fi genre (and arguably even more important to film than the 'Star Wars' franchise), Francis Ford Coppola had no idea what a phenom he was creating when he took the job to adapt Maria Puzo's best-selling novel 'The Godfather' - the novel being an altogether different beast - and sat down with Puzo to turn his more broadly written pulp novel into a family saga of immeasurable emotional resonance.
Of course, 1972's 'The Godfather' revolutionized 70s cinema and along with its epic sequel became the quintessential films of the era with the quintessential cast. Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Robert Duvall, John Cazale, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire all either got their careers started or revived with the franchise and it's telling to the era to mention that Pacino bookended his performance in Part II with 'Serpico' and 'Dog Day Afternoon' while DeNiro did the same with 'Mean Streets' and 'Taxi Driver'.
And now the cinematic landscape these days is in such a state that Pacino and DeNiro have to team up for the first time since 'Heat' and before that, 'The Godfather Part II' (never on screen together) on half-baked genre trash like 'Righteous Kill' to try and remain relevant. Not only is that film not worthy, but worse, no one seemed to care.
That little tangent aside, I have nothing but praise for the cast with not one false note in the 379 minutes that make up the first two pics both of which were Best Picture Winners.
Sixteen years would pass before Coppola revisited the Corleone family with 'The Godfather Part III', an unfairly maligned pic upon release that nevertheless garnered a Best Picture nom.
The film's status has grown over time after initial reactions of a pic that didn't sate expectations died down. Casting his daughter Sofia Coppola in a key role attracted most of the negative attention and while the film is certainly more enigmatic than the first two, I think it is an enormously fitting end to one particular American dream.
To summarize the three Godfathers would be an exhaustive spoiler-filled undertaking. Considering that, for those of you that have seen the films, a detailed synopsis would be redundant and for those of you that haven't, then you need to immediately slap yourself and rectify that immediately and go in completely fresh.
How I would envy watching these films for the first time again...ahem. If you want to completely avoid spoilers, skip the next four paragraphs.
For those that want a brief overview, however, we start off with 'The Godfather', second only to 'Citizen Kane' according to the AFI as the best American film ever made. The focus completely rests on the Corleone family, the father and godfather Don Vito (Marlon Brando) and three sons Sonny (James Caan), Michael (Pacino) and Fredo (John Cazale).
Using this family, Coppola takes a humanistic and introspective look at organized crime as filtered through the Corleone's where the family, despite being built by violence, remains centered on Vito's conviction for old-school principles.
These convictions, indeed, set the gears for the franchise in motion as Don Vito refuses to deal with narcotics, a decision that will eventually end with an attempt on his life. Surviving but in poor health, his relinquishes the reins of the business to his sons.
Hot-headed, street-smart Sonny, underspoken, educated Michael and weak-willed Fredo all deal with the aftermath in their own ways with Michael's dream of living a life outside of crime soon a distant memory.
'The Godfather Part II' expands upon the first with an almost unfathomable creativity and structure. The non-linear narrative chronicles both a young Vito (DeNiro), and his son Michael's rise to fame and the stories told in parallel manage to allow a depth that probably wouldn't have been there had told in the traditional linear fashion.
At an epic three hours and twenty minutes long, and not an ounce of fat, the familial and professional struggles of both father and son result in the greatest sequel of all time.
And all great things must come to an end with 'The Godfather Part III', the final chapter of the Corleone family which chronicles Michael's aging Don and his attempts at finally becoming legitimate.
The film plays more like classic tragedy than the first two pics, cemented by the operatic climax, where Michael wants to atone for his sins but finds out that fate is unavoidable.
And now to the part that most people will be most curious about - how do the films look in high-def? I want to start off by saying that expectations will need to be in check or you will most definitely be met with disappointment.
The period, source and intentional look of the films don't lend itself to breathtaking high-def visuals even compared to other films of its era. Grain is also a consistent and almost unavoidable nuisance on the first two pics so getting all that out of the way, this is also the best these films have looked and might ever look.
At first glance, there may not be much improvement over the 2001 DVD release, but once you settle into the first pic and particularly the second, the painstaking restoration process becomes evident.
The films, which feature a lot of natural lighting, are generally dark but the 1080p AVC Mpeg-4 encodes do an outstanding job of keeping black levels solid with almost no compression.
With each film getting its own 50 gig BD disc, there's very little compression issues to point out. The outside sequences understandably benefit the most with the Sicily-set scenes being particularly vibrant.
Watching the restoration featurette on the bonus disc will shed a little light on just how big the differences are between past incarnations. If you own the '01 DVD collection and are wondering if this BD collection is worth the upgrade all depends on how much you want to spend to see these films look the best they possibly can if not exactly causing your jaw to drop in amazement.
All films get a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that does a great job balancing the dialogue-heavy score and the fantastic original musical score by Nino Rota in the first pic and later Carmine Coppola. Not very action heavy, that the dialogue is clear and concise is its major coup. There's very little room for improvement on the audio.
'The Godfather' DVD collection featured hours upon hours of bonus content and Paramount/Zoetrope wisely carried all of those features over as well provided hours of new content. This is definitely how you treat a BD release.
All of the new content is presented in 1080i while all of the carried over material is presented in 480i. I'll start with the new content.
A half-hour new doc 'The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn't' covers the cinematic era surrounding the original 'The Godfather' and Coppola's pains in getting it made. All new interviews with George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, William Friedkin, Robert Evans, among others prove to immensely interesting.
Well-made and a must watch for those that pick up the set. A shorter 'Godfather World' runs 12 minutes and includes even more interviews with celebs whose lives were affected by 'Godfather'. Everyone from Alec Baldwin to Trey Parker have things to say here. Good stuff.
'Emulsional Rescue: Revealing 'The Godfather' is a 20-minute featurette on the restoration and details all the hard work involved. Upon hearing of Spielberg’s partnership with Paramount (through Dreamworks), Coppola asked him to throw some weight around to help save his films. And help he did by getting the Paramount head to drop a check right away as Spielberg’s first request. It's nice to have friends, eh?...
'...And When the Shooting Stopped' is a fifteen minute look at the crew of 'The Godfather' whom have some interesting stories to share. 'The Family Tree/The Crime Organization' gets an update from the 01' release which presents character biographies.
'The Godfather on the Red Carpet' is a little more perplexing. Four minutes of 'stars' praising 'Godfather' at the 'Cloverfield' premiere...whaa? Finally for the new stuff, we get 'Four Short Films on The Godfather' collect some outtakes from the featurettes that are curiously named as four short films. More stars waxing on and sharing little stores.
Separated on the bonus disc as '2001 DVD Archive', all other bonus content (with the exception of the commentaries) is listed under this menu. The three screen-specific commentaries from Coppola are on each of the respective films and if you didn't listen to them back then, they're still a great listen.
For long films, Coppola rarely allows a dry spot and has an enormous amount of info and anecdotes to share.
'The Godfather Family' is a whopping 75 minutes and was made at the time of Part III. Also included on the old laserdisc, there's a lot of great stuff here despite the rather dated feel and the then-recent interviews. Seven featurettes are next with 'The Locations of The Godfather', 'Francis Coppola's Notebook', 'The Music of...', 'Puzo and Coppola on Screenwriting', 'Gordon Willis on Cinematography' and the original 1971 making-of.
'Storyboards' and 'Galleries' include a variety of still content to navigate and 'Additional Scenes/Historical Timeline' provides a text listing of events and nearly an hour of deleted scenes that will prove of great interest to fans. A trailer for each film finishes off the comprehensive extras.
To sum up, 'The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration' is a key Blu-ray release and the films themselves need no hyperbole or recommendation as the first two are American cinema classics with the third being a fitting end.
With a bounty of new content and video restorations that, while not jaw-dropping, still impressed, I can safely say that BD owners will consider this an essential purchase.
Editor’s Note: Images in review are NOT from the Blu-ray release and do not reflect the quality of the picture.