"I made him an offer he couldn't refuse."—Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando)
Some movies take on a life of their own, becoming institutions not only in the realm of the cinema but also in American culture. I dare any of you to find me one person who hasn't heard of Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader. Who among us doesn't know where the saying "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" came from? And what red-blooded patriot can't impersonate Bill Murray's whacked out Carl from Caddyshack?
Okay, that last one might have been stretching it a bit.
The point is there are a few movies and characters that have gone on to become celluloid legends. Such is the case with author Mario Puzo and director Francis Ford Coppola's epic series about the Corleone family. Starring some of the silver screens brightest stars and biggest talents, The Godfather is one of those rare films that ranks beside such classics as Citizen Kane, Star Wars and Schindler's List. On a personal note, I've never heard the word "respect" thrown around so many times in all my life. Paramount made the unique decision to release all three of these Oscar winning films (consisting of four discs) in one box set, along with a fifth bonus disc of rare behind-the-scenes footage and extra materials.
Facts of the Case
The Godfather begins at the wedding of the daughter of Don Vito Corleone (Brando), a feared and respected mob boss who likes to do a lot of "favors" for people. His family is made up of three sons and a daughter: hot headed "Sonny" (James Caan), the somewhat timid "Fredo" (John Cazale), the handsome Michael (Pacino), and the beautiful Connie (Talia Shire). Vito is the head of one of the five chief families of the Sicilian mafia in New York, consisting of such personal as a consigliore lawyer named Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), Clemenza (Richard Castellano) the caporegime, and Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana), the most feared hit man around. During the wedding, Michael comes back from World War II with his new girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton). Michael desires to have nothing to do with his fathers business, but due to unreasonable circumstances is slowly but surely pulled into the Don's family affairs. Through the years, we watch as enemies come and go, deals are made, and hits are ordered. Both viewers and Michael will soon learn that blood really is thicker than water.
The Godfather Part II:
The continuing story of The Godfather follows Michael Corleone's rise to power in place of his deceased father, while flashing back to the early days of Don Vito Corleone (played by Robert De Niro) and his ascent into the throne of wealth and respect. Key players from the first film show up (including Talia Shire, John Cazale, and Diane Keaton), and the plot thickens as Michael must defend his business against backstabbing friends and relatives, scrupulous business partners, and even a committee bent on bringing down the family business. During the film, we catch a glimpse at what life was like for the impoverished Vito Corleone, and how he came to be known as the Don of all Dons, "The Godfather."
The Godfather Part III:
The final act in The Godfather trilogy catches up with the Corleone family a few decades later. Older and still very much in business, Michael Corleone is now one of the wealthiest and powerful men around. His desire, now that his life is ending, is to attempt to leave the mafia business and go legit. His two children, Mary (Sofia Copploa) and Anthony (Franc D'Ambrosio), have grown, one working with a foundation through the Catholic church and the other desiring a career in the opera. Michael Corleone is now a diabetic and must contend with such allies as Vincent (Andy Garcia) who feels that the answer to everything is to kill Michael's enemies, crooked businessmen such as Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna), and his every burdening sins of the past. Is Michael's soul savable? Or will he get "pulled back in" to a life of crime for good?
The question, of course, is where do I start? Trying to review these movies is the equivalent of attempting to stick your head through a concrete hole the size of a marble. It's a tough order. I will start by admitting that I'd never seen any of the three films before I got these discs for review. I'd seen GoodFellas, Mobsters and even Analyze This, but never the coveted Godfather series from whence it all sprang forth. Seeing as this is a very coddled and lauded series, I realize that I tread a very thin line. A while back I gave a negative review to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and received so much hate mail that I started to think my first name might actually be "Adolph." So, it is with great ease that I discuss these three mafia movie classics.
Needless to say, I was impressed. Much like westerns and anything starring Nicholas Cage, I am not a huge fan of mob movies. However, The Godfather series has radically changed my mind on this stance. While I won't stand up and scream from the rooftops that The Godfather movies are the best films ever made, I will say that they are pretty frickin' good. I think I had a rather unique experience of being able to watch all three movies A.) for the first and compacted in the span of three days, B.) with a decent sound system, and C.) in their original widescreen format. I squeezed together what seemed to be about a hundred years (give or take a decade) of the Corleone's history into about three days worth of entertainment. While it was certainly a daunting and exhausting task, it was also a lot of fun. Watching these three films made me realize how well the characters in The Godfather films are crafted. Some movies you watch and think to yourself, "Oh look, there's Tom Cruise as so and so." In all three Godfather films I was completely absorbed in the characters to the point of not thinking about who the actors were at all (with the exception being, not surprisingly, Mr. Brando). Al Pacino was Michael Corleone. Robert Duvall becomes Tom Hagen. Sofia Coppola…well, that's another story. The point is that the Corleone's transcended from just a movie mob family into a real mob family, and all the dysfunctional death and destruction that comes with it.
I, like many others, found the second film to be the most engrossing. Watching Michael's rise to power while simultaneously viewing Vito's youth in The Godfather Part II is both powerful and fascinating. This is a story that is not only about the mafia but also about America. The old adage of wealth and success in America is a driving force for all the descendants of the Corleone family. We're taken into the underworld by way of just the family, and no one else. In almost all instances, Coppola doesn't let us glimpse the mafia by way of the police or innocent bystanders. Instead, we look at these genetic anomalies through the eyes of the Corleone family, their friends, and their enemies. The world of The Godfather is one that is encapsulated in itself; while there are some other outside characters at play (a crooked cop, some Vatican officials, et cetera), they are mainly side stories to the much bigger picture of life in a family of crooks and murderers. The funny thing is that while we find many of these people's action to be despicable, at the same time we come to care about them and their offspring. Robert De Niro as the young Vito is exceptional in a role that could have been thankless but isn't due to De Niro's uncanny ability to become a youthful Brando
Both The Godfather and The Godfather Part III are very well done, though The Godfather Part III tends to lag a bit in the center. The plot about the Vatican church, the Pope, et cetera, all seemed to be a bit of a stretch for me, and while the film has a satisfying conclusion I didn't find that as a whole it was as structurally sound as the first two movies. The first film's power comes from the performance of Marlon Brando, now oft imitated as the leader of the Corleone family. In fact, Brando as well as the cast around him are all first rate, including James Caan as the wild Sonny, Robert Duvall as the quiet yet intellectual Tom, and Diane Keaton as Micheal's long suffering girlfriend/wife. Andy Garcia, Don Novello, Abe Vigoda, and George Hamilton (!) make up only a small portion of the excellent supporting cast in all three films. While looking through the cast list of these films I don't think Coppola let one Italian actor slip by.
I'm not going to prattle on and on about these movies any more, as much has already been said by critics who know the series better than I. All three of these movies are worth seeing, and I would advise you to watch them in one sitting (i.e., one a day, for those who have the time). This way you get the full impact of Coppola's vision, and it should reaffirm your faith that sometimes, family and business just don't mix.
All three of the Godfather films are presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen. The first film looks very nice, though tends to sport a few imperfections that detract a bit from the viewing. If nothing else, The Godfather's transfer looks like it was shot back in the 1940s and '50s. While there were many instances of dark black levels and sharp colors, there was still a reasonable amount of grain left on the print. Some of the scenes in the film tended to border on oversaturation, and there were even instances where images looked like they were stuck in soft focus. Edge enhancement was spotted in a few places, but it was kept to a bare minimum. While this is not a perfect transfer, it the best so far and it should please fans.
Due to its length, The Godfather Part II is spread over two discs. It displays a bit more depth and color than the original film, though scenes taking place at the turn of the century often had an appropriately drab feel to them. Much like the first film there were occasional instances of dirt, grain, and blemishes on the print, but generally this is a very nice looking transfer by Paramount. One problem I did spot was an excessive amount of edge enhancement as compared to the first film. Much like the first movie, The Godfather Part II has its flaws but is generally a well done transfer that fans should appreciate.
The Godfather Part III, not surprisingly, sports the best transfer out of all the films (seeing as it was made only a little over a decade ago). The image quality is very clean with colors and black levels being very even and well rendered. Of course, this is not to say that The Godfather Part III doesn't include imperfections: grain was spotted during some sequences, and a bit of edge enhancement was also present during the film. However, the bulk of this movie looks great, and Paramount should be commended on a good (if not great) job on all three of these films.
Audio for all three films is presented in newly remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, and sound excellent. Much like the video portions, these tracks do sport some minor problems, but each one certainly is leaps and bounds above the VHS soundtracks and should make any mafia mogul smile. The weakest of the tracks (due to its age) is the first Godfather film. Dialogue, effects, and music were all clean and generally distortion free, but the track sounds monophonic and is localized to the center speaker. There were instances of nicely used directional sounds (such as during the wedding music scenes), but overall this track suffers from the fact that it was recorded back in 1972.
The Godfather Part II is only slightly better than its predecessor. Much like the first film, the sequel's Dolby 5.1 track also sounds mainly mono with the bulk of the track coming from the center speaker only. Directional sounds were utilized in a few instances, but this is not a very aggressive track. Then again, aside of a few brief action scenes, the Godfather movies are largely made up of dialogue and music. Dialogue, music, and effects were all usually distortion free and clear of any distractive hiss.
The Godfather Part III is the best of the lot, featuring a much more dynamic and full Dolby 5.1 mix. Although the film is also mostly dialogue driven, there were some very nice sections that used the directional sounds fully (for a great example, watch the helicopter attack sequence). Rear speakers were used much more extensively than the first two films, and this track had a richness to it that the other discs lacked. All aspects of dialogue, effects, and Carmine Coppola's score were distortion free and easy to hear.
Also included on all three of these discs are English subtitles and captions, as well as a Dolby French Mono track.
The Godfather Collection includes a huge array of extra materials that it almost boggles the mind. To start with, the five disc set comes in a very classy package that looks like it could be a faux leather bound book. Each disc comes in cardboard cases that are lined with a plastic snap for the discs (not unlike snapper cases, except sans the plastic snapper to hold them shut). My mild complaint is that while this is a good looking package, overall it's relatively flimsy and easy to bend or break.
First up there are commentary tracks by director Francis Ford Coppola on all three films, adding up to a lot of Coppola discussing the making of his movies. I will admit that I didn't listen to all of the tracks on these discs, but hey, if you have 19 hours to spend on both the movies and the commentaries, then you do the review. What I did hear was very good however, and while Coppola can sometimes be a bit dry, his stories are humorous, touching, and oftentimes nostalgic. Each track seemed to include a few spots of silence, but mostly Coppola sounded chatty and intelligent as he threw out interesting morsels for fans to chew on.
"The Godfather Family: A Look Inside" is a 75-minute documentary that was originally produced and aired during the making of The Godfather Part III back in 1990. This is an unusually comprehensive feature that tries (but doesn't always succeed) to give insight into the making of all three films. While watching this feature I was struck at how arrogant and somewhat difficult Coppola comes off, but I guess when you're making the big bucks you can have the power to be obstinate and stubborn. Clips from all of three movies are included in this documentary, as well as interviews with Al Pacino, Talia Shire, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Andy Garcia and many others. While the feature doesn't quite cover all aspects of the production of the films, this should nonetheless be an enthralling and interesting documentary for fans of the series.
There is a separate section that includes some relatively in-depth bios on the filmmakers, including Francis Ford Coppola, writer Mario Puzo, director of photography Gordon Willis, production designer Dean Tavoularism, and composers Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola. An interesting "Family Tree" is a complex web of characters in the Corleone family, and almost every person has his or her own little branch that the viewer can click on, read information about that character, and discover things they never knew (or didn't catch while watching the movie). This is a great little extra for those who can't remember the difference between a Francis Corleone and a Frank Corleone.
A multitude of additional scenes (The Godfather Chronology) are included on this disc, split up into separate sections: "1892-1930," "1931-1945," "1946-1955," and "1956-1997." Together these scenes run about an hour long, and there is a grand total of 34 scenes in all. Some of the scenes are presented in widescreen, some in full frame, and still others (the bulk of The Godfather Part III scenes) have "property of Paramount Pictures" burned into them. Watching these scenes it's apparent why some of them were cut and still others just shortened. A few of these scenes viewers will recognize from TV or re-edits of the films, but others are gems that have never seen the light of day until now. A great extra to have for rabid fans.
Many other smaller documentaries are included, featuring portraits of all aspects of the films. "The Locations Of The Godfather" is a six-minute tour by production designer Dean Tavoularis, going back to the original locations for the first time since the production of the films. Much history on the locations is included, plus some still photos and production footage for those who care. "The Music Of The Godfather" includes two separate featurettes on composers Carmine Coppola and Nino Rota. This feature includes rough footage of Coppola and Rota going over notes and music, as well as some interesting insights into the scoring of the film. Running about four minutes, this is a very nice piece for fans of film music. "Puzo and Coppola" on screenwriting includes interviews with different participants of the writing process, as well as some rare audio dialogue of the script meetings and rewrites. "Francis Coppola's Notebook" is a ten minute feature that is an interview with Coppola discussing the note taking process from the novel, as well as his influences and other tidbits about the production. "Gordon Willis On Cinematography" is a four minute feature about Willis and his work on The Godfather movies. Some "Storyboards" are featured for The Godfather Part II and The Godfather Part III, as well as an original "Making Of" feature from 1971 which is in bad shape and not all that interesting.
Finally there is a photo section featuring a "Rogues Gallery" of villains photos and names, plus pictures from the production and the films, three theatrical trailers for each of The Godfather movies, and finally an "Acclaim and Response" section that shows clips from the 1972 and 1974 Academy Awards when both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II won a batch of Oscars (including Best Picture for both).
As a special treat for fans there are two "Easter eggs" to be found on the bonus disc. If you go under "Setup" and click to the right you'll find a globe that will show you a bunch of strangely edited scenes from the films dubbed in all kinds of different languages. Heading to the end of the "Credits" section under "Galleries" will take you to a clip from The Sopranos where Tony and his goons attempt to watch a bootlegged copy of the The Godfather. Funny stuff and well worth the search!
That's a lotta bread for your dough!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While the transfers are not the greatest, I do have to make mention of Ms. Sofia Coppola. Many nasty things have been said about her role in The Godfather Part III (a part originally slated for Winona Ryder). Coppola is certainly not an honor thespian, but she does bring a very decent sense of innocence and naïveté to the role of Mary. While she may be the weakest link in the trilogy acting wise, she is not as horrible as many have claimed. That and the fact that she's relatively easy on the eyes.
If you're a Mafioso fan or really want to see Al Pacino at his best, I highly recommend you renting these movies, if not buying them altogether. Coppola has crafted a very engaging and unique series with the Godfather trilogy, and Paramount has done very nice work on this set. The video transfers aren't as clean as one would like, but that's a very small complaint when you see how extensive this set is. Over nine hours of movies and commentary tracks, three more hours of extra features, nice packaging…it's almost as smooth as Johnny Fontane's voice! The price is a bit high, but fans of the series won't care once they get their paws on this set.
Whats-a da matta' wish yous guyz? Of course this set is free to go. Now go get me some cannolli and a case of olive oil before I makes you-a sleep with the fishes!
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Scales of Justice
• Three Audio Commentaries by Director Francis Ford Coppola
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