Judge Gordon Sullivan once found a horse's head in his bed...still attached to the horse.
Our reviews of The Godfather Collection (published October 9th, 2001), The Godfather: Part II (published July 4th, 2005), The Godfather: Part III (published July 4th, 2005), and The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration (published September 23rd, 2008) are also available.
"For justice, we must go to Don Corleone."
The fall of 2001 was a heady time in the world of DVD. It seemed like left-field classics such as Bad Taste and Suspiria were being released in deluxe editions every week, while cinema favorites like Casablanca and The Wizard of Oz had yet to receive the definitive DVD treatment. That fall found me most Tuesdays at the local big-box store, scouring the new release racks for the latest gem. Most of those days don't stick out in my mind, but the release day of that first Godfather set does. I got to the store a little before it opened, and although there wasn't a line, more than a dozen people were waiting for the doors to open. I scanned the racks, picked up my copy of the Godfather set, and checked out about 15 minutes later. Every other person in the checkout line was carrying a copy of that glorious black box. There was a guy obviously on lunch break from his executive position, in suit and tie. There was a young mother with her two kids, and behind me an elderly African American gentleman. Usually I was alone in purchasing films like Sleepaway Camp, but something about The Godfather had more universal appeal.
The following weekend I screened all three movies (neither of my roommates had seen the films, which was shocking). Since I was used to a set of worn-out VHS tapes (all six of them), this DVD was a godsend. Afterwards, I read a number of reviews that noted the poor contrast, the washed-out colors, and the darkness of the print. As the years went by (and older films got more and more lavish treatment on disc), I grew more and more dissatisfied with the presentation of the Godfather set. Well, a few years ago, in answer to our prayers, Francis Ford Coppola talked to his friend Steven Spielberg about getting Paramount (with whom Spielberg had a relationship) to go back to the vaults to restore the Godfather trilogy to its original glory. After a number of years of work (documented excellently on this Blu-ray set), we have the new "Coppola Restoration" in our hands.
Go, and buy it now. It's worth every penny. If you don't, you may wake up with the top of your Blu-ray player next to you in bed.
Facts of the Case
The Godfather films could also be called The Fall and Rise of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino). The first film deals with Michael's rise through the ranks of his family's crime empire after the death of his father, Vito (played in the first film by Marlon Brando). Although Michael wishes to stay out of the family business, a confluence of events ensures that his hands won't stay clean if he wants his family to be safe. The second Godfather film takes on Michael's story after his ascendency as the king of New York crime, as his interests diversify and he tries to go clean with his interests in Las Vegas. Trouble from within the family again keeps Michael from realizing his dreams of a life outside of crime. Coppola intercuts Michael's attempts to control an empire with the story of his father, Vito (played this time by Robert De Niro, at the height of his powers). Over fifteen years after the one-two punch of the first films, Coppola returned to the Corleones to tell the tale of Michael's final attempt at redemption. As an old man, Michael has become a humanitarian, but as we've seen before, events conspire to keep him in the life he so desperately seeks salvation from.
Obviously, no summary could do justice to the epic scope of these films, which span the American continent and shows three generations of an immigrant family.
There's a very good chance I'm not going to say anything new about the Godfather trilogy. So, I won't be offended if you skip straight down to the discussion of the new transfer while I gush about how great these films are.
If anyone out there thinks that Al Pacino can't act, just make them watch this movie. If they remain unconvinced, they're hopeless. I've known a number of people who were only familiar with the histrionic "Hoo Ha!" Pacino, and when they see this film it's like a light goes off in their head, like they finally understand why people say he's a great actor. The best moments in this film are bleak and understated, perfectly acted by Pacino.
The Godfather: Part II
Considering how brilliant this film is, it's easy to overlook how remarkable it is historically. The vast majority of sequels are lifeless affairs, produced for the money. While The Godfather: Part II might have been made for the cash, Coppola got most of his cast back, and continued to collaborate with Mario Puzo on the script. Bringing in the new blood of De Niro elevated the film to classic status. In many ways, The Godfather: Part II could have been the only Godfather film, and it would have felt just as right.
The Godfather: Part III
The story for Part III is absolutely on par with the three previous films. This is the end of the line for Michael's attempts at redemption, and he's turned to the Catholic Church, bringing this previously peripheral element to the fore with this film. The inclusion of Vincent Mancini and the young Mary Corleone perpetuates the tragic cycle of the previous films, while bringing a kind of Romeo and Juliet feel to the production. I will, however, grant that the opera during the finale is a little overdone.
The weak link in The Godfather: Part III isn't the story, but Coppola's choice of new talent is. Andy Garcia just doesn't have the charisma to pull off the role of Vincent. In many films (including this one and Ocean's Eleven) he's like Pacino-lite. There is obviously supposed to be an echo of a young Michael Corleone in him, but not the "been there, done that" feeling his performance elicits. Many, many other critics have noted the lackluster skills of Sophia Coppola as Mary Corleone in the film. Suffice it to say that it took the brilliance of Lost in Translation to make me forget her role in this film.
I know all this every time I watch The Godfather: Part III, but somehow the shot of Michael Corleone on the bench gets me every time.
The Coppola Restoration
I can see some complaining about the change compared to the more familiar home video incarnations, and to that I have two replies. First, watch the restoration featurette to understand how the films were shot and restored for this edition. It's likely to open your eyes to new ways of seeing the film. Second, when I first got this set in the mail I put in the first disc to check the quality of the transfer. Thirty minutes later I looked up and realized I'd been sucked in. Although there may be room to quibble on this transfer, nothing about it should stop fans from getting lost in this epic American tale.
Both of the first films were shot with mono sound in mind (and that track is available on these discs), so the new Dolby TrueHD tracks don't add much to the surround channels. However, all three films benefit from the extra clarity provided by the increased bits. I didn't notice any significant hiss or distortion, and there were no issues with balance between dialogue and music.
If Paramount provided consumers with a dollar for every time they used the word "provocative" to describe extras on this set, it would almost be free. I should immediately note that all, I repeat, all of the extras from the previous DVD set are included with these Blu-rays. These include the "provocative" commentaries by Coppola for each film, as well as the "provocative" documentaries and additional scenes. I'll give credit to Coppola for sitting through each film and talking almost the entire way through each, dishing out production and story info. However, I'm not a big fan of his commentary style. He's a little too conversational for me, and I'd have liked a more apparent moderator to prod him at certain points (this isn't limited to the Godfather films; I felt the same way about his commentary to The Thief of Bagdad). All the original extras are still just as good as they were. The making-of feature compiles over an hour of interviews and insights into the making of the film. The additional scenes include some interesting bits from the cutting room floor (some of which were featured in the television version). "Profiles on the Filmmakers" focuses on the behind the camera talent. I really appreciated the inclusion of the "Corleone Family Tree," as some of the relationships in the film are hard to keep straight. This simple visual guide connected everyone so I didn't have to work at it.
The new extras on this disc are all in HD, which is a nice surprise. "Godfather World" focuses on the importance of The Godfather films in pop culture, while "Godfather on the Red Carpet" features stars of Cloverfield commenting on the film. "The Masterpiece that Almost Wasn't" details all the difficulties occurring at Paramount (and in the film industry) that almost tanked The Godfather before it got made. "When the Shooting Stopped" takes a peek at the post-production process, an area of the film that deserves more notice considering how highly praised the talent in front of the camera is. The highlight of the extras to me was the "Emulsion Rescue" featurette, which details the restoration of the film, including input from expert Robert Harris.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The one major thing this set gets wrong is the packaging. The first DVD incarnation included a nice matte-black outer sleeve, with individual "books" for each disc. It looked really classy. This new set shoves all four discs into a single-width Blu-ray case. I'll probably swap the discs between the two sets, and keep the Blu-ray discs in the old cases on the shelf.
Denying The Godfather is like denying cinema. The film helped signal a sea change in the industry, while also introducing the world to a number of talents who would go on to create some of the more lasting pieces of cinema in the last decades of the 20th century. This new restoration might not have the look that fans are used to, but it's a solid transfer with a wealth of contextual extras that add even more value to this already amazing set of films. While the set might not be jaw-dropping enough to increase adoption of Blu-ray, anyone who's already made the jump to HD needs to add this set to their collection.
It doesn't take a horse's head in my bed to convince me that the Corleone family is acquitted of all charges.
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Perp Profile, The Godfather
Distinguishing Marks, The Godfather
• Commentary by Francis Ford Coppola
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Perp Profile, The Godfather: Part II
Distinguishing Marks, The Godfather: Part II
• Commentary by Francis Ford Coppola
Scales of Justice, The Godfather: Part III
Perp Profile, The Godfather: Part III
Distinguishing Marks, The Godfather: Part III
• Commentary by Francis Ford Coppola
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