The Godfather Collection: Coppola Restoration Blu-ray ReviewSeptember 25, 2008
"What are they getting so excited about? It's only another gangster picture."
- Marlon Brando, 1971
The studio wanted a quick cash-in on a popular book. They wound up with the highest-grossing film of all time (pre-Jaws) and a motion picture many consider to be one of, if not the, greatest films ever made. Its 1974 follow up proved to be its equal, if not an improvement, and its influence continues to affect our culture nearly four decades after its release. There are popular movies that become events, and then there is Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather.
Unfortunately, for a film series so loved the only way many have had to experience Coppola's '70s masterworks and 1990 entry was via substandard transfers created from damaged prints, worn-out negatives and antiquated technology. Be it the VHS, Laserdisc or 2001 DVD box set, the picture and sound quality has always been in a state worthy of the Mafioso Kiss of Death. Were this series ever to make it to the next-generation Blu-ray format, someone would first have to step in and save the Corleones -- or at least their film negatives.
That someone was The Godfather of the movie industry himself, Steven Spielberg. Acting on behalf of his friend Coppola, who had asked for his friend's help with the restoration, Spielberg went to the heads of Paramount and asked them to foot the bill for the print cleanup. Paramount was only more than happy to grant this request and wrote out a one million dollar check for the project.
Coppola handed the project to film-preservation expert Robert A. Harris, associate archivist Joanne Lawson of The Film Preserve and Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging (MPI), the latter receiving further assistance from cinematographers Gordon Willis and Allen Daviau. Scanned at 4k Resolution and digitally cleaned up one frame at a time over a year-long period, the restored and (in the case of Part III) re-mastered prints have been assembled for release in a deluxe four-disc Blu-ray edition.
Given the history of the films there really is no need to offer up plot summaries. In regards to my thoughts on the films themselves, I will make it short and sweet: Parts I and II are, without question, the best American movies made in the 1970s. Every aspect of the productions are note-perfect, and the themes of family, loyalty, power and corruption resonate just as powerfully today as they did several decades ago.
As for Part III, I'll be the first to admit that it has flaws and that it is nowhere near the same level as the first two (what could be?). Taken on its own terms, however, it is a damn solid drama, one that has more than its fair share of powerful and moving moments and also includes a terrific performance by Andy Garcia and a 40-minute finale that is an intense knockout.
I've watched all three films quite a few times over the past seven years. After all, beggars can't be choosers. While each viewing has always brought the same high level of entertainment, the DVD editions are definitely sub-par. The transfers are murky and riddled with compression artifacts and video noise. Colors and contrast are way off, and dirt and print damage only make things worse. Fortunately, the newly restored prints go a long way to rectifying that… a very, very long way.
All three films are presented on BD-50s in 1080p/AVC/MPEG-4 encodes and framed at a 1.78:1 ratio. The new prints for the first two films are nothing short of beautiful. There is no DNR, compression artifacts, video noise or edge enhancement. Each displays a fine film grain throughout, which is exactly the way it should be. Black levels and shadow detail are strong, while colors and flesh tones are both warmer and more stabilized than they were on standard-definition DVD.
There are a few areas that may cause people to scream to voice concern: contrast levels in the daytime sequences and the occasional use of soft focus lenses to achieve a nostalgic look. Both were artistic choices made by Coppola and cinematographer Gordon Willis that really have never been properly conveyed on home video until now. The contrasts may appear jarring at first, but you do get used to them quickly. As for the soft focus, I doubt many will have issues with this outside of someone new to the HD game who expects everything on Blu-ray to look like a Pixar film.
As previously mentioned, The Godfather Part III did not require a restoration. Instead, a Digital Intermediate was created for the Director's Cut of part three, which had only existed on home video until this point (it made its debut in October 1991). Despite the lack of intense cleanup, Part III still looks really nice. Black levels are deep, picture detail is sharper here than it is on the first two films and the colors and flesh tones are nicely handled.
On the sound front, each of the films has been given a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track and as an added bonus, the original monaural tracks for the first two parts have also been included. The new audio sounds good, but not great. Dialogue on all three films is nice and clear and sound effects such as thunder and gunfire has a nice kick to them. On more than one occasion, namely in the first two parts, music comes across as being recorded higher than the rest of the film and becomes slightly shrill. Bass is marginally used, but that really doesn't come as a surprise since I wasn't expecting Iron Man. Benefiting from originally being recorded in stereo, the audio track on Part III is the best of the bunch, even if it isn't quite state-of-the-art.
When it comes to the bonus material, Coppola and Paramount have assembled a terrific collection. Not only are all of the bonus materials that bestowed the 2001 DVD set here, we also get approximately an hour and a half of new supplements which are all presented in either 1080p or 1080i.
Clocking in at approximately 30 minutes, The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn't examines the origin, production, reaction and impact of the 1972 original. Roughly sixteen people are interviewed, a mix of individuals involved with the production in one capacity or another (Coppola, George Lucas, Peter Bart, Robert Evans and Walter Murch) as well as actors and filmmakers offering their own personal reflections on the impact the film made on them. This includes Sopranos creator David Chase, actors Alec Baldwin and John Turturro and directors Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Torro and William Friedkin. If you already know the history of the film's production, a majority of this material may ring familiar. But the doc is still well worth your time, if only to hear Spielberg admit the film was so well made it seriously shattered his confidence in his own storytelling abilities.
Emulsional Rescue: Revealing The Godfather (19:02) – This is the most fascinating of the new supplements as it covers the restoration process of the first two films. Coppola begins the short explaining how Spielberg got the ball rolling on the project. Willis and Daviau discuss Willis' shooting style for the film, while Robert A. Harris and Paramount VP of feature post-production Martin Cohen go into detail on the lengthy process on the efforts to restore the movies as closely as possible to the way they originally intended to look.
When the Shooting Stopped(14:00) - Looks at the post production of the series and features interviews with Walter Murch and Richard Marks, who worked on the editing of the second film. The importance of having a good editor on a film is driven home by Murch's story of how his reworking of Nino Rota's music cues during the infamous Horse's Head scene saved the Italian Composer's score from being discarded altogether by Paramount.
Godfather World (11:20) - A quick look at the film's long-lasting impact on our culture via interviews with South Park co-creator Trey Parker, David Chase and actor Joe Mantegna (aka The Simpsons Mafioso Fat Tony). All offer up anecdotes and tidbits on how these films have influenced their own work over the years.
Next up are a trio of Still Galleries: The Family Tree allows the viewer to click on a name and read a quick bio on both the character and the actor playing them. A nice feature, even if the actor's bios are far from complete (Brando's bio only goes through 1971). Crime Organization Chart is more of a success as it provides rap sheets on each of the criminals in the films. Finally, there is Connie and Carlo's Wedding Album, which is a small collection of color photos taken from the first film. Nice for a once-through, but that is it.
Rounding out the new material are a pair of shorts you can skip (American Zoetrope should have done the same): the four-minute Godfather on the Red Carpet is nothing more than the interviewing the cast and crew of Cloverfield(??) on the red carpet as well as John Cho (aka Harold of Harold & Kumar) about what they think of The Godfather. In short, utterly worthless (just like Cloverfield). The eight minute Four Short Films on The Godfather isn’t as dreadful as the "Red Carpet" feature, but it really doesn't add up to much and will have you wondering, once again, why they bothered. The four shorts (Clemenza, Cannolli, Riffing on the Riffing and GF vs. GFII) can be played either as one short or four individual presentations.
Kicking off the 2001 DVD Archive are a trio of Feature-Length Audio Commentaries by Coppola. Always a fascinating commentator to listen to, Coppola guides the viewer through each film with personal recollections about each of the productions and creative decisions that he made, including the controversial casting of his daughter in Part III. These commentaries provide fans with tons of fascinating insight on the making of the three films.
The remainder of the 2001 DVD Archive is located on disc four and is presented in 480p standard definition. Those who had the original DVD set will be familiar with the setup of the archive, broken down into four sections (Galleries, Additional Scenes, Filmmakers and Behind the Scenes).
The Galleries section offers up a mix of still-frame and promotional materials. There is a photo gallery that combines stills from the film as well as behind the scenes. Rogues Gallery is similar to the Crime Organization Chart found in the new supplements. Acclaim and Response is a collection of clips from the 1972 and 1974 Academy Awards ceremonies. Next is the 1974 Television Introduction that Coppola shot for the premiere of the first film. Rounding out the section are the Theatrical Trailers for each film. The Filmmakers section is a simple one that offers up text bios on Coppola and the other major production crew members.
Behind the Scenes is broken up into two parts. Part one offers the best of the 2001 supplements outside of Coppola's commentaries. Produced for HBO back in 1990 to coincide with the release of Godfather Part III, A Look Inside is a terrific 73-minute retrospective look at the making of the films. Featuring interviews with most of the major participants in the series, the documentary offers scores of great behind-the-scenes footage (Robert DeNiro's screen test for Sonny is one for the ages) that is sure to please any Godfather fan. My only gripe here is that the picture quality on the doc is really murky.
On Location is a seven-minute tour through the Lower East Side in New York City with series production designer Dean Tavoularis. Francis Coppola's Notebook (10:18) is a look at the notebook Coppola worked from when he made the first film. Music of the Godfather is two quick looks at the composers of the trilogy's music. Nino Rota's interview is a five-and-a-half minute audio recording of a meeting between the composer and Coppola. Carmine Coppola's section is a three-minute interview snippet filmed while scoring the third film.
The second section of Behind the Scenes offers the following: Coppola & Puzo on Screenwriting (8:09) in which the duo discusses writing the screenplays. Gordon Willis on Cinematography (3:45) has Willis discussing his shooting style and offers comments from his fellow contemporaries including the late Conrad Hall. The Godfather: Behind the Scenes is a nine-minute promotional feature that Paramount produced when the first movie was released to theaters. Finally, two sets of Storyboards are offered up, one for Part II and one for Part Three.
Finally, we come to the Additional Scenes section. Back in the 1970s, NBC broadcast the two Godfather films as a television event that presented the story in chronological order and included scenes cut from the theatrical releases. Those additional scenes are presented here and are divided up into four chronological sections. The scenes are in 4x3 full screen and 480p video. Picture quality is mediocre at best, but certainly watchable.
Joe Mantegna once called The Godfather series "The Italian Star Wars," and I think that is a very accurate reference. The two series seem to have more in common than being printed on 35mm film: the first film in each series became a cultural phenomenon; the second offered a darker, deeper chapter that many felt improved upon the first one while the third provided a satisfying, if flawed, conclusion. Paramount and Francis Ford Coppola have pulled out all the stops to offer a magnificent, all-encompassing Blu-ray set that is an offer no Godfather fan can refuse.
Browse all Amazon.com Blu-ray pre-orders