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Blu-ray Review: The Godfather – The Coppola Restoration

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It used to be that only the rich and people who were connected with the industry had the luxury of watching films in their home presented uncut as they were in the movie theatres. During the mid- to late-1980s as VHS was winning the home video format war against Betamax, the serious cinephile was above the fray with their laserdiscs, which offered a greater quality of video, audio, and considering the high price tag, usually the film itself. I only ever saw classics and cult films in the libraries of laserdisc owners. In the late ‘90s the DVD changed all that as the technology for the home video market got cheaper to own for the consumer and to distribute for the studios. With its available memory capacity, DVDs embraced laserdisc innovations of supplemental materials and commentary tracks, bringing that cinephile experience to the common man. Many more people now began to have their own movie library.

With the latest advancements in technology and winner of the most recent format war (still a sensitive topic to those who backed HD-DVD) Blu-ray is now the gold standard for videophiles. The picture and audio look even better and the increased memory allows for even more content. The current prices have kept the average consumer from adapting, but that hasn’t slowed down the studios. They are flooding the market with films you can’t believe people would sit through once in a theatre, let alone in high definition. Unless you have a lack of hobbies or friends, there’s no reason to watch an obvious bomb regardless of how well it appears. It’s like wasting time eating a terrible meal presented well on great tableware.

However, among the weekly Blu-ray dumps, there are some essentials for any film fan. This week it is The Godfather – The Coppola Restoration, featuring the entire trilogy. The negatives of The Godfather and The Godfather Part II had stunningly not been maintained well by Paramount and were in bad shape. Through some amazing work that is shown on the Supplements Disc, those films have been have since been restored. The Godfather Part III has been remastered, and all three have new 5.1 digital surround sound.

Although it was not intended to be a trilogy when Francis Ford Coppola first began, the films tell the rise and fall of crime boss Michael Corleone (Al Pacino). When The Godfather opens in 1945 Michael is not a part of his father’s business. He is a decorated Marine home from WWII. Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) wanted better things and a legitimate life for Michael, but it is hard for anyone to escape the family and the ills that come with it.

Vito has a meeting with Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo, who, although he is involved with the Tattaglia family, requests assistance from Vito, his money, and his connections, to start dealing heroin, which will make them a lot of money. Vito refuses to get involved in drugs because his connections will turn on him and it’s “a dirty business.” The Tattaglias eventually respond by gunning down Vito in the street, but they fail to kill him. After getting his jaw busted by a cop and his brother Sonny (James Caan) getting assassinated, Michael steps up to run the family and eventually the family’s interest moves out West to Las Vegas.

Early word on The Godfather was so positive a sequel was agreed to before filming finished. It went on to win three Oscars, including Best Picture; is ranked the second or third best American film by the AFI depending on which list is used; and according to Michael Herr in Kubrick, Stanley said “it was possibly the greatest movie ever made, and certainly the best-cast.” Gordon Willis’ brilliant cinematography is an absolute marvel to witness.

Returning many of the same cast and crew, The Godfather Part II presents a prequel and sequel, telling the story of Vito (Robert DeNiro) coming to America at the turn of the twentieth century and becoming the man we met in the first film, and the story of Michael expanding the family’s role in Nevada gaming. While both men seem to take similar paths, their journey lands them in different places. Vito has to deal with Don Fanucci, who controls his neighborhood in New York, and Michael has to deal with Jewish gangster Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg). Vito’s families grow. He has a wife and a child and his relationships with Clemenza and Tessio begin. As Michael’s power increases, he grows more alone. He becomes estranged from his wife and is betrayed by someone, evidenced by an assassination attempt on Michael in his home.

Many an argument has been had over whether Part II is the better film, and there’s a segment in the supplementals where different people offer their opinion. The film won six Oscars including Best Picture, and Pauline Kael described it as “far more complexly beautiful than the first, just as it’s thematically richer, more shadowed, fuller.” Like the decennial poll in Sight and Sound, which Roger Ebert called “by far the most respected of the countless polls of great movies — the only one most serious movie people take seriously,” I can’t separate them.

After some financial troubles, which he admits to on the commentary track, particularly the box office failure of Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Coppola finally accepted Paramount’s standing offer for The Godfather Part III, which he wanted to call “The Death of Michael Coreleone.”

The film opens in 1979 as Michael is trying to take the family business legit as his past sins weigh heavily on him. He created a charity and makes a very large donation to the Catholic Church for which he is honored. Although he no longer wields power like he used to, he is still the figurehead of the family. At a party at his home, he tries to make peace between Joey Zasa (Joe Mantenga), the muscle who runs the organization, and Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia), Sonny’s illegitimate son. Vincent exacerbates the situation, yet he impresses Michael.

Michael tries to buy the Vatican’s shares in Immobiliare, an international real estate holding company. The other families want in, but Michael instead chooses to pay them off, except Zasa who is insulted and quickly retaliates. Michael learns there are parties in Europe that don’t want to see the deal go through and he heads to Italy for advice from family friend, Don Tommasino. Michael informs Cardinal Lamberto that Archbishop Gilday and others have stolen the Vatican’s money. After the Pope dies, Lamberto is elected and becomes Pope John Paul I. He declares he will clean up the Vatican’s financial dealings but is soon poisoned.

Vincent begins a romantic relationship with Michael’s daughter and his cousin Mary (Sofia Coppola). Michael has Vincent meet with Don Altobello (Eli Wallach) and pretend to join his family to learn information. He learns that Altobello wants Michael killed. Michael appoints Vincent the head of the family on the condition he stops seeing Mary. He does and begins to seek revenge against the family’s enemies.

Part III got understandably mixed reviews upon its release with Sofia’s acting being a focal point for the worst of the attacks. While neither she nor Garcia gave great performances, the film’s plot was very interesting as the story contained elements from true events of the 30-day Pope and the failure of Banco Ambrosiano. It’s certainly not in the same class as the first two films, so the disappointment and even resentment are understandable. It is a good attempt by Coppola at closing the book on Michael, but the pacing was slow in the third act, draining all the suspense. Nothing will be missed if it is skipped.

The picture looks fantastic, but you need to enjoy photography, not just things that are bright and shiny. On the first two films, cinematographer Willis uses a lot of darkness and low light, so the image is not going to pop off the screen, but they are still wonderful to behold. The third film, shot 15 years later, had the most vibrant color. The audio sounded fine from the front, but didn’t appear to make much use of the surround. I never felt immersed in it.

All three films feature the 2001 DVD release commentary track by Coppola, who comes off so intelligent and informed about film and the business of film, it’s a surprise he has made a bad one. He provides great insight and trivia about the film and its creation, which fans will surely adore. He is also refreshingly very honest about mistakes he made, both intentional and unintentional. His biggest regret seems to be that he wasn’t able to get Robert Duvall to return to Part III to reprise his role as Tom Hagen. These are a must-listen for anyone interested in the film business.

Disc four presents all-new extra features shot in High Definition. “Godfather World” shows the film's influence on pop culture with clips from The Sopranos and SCTV and features directors like David Chase, Kimberly Pierce, and Guillermo del Toro, and actors Alec Baldwin, Joe Mantenga, and John Turturro. “The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t” provides a great history of the films by those involved: Coppola (who covers some of the same material in his commentaries); his friends George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and William Friedkin; and former executives like Robert Evans and Peter Bart. “…when the shooting stopped” lets the post-production people share their tales of working on the film. “Emulsional Rescue: Revealing The Godfather” examines the restoration of the negatives of the first two films. Very tech heavy but some amazing work was done. The oddest extra, and actually rather pointless, is “The Godfather on the Red Carpet,” showcasing bizarre synergy as people at the Cloverfield premiere talk about the trilogy for no apparent reason. Fans on the street would have been more interesting than the actors presented.

Godfather trivia buffs will love the interactive features “Coreleone Family Tree” and a crime organization chart that shows rap sheets and rivals and associates to help make all the connections.

The bonus material from the 2001 DVD release is also included. Coppola and author Mario Puzo talk about screenwriting together, Willis and other cinematographers talk about the films’ cinematography, there’s an archival promotion segment, and scenes that were cut out of all three films.

What is extremely odd is that the booklet doesn’t fit within the slipcase or the DVD case, so is sure to be lost or damaged.

If you buy one Blu-ray this year, The Godfather – The Coppola Restoration has to be it. This set on the movie library shelf will separate the people who love movies and the people who know what movies to love.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • http://www.cinemaviewfinder.com Tony Dayoub

    El Bicho,

    Great review. This set was the reason I invested in a Blu-ray this year. Worth every penny, I just can’t see how they could improve on this set, especially with all the special features from the first DVD set brought over to the Blu-ray.

    They’re even thoughtful enough to offer a small rebate to customers who owned the first DVD set. Probably the best Blu-ray of the year for a trilogy that is worthy of such an honor.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Thanks, Tony. I agree with all your comments.