Godfather, The - The Coppola Restoration (Trilogy Boxset) 
Blu-ray Drama
Written by Bill Warren & AVRev.com   
Wednesday, 01 October 2008

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The above ratings are an average of all three films.  Please see individual ratings within the review.

"The Godfather" [5/5 stars]
"The Godfather – Part II" [5/5 stars]
"The Godfather – Part III" [4/5 stars]

Making "The Godfather" was very difficult for Francis Ford Coppola; the studio had little confidence in him on any level, and were pressing ahead primarily because between the time they bought the rights to Mario Puzo's novel and when production began, it became a major best seller. Paramount's original intent was to set it in the present day, and in Kansas City. It was Coppola, better regarded as a writer than as a director, who insisted on a period, New York setting, just as in the book.

He had to fight for everything. Now it seems incredible, considering the performance, that he had to battle to get Marlon Brando for the title role of Don Vito, head of the Corleone Mafia family. Brando's performance goes way beyond "good" and into legendary, iconographic; with his very first lines, he was so utterly convincing as the aging gangster that he instantly established a new stereotype. Before "The Godfather," the stereotype of gangsters came from Edward G. Robinson's portrayal of "Little Caesar" -- the "nyahh!"-sneering, cigar-waving, flamboyant gang boss. After "The Godfather," gangster chiefs are soft-spoken (in a husky voice) and understated, issuing deadly commands in a gentle, Italian-accented voice. Such was the power of Brando, and such was the impact of "The Godfather," which became the largest-grossing film of all time, until the record was devoured by a big shark a few years later.

"The Godfather" and its sequels have become such an indelible part of not just the movie landscape, but the warp and woof of American culture in general that it's hard for those who weren't around to understand the impact it had on its first release. On a personal note, I recall watching it the first time, and realizing twenty minutes in that I was seeing not just a good movie, not just a great movie, but a genuine classic, one of the best movies ever made. (And "Part II" is, if anything, even a little better.)

But the path to the screen was rocky for those who made the film; for the first few weeks, both Coppola and Al Pacino were convinced they would be fired at any moment. In his excellent commentary track, Coppola explains how he had his own "massacre" -- he fired all those he felt were more loyal to Paramount than to him. And by sheer force of will, and talent, he kept his job.

On the unlikely chance that some reading this have not yet seen "The Godfather" -- the script by Coppola and Puzo begins in 1945 at the wedding of Connie (Talia Shire), Don Vito's daughter. It's lavish, joyful and very Italian, with dancing, singing, eating and drinking. Meanwhile, in his dark office, Don Vito listens to requests from those who wish him to intercede on their behalf...

Vito's youngest son Michael (Pacino) has just returned a hero from World War II; he explains the people around them to his very WASP girlfriend Kay Adams (Diane Keaton), emphasizing that the brutality is his family's, not his. Vito expects his eldest, hot-headed son Sonny (James Caan in a taut, kinetic performance) to take over when he steps down as Godfather. Middle son Fredo (John Cazale) is a bit weak-willed and not too bright; right now, he's working as his father's chauffeur.

But time and Vito's enemies change things; when Vito is gunned down in a New York street, severely wounded but not killed, Michael is darkly but quietly furious, full of vengeful resolve. He kills those responsible for his father's near-death, and flees to Sicily. But this doesn't help. Just when he thought he was out, they drag him back in.

"The Godfather" happens to be about an American criminal family, but essentially the same story, with fewer killings and less tomato sauce, could be told about any powerful family, in any business. Together with "Godfather Part II," the saga is of the assimilation of immigrants into American culture, and how they rise within it, hoping to shed the elements that tie them to the past -- but also how that's nearly impossible.

"The Godfather" was really the first major American film to treat gangsters in this manner; they are killers, no question about it, but they're a family, with likable and dislikable characteristics and members. We understand them, we even sympathize with them, but how they gained their power, and how they hang onto it, is never ignored. "The Sopranos" is a direct descendant of "The Godfather" films -- more working-class, but just as involved with family, loyalty and murder.

American movies simply do not get better than the first two "Godfather" movies; even with the budgetary restrictions he faced on "The Godfather," Coppola created something engrossing, imaginative, intelligent, and very intense. His own Italian upbringing allowed him insights into the Corleone family that show in almost every frame of film. He prefers "Godfather II;" he had more control, more money, but it's hard to separate the first two films otherwise. (The third is a better movie than most people seem to think, but it is definitely below the very high level set by the first two.)

"The Godfather" is completely convincing, engrossing to the point of being enthralling; the characters are fascinating, complex and likable. It's the kind of movie you can watch with a new sense of discovery every couple of years your entire adult life.

All during the making of "The Godfather," director/co-writer Francis Ford Coppola was worried that he might be yanked off the film at any moment, or that the film would be taken away from him once it was finished, and edited by unfriendly hands. But when "The Godfather" became a historically-significant smash hit, Coppola was immediately wooed by Paramount to make a sequel.

He had his revenge. Not only did he make the film he (and co-writer and original "Godfather" author Mario Puzo) wanted to make, but he was paid better, the movie was much more expensive and lavish -- and some feel that it's even better than the original. Without picking and choosing between them, it is safe to say that taken as one movie, "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II" is one of the greatest movies ever made by anyone, anywhere. (And since they're also famous, I'm going to presume you've already seen them; there are "spoilers" in the material that follows.)

There's no better depiction of a certain kind of American immigrant experience, of the pressures that forced a young family man into crime, and then his son into an even colder, crueler attitude toward the world around him. Don Vito Corleone became a gangster because it was the easiest, most immediate way to achieve the American Dream. His son Michael (Al Pacino), who took over the leadership of the Corleone crime family at the end of "The Godfather," tried to do what "Pop" would have done, but his own innate outsider attitude led to a kind of corruption of the spirit that never touched his father. At the end of "The Godfather Part II" Michael sits alone in his chilly Lake Tahoe mansion, thinking about the past, aware of his failure but not in a position to do anything about it.

He was redeemable up until the point he had his hapless shmoe of an older brother, Fredo (John Cazale), murdered, shot to death while quietly fishing on Lake Tahoe. That is something Don Vito would never have even considered doing; not even the hot-tempered Sonny, spectacularly killed in "The Godfather," would have gone that far. But Michael has become remote, cold and dictatorial; it's not so much that he is sure of himself that it is that he knows he must act as if he is sure of himself. He makes quick decisions regarding actions that he carries out over a long period of time; even if he identifies an enemy early on, he doesn't necessarily act until just the right time. (One of the very few glitches in "The Godfather Part II" is that we're never quite sure if he's right about Frankie Pentangeli).

By the end of the film, he has sent away consigliore Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), no longer confiding in this man who was raised as his brother. His wife Kay (Diane Keaton) has left him; his mother (Morgana King) is dead. Only loyal hit man Al Neri (Richard Bright) and his sister Connie (Talia Shire) are left -- and Connie is becoming the female equivalent of Michael. Their mother was warm and caring; Connie becomes colder and colder.

But "The Godfather Part II" is more than just the decline of the Corleones. The scenes of Michael, which begin in the early 1950s, alternate with those of his father Vito, first as a child fleeing Sicily after his family has been wiped out by the local Mafia don, and later as a young man (Robert De Niro) trying to put together a life for himself and his growing family. Coppola intercuts very shrewdly between the Vito and Michael sequences; the scenes often comment on one another, sometimes very subtly.

At first, Vito tries to live an honest life, working as a clerk in a local grocery store, but Black Hand big shot Fanucci (Gastone Moschin) keeps intruding into Vito's life. Vito meets Clemenza (Bruno Kirby) when he's tossed a bag of guns to hide; later, Clemenza gets Vito's help in stealing a rug. By this time, thanks to Fanucci, Vito has lost his job, so helping Clemenza (they're later joined by others, including Tessio) in crime does make some money. It turns out that Vito is better at this than the more thug-like Clemenza and Tessio; he can be quietly persuasive, making people offers they can't refuse. And he makes a name for himself in the Little Italy of the early 20th century.

The Michael sequences are launched, as was "The Godfather," by a huge, lavish party; this one, the first communion of Michael's son, is held at Lake Tahoe. An unscrupulous senator (G.D. Spradlin) publicly embraces Michael, but privately shows contempt for him, though he's willing to bend the law to allow the Corleones access to Las Vegas in exchange for a lot of money. Soon thereafter, gunmen get onto the locked Corleone compound and try (but fail) to kill Michael and Kay.

Michael meets with the aging Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg), who was a partner of Don Vito's in the old days. They intend to pool resources to buy into wide-open Cuba, ripe with night life of all sorts, whose president Batista gladly welcomes American criminals. Trouble is, this is just as Castro is launching his last attack....

Michael is betrayed again and again. In the past, in the contrasting scenes, Vito increases his alliances. (In one of the additional scenes on the special disc, he even meets with Coppola's own gun-maker grandfather, and his flute-playing father, as a child.)

Every scene in the film is convincing; it doesn't strike a false note anywhere. Coppola had a much larger budget for this sequel, and was able to do a stunning recreation of Little Italy of around 1918 on a lavish scale. This was before computer graphics; these sets had to be built for real. And real is just how they look. There's one bravura shot which begins simply as Vito heads out to deliver some groceries, and the camera pans across an intersection -- as far as we can see, it is 1918 New York.

The movie is full of great set pieces like this, which are always in service to the plot and characters. And what characters. Pacino's very controlled performance is magnificent, for even though he goes long periods with very little change in position, his hooded eyes, his contained gestures, tell us what's going through Michael's mind. At no point in this film is Michael remotely happy; he's rarely even content. He is in the process throughout the movie of becoming a bigger monster than his father ever was, and yet we can still see within him the idealistic war hero we met at the first of "The Godfather."

The entire cast is excellent; Robert Duvall, of course, always is, and Diane Keaton is most of the time; she definitely is here. (Oddly though, when people talk about her career, they almost always overlook the "Godfather" movies). This was one of Robert De Niro's earliest starring roles; he's required to do at least something of an impression of Marlon Brando, but he goes beyond that as well. We recognize him as the same character Brando played in the first film, but we're also seeing him becoming that character.

Lee Strasberg was one of the most famous acting teachers who ever lived, but he himself hadn't done much acting. In fact, "The Godfather Part II" was his first movie. As Hyman Roth -- based on the real-life Meyer Lansky -- he's completely convincing. When Richard Castellano blundered by making unacceptable demands, the role of Clemenza was quickly turned into Frankie Pentangeli, played beautifully by Michael V Gazzo. Talia Shire and John Cazale are also good; in fact, the best acting Shire -- Coppola's sister -- has ever done has been in the three "Godfather" movies. Watch also for Troy Donahue, Roger Corman, Harry Dean Stanton and Peter Donat.

Technically, the film is faultless, as usual with the meticulous (if ambitious) Coppola. The photography by Gordon Willis is, if anything, better than his work in "The Godfather," for there's more variety to it. The scenes in Vegas, Miami and Cuba put the lie to the somewhat contemptuous label some have placed on Willis, "The Prince of Darkness." He knows how to shoot in bright sunlight, in gaudy nightclubs, just as well as he does in rooms so dark that only the highlights are visible.

[Written by AVRev] [START]
"The Godfather" [4/5 stars]
"The Godfather – Part II" [4/5 stars]
"The Godfather – Part III" [4/5 stars]

The original release of the Godfather films back in 2001 left me disappointed.  The printed source was aged and not restored, inconsistent contrast, the list goes on and on.  But now, just a couple years into the Blu-ray format, Coppola has restored the films.  While, they are not perfect, the improvement is utterly magnificent.  It is hard to imagine the trilogy looking any better than it does in this Blu-ray release.  Each film is contained on its own BD-50 disc, with only the audio commentary track as the special feature on the discs.  They are encoded with the AVC-MPEG 4 codec instead of the typically used, VC-1.

The bonus features cover the restoration process in great detail.  However, the films were transferred from the original negative to make a new master print.  The films were restored frame by frame, and while there are specks of dirt and smudges here and there, it is so minor it is not even noticeable unless you are watching with a critical eye.  Much to my delight, the black levels have been improved far beyond the DVD.  They remain strong and consistent, never faltering.

Controversy will surround Coppola's decision to boost the contrast levels of the film as way of stabilizing the image clarity.  A hot glow now surrounds many of the objects in contrasty sequences.  The soft filters used bring about a type of layer of haze over the film.  You definitely will not find a sharp image like more modern Blu-ray presentations.  However, it yields an appropriate image for the style of film.  Colors do suffer though.  They are dull and orange-ish. Despite the soft filters, the details of the image are decent.  The image has a texture that demonstrates the improved shadow delineation.

The above mainly applies to the first two films.  The third Godfatehr film is much more modern in appearance.  It lacks the texture and classic look of the first two films.  Filters have been applied to make it more consistent with Part 1 and 2 of the trilogy.  Still the film remains more saturated and detailed.

Best of all, the restoration of the films and their Blu-ray presentation, does not suffer from motion artifacting, compression issues, and most importantly – no edge enhancement.  The video quality of the Blu-ray release and Coppola's restoration process has far exceeded my expectations.  There are some questionable things that the restoration process did to the film, but overall, very well done.

"The Godfather" [3.5/5 stars]
"The Godfather – Part II" [3.5/5 stars]
"The Godfather – Part III" [4/5 stars]

The audio quality has also been given an upgrade to Dolby TrueHD 5.1.  Sadly, it does not offer much more than improved dynamics and sonic fidelity.  The surrounds and panning are virtually non-existent.  To be fair, I was not expecting much in way of audio upgrades, especially in the first two films.  Not only does it detract from the film's original presence, it would be one heck of a job to complete.

The discrete effects that are delivered to the rear channels (mostly echoed gunfire) is hollow.  Even the operatic sequence that draws the first film to its close only has minor bleeding into the surrounds.

The third films delivers the most in terms of sound quality.  The surrounds are much more active, with full dynamic range and some music score leakage.  Again, in all fairness, the first two films were originally in mono, making the TrueHD 5.1 feat all the more impressive.

Don't expect much from the LFE, but you can count on the sounds being clean and clear, with dialogue easily audible and well balanced.  I would not be off my rocker to say that the audio, as well as the visual, quality is about the best it is ever going to get.  That is, at least with the technology that is on the market and in development.

Bonus Materials:
Paramount has issued all three "Godfather" movies as "The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration," which includes a separate disc full of extras.  The Blu-ray collection contains all the special features of the 2001 DVD Boxset, still in standard definition.  There are also a bunch of new HD materials (which are also being presented on the new DVD release of the Godfather Trilogy).

Starting with the new HD materials, there is a 30-minute featurette called, "The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn't" that details the troubles of pre-production.  This feature contains interviews a number of notable Hollywood talents.  The next featurette is "Godfather World."  This is an 11-minute clip contains a number of Hollywood persons raving about the Coppola creation.  "Emulsional Rescue: Revealing 'The Godfather'" is a 20-minute featurette that delves into the work required to restore and remaster these films.  "…And When the Shooting Stopped" is a 15-minute featurette covers the post-production process of these films.  "The Family/The Crime Organization" is a feature that presents the cast and character biographies.  This feature was present on the 2001 DVD release.  However, it has been upgraded in content and should count as new to the Blu-ray release.  "Montage: 'The Godfather' on the Red Carpet" is a short clip, and fairly useless of interviews on the red carpet of a recent film, with interviewees fawning over the Godfather films.  Finally there are four short films on "The Godfather."  In actuality, this section is just a collection of outtakes from the films.

The fourth disc also contains all the 2001 DVD release bonus material.  The commentaries by Coppola, one for each film, are presented on the corresponding movie disc.  Coppola's commentary tracks are fascinating; he's a very warm, direct person -- there's no sense of his standing on one side of the moviemaking fence, with the audience (you) on the other. He talks as though to a close friend, and after a while, you wish he were. Some of what he says is fascinating movie-making stuff, like the difficulties in planning and shooting the party scene. You realize how very hard it must have been to shoot the scene, while keeping in mind the need for character introductions and expository material.

The documentary, "The Godfather Family" is a 75-minute featurette is a look inside the trilogy, and should be familiar to owners of the laserdisc and previous DVD release.  There are about 10 "behind the scenes" featurettes which include: "The Locations of the Godfather," "Francis Coppola's Notebook," "The Music of The Godfather," "Puzo and Coppola on Screenwriting," "Gordon Willis on Cinematography," and the original "1971 Making-of Featurette."  There are also Storyboards, Trailers and Photo Galleries.

Finally, there is the Additional Scenes and Timeline feature.  There is about an hour of additional scenes, some of which are very interesting.  The timeline takes a historical look at the events of the three films.

The additional scenes feature is one of the most fascinating sections; unwisely, there's no commentary track, but otherwise, it's well-handled. There are even two extra scenes with Marlon Brando talking, briefly, with Michael -- these are both so good the only possible explanation for their deletion is simple running time. In fact, all of the cut scenes from the first two films are outstanding; the most charming is from "Part II," featuring Vito (Robert De Niro) and his associates visiting a gunmaker, whose son Carmine plays the flute for them. The gunmaker is Francis Ford Coppola's grandfather, and Carmine is his father; Carmine as an adult worked on the first two films. There's only one clip from "Part III," which seems curious and a genuine omission. But if you like these films, all these clips are sheer gold.

Like "The Godfather," "The Godfather Part II" is so magnetically compelling, the characters and incidents -- many of which are based on real criminals and their activities -- are so involving that it's very easy (for some of us, almost unavoidable) to watch these films again every couple of years.  Paramount's excellent "The Godfather Collection" on Blu-ray makes this easy.  Without a doubt, HIGHLY recommended.
Studio Paramount Home Entertainment
MPAA Rating R
Starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, James Caan, Robert Duvall, John Cazale, Richard S. Castellano, Talia Shire, Al Lettieri, Richard Conte, John Marley, Morgana King, Simonetta Stefanelli
Director Francis Ford Coppola
Film Release Year 1972, 1974, 1990
Release Year 2008
Resolution(s) 1080p (main feature) • 1080i (supplements) • 480i (supplements)
Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Running Time 2 hr. 55 mins., 3 hr. 20 mins., 2 hr 42 mins.
Sound Formats English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 • English Dolby Digital 5.1 • English Dolby Digital 1.0 • French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles English SDH • French • Spanish
Special Features 3 Director Audio Commentaries; "The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn't"; "Godfather World"; "Emulsional Rescue: Revealing 'The Godfather'"; "...And When the Shooting Stopper"; The Family Tree/The Crime Organization; "'The Godfather' on the Red Carpet"; Four short films on "The Godfather"; "The Godfather Family"; "The Location of The Godfather"; "Francis Coppola's Notebook"; The Music of The Godfather"; "Puzo and Coppola on Screenwriting"; "Gorond Willis on Cinematography"; "1971 Making-of"; Storybaords; Additional Scenes/Historical Timeline; Photo Galleries, Trailers
Forum Link http://www.avrevforum.com
Reviewer Bill Warren & AVRev.com

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