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Category:    Home > Reviews > Gangster > Thriller > Drama > Literature > The Godfather – The Coppola Restoration (Paramount/American Zoetrope Blu-ray + DVD-Video Trilogy Sets)

The Godfather – The Coppola Restoration (Paramount/American Zoetrope Blu-ray + DVD-Video Trilogy Sets)

 

Picture: B+/C+     Sound: B+/B-     Extras: B-     Films/Part:

 

I (1972) B

 

II (1974) B+

 

III (1990) C+

 

 

Though it seems like The Godfather (1972) has always been with us and always strongly popular, that is not necessarily the case.  As a classic, it has been challenged by everything by its own sequel to Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983) long before Hip Hop discovered that film and Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas (1990) made it look as tame at times as the original Gangster genre cycle that ended with the end of Film Noir, yet it has remained popular and is gaining yet another peak in popularity thanks to Hip Hop, The Sopranos and now, an extensive and much-needed restoration to the first two films and clean up of the third.  The Godfather – The Coppola Restoration is the resulting set in separate Blu-ray and DVD-Video format versions.

 

So the question is why does it all endure?  Besides a revival of the Gangster genre that (Hip Hop or not) happened in 1990, Coppola has a new respect among a new generation of filmmakers who actually care about quality and that extends to the truest of movie fans.  Now that three generations of Coppolas have been successful, people look back to these early films to see why.  Now to look at each separate film:

 

One was a huge blockbuster hit without having to be an action film or shallow, bloated, overpromoted, overbudgeted piece of disposable would-be entertainment that sells toys and tie-in merchandise.  However, it did have the greatest tie-in many serious films could hope for in the Mario Puzo book that became a huge hit as this was being shot.  Though this is not discussed enough, one of the biggest reasons this was a huge hit is because the book was so well written and the film did such an amazing job of adapting it.  Some parts of the book are actually more graphic, but the fact that it was brought to life with such authenticity, life and energy was a big shock, though the making of the film was a nightmare for Coppola.

 

The cast is one of the most chemistry-filled of the glory days of the 1970s and includes the performance that puts the film over the top in Marlon Brando’s stunning comeback performance as head Don Vito Corleone that was like no mob boss anyone had ever portrayed before.  Add the classic cast of Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Sterling Hayden, Abe Vigoda, John Marley, Talia Shire, John Cazale and Diane Keaton (for starters) plus Coppola’s attention to detail and the result like all the great films from Hollywood’s last golden age is a synergy that too many films today have lost.  Most are not even ambitious enough to try.

 

As far as the genre was concerned, the older stories of Jewish gangsters and ones with 1930s New York and/or immigrant accents was over and the idea of unknown gangsters in groups wearing the same black suits and black hats was dead at the box office, becoming a joke during the counterculture era (how could mere gangsters compete with the horrors of Vietnam and presidential assassinations) leading to more bombs.  Even the Bond films played this out The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) in its most comic and poorest box office performers.

 

The film functions as an Urban Western, as many have noted before, but it was also about a new uprising of Italian actors on screen like Robert De Niro and directors like Martin Scorsese.  As popular as these new Italians were, it was also old stereotypes sometimes being replaced by new ones to some extent; something Saturday Night Fever has been accused of.  Coppola understood this and when this became a record-breaking hit, he gained the power to go beyond that and that is why the sequel outdoes the original on several levels.

 

Two is sadly missing Brando, even though a flashback was supposed to have him appear, but Coppola’s critique of power in Capitalist U.S.A. is extended to a twisted Cain & Abel story as Michael (Pacino) has gone from a soldier back from respectable service to his father’s unexpected successor.  While the personal story plays on the ironic successes and failures of all generations, there is a great subplot about Jewish and Italian mobsters in Cuba, not knowing their fortunes hidden from the FBI (et al) will be lost to an unexpected Communist Revolution, one Michael can see coming with suicide bombers.

 

Then there is the great series of extended flashback narrative of young Vito (De Niro) finding his way to the top of power and making the journey from Sicily to Staten Island.  Coppola with his original script takes the opportunity to bare all about the immigrant experience along with its hopes and dreams in epic proportion, which is why the sequel exceeds the Gangster genre and proved the first film was not a fluke on Coppola’s part, even though The Conversation (1974) arrived the same year as Godfather II and is brilliant in its own right.

 

That was supposed to be it and should have been it, but a new regime at Paramount decided to have a third film and though Coppola and Puzo wanted it to be simply called The Death Of Michael Corleone, the studio got their way and Three arrived 16 years after the initial films Coppola thought he would not be revisiting.  He expected it would be a blockbuster and the studio put out the money for it, but it only did limited business and the result is a mixed film Coppola tried to make work, but was more compromised by the studio on than the original film.  In debt from risks that did not work and seeing a compromised opportunity to make this work, he did his best, but the results were mixed.

 

A good chunk of the Italian American audience did not want a story about a corrupt Catholic Church, though that church has ironically had tons of problem since this film first hit theaters, so that stigma on the film has subsided and helped the film from aging.  Andy Garcia was being set up as the next big star actor with the appeal and talent, but despite his best efforts, this did not work out like it could have.  The last minutes casting of daughter Sofia Coppola over Winona Rider before her shoplifting fiasco was the one for which critics savaged the film and killed it at the box office, though Sofia has become a formidable writer/director while Ryder is still trying to make some kind of comeback, so some of the choices here worked out better than anyone could have known at the time.

 

Michael is legitimate and richer than ever, but older, less happy and having personal issues over personal family decisions that are eating away at his soul.  The famous line about being pulled back in when he thought he was legit is the best line in the film, but that he is delusional enough to think he ever left the life is the greatest irony of the film and one even most critics missed in their zeal to destroy the director.  Loyal fans of the time did see it on the big screen and more liked it than you might think.  The problem is that too many years passed between sequels and some of this comes across as unintentionally funny, while in all honesty, Pacino is repeating some of his performance in Scarface here.

 

Still, though it misses the mark, it is ambitious and the film has its moments, but it never seems as epic as the previous films.  It is often a personal film and that focus on the family becomes detrimental to the narrative overall, where the previous films had greater balance and more cinematic space that made the world in those films more palpable.  Of the 1990 releases, it is on the minority of them (along with GoodFellas and State Of Grace) to take place in the present, yet the 1990 of Part III has become a plush, surreal, sepia toned version of the real thing and in that respect is a very unique film.  Misunderstood?  No.  Mature without selling out?  Yes.

 

 

So how are the upgrades of each film?  Well, the 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image in all three cases are easily the best the films have looked since their original theatrical 35mm releases.  As for the anamorphically enhanced DVDs, they are a tad better than their predecessors, but only marginally so, so those who have the previous box set or other copies will want to go Blu or get the new DVD set for the expanded extras.  Coppola was correct in one of the new supplements when he explained no format was around that could really deliver the films on home video until now.  The DVDs are good, but the Blu-rays are really that much better; enough to sell machines.

 

Some might assume that the third film would look the best of the three, but in all honesty, what it might gain in some clarity and fidelity, it looses in black, white, color range and thinness of the newer film stocks it was shot in.  You can tell it is a newer production and even with Director of Photography Gordon Willis, A.S.C., having shot all three films, the third tries to go for a neo-sepia look in the mode of the first two.  It just cannot match its lushness and memorability.

 

Willis had already shown his masterful grasp of the scope frame with Alan J. Pakula’s Klute before taking on the first two films, during which he delivered more stunning work on films like Up The Sandbox, The Parallax View, All The President’s Men, Annie Hall, Manhattan, Stardust Memories, Pennies From Heaven and the underrated The Devil’s Own.  That has made him one of the modern masters of cinematography and that includes several of the films being processed in the great three-strip dye-transfer Technicolor format including the first two Godfathers.  I the case of Part II, it was the last dye-transfer film in the U.S. to be made by the company (they were still doing some such prints overseas) until they revived the printing process from 1997 to 2001.  Titles that received the treatment in that period included Apocalypse Now Redux.

 

To explain the picture quality of the first two films, we need to go into some background, but we should deal with Part III first.  The film was preserved properly and did not need any restoration, with a 4K HD digital master being made of the materials as backup and for these sets.  Except for some grain I don’t remember from the 35mm print, it looks pretty close to the release prints, though I never saw a 70mm blow-up.  This is the first time Coppola’s director’s cut of the film can be brought to 35mm film or film of any kind.

 

The original two films had negatives that been used to make prints, one of the ultimate no-nos in cinema and the abuse they received over the years is shocking.  Besides using those negatives to make the three-strip prints, the films were popular long after 1974 and prints were occasionally made again ands again.  This did such damage that they were in danger of being lost.  Enter fate as DreamWorks and Paramount merged.  Steven Spielberg was called by best friend Coppola to get those films saved and the ball was quickly rolling.  That included hiring Robert A. Harris, the leader of restoring classics including the 1954 A Star Is Born, Spartacus, My Fair Lady, Lawrence Of Arabia and several Alfred Hitchcock classics, including Rear Window and Vertigo.

 

In the May 2008 issue of American Cinematographer (Vol. 89, No. 5, with Iron Man on the cover) features a great four page article (pp. 78 – 82) about how the films were a mess and Harris could not go all-photochemical to save the film.  Thus, like the recent Final Cut of Blade Runner (reviewed elsewhere on this site) the films were recreated in 4K high definition digital video using all the best materials they could find that had survived in the vaults, plus Harris used his private connections with fans who own actual film libraries plus key archives and secured a very accurate such print of the first (an approach also used to save The Good, The Bad & The Ugly successfully) and it was more of a problem on the sequel for such a print, but the sequel was more complex and needed a more advanced approach.

 

Though I agree with a few fans who questioned some shots having color accuracy issues, the fact is that the despite some grain and softness in the Blu-ray image for the original films, the color and range the film’s are presented in far outweigh any problems making them some of the best back catalog titles on the market.  The grain is hat you would expect for film stocks of that time, with the grain structure immediately reminding me of The French Connection (1971, reviewed elsewhere on this site) only pointing to how faithful these restorations are under the circumstances.

 

Now know that in real three-strip dye-transfer prints, grain would be less, blacks would be richer, red vivid and whites ivory, but these are close.  Willis supervised and consulted on their upgrades, even if he could not be there in person for the whole long, painstaking process and noted that they are not totally there.  However, most of the work is done and when (soon I hope) Technicolor starts making such prints again, such prints can be struck again.  In the article, Harris explains that the Kodak print stock is also solid, but not there for the best non-dye transfer equivalent that can be hoped for.  Even though it would never be as good as real Technicolor, Kodak should immediately develop such a stock because the needs in the restoration field alone are enormous.

 

With that said, the impact of the films are highly improved after years of bad muddy prints on VHS, Beta, LaserDisc, Selectavision CED and DVD discs.  The film has been played to death on cable, grossly over-licensed and need to be pulled back (like say, It’s A Wonderful Life) out of respect for the films.  I hope they do not intend to put these new copies all over the place and even HD cable/satellite will not be able to deliver the performance these Blu-rays do.  The dark shots finally have the nuance they should have, the use of color (outside of the sepia usage) on a much higher level than fans of the films will expect and some shots and compositions so outstanding, that you can see how it is Coppola’s work as compared to his classics Apocalypse Now, The Conversation and the underrated One From The Heart.

 

This is Harris’ first 4K digital realm preservation and his massive, groundbreaking experience from saving all those previous classics played off in profound ways.

 

As for the sound, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 on all three films are based on upgrades made several years ago by Walter Murch from their original sound stems.  The first two films were optical monophonic sound releases, but were mixes with silence used heavily.  The third film was a Dolby 4.1 mag stereo presentation in 70mm blow-up presentations and more advanced Dolby SR (Spectral Recording) analog sound on the 35mm prints, so it sounds better by default, but not by much.  The original’s first digital theatrical reissue was in DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 via Murch and like his work on Coppola’s brilliant The Conversation, has a very impressive upgrade on the older films.

 

Extras are spilt into two DVDs on that set, with DVD 4 having the new extras and DVD 5 the previous extras, while the Blu-ray combines both on a final fourth disc.  The new materials include a featurette about saving the films called Emulsional Rescue – Revealing The Godfather, plus Godfather World, The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t, …when the shooting stopped, The Godfather on the Red Carpet, and Four Short Films on The Godfather.  All are in HD on the Blu-ray.  The classic extras (often made to promote the third film) include additional scenes, a making of featurette in nine parts (Filming Locations, On Location, Francis Coppola’s Notebook, The Music of The Godfather, Coppola & Puzo on Screenwriting, Gordon Willis on Cinematography, storyboards for the two sequels separately and a 1971 behind the scenes vintage featurette), The Godfather Historical Timeline, Corleone Family Tree, Profiles on the Filmmakers and Galleries including an acclaim & response section, final trailers for each of the three films, stills of the Rogue’s Gallery and stills behind the scenes + promo shots.  Where are the trailers or original poster art?

 

Despite that gap, this is a great set loaded with great extras about the classics and now you can watch them and see why they are classics beyond mere pop culture references.  The Godfather – The Coppola Restoration sets a new standard for how to reissue classics on home video and the Blu-ray set is especially the way to go.

 

 

For more on Coppola’s films, try these links:

 

Apocalypse Now (1979)

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/4204/Apocalypse+Now+–+The+Complete

Making of documentary Hearts Of Darkness + Rainmaker (1997)

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/6288/Hearts+Of+Darkness+–+A+Filmmaker

 

One From The Heart (1982)

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/2082/One+From+The+Heart

 

Rumble Fish (1983)

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/2839/Rumble+Fish+-+Special+Edition

 

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/5975/Bram+Stoker’s+Dracula+–+Col

 

Youth Without Youth (2007)

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/6979/Youth+Without+Youth+(2007/Sony

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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