The Godfather (The Coppola Restoration) [Blu-Ray]
Director : Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay : Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1990
Stars : Al Pacino (Michael Corleone), Diane Keaton (Kay Adams), Talia Shire (Connie Corleone Rizzi), Andy Garcia (Vincent Mancini), Eli Wallach (Don Altobello), Joe Mantegna (Joey Zaza), George Hamilton (B.J. Harrison), Bridget Fonda (Grace Hamilton), Sofia Coppola (Mary Corleone), Raf Vallone (Cardinal Lamberto)
“The Godfather ... is the first completely authentic modern myth in American cinema ...” --Jake Horsley, TheBlood Poets: A Cinema of Savagery, 1958-1999
More than 35 years after it won the Academy Award for Best Picture and helped launch the careers of a half-dozen actors and a 31-year old director named Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather is still a riveting piece of work, a true masterpiece of the American cinema. Having viewed it more than a dozen times, I am still floored every time I see it and am reminded of what a cinematic landmark it truly is, especially when placed in context with the two sequels that followed it.
The Godfather, which was based on a fictional Mafioso potboiler by Mario Puzo, is not so much about power itself, but about the transfer of power. It tells the story of the fictional Corleone family and how the family’s power moves from the aging father, Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), to his youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino). Power is seen as the ultimate commodity, more important than money or possessions. In this way, The Godfather is a deeply American film, because the Corleone family is a twisted mirror reflecting genuine American enterprise.
Michael is one of Vito’s four sons, three of blood, one adopted. Sonny (James Caan) is the eldest son, but he is too hot-tempered and unstable to lead the family. Fredo (John Cazale), the middle son, is likeable, but slow and unmotivated. And Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), the Irish-German adopted son who works as the family’s attorney, could never lead the family because he is not Sicilian.
At the beginning of the film, Michael is staunchly against taking part in the family’s illegal businesses. He is a hero of World War II who has gone out of his way to separate himself. After explaining to his girlfriend, Kay (Diane Keaton), how his family operates through violence and intimidation, he responds to her stunned look by saying, “That’s my family, Kay. It’s not me.”
But, as the film progresses, we realize he is only deluding himself. Michael is very much a part of the family, and he slowly begins to understand that he is the natural choice to succeed his father. Part of the film’s strength is its careful portrayal of Michael’s evolution into a cold-hearted, ruthless leader, much more dangerous than his father ever was.
What is so startling and so brilliant about The Godfather is how it effortlessly draws you into its world, which is constructed as much out of pulp magazines and gangster films from the ’30s as it is from authentic Italian-American experiences. From the first frames inside Don Corelone’s dark, amber-hued office, the viewer is immersed in the ebb and flow of the Mafia life, with all its stark melodrama and sudden violence. The film never ventures outside this frame of reference, so we are never allowed to identify with anyone except the Corleones. By doing this, Coppola makes them accessible and understandable, even tragic and sometimes noble. Otherwise, they would simply be power-hungry liars and murderers.
At the center of the Corleone family is the Marlon Brando character. Brando brings an incredible amount of wisdom, respectability, and honor to Vito Coreleone. He is the patriarch of the most powerful family in New York, but he is not above the simple aspects of life. He is first and foremost a father who takes great pride in his family, something many “legitimate” men can’t claim. “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man,” he says, showing how his power is supported by a morality that many upright Americans are lacking.
He doesn’t mind dealing in gambling and prostitution because he sees those as simple vices that society can accept. But, when given the chance to get into the narcotics business, he senses the decay it will bring. He refuses to go along, thus touching off a 10-year war that engulfs most of the film. The narcotics dealers, led by Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), think the old man is losing his edge, when in fact he is just trying to hold on to the old morality that most of America was beginning to discard in the postwar years.
This morality is key to The Godfather because it helps the viewer identify and sympathize with the family. The family is always of the utmost importance, the emphasis being on the group, rather than the individual. When Fredo makes the mistake of arguing with Michael in front of others, Michael pulls him aside and gravely tells him, “Don’t ever take sides against the family again.” That is the ultimate sin.
Arguments have been made as to who is the protagonist of the story, Vito or Michael. In my eyes, they are both the protagonists, with the power exchange being the link between them. The first half of the film deals with Vito while he is in power, and the second half details Michael’s rise, with the final frames of the film ensuring us that he is now the Godfather for the next generation.
The greatest sequence, which cuts together quiet scenes of Michael standing godfather to his sister’s child with the brutal violence of his henchmen murdering all the family’s enemies is a masterpiece of both editing and storytelling. The two opposing halves of the sequence show Michael’s dual nature: In the legitimate sense, he is becoming godfather to a child, a highly respected and religious position. But, in a larger sense, by ordering the murder of all his enemies, he confirms his position as head of the Corleone family--the new Godfather.
A riveting film from beginning to end, The Godfather is a landmark in American cinema. At its heart, it is simply great storytelling. All the elements are there, from Gordon Willis’s superb cinematography to Nino Rota’s haunting score. For three hours it draws you into its world, bringing complex characters to life and letting the drama unfold slowly and surely. It is an excellent depiction of the inherent, all-encompassing dangers of power and its ability to corrupt. Time has not diminished this masterpiece, but rather solidified what critics and audiences alike knew when it was first released: This is one of the greatest motion pictures ever made.
If that had been the extent of Coppola and Puzo’s achievement, it would still be worth writing about today. Yet, two years later, they did the unimaginable by emerging with a sequel, The Godfather Part II, which not only lived up to the artistic and dramatic excellence of the first film, but in many ways surpassed it. One of the great debates that still rages among film buffs is over the comparable merits of The Godfather and The Godfather Part II and which is the greater film.
In my opinion, it’s a moot argument because the two films are not really comparable. In fact, what makes them so great is the fact that they are really the same film. Part II is not so much a sequel as it is an extension and deepening of the first film, giving that film’s events a richer resonance and a harsher context. Neither film could exist without the other.
Part II is more thematically and structurally complex than its predecessor, as Coppola and Puzo took the risky but ultimately rewarding route of telling two stories at once. One half of the movie deals with Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) as a young man, explaining how he came to America at age 9 after his father, brother, and mother were murdered by the local Mafia boss in Sicily. There, among the immigrants and tenements of Little Italy in New York City, he slowly rises to the power and prominence displayed by the character as he was played by Marlon Brando. Shot in aged, desaturated amber tones, these scenes provide a groundwork for a more complex understanding of Vito Corleone’s actions in the first film, especially his dedication to his family.
The other half of the film follows Michael Corleone after he has assumed power of the family in the 1950s, sold off all their interests in New York, and concentrated on the gambling and hotel prospects in Las Vegas. By this point, his metamorphosis is complete, and if he appeared even more ruthless and dangerous than his father at the end of the first film, he is even more so at this point. Al Pacino’s performance turns further inward, as he plays Michael as a brooding man who has to make one hard decision after another while everything his father stood for slowly decays around him.
The Godfather Part II was made largely as a response to the criticism that The Godfather had romanticized Mafia life, making its seem too appealing. If that is indeed a trap, Part II avoids it completely by focusing on the deterioration of the Corleone family. Whereas the first film had rooted the family’s success in its solidarity and loyalty as a family, Part II shows how it begins to come unraveled at the seams once that solidarity and loyalty begin to falter, replaced instead with divorce, abortion, and eventually fratricide.
However, the film works at its most brilliant levels in juxtaposing Michael’s slow descent during the late 1950s with Vito’s slow ascent during the mid-1920s. By viewing the rise and fall of the Corleone family at the same time, with events in Vito’s life vaguely mirrored in the life of his youngest son, we get a full, epic understanding of the big picture, the grandiose American myth spun by these films.
It would be more than 15 years before Coppola and Puzo would re-enter the world of the Corleones, releasing The Godfather Part III on Christmas Day in 1990. Although it shared many of the same characters, and Gordon Willis’ unique visual style remained the same, Part III was a far different film from the first two.
Although there was no direct narrative impetus at the end of Part II to continue the story, the depth and potential of the subject matter and the immediacy of the characters in the pop-culture landscape virtually demanded that they be revisited at some point. Cynics and naysayers wrote it off as Coppola’s attempt to jump-start his flagging career by returning to the cinematic terrain on which he had been most successful, and it is probably not an entirely incorrect criticism. Yet, such criticisms clouded judgment of the film itself, which, although not in the league with its predecessors, is still an invigorating, deeply felt piece of work.
If Michael Corleone had sunk to his lowest levels of humanity by the end of Part II, Part III is about his bid for redemption. Having sold off all his illegal interests and gone completely legitimate, Michael finds himself at a crossroads in life in which his past looms too large and omnipresent to escape--an existential fatalism haunts the film. Al Pacino, aged with make-up and a spiky gray crew-cut that emphasizes the length of his face and the sunkenness of his cheeks, years removed from the round-faced young soldier in the first film, turns in a powerful performance to match his work in the earlier films. He suggests Michael Corleone near the end of his years, reaching the same place in life that Vito occupied in the first film, thus bringing the links between father and son full-circle.
Coppola had had great success in casting the first two Godfather films, bucking the wishes of the Paramount executives by hiring Al Pacino when he was an unknown and insisting on Robert De Niro in the role of the young Vito. Both turned out to be astounding successes--the right choice in every sense of the word. Thus, it is of deep irony that Part III would be most harshly criticized for a casting choice, Coppola’s decision to fill the critical role of Michael’s late-teenage daughter, Mary, with his own daughter, Sofia Coppola. Sofia was an amateur actor, and it shows in her performance. Physically ideal for the role, she simply cannot carry the weight of the character, and the film suffers as a result.
Yet, her presence is hardly detrimental to the entire effort, and Part III has moments of incredible and terrible grandeur. A memorable scene in which a ballroom full of aging Mafia dons is decimated by helicopters filled with machine guns is horribly beautiful in the same manner of the infamous slaughter at the end of the first film. Coppola wisely brings the story back to its roots in Sicily, and even when the convoluted narrative regarding corruption in the Vatican becomes too strained to follow, he always keeps us focused on the characters we have grown to know and maybe even admire. Michael Corleone has done many terrible things--even he believes he is beyond forgiveness--but we are always reminded of his basic humanity.
Although Part III is the weakest of the trilogy, it is still a film worth seeing, especially for the way it brings all the final threads together in epilogue-like fashion. Ultimately, what we can say about The Godfather trilogy is that, like any great saga, it is a complete story, with all the various parts reflecting and connecting with the others. Taken together, they constitute one of the greatest achievements of American cinema.
|The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration 4-Disc Blu-Ray Box Set|
|This box set includes four Blu-Ray discs, with The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, and The Godfather Part III each on one disc, with the fourth disc reserved for supplemental materials.|
|Supplements|| New High-Definition Supplements|
“The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t” (29 min.)
“Godfather World” (11 min.)
“Emulsional Rescue: Revealing The Godfather” (19 min)
“… When the Shooting Stopped” (15 min.)
“The Godfather on the Red Carpet” (4 min.)
Four short films on The Godfather (4 min.)
Corleone Family Tree (interactive)
Crime Organization Chart (interactive)
Connie & Carolo’s Wedding Album (photo gallery)
2001 DVD Supplements
34 deleted scenes
Storyboards for The Godfather Part II and Part III
Production and behind-the-scenes stills
Corleone family tree
The Godfather timeline
Oscar acceptance speeches
Theatrical trailers for all three films
|Distributor||Paramount Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||September 23, 2008|
|Truth be told, the 2001 DVDs of all three Godfather films were nothing to sneeze at, but they still fall short of this new digital restoration that seems to have brought the films as close as they will ever come to how they looked theatrically. This is especially true for both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, which suffered terribly due to both overprinting the original negatives and a lack of care in storing the elements. With each film presented in full 1080p on its own Blu-Ray disc, they look nothing short of stunning, with all of the shortcomings of the DVDs (including a fair amount of white speckling and graininess) having been corrected with both digital restoration and vastly increased resolution. As with the DVDs, watching all three films in a row, it becomes quickly evident of just how similar they are visually, even though Part III was filmed more than 15 years after Part II. As is discussed in one of the new featurettes, these films are exceedingly dark, which is precisely how Coppola and cinematographer Gordon Willis wanted them to be. The rule about the visual look of the Godfather films is that they are four parts yellow and one part red, which gives them those unique sepia tones that are so central to establishing their historical period and tying them together visually. The films benefit immensely from the additional visual information inherent in the 4K scanning process, which has brought out all kinds of subtle details in both the performances and the mise-en-scene. Blacks are perfectly solid, which contrasts beautifully with the sepia tones and the bloomed whites in the daylight scenes. What is most rewarding about this restoration is that it has maintained the original look of the films and not tried to make them unnaturally sharp or bright to keep in line with current film aesthetics. They look exactly as they should, which makes these discs a sterling example of how modern technology can save film history.|
|The soundtracks for all three films have been remastered in Dolby Digital True HD 5.1 surround sound. The forlorn horns that greet us at the beginning of each movie have exquisite depth and resonance, as does all of the music. The first two films, both originally recorded in monaural, are necessarily limited to an extent, with most of the soundtrack coming from the center speaker. Gunshots and explosions are given added impact, and directionality and imaging are used sparingly but effectively, with only a few instances sounding forced.|
| The 2001 Godfather Collection DVD box set was pretty close to exhaustive in its supplements, but that didn’t stop Paramount from coming up with a healthy dose of new supplementary material to enhance the films’ debut on Blu-Ray. All of the new supplements are presented in high-definition, and with a few exceptions, all are excellent additions that help to further deepen our appreciation of these canonical films. |
The first two featurettes, “The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t” (29 min.) and “Godfather World” (11 min.), feature interviews with an impressive list of people who were either involved in making the films or have been somehow affected or influenced by them. The former category includes director Francis Ford Coppola, editor Walter Murch, then-Paramount vice president Peter Bart, and then-senior vice president Robert Evans, and the latter category includes everyone from Coppola friends and fellow New Hollywood luminaries George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and William Friedkin, to directors Kimberly Peirce and Guillermo del Toro, Sopranos creator David Chase, films critics Kenneth Turan and Mick LaSalle, South Park co-creator Trey Parker, and actors Joe Mantegna, Jon Turturro, and Alec Baldwin. “The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t” explores the film’s conflicted production history and how it came close to never making it into production, while “Godfather World” is an intriguing and often amusing look into the films’ vast cultural impact. It focuses a great deal on how they influenced The Sopranos, but we also get clips of hilarious Godfather parodies from The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, and SCTV (as well as that infamous Audi commercial), plus clips from Seth Isler’s amazing one-man stage-show The Godfadda Workout, in which he recreates much of the film playing all the roles himself. More information about the film’s actual production can be gleaned from “…When the Shooting Stopped,” a 15-minute look at the film’s postproduction with particular emphasis paid to the film’s score.
Those interested in the films’ difficult restoration will enjoy “Emulsional Rescue,” an in-depth 19-minute look at how the badly damaged original negatives were scanned at 4K by Motion Picture Imaging and restored to the nearly pristine beauty that we see on these discs. We get some great behind-the-scenes footage of the lab work taking place, as well as interviews with restoration expert Robert A. Harris; cinematographer Gordon Willis, who shot all three films, and Allen Daviau, who served as consulting cinematographer for the restoration; Martin Cohen, executive vice president for postproduction at Paramount who oversaw the restoration; and a host of digital artists who made the work happen.
After that the supplements start to get a bit thin. “Godfather on the Red Carpet” is simply four minutes of various actors gushing about the film on the red carpet for the premiere of Cloverfield (I can’t help but smell a bit of Paramount synergy here, especially with the presence of so many of the actors from the upcoming Star Trek reboot). “Four Short Films About The Godfather,” which run 7 minutes total, feel like outtakes from the longer featurettes that didn’t naturally fit anywhere (these include debates over which is better, The Godfather or The Godfather Part II and Coppola explaining why Clemenza’s death is a bit fuzzy in the second film). The Corleone Family Tree and Crime Organization Chart are pretty cool interactive features that give a fairly ridiculous amount of information about the characters and the actors who played them (if you’ve ever wanted to see Sonny’s rap sheet, this is for you). Finally, there is “Connie & Carlo’s Wedding Album,” which is stills gallery of 25 photos from the opening wedding sequence.
Also included is the entire archive of supplements that were included in the 2001 DVD box set. First up is director Francis Ford Coppola’s commentary--actually, his commentaries. Coppola fills an entire commentary track for each of the three films, and they are among the best I have heard in a long time. Perhaps it is because Coppola is such an experienced and knowledgeable director; perhaps it is because the films themselves are so deep and rich in meaning and history; or perhaps it is because Coppola has had many years to sit back and reflect on his achievements and failures. Most likely, it is a combination of all three, but whatever the reasons, these commentaries are definitely worth listening to, especially the one for Part III in which Coppola discusses the less-than-enthusiastic response to the film and offers a defense of it.
The rest of the supplements are all housed on a fifth disc. A good place to start is with The Godfather Family: A Look Inside, which is a 73-minute retrospective documentary produced by Paramount in 1991 after the completion of Part III. It includes numerous interviews with those involved, including Coppola, novelist/screenwriter Mario Puzo, producer Fred Roos, and actors Al Pacino, James Caan, and Robert Duvall, among others. Most intriguing, though, is the inclusion of numerous screen tests conducted for the first film, including tests of James Caan and Martin Sheen playing the role of Michael Corleone.
The behind-the-scenes supplements include six featurettes. The first, “Francis Ford Coppola’s Notebook,” is a 10-minute interview with Coppola in which he discusses an enormous “prompt book,” which he describes as a “multi-layered roadmap” that he used to plan the film down to the smallest detail.
“Music of The Godfather” contains two sections, a five-and-a-half minute recording of a meeting in 1972 between Coppola and composer Nino Rota in which Rota plays for Coppola the famous waltz music for the first time. The second part is a three-minute interview with composer Carmine Coppola (Francis’s father) filmed while Part III was being scored.
“On Location” is an interesting bit in which production designer Dean Tavoularis returns to the street on the lower East Side of Manhattan that was literally transformed for Part II. This featurette includes still images from the production as well as an extensive bit of black-and-white footage from a documentary shot during Part II‘s production.
“Coppola and Puzo on Screenwriting” consists of eight minutes of interviews with Coppola and the late Mario Puzo on how they collaborated to write the three films. There are a few interesting bits here, including Puzo’s dislike of Coppola’s decision to have Michael order Fredo’s murder at the end of Part II and his desire to make a Part IV that would focus on Sonny during the 1930s.
The last featurette, “Gordon Willis on Cinematography,” is actually an excerpt from the excellent documentary Visions of Light, coproduced by the American Film Institute. Also featuring interviews from noted cinematographers Michael Chapman, Conrad Hall, and William A. Fraker, this featurette is a crash course on The Godfather‘s visual style and the great risks Willis took in making it look the way it does.
Also included is a nine-minute promotional featurette on The Godfather produced in 1971. Presented in scratchy, faded full-frame, it offers little insight into the film itself although it is interesting as an example of how Paramount was trying to position the film during its theatrical release.
Additional supplements include an astounding 34 deleted scenes, many of which long-time Godfather fans will recognize as having been including in the re-edited 1977 The Godfather Saga, which cut together the first two films in chronological order. A number of the scenes, however, have never been seen before. The extra scenes are organized chronologically by year as the would appear within the entire saga, and each is preceded by a brief description of the scene and how it would fit into the larger narrative.
Also included are a number of storyboards from Part II and Part III, an extensive stills gallery of production and behind-the-scenes shots, the Corleone family tree with personal histories of all the major characters, a timeline of events in all three films, archival TV footage of Coppola and others accepting their Oscars in both 1973 and 1975, and theatrical trailers for all three films presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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