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The Godfather Collection (Blu-ray)
Paramount Home Entertainment / 1971 / 550 Minutes / Rated R
Street Date: September 23, 2008
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Would you want to invite the Corleone family over for dinner? Sure, they are well dressed, polite and esteemed connoisseurs of fine pasta and red wine, but they can also be a bit, um, temperamental, and what if they don't like dessert? You may find a horse's head in your bed the next morning. Yet audiences worldwide did more than invite the Corleones into their homes, they lovingly embraced a clan thoroughly evil, and unapologetically so. Wrapped up in misguided loyalties, passionate betrayals, and epic violence, 'The Godfather Collection' is the Corleone saga, the rise and fall of the screen's most prominent mob family, and considered by critics and audiences alike to be one of the greatest triumphs in cinema history.
Based on the novel by Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola's 'the godfather' revolutionized American cinema. This 1972 film showed us just how powerful, ornate, and elegant filmmaking could be. It once and for all vindicated the auteur theory, which says that a film is a director's medium. And it proved just how transformative mainstream filmmaking could be when the collaborative processes are firing on all cylinders and filtered through a single, unifying sensibility.
'The Godfather' and its sequel, 1974's 'The Godfather Part II,' are quintessential '70s movies. Both were also Best Picture Oscar winners ('Part II' was the first sequel in history to earn such an honor). Coppola managed a daring feat: keeping the world of the Corleones completely insulated. We never see the civilian victims of their violent crimes or the families left devastated by the trail of corruption they leave behind. Instead, we share in their triumphs, tragedies and ambitions, solely on their terms -- Coppola refused to critique or satirize from the outside. This led many to lambast the films as a glamorization of a very real and pervasive evil. Because while the moral codes we all adhere to are often complex and contradictory, the mob adheres to only one: "Don't ever take sides against the family."
More than fifteen years passed before 1990's 'The Godfather Part III,' still the black sheep of the Corleone family trilogy. Coppola constantly refers to this trilogy as being "one film, a sequel and an epilogue." (Coppola's original title for his saga? 'The Death of Michael Corleone.') It's a minor distinction but an essential one, and absent from most negative responses to the film. 'Part III' is certainly the most cryptic of the three, and some of Coppola's choices are questionable. Is Sofia Coppola underacting or merely being natural? Why stage a lengthy opera sequence as a climax to the film? But it is impossible not to admire Coppola's unwavering dedication and sheer ambition. And 'Part III' is truly a film whose appeal has grown as the bittersweet aftertaste of disappointment has faded.
Strip away the grandeur, majesty, bravura and bloody violence, and 'The Godfather' saga may be just a simple family melodrama. But it's also symbolic of an America in transition, and a portrayal of the lust for the American Dream taken to nightmarish extremes. Coppola stages Puzo's soap opera-meets-dime store gangster storylines with the ferocious intensity and serious authority of a manic, fevered social theorist. That any saga this potentially dark, morose, and seemingly oft-putting could remain so compulsively watchable is some kind of cinematic miracle. When you throw together good filmmakers, an extraordinary story and enough money in your budget to pay for all of it, Hollywood movies really can be both popular and great.(Individual movie ratings: 'The Godfather' -- 5.0/5.0; 'The Godfather Part II' -- 5.0/5.0; 'The Godfather Part III' -- 4.0/5.0.)
'The Godfather' films first made their DVD debut back in 2001. That highly-anticipated restoration left me underwhelmed. The source material appeared aged, with spotty prints, weak contrast and blacks that were far from consistent. Now, in a move of surprising speed, Francis Ford Coppola and his Zoetrope Studios have embraced Blu-ray, releasing this new and improved "Coppola Restoration" of 'The Godfather Collection' only three years after the format's launch. Newly-restored and remastered for high-definition (under the auspices of Coppola, director of photography Gordon Willis, and restoration expert Robert A. Harris), I found the result overall to be a very good to great improvement. Those expecting the pristine look of a modern film will still be disappointed, but it is certainly hard to imagine these films looking any better.
Coppola's approach to restoring the 'Godfather' films is immediately obvious from the first frames of 'The Godfather.' All three films are presented on their own BD-50 dual-layer disc (with the only extra taking up any precious real estate a sole audio commentary by Coppola on each film), in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encodes (framed at an open matte 1.78:1). As we will learn in the disc's included supplements (which details at length the restoration process), new prints were struck from the original negatives, and restored frame-by-frame (in a process that took over a year to complete). Though a few very minor blemishes remain -- a rare white speckle here, a smidgen of dirt there -- these sources are quite clean. Grain is apparent but consistent, and I never found it excessive or particularly distracting. Blacks easily best the previous DVDs -- they never waver -- which greatly adds apparent visual depth and richness.
Coppola's approach to brightening his films (particularly 'The Godfather' and 'The Godfather Part II') will undoubtedly be controversial. Contrast is intensified on these transfers, which does improve image clarity but also adds a hotness (particularly to outdoor scenes) that may shock those used to the previous, much more muted video editions. The use of soft filters (again, more on the first two films) is further exacerbated here, with many scenes now looking quite misty and soft. This does add a very vintage look to the transfers which is elegant, but if you're looking for razor-sharp presentation, this is not it. Colors are likewise dulled, which brings out an orange-brown cast throughout and very few instances of vivid primaries (blood, however, does have a wonderfully rich, deep crimson hue). Detail is overall good on 'The Godfather' and 'The Godfather Part II,' with the Blu-rays adding noticeable fine texture and improved shadow delineation compared to the DVD. The increase isn't revelatory, but it's substantial enough to be appreciable.
'The Godfather Part III' has always been the odd-man-out of the 'Godfather' trilogy, at least in terms of visual style. Though reminiscent of the first two, it has a far more saturated look, and lacks the more sepia-toned, "classic" veneer of the first two chapters. As such, 'Part III" is perhaps then the "best" transfer of the bunch, at least in terms of color saturation, detail, and depth. The film remains soft by today's standards, but contrast remains more consistent and there are fewer of the minor print fluctuations (with areas of the picture suddenly appearing to "flash") as evident on 'The Godfather' and 'The Godfather Part II.' Darker areas of the picture boast better shadow delineation than the standard DVD, and mid-range has also been boosted, which again brightens up the picture considerably. Sharpness is again superior to any previous video version, if not absolutely razor-sharp.
The encodes for all three pictures are very clean. Zoetrope and the Coppola restoration team have done a fine job, with no major artifacts, motion jaggies or -- thankfully -- intrusive edge enhancement. 'The Godfather Collection' on Blu-ray is undoubtedly the finest presentation of these films yet seen. Some of Coppola's stylistic improvements may remain debatable amongst purists, but overall I was quite pleased with this restoration. (Individual scores: 'The Godfather' -- 4.0/5.0; 'The Godfather Part II' -- 4.0/5.0; 'The Godfather Part III' -- 4.0/5.0.)
To go along with the upgraded video, Francis Ford Coppola has befitted 'The Godfather Collection' with brand-new English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit) tracks for all three films. The results, alas, did not really deliver much improvement for me. Fidelity is improved, but you'd be hard pressed to find much that has been boosted in terms of surround presence or envelopment.
Rear channels are still underutilized. I was hard-pressed to notice much in the way of any clearly discrete effects throughout either 'The Godfather' or 'The Godfather Part II.' The sporadic bursts of gunfire deliver a bit of echo to the surrounds, but it sounds pretty hollow and tinny. The operatic segment that brings 'The Godfather' to its final act enjoys some moments of score bleed and a smattering of ambiance, but that's about the best you're going to get here. 'The Godfather Part III' is clearly the star of the bunch then, undoubtedly due to it being produced in 1990, well into the age of multi-channel theatrical presentations (both 'The Godfather' and 'The Godfather Part II' were originally monaural). Rear engagement is more consistent and pronounced, with better dynamics, improved transparency, and at least some sense of score bleed. 'Part III' is still far from the best soundtrack I've heard from this era, but it well exceeds the first two.
Where these tracks do shine is in enhanced dynamic range. Carmen Coppola's scores on the first two films finally sound lush and full, with a very pleasing warm tone and less of the brittle high-end that marred the DVD versions. Low bass still does not deliver truly deep frequencies to the subwoofer, but it supports the action well enough and is free of distortion. Dialogue is a bit better balanced as well -- I never struggled to hear any of the actors (which was a problem for me on the original DVD, which I found frustrating in terms of always have to adjust the center channel volume), and the words always sound clean and natural. The sources for these tracks has also been improved, with no dropouts, hiss or flatness. None of 'The Godfather' films come off as a million bucks here, but as with the video, this is probably the best they are ever going to sound. (Individual scores: 'The Godfather' -- 3.0/5.0; 'The Godfather Part II' -- 3.0/5.0; 'The Godfather Part III' -- 3.5/5.0.)
'The Godfather Collection' hit standard DVD in an elaborate box set with hours (and hours and hours...) of newly-produced bonus content. It was a wonderfully comprehensive set, and Zoetrope has wisely not abandoned any of those features for Blu-ray. In fact, they've sectioned them off on the menus to an area called "2001 DVD Archive," and then gone and added a ton more that's new. (As these new bonus features are also included on the DVD re-issue of 'The Godfather COllection," I've included them here and not in the HD Exclusives section below.) All of the new material is presented in 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 video, while the original 2001 DVD Archive is in 480i/MPEG-2. Optional English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles are provided for the video-based supplements.
Let's start with the new material produced for 'The Godfather Collection - The Coppola Restoration':
- Featurette: "The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn't" (HD, 29 minutes) - This excellent new doc isn't so much about the making of 'The Godfather' films, as contextualizing the American cinematic landscape that produced it. An impressive line-up of talent has been interviewed -- including Coppola, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Walter Murch, and Paramount executives Peter Bart and Robert Evans, amongst others -- who paint a picture of a Hollywood on the verge of collapse, one skittish to produce a lavish epic on the scale of 'The Godfather.' Coppola's subsequent troubles in convincing the studio to sign off on Mario Puzo's epic, which incredulously was deemed at the time to be an uncommercial prospect, is examined at length. This is a fascinating and incredibly slick doc, especially the excellent use of vintage still material. A must-watch.
- Featurette: "Godfather World " (HD, 12 minutes) - Boy, Coppola sure has a lot of friends. This featurette is a totally fawning piece, with an incredible roster of interviewees -- Alec Baldwin, Guillermo Del Toro, William Friedkin, Joe Mantanga, Trey Parker -- all waxing on the importance and legacy of 'The Godfather' films. For once, such hyperbole is warranted, and there is no denying anything anyone here says.
- Featurette: "Emulsional Rescue: Revealing 'The Godfather'" (HD, 19 minutes) - Another excellent piece, with Coppola and more luminaries (Spielberg again, Paramount chief Brad Grey, film archivist Robert A Harris) letting us in on the extensive work that went into rescuing and restoring 'The Godfather' films. What's amazing is that the original negatives for 'The Godfather' were thought to be lost(!), and the effort to cobble together elements was nothing short of Herculean. And to critics of Coppola's aesthetic choices on this Blu-ray restoration, your questions are all answered here. Another must-see.
- Featurette: "...And When the Shooting Stopped" (HD, 14 minutes) - Kudos to Coppola -- for once, a cinematic auteur gives full due to his post-production team. The sometimes-contentious relationship between Coppola and Paramount is shred apart here, which saw Coppola needing to break his contract (which required a much shorter cut of the film) to truly do justice to the epic he had created. The resultant process was arduous for Coppola's crew, many of whom share their war stories here. Also dissected are some key sequences, including the infamous "horse head" scene. Great stuff.
- The Family Tree/The Crime Organization (SD) - This is a rather nifty, if simple, way to present basic cast and character biographies and filmographies. Trace each character's lineage across a tree graphic, as well as additional filmographies and bios on the actors who played them. The "Crime Organization" takes a similar approach to the key crime element seen in the films, with more fake bios and dossiers. (Note: This feature was also included on the original 2001 DVD set, but has been reformatted and updated here. It is also listed on the Blu-ray's packaging as a new supplement, so I've included it here.)
- Montage: "'The Godfather' on the Red Carpet" (HD, 4 minutes) - This is a throwaway -- a montage of red carpet interviews at the 'Cloverfield' premiere(!) with various B-list stars (sorry) waxing how great 'The Godfather' films are. Overkill.
- Four Short Films on 'The Godfather' (HD, 7 minutes) - Something of a misnomer, these are not actually "short films" on the 'Godfather' films. Rather, they are just four outtakes reels of various interviews and stories that, apparently, didn't fit anywhere else in the supplements. Another parade of stars (John Turturro! Richard Belzer! Sarah Vowell!) share amusing little jokes or riff on various pop culture elements of the franchise. Decent stuff, though the "short film" tag lead me to expect something different.
Also included on disc four is the entire "2001 DVD Archive," which compiles all of the bonus materials found on the previous 'Godfather Collection' four-disc box set:
- Audio Commentaries - The only extras not on the fourth bonus disc are three screen-specific audio commentaries with Francis Ford Coppola, one per film. It must have been a tough task -- Coppola has to fly solo here and hold our interested for well over eight hours of screen time. I sampled each track extensively, and often found his recollections to be quite moving in talking about the films that will, undoubtedly, go down as his masterworks. He recalls glories past, what worked and what didn't, and the wealth of stories lodged in his formidable memory banks. Coppola is also candid, and rarely pulls a punch, commenting at length on the various tensions and difficulties in mounting such expensive, epic motion pictures. (Indeed, how many people wanted a piece of the pie.) Coppola detractors will also find ample ammunition here, as he can be a bit arrogant and rather dry. Funny enough, for being the weakest film of the three, I actually enjoyed his commentary for 'Part III' the most, because he almost sounds humbled. He also takes the brunt of the blame for the reaction to the casting of Sofia Coppola, but also vigorously defends it and some of the mixed reactions to his trilogy-capper in general. Given the length of material he had to comment on, it's no surprise that there are some dull patches and dead space, and it's possible judging by his reactions that he is being prompted by an off-screen interviewer. But no matter, these are very fine commentaries.
- Documentary: "The Godfather Family" (SD, 75 minutes) - Still the centerpiece of the supplements, owners of the previous laserdisc and DVD sets of 'The Godfather' will undoubtedly be familiar with this extended look at the making of all three films (it was also shorn of some content and broadcast on various television outlets). Produced at the time of the production of 'The Godfather Part III,' "A Look Inside" is a rather plotty and thus sometimes frustrating piece that attempts to cover a great many bases, not always successfully. Constantly contrasting the making of the first two installments with the concluding chapter of the trilogy, it jumps back and forth in time with a mix of film clips, production meetings with Coppola and his staff, rare rehearsal and production footage from all three films, and then-recent interviews with Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Talia Shire, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Andy Garcia, and of course, Coppola and his crew. As a look at the development of the first two films, this is fascinating, though the editing can distract. Also, as this was produced as production on 'Part III' was concluding, it lacks a truly cohesive narrative arc, as well as a sense of reflection on the trilogy as a whole. Still, it remains a good, if dated, doc.
- "Behind the Scenes" Featurettes (SD) - There are no less than seven featurettes, each on a different aspect of the production.
First up is "The Locations Of The Godfather," a 6-minute guided tour of the series' many New York City locations with production designer Dean Tavoularis. Returning to the "scene of the crime" for the first time since the making of the films, Tavoularis gives good background on how he chose the various locations and contrasts storyboards with the final shots, and there are some nice stills and rough production footage thrown in for good measure.
"Francis Coppola's Notebook" (10 minutes) is Coppola discussing his extensive notation of the original novel and the screenplay, and the construction of his Godfather "master notebook." He then contrasts his working notes with the finished product, the complex design and blocking of four sequences, and the influence of the work of Hitchcock and other directors on the finished film.
"The Music Of the Godfather: features two separate featurettes, one on Francis' father Carmine Coppola, and the other on Nino Rota. The Coppola segment runs 4 minutes and features narration by Francis and rare footage of Carmine during scoring sessions for 'The Godfather Part III.' A nice, heartfelt remembrance, if somewhat slight. The Nino Rota segment is an audio taping of Coppola's first meeting with Rota in preparation for the score of the first Godfather, and it's quite a find. Rota plays Coppola some ideas for the score on the piano, which I doubt has ever been heard before by many. Though their conversation is hard to discern due to the rough quality of the audio, it is laid under a nice montage from the film, and runs just shy of 6 minutes.
"Puzo and Coppola on Screenwriting" features interviews shot during the making of 'The Godfather Part III,' and is a more straight-ahead "talking heads" discussion on the development of all three of the screenplays. This featurette runs and also includes rare audio of script meetings between Puzo and Coppola, and a great collection of stills
"Gordon Willis on Cinematography" is just that, an all-too-brief 4-minute chat with Willis on his highly-acclaimed and influential work on The Godfather series, and how many of the stylistic choices were born out of necessity. In addition to comments from Willis, we get interview tributes from other renowned cinematographers highly influenced by Willis' work, including Michael Chapman, William A. Fraker, and Conrad Hall.
Finally, we have 'The Godfather's original "1971 Making-Of Featurette, which runs about 8 minutes. It's in pretty bad shape. Also amusing is that, while many complain about today's EPK fluff pieces, just watch this one -- it's just as terrible.
- Storyboards (SD) - Next up we have two sections of storyboards, for 'The Godfather Part II' and 'The Godfather Part III.' Each includes about 20-odd storyboards and can be advanced manually. Unfortunately, there is no descriptive text provided and little additional insight, and there are no storyboard-to-screen comparisons, either.
- Additional Scenes/Historical Timeline (SD) - As these two sections are linked together in content, I've grouped them together here. Both are divided into five sections - "1892-1930," "1931 - 1945," "1946 - 1955," "1956 1997." The "Historical Timeline" offers simple text lists of events for the three films, while the additional scenes comprise no less than 34 segments and runs nearly an hour. The quality is a mix and match of full frame and widescreen aspect ratios, and the audio is rather weak-sounding mono. Fans of the early 'Godfather' re-edits and television versions will undoubtedly be familiar with many of these scenes - some worthwhile, some rightly cut - and also notable is an alternate beginning to 'The Godfather Part III' that recalls the opening of the first film. Annoyingly, all of 'The Godfather Part III' clips have a burned in "property of Paramount" logo that distracts.
"Acclaim & Response" includes a text "Awards and Nominations" list, the original intro to the 'The Godfather's 1974 network TV airing, and five Academy Award acceptance speeches - the first film's Best Screenplay and Best Picture wins, and 'The Godfather Part II's Best Director and Best Picture. All the footage is presented in full frame video and appears rather dated, and we even get the whole Oscar segment complete with the reading of the nominations. (And love the clothes!)
Next we have two still galleries, a "Photo Gallery" with about two dozen behind-the-scenes stills, and the "Rogues Gallery," a pictorial family album of sorts, with publicity stills for most of the main and supporting cast of characters.
Finally, there are three theatrical trailers included, one for each film. These appear to be the original release versions, and there are no re-release trailers offered.
There is no dedicated, exclusive content to this set.
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'The Godfather Collection' is finally on Blu-ray, and the films themselves need no recommendation. These are simply classics of American cinema -- pure and simple -- and even the more controversial third chapter is a worthy coda to a landmark trilogy. Technically, I'm quite pleased with the "Coppola Restoration." The video is better than any previous version, and the audio -- if lacking in impact -- is still perfectly fine. Topping it off are hours and hours of quality supplements. I'm afraid -- at the risk of sounding like marketing slogan -- 'The Godfather Trilogy' on Blu-ray is an offer you can't refuse.