Goodfellas tells the story of Henry Hill (Narc’s Ray Liotta), an Irish-Italian kid whose only ambition, it seems, is to be a type of wise-guy kid. In one of the first scenes with Hill we learn that “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be gangster.” This line here tends to set the emotion and mood for the whole film. Hill, as a kid at least, is your typical child who defies his parents, struggles to do well in school and wants to hang out with the older looking tough guys down the street. F…r Hill, gangsters were his Superman type hero; they could get anything they wanted including the best seats at the show, the best cars and they actually belonged to something.
As Hill becomes immersed in the Mob world, he starts to do little jobs. It isn’t until he meets Jimmy Conway (15 Minutes’ Robert De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (JFK’s Joe Pesci) that his life starts to change. We learn that Conway and DeVito are two of the most feared hit men in the entire Organization. If someone needed something done, odds are they approached one of these two men. Conway and DeVito teach Hill the basics of the mob world included a few life lessons all while they make it so evidently clear to Hill that they have no problem killing any man and neither should Hill.
The actual film follows the events that took place in Hill’s life from 1955 to 1970 and then to 1988. 1988 marked the year that Hill went into the FBI’s Witness Protection Program to get out of this mess and basically start pointing at the real villains. Over a period of four years, Hill told everything he knew to reporter Nicholas Pileggi whose book “Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family” was the basis for the film.
Everything is going perfect for Hill and his new buddies. Jobs get done, money flows in, girls are everywhere and nothing seems to be going wrong. Naturally though, whenever you have tons of positives, a negative is bound to sneak its’ way into the equation. This negative happens to occur when Hill, Conway and DeVito are burying a guy who DeVito literally kicked to death. The only problem here is that the guy they killed in a fitless rage, happens to be a man who was a “made” guy in relevance to him being a Mafioso who was suppose to be immune. Hill, obviously, starts to worry and never imagined this life would ever turn out this way. The rest of the film sees Hill try to distance himself from these two members slowly (mostly DeVito).
Goodfellas occasionally gets a lot of comparison to the classic film The Godfather. Well, both films are long and excellent, but more importantly both films give the necessary space and time to help the characters manage their issues. This allows the audience to carefully and meticulously analyze the film’s themes and sub-plots. The film takes a look at the life of a Mafia member, but in a slow enough manner so, we as the audience, can fully understand and grasp the life and ways of a Mafia member.
Scorsese is a fabulous director, simply put. His legacy of films, from 1970’s Taxi Driver to 2004’s Aviator all are special and unique in their own manners. Each of Scorseses’ films dives deeper and deeper into the main subjects mind as the film progresses. For Goodfellas, Scorsese including an outstanding cast to help continue his trend, which results in the film being more about a character’s guilt for the world he has chosen more than anything else. The film is not a one, two, three type of step forward process where the character realizes what he has done wrong and tries to correct the problem. Rather, the film’s character doesn’t see the problem in murdering someone, but rather in that he betrayed the code of the Mafia gang he believed in greatly.
A lot of critics agree that the 1970’s best film was Scorsese’s Taxi Driver; 1980’s best film was Scorses’s Raging Bull; For the 1990’s, Goodfellas may not be the best film of the decade, but is definitely in the top five. It took me quite some time to see the film (I finally saw it last year after owning it for 5-6 years on VHS and then eventually DVD and now HD-DVD). Now that I have experienced the film again, Goodfellas is one of those film’s that gets better with age, kind of like a fine bottle of wine.
Similar to the DVD release, Goodfellas is presented in a 1:85:1 Aspect Ratio. Probably due to the subject matter, Goodfellas has always looked a bit underwhelming in the image department. Colors seemed off, flesh tones were not as good as they could be and grain was noticeable. Luckily for us, Warner has decided to re-release Goodfellas onto HD-DVD. While the image quality is not absolutely perfect, the image is about as good as it seems it may ever be (unless the Blu-Ray release is a dramatic improvement). Colors were spot on, grain was not as noticeable, and the original print still seems in tact. While certainly being the ‘worst’ of the HD-DVD releases image wise, compared to any DVD release Goodfellas still looks just fine.
As per the usual HD-DVD release, we’re given the standard Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Audio track which sounds pretty well-defined. Just like the DVD release of the film, the rear speakers do a majority of the work displaying all of the various sound effects while the center channel displays the dialogue in a crisp, clean manner. Some have complained that the first batch of Warner HD-DVD’s had an audio problem that caused some portions of the film to come off a bit too loud, while others a bit too low. While I noticed this on the other releases (not as much as some have said though), I didn’t notice the same result with Goodfellas. The overall audio track was just fine for a film that is running 15 years old. If this is a sign of how older movies will look and sound, I can’t wait for older classics.
All of the features that were found on the 2-Disc DVD release are found on this release.
- Scene-Specific Commentary: Here the participants include Director Martin Scorsese; actors Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, Frank Vincent; co-screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi; producers Irwin Winkler and Barbara De Find; cinematographer Michael Ballhaus; and editor Thelma Schoomaker. Despite having all of these names attached to the bill here, Scorsese and Pigletti do the most speaking. While this track was a bit odd, the next track is better.
- Cop and Crook Commentary: This commentary is with the real Henry Hill (who has since come out of the Witness Protection Program). The FBI agent who arrest him, Edward McDonald, is also here. Henry is extremely generous and doesn’t leave out on detail of information admitting that nearly all of the information presented by Scorsese did actually occur.
- Getting Made: This 30 minute feature deals with how the film went from script to screen. As we learned from the aforementioned commentary track with Henry Hell, Scorsese obviously did his homework for the film and this feature only helps to cement this fact.
- Made Man: The Goodfellas Legacy: Here we hear how the film helped to inspire a lot of the younger directors today. I did especially like the comments by director Joe Carnahan (Narc) when he mentioned how the film is the pure example of a powerful America cinema film.
- The Workaday Gangster: This feature brings us Henry Hill once more. He speaks on how his life was during the time period showed in the film versus his life now.
- Paper is Cheaper Than Film: Here we get the process of bringing storyboard to screen.
The HD-DVD release helps solidify that Goodfellas, no matter what format it’s released in, is a fine film. While the image quality could have been a bit better (Considering how much the Star Wars image was improved for the DVD release), the HD-DVD release of a film should sparkle higher than a DVD released film. The audio quality was spot on for an older film, while the features, albeit featuring nothing new, were fun to see again. If you have a place in your mind for classics, pick up Goodfellas.
Special Features List
- Scene-Specific Commentary
- Cop and Crook Commentary
- Getting Made
- Made Man: The Goodfellas Legacy
- The Workaday Gangster
- Paper is Cheaper Than Film