The Godfather films changed storytelling forever. Films before that time, mobster or otherwise, had some very simple but unshakable rules. There was always a fairly clear distinction between the good guys and the bad guys. The good guys always win in the end, and the bad guys always succumb to justice before the final credits. For perhaps the very first time, we were given characters that we knew in our souls were evil men. They killed. They broke laws. They manipulated everyone around them through fear and terrorism to bend to their wills. Somehow, now they are the film’s core heroes, if you will. When Vito is shot, we cheer for Michael, who discards his contempt for his family’s criminal image and comes to his father’s aid. Suddenly this wasn’t just about a gang of mobsters. This was a story about a family. Most of us can’t relate to the mafia ins and outs, but we all have fathers, and even when we dislike what our fathers represent, we will more often than not come to their aid if they’re being threatened. This unique morality paved the way for an entire genre of such characters today. There just couldn’t have been a Tony Soprano or Vic Mackey without The Godfather. While there were certainly protests from aspects of the Italian-American community decrying the violent way our ethnicity was portrayed, most of us from that community saw more than violence and Mafioso. If you’re from an Italian family, you simply can’t help recognizing aspects of your own family in the Corleones. I could see my own grandfather in Vito, sans the mob boss occupation. Many of us took away the strict codes of honor and respect that drive Italian-Americans to this day in very normal lives. We’re a very passionate people, even if most of us are not part of an organized criminal element.
I’m not going to waste any time here taking you through the Godfather Saga. Even if you’ve never seen any of these films, and I can’t imagine anyone hasn’t, you know the story and characters almost as much as if you had. For those of us who have seen these films, it has likely been an experience you have never forgotten. They are like potato chips in that you can not have watched them just a single time. For us these films are more than merely films. They are memories that we share as a culture. They have surely become a part of American mythology, as much as Homer’s tales of conquering heroes and mighty gods were for the ancient Greeks. We know the names of the Corleones as well as any of Shakespeare’s characters. We’ve quoted these films as much as anything short of The Bible itself. It is entirely outside of the realm of possibility, for me at least, to imagine American culture without them. While the films are over 30 years old, they still shape our films and literature today. What television series hasn’t done a spoof of The Godfather. Phrases like: “An offer you can’t refuse”, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli”, or “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in” appear everywhere around us.
After over 30 years of use and neglect, the remaining negatives of the film were getting badly degraded. There was not only the physical stress of multiuse, but the natural process of age on the chemicals themselves. Dirt and scratches combined with too many splices led to disastrously damaged frames. Time and dubs caused the color to change over the years along with the film’s sharpness.
I know there will be those of you who will disagree with me. You’ll complain about scenes being too dark and about grain elements. I suggest you look up the word “restore”. This team did exactly what it was supposed to do. The recreated an image as close as possible to what it originally looked like when viewed from a pristine print when the film was released. This is exactly what I wanted, while fearing for the worst. There must have been some pressure or temptation to attempt to “improve” upon the original. To consider such an option is sacrilegious and would have borne the contempt of every “true” film aficionado around the world. Filmmakers choose film stock and equipment for very specific reasons. Directors and cinematographers devote a good deal of time to every nuance in framing, lighting, and focus to create not only the image they want, but to capture the atmosphere and emotion they want from any particular scene. Nowhere has this been more true than for The Godfather films. There’s a reason why most American film classes include one or two of these films as required viewing for the filmmakers of the future. Thank you,
Elements of this review are reproduced for the Intotheblu.com HD review.
Each film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The brilliant work of cinematographer Gordon Willis is evident in every frame of this restoration. There is plenty of the soft washing grain that was always intended in this film. The yellow and red texture of the films remains just as it was always intended to appear. Dark scenes, like Vito’s office as the film opens, are incredibly dark. You lose detail here as objects disappear into near total blackness, just as it was intended to do. Black levels are strong in their presence, but not full of the detail you’ve come to expect in a modern release. Again, you have to realize that everything you are seeing here is intended. The reproduction is outstanding. The effect is not near as dramatic as the HD release, but a momentous improvement over the 2001 set.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 I was glad that there wasn’t an effort to create an overly aggressive surround mix, since that’s not the way the film was released. Most of it happens up front, and that suits me just fine. Dialog is fine and always perfectly placed. What makes this a winner is the presentation of the fabulous score. From the first trumpet theme in the first film to the delicate strings of the final film’s closing credits, the music shines through as powerfully as ever. The music doesn’t have quite the dynamic range as I experienced in Blu-ray, but it’s pretty darn amazing just the same.
The Audio Commentary tracks Coppola did for the 2001 release are included. If you haven’t yet heard them, you should check them out here. All three are loaded with a fountain of information about these films, much of it not as well known.
There are a fourth and fifth disc that provide a full docket of extras both old and new. Disc 4 is pretty much exactly the same as the 2001 release with all of those extras.
Disc 5 contains the following:
The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t: This half hour feature is the most impressive of the new features. It begins with an examination of the changes that occurred in the 1960’s. The studio system was ending. and big corporations were buying the old movie studios. When Gulf Western bought
The Godfather World: This piece examines the influence the film has had on our culture, from The Simpsons to the stage.
When The Shooting Stopped: This 14 minute feature looked at events after principal photography ended on the first film. Coppola still had to struggle to maintain control over the editing of the film.
Emulsional Rescue – Revealing The Godfather: If you want to know all of the technical things about the restoration process, this 20 minutes is a great feature. You get a lot of the technology but also a feel for the respect the team had for the project.
The Godfather On The Red Carpet: It appears to be a red carpet even for Cloverfield. This contains sound bites from various J.J.Abrams actors on what The Godfather films meant to them. It’s a little more than 4 minutes.
Four Short Films On The Godfather: These aren’t really films, and you can pick from them individually or use the play all to get 7 minutes of: Godfather vs. Godfather II, Riffing On The Riffing, Cannoli, and Clemenza. These are more interview clips that deal with the differences between I & II, Richard Belzer trading quotes with a buddy, and Coppola talking about the influence of cannoli on his life, and likely weight, and then telling us why Clemenza was dead in II.
I have had the opportunity to examine these films restored on both the DVD and Blu-ray formats. While the restoration itself is marvelous and the films never looked better, it’s clear to me that these DVD versions just don’t hold a candle to the Blu-ray versions. If you haven’t upgraded to Blu or just aren’t interested in doing so now, then you just can’t miss this wonderful restoration. This DVD set is a must for you, but only as a last resort. Maybe the Blu costs a few bucks more but after all…”Money isn’t everything”.