In 2007, film-restoration expert Robert A. Harris began work on restoring two of contemporary cinema’s most treasured films, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974). Harris spent over a year on the project, consulting with the films’ director of photography, Gordon Willis, ASC, throughout the process. (This work was detailed in the May issue of American Cinematographer, and the article can be found in the archives on this site.) From these new digital restorations, Paramount has issued an expansive four-disc Blu-ray package, The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration, which includes The Godfather, The Godfather Part II and a remastered edition of The Godfather Part III.
Disc one presents The Godfather, Coppola’s intricate familial tale that begins in 1945 with the wedding of Connie Corleone (Talia Shire), the only daughter of Vito “Don” Corleone (Marlon Brando). Don Corleone, the head of the most powerful organized-crime family in New York, is enjoying the day with his family, which includes sons Santino (James Caan), Fredo (John Cazale) and Michael (Al Pacino) and adopted son, Tom Hagan (Robert Duvall), the family lawyer. A decorated soldier, Michael has just returned from the war, and he has brought his college girlfriend, Kay (Diane Keaton), to the wedding. She feels out of place as he points out some of the unseemly criminal guests at the function, and Michael comforts her by saying, “It’s my family, Kay; it’s not me.”
Two years later, as we see in The Godfather Part II, things are vastly different. Michael is now head of the family business and married to Kay, and he has moved the family to Nevada to focus on casinos. Part II, which comprises the second disc of this package, actually tells two stories in parallel; we see Michael’s quick rise and moral descent in the story’s present, and we see his father’s journey from Sicily to America at the turn of the century. The two stories are interwoven, with Vito (played as a young man by Robert De Niro) finding his path in the streets of New York in the early 1920s, and Michael finding that in spite of his success in Nevada, he can trust fewer people.
Michael wrestles with the corruption and betrayal that surrounds him, and his powerful reactions alienate his family, business associates and, finally, his distraught wife. As we see Vito succeed, we see Michael’s life disintegrate into paranoia and loneliness by the end of the 1950s.
The third disc contains the last chapter of the saga, The Godfather Part III (1990). The story picks up in 1979, and Michael has honored his father’s wishes and made the family business completely legitimate. After getting a medal from the Catholic Church for his international charity work, Michael finds himself facing old age as a guilt-ridden man who has severed too many family ties. As he begins to make amends with Kay and his children, Anthony (Franc D’Ambrosio) and Mary (Sofia Coppola), his health interferes, as does his hotheaded nephew, Vincent (Andy Garcia), a criminal who wants to find a place as a respected Corleone.
The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration is a benchmark in the short history of the Blu-ray format. The image-rendering of the first two films is extraordinary. In one of the package’s supplements, Willis notes the films’ distinctive sepia tone just seemed “right” to him and was also extremely helpful in disguising Brando’s rather elaborate makeup. Offering crisp, warmly yellow color and visible layers of shadows and darkness, this 1080p image transfer is the definitive home-screen presentation of these films. The grain always appears properly balanced, and the level of detail is truly impressive. Quite simply, it is hard to imagine these films ever looking better.
The 5.1 stereo sound is traditionally heavy in the front channels but has some fluid responses in the surround channels for music and effects cues. The 1080p image transfer of Part III is also first-rate, yielding a well balanced effort that melds with the transfers of the earlier films. The 5.1 surround track is a bit more involved, with some directional voice work among the effects and music in the surround channels.
A number of supplements in this package have been borrowed from Paramount’s 2001 DVD release, including Coppola’s absorbing audio commentaries for all three features, interviews, deleted scenes, theatrical trailers, stills and behind-the-scenes footage. Newly created for this package are nearly 90 minutes of interviews with Coppola, Willis, Harris, producer Robert Evans and Coppola pals George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Also, interactive menu screens of stills and mug shots bring the total running time of the bonus features to more than four hours.
This Blu-ray package is something no Godfather fan would want to pass up, and newcomers also will enjoy meeting the Corleones in this definitive presentation.
Lock the doors; dim the lights, and let the dark horses of existential family angst in for a sit-down. This is an offer no film buff can refuse.