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HTF DVD REVIEW: The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration



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#1 of 21 Matt Hough

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Posted September 20 2008 - 10:00 AM


The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Studio: Paramount
Year: 1972/1974/1990
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 177/202/170 minutes
Rating: R
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, 2.0 mono English (first two films)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 72.99

Release Date: September 23, 2008
Review Date: September 20, 2008


The Films


The Godfather - 5/5
The Godfather Part II - 5/5
The Godfather Part III - 3.5/5


Francis Ford Coppola’s epic saga of four generations of the Corleone crime family is one of the great movie trilogies. Immensely expansive while at the same time stunningly intimate, the three films in The Godfather triptych constitute one of the most focused and fulfilling examinations into the destructiveness of power and ego that has ever been captured on film. And in the character of Michael Corleone, we witness a good soul decomposing and then rebuilding as we watch over the course of three lengthy films. From fresh-faced war veteran to ruthless mobster lacking a drop of the milk of human kindness, Michael Francis Corleone is in many ways a human reptile: cold, cruel, relentless, and Francis Ford Coppola captures his story with an unwavering eye for delivering the truth amid an artistic landscape that covers almost a century of life, love, hatred, and death.

The saga begins pretty much at midpoint in 1945 as the Corleones celebrate the wedding of their daughter Connie (Talia Shire). (Coppola places celebrations at or near the beginnings of all three films, just one of many examples of the symmetrical storytelling that is the hallmark of this series.) We meet the major players in this game of life and death: father Vito (Marlon Brando in middle age, Robert DeNiro as a young man in the second film), hotheaded oldest son Santino (James Caan), slow-witted, well meaning errand boy Fredo (John Cazale), family lawyer and stepson Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), and the apple of his father’s eye Michael (Al Pacino). Many other generals and consigliore drift into and out of the films, but this core group of parents and children form the basis of the drama.

The Godfather concerns itself with an introduction to the family members, the business of crime that the family in involved with, the foiled assassination of Vito, and the ascension of Michael as head of the family. The Godfather Part II expands on Michael’s widening control over organized crime and parallels his story with that of his father as a young Sicilian immigrant establishing his control gradually in the neighborhood where he lives (and wresting control of that domain from its previous don (Leopoldo Trieste). Part III shows us Michael almost twenty years later, no longer isolated from all and rotting from within but rather a man seeking redemption for his past sins through charitable donations, affiliation with the Catholic Church though their bank and real estate holdings, and involvement in his children’s lives.

Through all three parts, the family is the central motif, either its formation, its splitting up, or its reuniting. The screenplays for the films by Coppola and original novelist Mario Puzo resonate with the viewer so completely that the fact it’s a crime family seems almost immaterial. At its core, this family has joys and worries as any other family, possibly more life-threatening and potentially deadly, but understandable and identifiable nonetheless. Who hasn’t experienced the death of dear ones? Who hasn’t struggled with career making decisions which don’t always sit well with certain members of the family? The Godfather saga reminds us constantly that we’re all making journeys along life’s roads and quite often the journeys take similar turns, detours, and dead ends.

Watching all three films back-to-back, one is rather astonished at the talent on display in these roles. Electrifying performances punctuate every one of these pictures. It’s very clear why Al Pacino went on to have the Hollywood career he’s had. This portrait of Michael Corleone over these three movies constitutes one of the most comprehensive examinations of a human soul ever captured on film. And while James Caan wasn’t new to movies, his star-making turn in the first film (plus a tiny cameo in the second) is unforgettable. Andy Garcia, his emotional equal in charm and tempestuousness, gives a vivacity to the third film that it sorely needed. Talia Shire’s Connie and Diane Keaton’s Kay also illuminate the changes in their personalities over the years to thrilling effect. And then there is Brando. While his performance is dominant without apparent bluster or bombast, his role has always seemed secondary to me in the first film despite his being the title character. Still, so memorable is his work that his spirit seems to hover over the other two films even without his making an appearance. Robert DeNiro’s first Oscar came with his performance as the young Vito, and it‘s clear he studied Brando‘s performance since gestures and nuances of body language are all there in embryonic form in his sensational work. Robert Duvall, John Cazale, Lee Strasberg, Michael V Gazzo, Eli Wallach, and Joe Mantegna all make major contributions to the features in which they appear.


Video Quality


The Godfather, The Godfather Part II - 3.5/5
The Godfather Part III - 4/5


The films have been framed at 1.78:1 and feature anamorphic enhancement. The improvements from the 2001 set of DVD releases are clearly seen almost instantly with truer black levels, a somewhat sharper picture, truer color values (but beware that the amber cast on the first two films doesn‘t make you think the color timing is all wrong; it isn‘t), and a noticeable lack of edge enhancement. Since many scenes were filmed soft to portray older times or faraway places, the DVD sometimes looks blurry rather than just soft, but this is no fault of the transfer. The images are all cleaner than before with a notable lack of dirt specks and debris, and close-ups are detailed and very satisfying. The stylistic filming of these movies by Gordon Willis has always been problematic to capture on home video, and these transfers, while undoubtedly the best they’ve ever looked, may not please everyone. Being a more recent film, Part III displays a sharp, clear image with nice textures, the best looking of the three films. Each film has its own separate chapter listings: 23, 30, and 25 respectively.

Audio Quality


The Godfather, The Godfather Part II - 3.5/5
The Godfather Part III - 4/5


The Dolby 2.0 mono tracks for the first two films sound nice and solid, everything one could expect from a mono track for films of this vintage. The Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks for the first two films have a clear, spacious sound with good music separation pumped into the fronts and rears for excellent effect. Ambient sounds are good but inconsistent in the rears, but specialized moments such as the car explosion in the first film or the firestorm attack in the bedroom in the second are nicely delivered. One really couldn’t expect these two films to sound much better than this on lossy audio tracks. The third film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is a very good effort which uses the available channels much more consistently and offers an enjoyable, full-bodied audio experience.

Special Features

5/5

The audio commentaries by Francis Ford Coppola for each of the three films have been ported over from the original 2001 DVD release. They are start-and-stop affairs with long gaps between speaking. The information is usually interesting and certainly fans of the movies will want to hear everything he’s got to say about them. You may find him doing a bit too much psychological analysis of the characters rather than relating anecdotes about the filming, but there are certainly those present, too.

Disc Four is labeled as the 2001 Archival Supplements, but on my review set, Disc Four actually contained the new supplements, all in anamorphic widescreen:

Godfather World” is an 11 ¼ minute recap of many aspects of show business which The Godfather has influenced. We are shown clips from The Sopranos, The Simpsons, South Park, You’ve Got Mail, and other films and TV series which have used allusions to the iconic movies.

“The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t” is 29 ¾ minutes recounting the difficulties in getting the original movie financed and produced followed by other problems with the subsequent features.

“…when the shooting stopped” is a 14 ¼-minute summary of the post production work with cutting the film, the music being used, and subsequent production of the second and third parts of the saga.

“Emulsion Rescue Revealing The Godfather is a fascinating 19-minute featurette on the efforts of Robert Harris in restoring the films to their original luster. Though these kinds of features are never long enough, what’s here makes it the best new bonus in the set.

The Godfather on the Red Carpet” is a rather pointless 4 minutes on the red carpet for the Paramount film Cloverfield having actors and crew from that film (as well as other stars attending that premiere) commenting on their love for the Coppola movies.

Four Short Films on The Godfather include comparisons on the quality of the first two films (2 ¼ minutes), the business of Coppola’s memories of cannolis and their use in the films (1 ½ minutes), “Riffing on the Riffing” has some famous lines from the film done in mimicry (1 ½ minutes), and the revelation of Clemenza’s fate (1 ¾ minutes).

Disc Five in my set contained the archival features, most produced in 4:3.

The Godfather Family: A Look Inside” is the 73-minute “making of” documentary filmed during the production of The Godfather Part III but looking back on all the previous films.

“On Location” has production designer Dean Tavoularis taking us on a tour of the three areas of the Lower East Side of New York City which were redressed to be outdoor locations for the three films. This runs 7 minutes.

“Francis Coppola’s Notebook” is a fascinating 10-minute look at the notebook Coppola fashioned for production of the first film by taking pages from the novel and annotating them with his own notes placed in a huge bound notebook which he used more than he used the script for directing the movie. The notes were broken down into synopsis, the times, imagery and tone, the core of the scene, pitfalls, and marginal notes.

“The Music of The Godfather has a 5 ½-minute audio recording with composer Nino Rota playing themes from the movie and 3 ¼ minutes of video with conductor Carmine Coppola talking about working on the films.

“Coppola & Puzo on Screenwriting” spends its 8 minutes with the two men describing their style of working on the three films both separately and together.

“Gordon Willis on Cinematography” is 3 ¾ minutes of the famous cinematographer talking about his signature look for the films and how he achieved it.

There are step-through storyboards for both The Godfather Part II and Part III.

The Godfather Behinds the Scenes 1971” is the publicity trailer for the movie produced during its making in 1971. It runs 9 minutes.

Additional scenes have been arranged in chronological order from 1901-1979. There are 9 scenes from the 1901-1927 period, 10 scenes from 1945, 7 scenes from 1947-1955, and 8 scenes from 1958-1979. All must be selected individually.

“The Family Tree” is an interactive visual tracing the lineage of the Corleone family which the user may select and see a text page of information about the character and a photograph of the character from one of the films.

Cast Biographies are text based biographies of pricipal production personnel.

There are various photo galleries available for stepping through.

A theatrical trailer is available for each of the films. The first runs 3 ½ minutes while the second and third each run 4 ¼ minutes. All three are in anamorphic widescreen.

Academy Award acceptance speeches are available for viewing four of the nine Oscars picked up by various members of the production team for the first two films. (The third film earned seven nominations but won nothing on Oscar night.) There is also a list of awards and nominations for the three movies.


In Conclusion

4.5/5 (not an average)

This is very likely the best these three wonderful Godfather films will ever look or sound in standard definition. They constitute a significant upgrade in picture quality from the original DVD versions, and the new bonus features are enjoyable if not always riveting. (And kudos to Paramount for including the bonuses offered in the last box set of these movies.) Overall, a strong recommendation.


Matt Hough
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#2 of 21 JackKay

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Posted September 20 2008 - 03:21 PM

Matt, not fair, your going to make me doubledip. Sounds like it's worth it.
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#3 of 21 Simon Howson

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Posted September 20 2008 - 04:14 PM

The cinematography of this film has been so influential on lots of contemporary filmmakers; it is sad that all they could devote to the cinematography was a 4 minute documentary.

They could've gone back to the locations of one of the film's scenes, and had Gordwon Willis show exactly how he lit it.

#4 of 21 Russell G

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Posted September 22 2008 - 10:07 AM

On top of being hugely improved, we can also dump the old release cause all the extras got transferred?? AWESOME! So glad I pre-ordered this for so cheap Posted Image

#5 of 21 mdnitoil

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Posted September 22 2008 - 10:32 AM

I wouldn't worry too much about price. Paramount rushes things to the bargain bin faster than any other studio.

#6 of 21 Bill GrandPre

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Posted September 22 2008 - 10:47 AM

I can't wait to pick up my Steelbook from FYE tomorrow. It's already paid in full. Tomorrow is my day off and the plan is to watch as much of this as my eyes will allow. First I'll watch the three films, then the new extras and if I can handle it I'll spin the old extras disc too.

I remember the first DVD release was probably the most exciting DVD release ever for me, but when that phantom Lowry restoration was announced I had a total case of the sour grapes people get when a new DVD is announced relatively shortly thereafter but it's been almost exactly 7 years and I'm ready for the serious upgrade that I know this new edition will provide.
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#7 of 21 ScottR

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Posted September 22 2008 - 10:59 AM

Do you know which shots had to be replaced with alternate takes?

#8 of 21 Patrick H.

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Posted September 23 2008 - 12:47 PM

I've read a couple reviews of this, and all pointed out that discs four and five are mislabelled. While comparatively minor, I'm reminded of the fiasco with the Superman box a couple years back. Where is the QC on these big boxed sets, anyway?!

Regardless, I'm excited to see the restorations on Parts I and II.

#9 of 21 Robert Fielder

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Posted September 23 2008 - 02:40 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by MattH.
Robert DeNiro’s first Oscar came with his performance as the young Vito (shockingly, the only actor to win an Oscar for his work in any of the three pictures)

I take it you forgot about Marlon Brando and the whole Sacheen Littlefeather debacle Posted Image

#10 of 21 Marc Colella

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Posted September 23 2008 - 02:47 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Robert Fielder
I take it you forgot about Marlon Brando and the whole Sacheen Littlefeather debacle Posted Image

Yep, quite the oversight there Matt. Posted Image

The interesting thing about this is that 2 different actors got an Oscar for playing the same character.

#11 of 21 Matt Hough

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Posted September 23 2008 - 03:29 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Robert Fielder
I take it you forgot about Marlon Brando and the whole Sacheen Littlefeather debacle Posted Image

I certainly did, and I'll correct it immediately.

#12 of 21 Brett_M

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Posted September 24 2008 - 01:37 AM

Nice review. I bought it yesterday -- the Best Buy package is sweet. Can't wait to watch the whole thing this weekend.
Many Shubs and Zuuls knew what it meant to roast in the depths of the Sloar that day I can tell you.

#13 of 21 Cees Alons

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Posted September 24 2008 - 11:13 AM

Very nice review, Matt! Thanks.

I happened to buy this steelbook version three months ago already. There was a special offer on Amazon/UK.

To be honest: during the first 15 minutes, I really had to adapt to the "new" look. I must add that I never was one of the bashers of the previous darker DVD versions, although I didn't think those were exactly "as seen in the theater".

But while watching the first movie, I was so taken in again in a totally new way (it seemed), that I simply forgot to notice picture quality in particular.
Yes, it's that good.

Since then I watched all three films a second time. That good indeed.
(Of course I don't dare to mention here, in this area, what I'm now waiting for too.)

As could be expected, the Godfather trilogy is constantly surrounded by offers one really cannot refuse.
And let's not forget to hail our own Robert Harris for his part in this glorious restoration - together with the whole crew of people responsible for this magnificent version of these three movies.

Favourites of mine they've always been, but now I'm proud of that in a totally new way.


Cees

#14 of 21 Sumnernor

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Posted September 25 2008 - 07:25 AM

I bought my copy when it was released in Germany (the PAL) version. I think I got it from Amazon/UK. I did not get the "steel box" but rather the sleeve containing 4 thin boxes - the 4th has 2 DVDs. I don't like the "piggy-back" DVDs that many releases seem to be using.

#15 of 21 Lord Dalek

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Posted September 25 2008 - 03:31 PM

Here's at least one oddball change, Coppola has decided to standardize the subtitle fonts over all three films. They all use the Godfather III font now as seen here:

Godfather I old

Posted Image

Godfather I new

Posted Image

#16 of 21 Bill GrandPre

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Posted September 25 2008 - 05:03 PM

Another slight change is that the reflection of Morgana King in the matte box has been erased during Vito's funeral. I don't mind because it was always incredibly distracting. I found myself looking for it during the scene on Tuesday when I watched it but now I'll know that I can actually watch the scene from now on.
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#17 of 21 Josh Steinberg

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Posted September 26 2008 - 09:03 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lord Dalek
Here's at least one oddball change, Coppola has decided to standardize the subtitle fonts over all three films. They all use the Godfather III font now as seen here

That actually makes sense to me. For the restoration, they would have went back to the original negatives, which wouldn't have had the subtitles burned in yet. (The scenes with the subtitles would be dupe negatives with the subtitles optically printed.) By going back to the negative, they were able to get the best possible image from those scenes, where the dupe sections with the subtitles wouldn't have looked as good, particularly if those scenes were then surrounded by other scenes that came straight off the negative. With that in mind, the subtitles were always going to have to be redone; I guess they just decided to make them match between all of the films as long as they were going to be redoing them.

#18 of 21 Ed Moroughan

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Posted September 26 2008 - 04:02 PM

More incorrectly labeled discs...I love it. Great review, except that it leaves me with the maxim: "Reviews come in, money goes out." It's all good in the end though eh? Posted Image

#19 of 21 PatH

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Posted September 28 2008 - 02:48 PM

I want more screen comparisons before I double dip, please!

PatH

#20 of 21 Lord Dalek

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Posted September 28 2008 - 04:16 PM

One thing I've noticed is how few reviews have pointed how hugely improved the 5.1 is on the first two films, particularly in the music department. The older box had a very "Chace-esque" sound as if they just passed the mono stems through a stereoizer. This time however it sounds like the used the original multitrack masters.


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