Thursday, September 25, 2008
Written by General Jabbo
It’s been 36 years since the release of Francis Ford Coppola’s classic mafia film, The Godfather, and in the ensuing years, the trilogy of films have not only come to be recognized as examples of great filmmaking, but have also become ingrained in American popular culture, influencing everything from movies to television shows to music. Movies such as Goodfellas owe, at least in part, their existence to the success of the Godfather trilogy. The Simpsons parodied the Don Fanucci scene in The Godfather Part II with Don Homer accepting a gift of donuts instead of a necklace and an orange while The Sopranos regularly quoted the three films (some of these examples are shown in the 2008 bonus features on the DVD). In addition, former Guns ‘n’ Roses guitarist Slash has been known to play The Godfather theme in his live guitar solos.
With such influence, The Godfather films deserve to be seen in the best possible light, yet, as shown in the bonus features, the original film had deteriorated. Now they have been completely restored to their original glory in The Godfather – The Coppola Restoration.
The Godfather tells the story of Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) and his struggle to stay in power as other families vie for his territory and branch out into narcotics, which he was always against. After a failed hit attempt, Vito is in poor health and hospitalized. When his youngest son Michael (Al Pacino) sees the guards have been removed from the hospital, he realizes his father is being set up to be assassinated. When the police finally arrive, Michael gets into an altercation with the corrupt Captain McCluskey, who proceeds to break Michael’s jaw when he insinuates that McCluskey has been bought off by rival Don Virgil Sollozzo. After this encounter, Sollozzo arranges a meeting with the Corleone family in which he, McCluskey, and Michael will attend. Michael convinces his family to plant a gun in the men’s room and kills both men in an Italian restaurant. Upon learning Michael was responsible for the murders, Vito is very disappointed. Michael was a war hero and he had hoped for him to be a legitimate power as perhaps a senator. Still, after an exile in Italy, Michael is given control over the family by Vito upon his return, with Vito serving as consigliere, replacing Tom Hagen (played by Robert DuVall) who would now serve as the family lawyer. The movie ends with Michael orchestrating the murders of the other five mafia families.
Michael’s rise to powerful Don is documented in the The Godfather Part II. He has relocated the family to Nevada and gotten into the casino business. Michael’s brother Fredo, bitter at the lack of respect he gets in the family and resentful that his younger brother is in charge, betrays him by making a deal with Johnny Ola (an agent of rival mobster Hyman Roth). An assassination attempt is then made on Michael’s life, which Fredo claimed no knowledge of. However, Michael disowns him when it is revealed he had been withholding information from him. After their mother’s death, Michael has Fredo murdered, a crime that would haunt him during the third film. Michael grows increasingly introverted the more powerful he gets, until he is alone by the end of the movie. At the same time, through a series of flashbacks, we learn the history of his father Vito, played by Robert De Niro, and how he came to power.
Finally, in the oft-maligned The Godfather Part III, Michael attempts to go legitimate, only to get sucked back into the mafia underworld. Michael is now consumed by regret for his past deeds and Pacino is very convincing in these scenes, even if Sofia Coppola (in a role originally intended for Wynona Ryder) as his daughter Mary is not. Michael turns control of the family over to his nephew Vincent (Andy Garcia) and, after his daughter is murdered right in front of him, ends up dying alone with only his dog by his side. It is a parallel to Vito’s death scene from the first movie and all three endings deal with themes of isolation. While Part III is the worst of the three films, the bar was set so impossibly high by the first two, there’s no way it couldn’t have been.
The first two films have been completely restored and all three films feature a new 5.1 Digital Surround Sound track as well as the original director’s commentary. Included are two discs of bonus features — the first of which was included in the 2001 Godfather box set. The second bonus disc is new for 2008 and includes featurettes about the restoration process, The Godfather’s place in pop culture, “Four Short Films on The Godfather,” and a documentary about how the original film almost never happened. The bonus discs in my package were mislabeled, with the new features on disc 4 and the old ones on disc 5. Hopefully they did not all get printed this way as that would be an embarrassing blemish on an otherwise fine collection.
As for the restoration itself, the movies look phenomenal, and that is based on the standard definition DVD used for the purposes of this review. One can imagine the Blu-ray looks even better. The bonus disc does a comparison between the new version and various releases of the films and the difference is staggering. Where the previous releases of the film often had a dark and murky picture, particularly in the Italian restaurant assassination scene, the current DVD is rich in color and detail and allows the viewer to really see Pacino’s nervous expressions before killing the two men.
If you don’t own The Godfather movies, this would be the time to get them. If you do own the movies, this is still an upgrade and the bonus features make it worth buying again. The picture and sound are now worthy of this legendary story.