"The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration" DVD Review
October 13, 2008 by Zach Demeter
At this point reviewing The Godfather makes about as much sense as reviewing the pyramids: they’ve been around forever and no matter what anyone says, they’re still around for a reason. Both were built with plans in mind that have shown that the original architects knew what they were doing in such a way that they’ve stood the test of time where other productions of similar nature have crumbled and fallen. While obviously The Godfather series has not been around for thousands of years (unless you’re reading this review in the year 3972 in which case I don’t really know what to say), the analogy holds true simply because that even after nearly forty years, The Godfather trilogy remains the pinnacle of the film industry.
The Godfather Trilogy is the benchmark for all cinematic storytelling. Francis Ford Coppola’s masterful adaptation of Mario Puzo’s novel chronicles the rise and fall of the Carleone family in this celebrated epic. Collectively nominated for a staggering twenty-eight Academy Awards, the films are the winner of nine, including two for Best Picture for The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II. Starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Andy Garcia and countless others, The Godfather trilogy demands to be in every film fans collection.
I’m sure you’re wondering how I could possibly even begin to review the series. Surely I, a co-founder of a DVD review website, would have seen one of the greatest trilogies ever known to man? Yeah….no. I honestly had not seen these films prior to receiving this set and as surprising as that may be, it does offer me the chance to review the films in a way that not many others can. I’ve seen all of the films and series inspired by this show and at this point I’ve mob films have been spun around ad nauseum. So in a completely backwards fashion I actually ended up comparing modern films and television to these films rather than the other way around. Screwed up? You bet.
So anyone who has read my reviews of past “classic” films will no doubt notice that I’m a bit of a whiner. I don’t particularly enjoy older films simply because they were acclaimed or simply because I didn’t like the style in which they were done. I don’t know if it’s me being spoiled by modern cinema (in both a good and bad way), but it isn’t often I come across a 70s, 80s or even early 90s film that I genuinely can get into. Because of this I was a bit hesitant going into this series because I was afraid I’d have to write a review where I was going to be a very lonely individual who did not like this series.
Thank God I don’t have to write that review. I don’t think I’ve watched a trilogy in such rapid succession and with such desire since the first time I saw Star Wars. Here I had before me three superb films (ok, so the last one wasn’t actually all that superb, but it still) that I had never seen before and watching each one of them was like discovering the next great gem from Hollywood that I’d have to run out and tell everyone about. Only instead of telling everyone how great these movies were I just watched I was met with “What, you just now saw them?” and “Yeaaah, where have you been?” I honestly have not felt so excited by a set of movies, which run over nine hours, and despite being bleary eyed by the marathon, I wouldn’t hesitate watching anyone of these films again.
So what did I expect from a film that holds the top spot on a thousand top ten films lists and frequently drops in and out of the top spot on IMDb? I don’t honestly know. I guess after hearing so much about this series over the years, I expected to be disappointed based on the hype alone, but some films can just sustain that hype and live up to it. The Godfather films all manage to do this, the first two especially. After an amazing first two films I was slightly disappointed by the way Part III went, but it was still forgivable in the long run. With so much talent on the screen at any given point in time, The Godfather films are a true testament to just how fantastic films can truly be. Must See.
For this new Coppola Restoration release, director Francis Ford Coppola oversaw the all-new restorations of his classic trilogy. These new transfers, mixed with all new extras, saw release on both DVD and Blu-ray formats and for this review I’ll be handling the DVD edition. Obviously I would have preferred to watch this series for the first time on Blu-ray, but that’s just one more experience I’ll get to have down the line at some point, I suppose. The DVD set arrives in a matte black slip case with a slick flow of blood wrapping around the packaging. A removable card on the back of the set easily slips inside the case along with the four thin-pak cases, each housing a disc each except for the final Supplements case which is home to two discs. Yes, as amazing as it is, they managed to get the 202 minute Part II onto one disc!
The all-new visual transfers for the film look absolutely fantastic and while viewing them for the first time I didn’t notice a single flaw. The first two films do look a great deal “older” in nature, but that’s just because they are. The image quality doesn’t suffer, but there isn’t the same crispness that modern films have, but, again, that’s to be expected. Aside from that, however, the video transfer for all three films is absolutely superb and I can only imagine how much better the Blu-ray mix looks. I was able to procure copies of the previous DVD release to compare to and the differences between the films is surprisingly major; Coppola has gone in and darkened sequences and added quite a bit of saturation in some cases, bringing the older transfers colder tones to a minimum. On the flipside daytime sequences look much cleaner and less yellow, so it’s a pretty evenhanded mixture of color adjustment that went on. The transfers are all relatively compression free and there isn’t anything here that jumps out that’s due to transfer issues.
Each of the films comes with 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes, also all-new to this release. I only spot checked the differences between the old mix and these newer ones, but the biggest difference I picked up was the surround usage as well as the sound effects. As with a lot of older films the sound effects from guns or even just background noises can sometimes sound overly tinny in nature without much force behind them. With these new mixes those lackluster sounds are gone and they make for a much more engaging mix all around. Simply put it’s clear that Coppola put as much effort into the remastering of these films as he did into directing them and there isn’t a single area of these new transfers that I would change. Absolutely fantastic. Also included on each of the films is a French 5.1 and English Mono track, as well as English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Moving onto the extras we have commentaries on each of the films (yes, Part II’s disc is literally bursting at the seams with all of this data packed into it) from Francis Ford Coppola. I’d only heard Coppola on a commentary track once before and that was with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which I loved every minute of. These The Godfather tracks are no different and I enjoyed listening to them as much as I enjoyed watching the films themselves. Coppola is informative and with the lengthy run times for the films, he’s able to get about every little exhaustive fact out that he can spare.
Next we move onto the supplemental thin-pak, we find over four hours of bonus features. First on Disc 4 we have “Making of The Godfather” which…wait, no we don’t. This is nowhere to be found on disc four. Despite the packaging for this fourth thin-pak stating the 2001 archival extras were on disc 4 and the 2008 extras were on disc 5, I seem to have gotten a backwards copy. The fourth disc in the set, which again states the 2001 Archival Supplements are contained upon it, contain the 2008 extras while Disc 5 (“All-New 2008 Suplements”) contain the 2001 Archival Supplements. I don’t know if this is a running error in the pressing of the discs or what, but if you happen to put in disc four and get disc five in return…don’t panic (like I did). Very strange…
In any case, the 2001 Archival Supplements seem to be a complete clone of the original The Godfather bonus disc, complete with 4:3 menu. The first extra is a multi-part documentary (the “making of”) which is split into a myriad of parts. None of the extras on this disc contain a play-all feature, so you’ll be clicking around a lot before you watch it all, but the making-of runs around seventy-three minutes in length. “Additional Scenes” are presented chronologically within the Godfather universe, while “Filming Locations” gives us a look at where the film was shot. “The Corleone Family Tree” is an interactive map and “The Music of The Godfather” runs about three minutes and is an interview with composer Nino Rota and another with Carmine Coppola. Profiles of the filmmakers are included, as are photo galleries and storyboards. Next up the set is Francis Ford Coppola’s notebook, a ten minute piece that shows us how he prepared for the film, “Puzo and Coppola on Screwnriting” is a collection of interviews and “Gordon Willis on Cinematography” is a short (little over four minutes) extra that talks about the look of the film. Wrapping up the disc we have an original 1971 featurette as well clips of Academy Award footage and text-only lists of awards. As you can tell by my writing, this original 2001 disc is a bit haphazardly categorized, so it’s a bit difficult to figure out what order, if any, these extras are supposed to go in.
Moving over to the newer and better organized 2008 extras disc, we find a bunch of new featurettes to take a look at. First we have "Godfather World" (11:20), which interviews those inspired by the film (yup, The Sopranos is covered) and "The Masterpiece That Almost wasn't" (29:46) which talks about the difficulties in getting the film produced. "...when the shooting stopped" (14:19) talks about the post-production work done on the films, while "Emulsional Rescue Revealing the Godfather" (19:07) talks about the restoration process done for this 2008 release (guess I should’ve watched this extra first before digging up the old 2001 releases—would’ve saved me time seeing the differences!).
Wrapping up the set is "The Godfather on the Red Carpet" (4:04) with interviews recorded at the Cloverfield premiere with various celebrity talent (of the producer, director and actor variety) talking about their feelings about the series. The writer of Cloverfield especially gets gushy about the film and if you ever wondered what John Cho thought about the films, then here’s your chance. Finally we have "Four Short Films on The Godfather" (7:24) which are really just aborted interview bits with individuals talking about specific areas of the trilogy. A list of the 2008 production credits are included as well.
And that finally wraps up the release. There is plenty to check out here, although if you already own the 2001 releases the fifth bonus disc really isn’t all that much. Still, it’s definitely worth checking out although with the DVD and Blu-ray sets retailing for about the same price (as of this writing the Blu-ray version is actually cheaper on Amazon…as strange as that is), you may just want to spring for the Blu-ray set. Either way, this set is Highly Recommended.
The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.