A Glimpse at the Definitive 50th Anniversary 4K Set
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather isn’t simply a film, it’s a part of the fabric of American culture. Since the film’s release on March 24, 1972 it’s permanently affixed itself to our collective zeitgeist as a classic and the prototype for everything in the gangster genre that followed. The story of an Italian immigrant and his American dream and how that dream was unwillingly passed to his son is something that resonated with so many, and still does to this day. It’s a film that’s been quoted, copied and parodied countless times and it’s also the film that heralded one of the greatest directors living today Francis Ford Coppola. Paramount is releasing the Godfather trilogy in time for its 50th anniversary in a restored version from recently discovered elements, along with a newly recut Godfather 3.
Inspired by a mix of the real life five families that ruled NY, and The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, the first film transpires in the late 40s and early 50s during a pivotal moment in New York organized crime. While gambling and prostitution have been profitable rackets for the families. It’s Vito Corleone’s (Marlon Brando) hard pass on the opportunity to incorporate the hard drug trade into his racket that is used as a transitional moment between Don Vito’s more benevolent reign, to his son Michael’s (Al Pacino) more malevolent approach to business. Vito’s stance and character was inspired by real life boss Frank Costello who also shied away from the drug trade much to the dismay of those around him, with the boss preferring corruption and influence over violence as the means to his end; he also died of a heart attack at 80. An attempted assassination of Vito turns into an all out gang war between the families resulting in the death of the apparent air to the Corleone family — Vito’s eldest son, Santino “Sonny” Corleone (James Caan).
This tragic turn of events has Michael Corleone, played here by a young cocksure Al Pacino — who swore off the family business in favor of a “civilian” life, avenging his father and reluctantly taking over the family. The second film has Michael looking to expand west with the casino business in the early days of Las Vegas. Michael’s rise in The Godfather Part 2 is contrasted by flashbacks of his father’s ascension from coming to America alone as mute child who doesn’t speak English, to becoming one of the most influential bosses of his time. After an attempt on Michael’s life, the machinations of the plot are set into motion as he is forced to find out who didn’t want this Las Vegas deal to go down. As the film ends Michael discovers the culprits and the price paid is, his wife Kay Adams-Corleone (Diane Keaton) leaving him and killing a blood family member who we discover was in on the plot.
The third film takes place in 1979 and has Michael Corleone now 60 years-old and some what wiser. He’s on the precipice of greatness as he’s about to legitimize the family business through a deal with the Catholic church that incorporates the Corleone family’s wealth into a fictionalized account of the real Papal banking scandal of 81–82. It’s Michael’s attempted exit from organized crime and his reluctance to allow other families into his deal with the church that causes yet another all out war. This has the aging gangster both recognizing the cycle of violence that he’s trapped in, while also being forced to perpetuate it to save himself and protect his family. Michael here in an attempt to gain forgiveness from Kay and retain the love of his children, openly reflects and laments on how and why he chose this life and his regrets along the way. Unsurprisingly the end here is a tragic one as Michael steps down as a Sicilian assassin has been dispatched to take him out at his son’s operatic performance in of the most tense third acts in recent memory.
The Godfather Trilogy explores the cyclical nature of violence and trauma through the years as we see how the violence impacted on Vito Corleone influenced and impacted two generations afterward. This culminates in Godfather 3 as Michael in his attempt to rekindle a friendship with his ex-wife is forced to reckon with his past with a perspective informed by making choices that killed and drove away the family he loved and should have held dear. It’s a rough lesson learned, but one only afforded by experience, that he attempts to impart on Sonny’s hotheaded bastard son Vincent (Andy Garcia). It’s a lesson that appears to be headed by Vincent, but not by his daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola), who still thinks the rumors about her father’s organized crime ties are nothing but fairytales. Personally I think being responsible for the downfall of one of the most famous and beloved cinematic gangsters could possibly be one of the reasons behind the vitriol for Sofia Coppola’s performance here. Its not bad, but I mean anyone in contrast to Diane Keaton and Al Pacino is ice skating up hill.
If you still wish to have Blu-rays of the film, you might want to hold on to your 2008 remaster discs or purchase them separately. The three films come one each to a 4k disc and are the result of a new remaster that took place in 2020 in honor of the film’s 50th anniversary. This was also the impetus behind the new cut of Godfather 3, where Coppola recut the film after years of honing his craft. This Coda version is a hefty improvement and in my mind put the film in the same league as its predecessors. There were also numerous practical reasons given for this rescan, not just the anniversary, but the restoration technology had evolved quite a bit since the 2008 “Coppola” scan and more materials were available. Newly discovered elements were found to supplement the heavily damaged original negatives for the first two films to provide a more definite transfer of the films. What happened to the negatives you ask, of one of the most important films of the last century? Well this quote from Coppola really sums it up perfectly.
“The studio system, which was so good at doing so much, was always weak at this question of preservation. The Godfather was uncannily successful in its time. But Paramount was very unprepared for that success. Suddenly it found itself showing in New York in five theaters, because there was such a demand to see it, and then in other places all over the world. Instead of saying, let’s preserve the original negative because it’s going to be a valuable asset, they basically wore it out something awful because they used it to make so many prints. The prints started to be so unlike what the movie really should look like.”
That being said this is how a “Normal” release print is created:
- The original negative is printed onto stock that comes out as an interpositive. Often, two interpositives were made, one to be archived and one to continue through the process.
- The interpositive is color timed (to balance the scenes) into the internegative.
- The internegative makes the positive release print.
This destruction of the negative through print replication is especially concerning the cinematography by Gordon Willis, who was known to have shot the look of the film completely in camera. He pushed the lights and darks in such a way to prevent anyone tinkering with the brightness or contrast of the image he shot in the lab later. This was also story specific given the pitch black scenes where the family business is being discussed, and the bright scenes of family celebration and unity. I mean this could also be why all the prints were struck from the original negative, given the film was already color timed in such a way with the film’s sepia look created in camera, so there possibly was no need for an internegative and since that was never created they just went right to the source. I am just putting forth a hypothesis as to possibly why this wasn’t done from an internegative, as was the norm.
Now with that being said, it’s probably safe to say the film has never looked this good even on its initial theatrical run. Coppola has not only restored the image to 4K, but also used HDR to further enhance the patina of the film for modern projections. The blacks here are inky and the colors are vibrant and look pleasing, without feeling artificial or too modern. The image quality is a bit inconsistent at times during the first two films in respect to sourcing, but that’s the nature of this restoration. One thing I did notice thanks to the clarity of the image was the intricacies of the performances, Brando’s facial tics, the hesitancy of a line almost uttered, those are things I’ve never noticed before that give certain performances a different perception from the audience. All of the extras from previous sets come on a Blu-ray and you have both the original cut of Godfather 3 and the new cut both on their respective 4Ks.
- Full Circle: Preserving The Godfather (16 minutes): This extra tracks the restoration work done on the movie, which started in 2007 and has continued off and on since then, as technology has improved and enabled better preservation methods.
- Capturing the Corleones: Through the Lens of Photographer Steve Schapiro (13 minutes): The on-set photographer looks back on his work on the movie, which involved getting the gig in exchange for guaranteeing that Life magazine would put The Godfather on the cover. Copious amounts of his photos are included, of course.
- The Godfather: Home Movies (9 minutes): This is a batch of silent on-set footage that was shot in 8mm during principal photography on Staten Island in 1971. The iconic Godfather score plays over it.
- Restoration Comparisons (10.5 minutes): Some of this is shown in the Full Circle extra, but here we have uninterrupted examples of various restored scenes from the first two films, with the 2007 version compared against the new one.
Here’s the Bonus Features from previous releases:
- The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t (29.75 minutes): Some of the greatest films in cinema history were created under incredible duress, and The Godfather is one of them. Coppola is joined by George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Sopranos creator David Chase, and others as he recounts his fight with the studio to get the movie made the way he wanted to.
- Godfather World (11 minutes): This is a look at the ways the movies have infiltrated American culture, with comments from Chase, actor Joe Mantegna, Alex Baldwin, and others.
- Emulsional Rescue: Revealing the Godfather (19 minutes): This is the original featurette that was created to discuss what was at the time a cutting-edge restoration of the movies.
- …When the Shooting Stopped (14 minutes): This featurette discusses Paramount’s attempt to cut the first movie down to 130 minutes, per their insistence that it not be longer than that, only to discover that doing so was impossible if the story was going to work. The other two movies are touched on too.
- The Godfather on the Red Carpet (4 minutes): No, this isn’t from a red carpet premiere of the first movie. It’s from the premiere of Cloverfield and it features a variety of celebrity from that red carpet talking about the movie.
- Four Short Films on The Godfather (7.5 minutes): These are four quick films broken into different topics, such as all the quotable lines from the movies and the comparison between the first two films.
- A Look Inside (73.5 minutes): This is a nice meaty making-of from 1990 that focuses mostly on the first two movies, with the third film viewed through rose-colored glasses since its release was imminent at the time. There’s plenty of behind-the-scenes footage to be found here, including some interesting Godfatherscreen tests, such as Robert DeNiro trying out for the role of Sonny.
- On Location (7 minutes): A tour of the various locations used for shooting.
- Francis Coppola’s Notebook (10 minutes): The director shows a notebook he kept while shooting the first movie. He used it to keep meticulous track of what he was shooting and says that he could have used it instead of a script.
- Music of The Godfather (8.75 minutes): This featurette covers the work of composer Nino Rota, who wrote the iconic “Godfather Waltz,” as well as Francis Ford Coppola’s father Carmine, who created music for all three films.
- Coppola & Puzo on Screenwriting (8 minutes): The pair talk about their collaboration on all three films.
- Gordon Willis on Cinematography (3.5 minutes): The director of photography talks about his work on the films.
- The Godfather Behind the Scenes 1971 (9 minutes): This is one of those old school (very old school) promotional videos that were created way back when to pitch movies to theater owners.
The last time I viewed these films were on DVD, and to be honest my perspective on them has evolved as much as Michael’s perspective from Godfather 1 to 3. Watching these films on my home setup in a darkened room reminded me why these films deserve to be seen on the big screen. They have since transcended into pure Americana, the story of an immigrant coming to America and three generations of his family who followed them. It’s a take on the American dream, inspired by very real stories. While the gangster element is there, it’s used as a sometimes heavy handed metaphor to dig into family, the cycle of violence some families perpetuate and the very real story of the relationship between a father and son. This set is about as definitive as it comes thankfully and the archivists at Paramount have really outdone themselves restoring this film to the closest approximation of what unspooled in theaters in 1972.
Now, want to win a 4K digital copy of the set? Simply comment with your favorite parody/tribute/ripoff of Godfather below and I will pick one winner April 1st to get a digital code for all three films. Good Luck!
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