(Movie review originally written in 2001)
With a classic film like "The Godfather", it's difficult to go over ground that hasn't been covered before. Still, I will discuss opinions on why I think it's an important picture. Elements like the fact that Ford Coppola, working with a terrific screenplay and a marvelous crew, has created this world from top-to-bottom through great production designs and cinematography. The film doesn't even seem dated years later.
The film stars a wide variety of highly talented actors, all of whom are working with superbly written and well-crafted characters. Many of these individuals are introduced effectively in the film's opening sequence at a wedding. The film opens with Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) in his study, bringing in various folks who would like to ask a favor of the Godfather on his daughter's wedding day. One of the people we meet is Michael Corelone, the son of the family who is looking to get away from the family business and marry Kay (Diane Keaton). Vito unfortunately becomes the subject of an attack, resulting in Michael being pulled farther back into the family business.
It's entertaining, fascinating and occasionally shocking to listen to director Francis Ford Coppola's stories about the studio's worries and anxiety over what was going on during filming, since the elements were obviously in place to make a strong picture from the get-go. The film itself is nothing short of a dream cast - besides the incredible set of leads in Brando and Pacino, there's wonderful support from Robert Duvall, James Caan, Diane Keaton and a wealth of others. The film's crew was also terrific; Gordon Willis's dark, rich and textured cinematography still remains haunting and effective. Dean Tavoularis's production design offers an incredible amount of detail, as well. Last, but not least, there's Nino Rota's classic score. Losing none of its power years later, "The Godfather" remains a masterpiece.
One of the bigger cinematic arguements of all time seems to be whether or not the sequel to "The Godfather" surpasses the original. Although the sequel does present a wider scope and more than one story, it works nicely as a companion piece to the original. The first story continues the story of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), who has taken over the family business from father Vito (Marlon Brando in the original). The second story goes backwards in time and shows the audience Vito (Robert Deniro this time)'s rise to power.
The different stories could have been awkwardly put together, but director Francis Ford Coppola handles the transitions between the two quite well; there's nothing jarring about going back and forth to rejoin the events of the other tale. Both are equally interesting, as well. I especially enjoyed Deniro's performance as the young Vito, as he starts to become colder and more calculating, overthrowing the local leader. Although Deniro's performance isn't quite as memorable as Brando's, he does make the character his own and becomes bigger and bolder as the film goes forward. Pacino's performance is equally enjoyable; a subtle, but confident effort that - like his role in the first picture - was nominated for an Oscar (unfortunately, he won for neither).
The script by director Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo is, as with the first picture, wonderfully written and detailed. The dialogue is fascinating and the story is well-structured. Interestingly enough, one of the elements where I do feel that the second feature is somewhat more enjoyable than the first is the area of pacing. Although the second feature is longer than the first and the longest of the three at nearly three and a half hours, it seems to move faster than the other two. The editing by Barry Malkin (who also worked on Ford Coppola's "Rainmaker"), Richard Marks (the upcoming "Riding In Cars With Boys") and Peter Zinner ("Officer and A Gentleman") keep the film moving and the story flowing smoothly. Two additional crew members whose work was wonderful on the original picture, cinematographer Gordon Willis (whose work captures the atmosphere even better here) and production designer Dean Tavoularis, also return to shine in their roles again here.
We seem to live in a period where many films that achieve some sort of mild to moderate success opens up the possibility for a sequel, but it seems that the only difference is higher salaries for those involved, since they've achieved some success with the original. Yet, less thought and ambition always seems to go into the pictures after the original. "Godfather Part 2" had the studio stepping back after being nervous about the production of the first film and simply letting Ford Coppola do his business. The filmmaker certainly had a difficult task ahead of him to continue this story with many of these characters at the same level, but he really succeeded and pulled it off remarkably well.
Although "Godfather III" has been largely criticized as the weakest of the three, but still, the film is certainly still a great one with some terrific moments. It seems that it simply didn't live up to the expectations that many had, given the third film came out 16 years after the sequel. The film itself opens 20 years later, in 1979 New York City. Michael is older, but has two children and has amassed a great deal of wealth.
Although it seems as if Michael is carrying the business into more legitimate areas, there are problems that have arisen. Michael's son Anthony doesn't want anything to do with the family business, and instead of his father's desired profession for him (a lawyer), he decides that he'd much rather be a singer. We also meet Vincent (Andy Garcia), a young man with a violent temper and a desire to get into the previous family business. His rage against local small-time boss Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna) turns things darker. Vincent's love for Mary and her love for him also brings further danger to the proceedings.
There are few things better than a great Pacino performance and this is a massively entertaining one. A bit older, Pacino's sandpaper-rough voice commands the attention like nothing else. Powerful when subtly watching other characters and studying the situation or during an intense outburst, Pacino has simply gotten better and better and better over the years. Although many have criticized the performance of young Sofia Coppola, I actually still think she was pretty good for not having really acted in anything else before this. It's too bad that Robert Duvall didn't return for this effort, but Joe Mantegna and Andy Garcia give fine supporting performances. The only one who really doesn't do much here in support is George Hamilton.
The film is, as with the other two films, technically superb. Dean Tavoularis continues providing strong production design, Gordon Willis returns with his marvelously rich cinematography and "Godfather III" also re-united Coppola with famous editor and sound designer Walter Murch, who worked with Ford Coppola on such classics as "The Conversation" and "Apocalypse Now".
Yes, "Godfather III" isn't up to the same level as the previous two films, but I still think it does provide some solid performances, especially a fantastic one from Pacino.
VIDEO: The films are all presented in 1.85:1 (1080p/AVC). The films have undergone an extensive restoration process (supervised by Coppola, cinematographer Gordon Willis and film historian Robert Harris; a featurette on the restoration is also included) for this release and the results do certainly impress. The trilogy of classic films certainly deserves to be treated with respect, and these transfers absolutely shine. Although the films have a slightly soft appearance by intent, the level of clarity is significantly improved over the previous release. The Blu-Ray edition does better the DVD release in some regards, as definition was stronger throughout the films. Some finer details were also more clearly visible, and the image often was even a little smoother in appearance than the excellent DVD presentation.
Although I wouldn't have been surprised to still see some scattered wear on the elements used, there was actually very little wear present aside from a couple of minor specks and marks here-and-there. I doubt the film has looked this fresh and clean since it was originally released. Some light grain was spotted, but was hardly even noticeable during most scenes. No edge enhancement, pixelation or other faults were seen.
Colors do look different here than they did on the previous DVD release, although given the involvement of Coppola and Willis, one has to believe that they are - as the box notes - trying to present the films in the way that they originally intended them to look. The intentional sepia/golden tone of the films is richer and warmer here than on the prior release. While colors were otherwise on the slightly subdued side, bolder colors definitely looked more vivid (a little bit moreso on the Blu-Ray than the DVD) when they appeared. Black level also looked quite a bit stronger and deeper on this release, too.
All three films look considerably younger than their ages, and these presentations are definitely an upgrade over the previous release. While the third and newest of the bunch obviously does look a little more new and vibrant than the other two, the first and second films still certainly look younger than their age would indicate. I can't really imagine the films looking much better than they do here.
SOUND: Audio has been restored on this release for all three films, which are all presented on the Blu-Ray in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The three pictures are largely dialogue-driven, but the remixed audio does attempt to spread the audio nicely across the front soundstage, with minimal & appropriate use of the rear speakers. The surrounds kick in here-and-there to provide some reinforcement of the classic score, as well as some minor ambience. The Dolby TrueHD presentations did sound slightly cleaner, fuller and more natural than the Dolby Digital 5.1 presentations on the DVD edition. The first and second films offer the original mono soundtracks.
EXTRAS: The set provides both new extras and the return of the extras from the prior set. Note: the DVD set has each disc packaged in its own slim case and stored in a slipcover box. The Blu-Ray set has all four discs housed in one case and the case slips into a smaller version of the DVD slipcover box.
Below are the extras from the first DVD set, which are carried over here (and are presented in SD):
Commentary: This is a commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola. I've enjoyed the director's commentary tracks that he's provided for several pictures now and this one is no less entertaining and informative. The director has a wealth of stories about what it was like to work on the production - as well as quite a few stories about the studio's unease about how the film was going, as Ford Coppola talks about feeling like he'd be getting fired during several periods while the movie was filming. Ford Coppola also provides a lot of insight about working with the actors and also, changing the way that the story was originally going to be told. A strong commentary and the director only has a few minor gaps of silence here and there, which is impressive, given the fact that the film is nearly three hours.
Commentary: This is a commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola. Although this track from the director for the second film remains very interesting and informative, I found it a little less engaging than the commentary for the first film. Where on that track he discussed the amount of problems that he came up against while making the movie, here he mainly discusses the story elements, working with the actors and some production history. There is some discussion about how the director was able to get the studio to back away and allow him to keep control this time around, but the majority of the commentary has the director commenting on plot elements and analyzing characters and events.
Commentary: Director Francis Ford Coppola returns for another full-length commentary track for the third picture. Coppola provided interesting and informative commentaries for the first two pictures, talking about the stories and characters and also going into production details and chatting about the problems he faced. For the third picture, the director does still discuss some of the production details as well as story and character intentions, but he also does talk about the reaction that the picture came up against when it was released and defends some of the elements that some people didn't apparently care for. Overall, I liked this track and Ford Coppola offers some enjoyable thoughts and stories about the final film in the trilogy and the series in general, but there seemed to be a few more pauses of silence throughout this track than the others.
Behind-The-Scenes: A beautifully produced and highly informative 73-minute piece, this is a very engaging effort that really drew me in and held me there. Containing lots of interviews and video from across the years, there is some wonderful moments as Ford Coppola sits at meetings with other members of the production crew and gets quite emotional while descibing what he would like to have for certain sequences. Intercut with these behind-the-scenes elements are interviews with Ford Coppola (who also looks like he's in the middle of sitting down for a big meal while discussing the picture several times here), James Caan, Pacino, Duvall and others, who discuss their thoughts about the trilogy and their characters. The featured individual though, is Ford Coppola, who is occasionally quite animated, even doing a rather good Brando impression at one point (although Matthew Brodrick does a somewhat better one in the "Recording The Producers" DVD that's just out now).
There's a lot more to the documentary that will likely prove very interesting for fans, though. There's quite a few clips from rehersal footage that is fairly fascinating to watch as the cast works out certain sequences. Further discussion of the problems with the studio that came up during Ford Coppola's commentary for the first track are talked about in further detail here, as well, especially in terms of casting issues. The second picture is discussed in fairly strong detail, as is the third picture, which looks like it was being done around the time of this documentary. This is a superb piece that, while certainly not extremely detailed at only 73 minutes or so, still really covers a fine amount of ground about the trilogy.
On Location: This is a newly produced 6 minute featurette that has production designer Dean Tavoularis going back to the locations that were used in the "Godfather" and discussing their role in the film. It's a nice little guided tour of the places of importance in the trilogy.
Francis Ford Coppola's Notebook: This is a 10 minute featurette that is essentially a long interview with the director, who discusses his initial impressions of the book and shows us his notebook (which is enormous) that has his thoughts on what looks like nearly every sequence. The documentary also has the director talking about his feelings on elements that he didn't want to see in the series as well as the look and tone of the films.
Music of the Godfather: This section offers an early audiotaped interview with composer Nino Rota, who plays out some of his ideas for the music of the film. Quite a cool feature and I'm suprised that the tape didn't wear out or something all these years later. The second featurette focuses on Carmine Coppola's contribution to the music.
Additional Footage: This section is set-up as a time-line, with different additional clips under the four (1892-1930, 1931-1945, 1946-1955, 1956-1997) sections. 35 clips in all are included and although the quality varies and is never particularly strong, it's fantastic to have all these clips in one place, on one disc. Fans will likely be pleased to be able to see all of these clips because, although some may not have worked in the film, they certainly still do contain some strong moments. I also would have liked to have had optional commentary from Ford Coppola discussing his feelings on their deletion from the film, but we do get the next best thing: text screens that give more information about the sequence.
Puzo and Coppola On Screenwriting: Interviews with the director and writer Puzo discuss the strong relationship that the two had while working and also offers some audio clips of the meetings between the two.
Gordon Willis On Cinematography: This is a wonderful, but short featurette that has Willis discussing the choices that he made for the look of the picture. The featurette also covers how the stylistic choices of his work here influenced other cinematographers.
Storyboards: Storyboards are presented for both the first and second feature. Although it's terrific to have these available, they are laid out in a fairly basic fashion - there's no storyboard-to-scene comparisons or anything like that.
Original 1971 Featurette: The film's original promotional featurette, now in fairly bad shape, is available to view. Rather cheesy, it's simply a nice inclusion, but it really doesn't provide any detailed information about the making of the film.
Acclaim & Response: This section includes an awards and nominations text list, along with 4 Academy Award acceptance speeches (Best Picture For I/II, Screenplay For I and Director for II) as well as the film's 1974 network TV intro.
Also: Trailers for all three movies, production photo gallery, character photo gallery, family tree (character bios) and DVD credits.
New supplements (which are all presented in HD):
"Godfather World" is a 10-minute look at the influence the "Godfather" films have had on popular culture in the years since, including everything from "The Simpsons" to "The Sopranos". We also hear from a number of celebrities who discuss their thoughts on the impact and legacy of the film. "Emulsional Rescue: Revealing the Godfather" is a 19-minute documentary that has interviews with Gordon Willis, consulting cinematographer Allen Daviau, Robert Harris, Coppola, Spielberg and others discussing the restoration of the picture, starting with the distressed state the original negative of the film was in. Willis and others discuss the visual style that Willis intended, then we see how the film went through an extraordinary and intricate restoration process.
"The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn't" is a 29-minute documentary that offers interviews with Coppola, George Lucas, Robert Evans and many others. The group discusses the state of the industry at the time, as the moguls were leaving the industry as studios were being bought up by corporations. Paramount was bought up for only $600,000 by Gulf & Western, five years before "The Godfather". The studio needed a hit - we see the appeal to the board from then studio head Robert Evans to Gulf & Western. Despite pleas from Evans (some of which were also seen in the Evans doc, "The Kid Stays in the Picture), the studio heads didn't want to make the movie due to the subject matter. While Coppola was initially reluctant, American Zoetrope was having difficult times and decided to take the helm of the film. However, the trouble didn't end there: the studio was against many of the casting decisions, then - once production started - there were rumblings that Francis Ford-Coppola was going to be replaced.
"When the Shooting Stopped" is a 14-minute documentary that discusses the events after the first film wrapped, including disagreements with Evans, editing and the second and third films. "Godfather on the Red Carpet" is a bizarre featurette that goes on for a few minutes and interviews various people at the "Cloverfield" premiere about their thoughts on the "Godfather" films. I liked "Cloverfield", but interviewing people about "The Godfather" at the premiere of "Cloverfield" seems more than a little random.
Final Thoughts: The legendary trilogy of films gets exemplary treatment on this new Blu-Ray set, where all three films look marvelous, appearing fresher and richer than ever before (and, in some regards in terms of presentation quality, improved over the "Coppola Restoration" DVD set) on home video. While a couple of the new extras seem a little like filler, "When the Shooting Stopped", "The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn't" and "Emulsional Rescue" are pretty fascinating. Recommended. Those who have Blu-Ray players should seek out the Blu-Ray edition, which - as of the writing of this review - is available for the same price as the DVD set on Amazon.com.