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Friday, October 17, 2008
  DVD Review: The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration

This review will be a little different because, as you can see, I’m reviewing Paramount’s beautiful new DVD set of The Godfather. And as everyone knows, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 adaptation of Mario Puzo’s bestselling novel is, quite rightly, considered one of the greatest American films ever made, and it’s sequel is, again rightly, widely held as the greatest sequel of all time, and is regarded by many to be an improvement over the first (an opinion I happen to share). I really don’t think there’s much I could say about the first two Godfather films that haven’t been said. They’re both absolutely brilliant, staggeringly well-made, and everyone should see them.

What I am going to do is spend a little time talking about The Godfather Part III, the red-headed stepchild of the series. I hadn’t actually gotten around to seeing it until reviewing it for this set, and it was sort of the film I was most looking forward to watching as I went through the movies chronologically.

As far as I can tell, Godfather Part III was largely regarded as a failure (the prefix “colossal” being optional) when originally released in 1990, though I’m sure it made money – I was 11 at the time of its release, so forgive me if I get a detail or two wrong here, I’m writing from memory – based solely on the fact that it was a third Godfather movie. But in the years since its release, people seem to have warmed to it somewhat. It’s certainly not a bad movie by any stretch, and I think one of the reasons time has been kind to it in many peoples’ minds is that, on its release, there was almost no way it could live up to the original two in terms of quality, and I can’t imagine what the hype of a third Godfather film, coming almost two decades after Part II, had surrounding it when it opened. But I imagine that for film buffs it was similar to what geeks experienced when Star Wars: Episode I came out in 1997.

I realize I’m about to surrender a lot of my film-critic cred here, but the Star Wars prequel comparison kept popping into my head while watching Part III. In both cases the filmmaker returned to the series (“franchise” seems like too crass a word to use to refer to the first two Godfather movies) that made him famous, and in both cases said filmmaker fills the new work with ham-fisted references to the beloved earlier films in a transparent attempt to “recapture the magic” of the originals. And as much as I found the nearly-universal criticisms of Sofia Coppola’s performance in Part III to be absolutely bang-on (she’s so bad that she’s totally compelling), she’s certainly no Jar-Jar Binks.

As much as, on a purely personally level, the Star Wars prequels ignite enough nerd nostalgia in me (“nerdstalgia”? There’s no way someone else didn’t come up with that first) that I actually enjoy them. But I won’t defend them, because the sober film critic in me realizes that they are simply bad movies. Godfather III has some very good stuff in it: Andy Garcia’s performance, in which he fuses characteristics from Al Pacino’s Michael, James Caan’s Sonny and John Cazale’s Fredo, is almost enough to balance out Sofia Coppola’s awfulness (almost), and I thought the helicopter attack near the beginning was excellent. Again, nothing as good as the first two, but that doesn’t mean it’s not well-done. Watching The Godfather Part III with Coppola’s audio commentary helped put the film in context as well. The filmmaker recorded the commentary for the trilogy’s first DVD release in 2001, and as with most commentary tracks, the passage of time allows him to speak honestly and openly about what works and what doesn’t. The impression he gives about Part III was that he basically made it because he had to, financially. He was still recovering from his failed attempt to run his own movie studio, and took up Paramount’s standing offer to make a third Godfather movie, probably about as close to a sure thing as, well, three new Star Wars movies. But Coppola didn’t have the clout he did on Part II, and says Paramount was firm on making its Christmas release date – about six months before it really would have been ready, by the director’s estimation here. Basically Coppola explains the things he was going for, and is pretty frank about when he feels it doesn’t quite work as well as it could.

I also have to mention the quality of these DVDs. The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration features slightly longer cuts of the first two movies – I’m not enough of a geek for them to have noticed where the extra few minutes were added in – overseen by the director himself, as well as gorgeously restored picture and sound. They look incredible on standard DVD, and I can only imagine how fantastic the high-definition Blu-Ray versions look.

Overall, The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration comes with about as high a recommendation as I can offer. These are some of the best movies ever made, and they’ve literally never looked better. If you never got around to picking up the 2001 DVD set, then your wait was worth it. If you already have the 2001 DVDs, then this set is definitely worth the double-dip.

GRADE: Godfather, Godfather Part II: A+, Godfather Part III: B


The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration is one of probably the best DVD package I’ve seen since Warner’s five-disc Blade Runner set from last year. The films look amazing, and the extras are just about perfectly balanced. There’s a ton of fascinating material about the movies – Paramount was famously down on Coppola pretty much all the way through production on the original, to the point of having the replacement director they’d chosen on set in the event of Coppola’s seemingly inevitable firing. There’s two full discs of extras, one full of brand new material created for this release and one disc of bonus materials from the trilogy’s 2001 DVD release, which was already quite in-depth. (One weird detail I noticed – the disc art that says “All-New 2008 Supplements” and “2001 Archival Supplements” are actually reversed, which was pretty confusing at first.)

My favourite material, aside from Coppola’s excellent audio commentaries on all three movies, was the 2008 stuff. There’s a really cool featurette called ‘Godfather World,’ about the movies’ lasting appeal and cultural legacy, with interviews from all sorts of seemingly random people, including Alec Baldwin, Trey Parker of South Park and Guillermo del Toro, all of whom provide great Godfather-related anecdotes and observations. And Joe Mantegna referring to the original two movies as “the Italian Star Wars” is one of the best lines I’ve heard in a DVD featurette in a long time.

There’s another piece called ‘The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t,’ about the original film’s troubled production. It’s fascinating stuff, especially considering the movie’s legacy, and it’s fun to snicker at the Paramount execs in the ‘70s who tried to fight tooth and nail against Al Pacino’s casting. There’s also a featurette on the restoration process for these new DVDs, and a look at the post-production process, editing and so forth, on the movies. Also included is a set of four “short films” on The Godfather, none of which run more than a few minutes, and they’re all lots of fun, like famous fans of the films comparing the merits of the original versus Part II. All the extras strike a balance between serious examinations of these truly groundbreaking films and a more fun stuff, like Alec Baldwin likening The Godfather to a drug (“It takes away your free will. You’re going to watch it whether you planned on it or not.”).

The 2001 extras include some deleted scenes (some of which were included in the television version of Godfather Part II, which was longer), filmmaker bios and photo galleries, as well as a Corleone Family Tree. There’s also a collection of featurettes, some created for the 2001 DVD. The most in-depth and interesting one is a mini-documentary that seems to have been prepared for television to promote the theatrical release of The Godfather Part III, which includes interviews with just about the entire cast and crew of all three movies. There are also features on Coppola’s screenwriting process with original Godfather author Mario Puzo, cinematographer Gordon Willis and original storyboards, as well as a making-of featurette from 1974 about the success of the original movie.

Between the wealth of quality extras, Coppola’s genuinely compelling commentary tracks and the gorgeously restored picture and sound, The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration is on the shortlist of candidates for best DVD release of 2008. This set has my highest possible recommendation.

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