The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration
1972-1990 (2008) - Paramount
Released on Blu-ray Disc on September 23th, 2008
Film Ratings (I/II/III): A/A+/B-
Video (1-20): 19.5
Audio (1-20): 18.5
All right... I'm going to say three things right up front about this title. First, I guarantee that some yahoo with a DVD review website on the Net is going to crack this case open, spin the discs for five minutes each, and then say that the films look like crap and the set sucks. Second, this person will be wrong in the extreme, and will have just revealed themselves as both a non-expert and an idiot.
Third and finally, Paramount's The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration is, in my opinion, the current favorite for best Blu-ray Disc release of 2008... at the very least in terms of classic film presentation and restoration in high-def, if not overall. Yes, it's that good.
Now, we've reviewed these films before here at The Bits, so I'm not going to get into a discussion of the films themselves. Suffice it to say, these are among the most important and influential American films ever made, and if you're any kind of self-respecting film enthusiast, you already know that. What you may not have known, however, was just how badly these films had deteoriated over the years. The original negatives are in disastrous condition, which meant that if a new restoration wasn't done now, the first film (and possibly the second as well) would simply have been lost to us in any kind of quality presentation. Thankfully, a couple years ago, director Francis Ford Coppola contacted Steven Spielberg (then newly partnered with Paramount and Viacom) to see if Spielberg might be able to use his clout to help save the films. This he did, and so a complete physical and digital restoration was eventually done under the supervision of our very own Robert A. Harris and his Film Preserve (with the help of many talented artists - and artists they are, believe me). To make a very long and complex story short, the best photochemical elements from around the world were gathered, allowing the films to be reconstructed literally piece by piece. The footage was then scanned in 4K resolution so that print damage could be repaired digitally and the original color-timing could be recreated precisely. The result is that the films have not only been rebuilt and saved, they've been restored to quality as good or better than the original theatrical presentations - quality consulted upon and approved by both Coppola and cinematographer Gordon Willis. The bonus of all this effort, is this new Blu-ray Disc release, which captures the films in their most pure and most perfect presentation quality to date (particularly for home viewing), and which accordingly belongs in the collection of EVERY serious film aficionado.
Now... I've seen these films projected theatrically a number of times over the years. But I had NEVER seen them looking as good as they do now. Last year, Adam and I had the good fortune to see the newly-restored Godfather and Godfather, Part II projected in 2K digital at the Ross Theatre on the Warner lot (where much of the restoration work was done by the good folks at MPI). It was a jaw-dropping experience. So I can tell you from firsthand experience that these Blu-rays capture exactly the essence of that experience.
Fans will know that Willis worked very carefully to give these films a particular look. They have a certain grain texture, the color palette is washed with a specific "brassy yellow" patina, the whites are a hair overblown, the blacks are crushed such that there's little detail in them. All of this was by design. Willis wanted the films to have a certain look and feel, reminiscent in many ways of an old photograph. This is exactly what's been captured on Blu-ray - the films just as Willis and Coppola meant for them to look. What this also means, of course, is that these discs don't have "The Look and Sound of Perfect." If you buy these discs expecting quality that's like looking out a window, you're going to be disappointed. You're going to see light grain and lots of it. You're going to see some shots that aren't as sharp as you're used to in films like... say... Wall-E. You're going to see subdued colors and shadows with very little detail (so you MUST watch these discs in a completely darkened room to enjoy the films properly). You're going to hear Dolby TrueHD audio that's largely front-biased, with only light and atmospheric use of the surrounds. But let me tell you, while this might not be PERFECT video and audio on Blu-ray, it damn sure is perfectly RIGHT. The experience of The Godfather on Blu-ray is simply a revelation, and I'll guarantee that the vast majority of you have NEVER see these films at this high level of quality before.
As if the restored, high-definition image quality wasn't enough to justify this set's purchase, Paramount has seen fit to include a great batch of bonus material as well, including EVERY SINGLE EXTRA THAT WAS ON THE PREVIOUS DVD COLLECTION BOX SET. You get all three audio commentaries by Coppola. You get all the deleted scenes. You get all the featurettes, all the storyboards and the filmmaker bios. You get the Family Tree, you get the photo galleries. You even get all four Easter eggs (in roughly the same place they were on the DVD set) AND a new one as well. Plus you get the trailers, now presented in HD. That's just for starters - and keep in mind, all of that material was pretty awesome in its own right.
But there's newly-produced material here too, exclusive to this Blu-ray release, all of it in full HD - something like 2 hours worth of new featurettes in all, including new interviews with Coppola, Willis, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and many other filmmakers, technical people and more. The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn't (30 mins) examines the history of the production and how, as you might guess, it almost never came to be. Godfather World (11 mins) features filmmakers, actors and others discussing the impact of the film. When the Shooting Stopped (14 mins) features stories from the editing room and post production by those who were involved. The best of the new material, in my opinion, is Emulsional Rescue: Revealing The Godfather (19 mins) in which Harris and others talk about the process and the effort involved in restoring these films. There's a ton of interesting information here on the subject of restoration, all well explained and illustrated. Of less interest is The Godfather on the Red Carpet (4 mins) in which various actors and celebrities comment on the films. And the "four short films" (The Godfather vs. The Godfather, Part II, Cannoli, Riffing on the Riffing and Clemenza) are basically just short bits of interview footage that didn't really fit anywhere else - interesting stories, anecdotes, etc. (They're not actually self-contained films in their own right, just so you know.) Also newly-included (if unremarkable) are a "wedding album" with about a dozen photos taken on set during Connie and Carlo's wedding from the first film, as well as a Crime Organization Chart that allows you to read the FBI rap sheets on each of the key members of the Corleone crime organization. Finally, you get a liner notes booklet that's stuck to the back of the slipcase with that weird rubbery glue that isn't really glue. Oddly, it's just slightly too big to actually fit INTO the slipcase, but I solved that problem by trimming the top of the booklet just slightly with a pair of scissors. (Once you do that, it tucks into the case just fine.) The bottom line of all this - what you really need to know - is that the old extras were fantastic and they're all here, and most (if not quite all) of the new extras are great too, making what was already a fantastic set just that much better.
People often ask me, "Why Blu-ray?" Well, folks... THIS is why. Sets like The Godfather (and last year's Close Encounters and Blade Runner sets) are EXACTLY why serious film fans should upgrade to Blu-ray. The very best thing about this format, in my opinion, is not its ability to show off the latest eye-candy blockbusters in total perfection. No, the best thing about Blu-ray is its ability to show you films that you've loved, in some cases for your ENTIRE life, in the kind of quality you've NEVER seen them in before. The kind of quality that was only ever available in a handful of the very best theatres when the films were first released. If you love the cinema, Blu-ray releases like this are a revelation, that serve to expand that love and appreciation even more. And isn't that, after all, what home video formats like DVD and Blu-ray are all about? The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration is a jewel, and should be regarded - along with Warner's How the West Was Won on Blu-ray - as a new benchmark for the presentation of classic films in high-definition.