The Godfather Trilogy on Blu-ray Disc
Paramount Makes Us an Offer We Can't Refuse, with the Coppola Restoration
The first two Godfather movies were the films that really put Francis Ford Coppola on the map. He has made other films, arguably better and worse, but it will be the Godfathers and Apocalypse Now for which this masterl director will be known forever.
And with good reason. The Godfather movies aren't as innovative as Apocalypse Now, but they're great movies nonetheless.
And now Paramount has released the entire Godfather trilogy in one four disc Blu-ray set, and it's a nice one. The movies take up the first three discs, with the fourth reserved for oodles of interesting extras.
But more about that later.
Despite Part III's general trashing when it came out, it makes an excellent end piece for the story of Michael Corleone, which is actually what the trilogy is all about. Despite Marlon Brando's formidable presence in Part I, and Robert DeNiro's excellent portrayal of the young Godfather in Part II, it isn't really Don Vito Corleone's story. Rather, it's about the rise and fall of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), a reluctant anti-hero who as a young World War II veteran knows exactly where he's heading in his life - until family ties and responsibilities change his path irrevocably.
When his father, Don Vito (Brando) is gunned down in a mafia hit, the only strategy left to the family (and which is suggested by Michael) is for Mike to gun down Virgil Solozzo (Al Lettieri) the mobster involved and his corrupt cop escort (Sterling Hayden). This forces Michael to break off his engagement to Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) and enter the family business, something he did reluctantly because it was necessary in order to save the family itself.
He goes to Sicily to hide out while a gang war erupts back home in New York City. While there he falls in love and marries a local girl - but the reach of his enemies is long and she is killed in a failed attempt on Michael's life.
Once back in the USA, the baton of family power is passed to Michael, the new Don Corleone, and he vows to himself to take the family from the criminal element to legitimacy.
But first he has a few scores to settle, and this is done with dispatch, so to speak.
Part II interweaves a new plotline (Michael as Don) and parts of the original book (the Young Vito Corleone, as played by DeNiro) that didn't make it into the first movie. The DeNiro sections document Vito's flight from Sicily, establishment in New York, and his rise to become Don. It's good stuff, and DeNiro - as usual - plays the part beautifully. Vito sees his rise to criminal power not only as an opportunity to profit, but an opportunity to see that justice (as he sees it) is done is his little part of the world.
Meanwhile, Don Michael has moved the family away from New York to a beautiful compound on Lake Tahoe in Nevada, close to the family's new business empire of casinos and hotels. A businessman first and mafiosa second, Michael looks to make deals, resorting to violence only when necessary but unleashing it mercilessly when it is necessary. His new deals involve holdings in Cuba, just as the government is overthrown and Castro comes to power and he escapes from the island by the skin of his teeth.
Old habits die hard, and Michael's business associates still live and die by the old school of mafia conduct. This leads to attempts on the lives of Michael's family that force him to take the appropriate retaliation.
A subplot involves a Congressional investigation into organized crime and Michael is in danger of being put away for perjury if not for some lucky connections.
Part III picks up about twenty years later. Lake Tahoe has been abandoned and the Corleone family is back in New York, but running a legitimate and extremely lucrative enterprise. Michael seems to have made his dream of a legitimate family come true, though at the cost of his wife and kids and much else that he loved.
His past continues to dog him, however, and every time it appears he's made a clean break from his criminal past he gets dragged kicking and screaming back in. His enterprises involve becoming a huge multinational cartel and the plot weaves together business and religious intrigue, crime, love of family, salvation and retribution.
In some ways this is the best of the three installments, though most critics will probably not agree. But it takes the Godfather saga from that of being merely the recounting of a famous crime family and turns it into an American tragedy that's really quite moving.
All the actors in all three parts are terrific, and Pacino is especially wonderful in all three movies, but he's particularly outstanding in Part III where he appears as the aging Don, obviously not in the best of health and carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Part III also ties up a lot of the threads started in the first two films, and in the end we're left with an image of the futility of everything for which Don Michael had lived and fought.
But enough about the movies, how about the Blu-ray discs?
Well, for the most part Paramount has done an excellent job of handling the transition. All three films are presented in 1080p widescreen and all feature Dolby TrueHD audio. And the films have undergone a loving restoration that has turned them into what's easily the best video incarnation of the trilogy yet. Godfather III has merely been "remastered" which, since it's by far the most recent of the three, was undoubtedly all it needed.
The video quality for the most part is very good, dark and atmospheric but very involving, and the sound has been mixed into new 5.1 tracks that are about as good as you can get from source of this age. Don't expect a lot of surround or subwoofer use, in other words.
Then there are the extras. Not only is there an entire disc of goodies, but each film features a full length running commentary featuring Coppola himself.
Disc Four features "The Godfather Family, a featurette previously available, as well as much more stuff that was on previous disc releases such as a section on Gordon Willis' cinematography and various other behind the scenes stuff..
Not enough yet? There's quite a bit of new HD stuff, too, including Emulsional Rescue (a look at the restoration), The Masterpiece that Almost Wasn't (with Coppola, George Lucas, Walter Murch and others), When the Shooting Stopped, The Godfather on the Red Carpet and Four Short Films on The Godfather. And there's more.
You even get a small booklet, though the meat is pretty sparse. Ours was stuck onto the back of the package with some goo, which would wreak havoc on it once put onto the shelf with other discs. Fortunately, the goo comes off easily and you can slide the booklet into the sleeve in which the BD case comes.
The Godfather Trilogy, from Paramount Home Video
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.