Friday, September 19, 2008

The Godfather Films Restored in HD at last.

Below: Excerpts from DVD and Blu-ray reviews (print and web) coming over the transom. The new Blu-ray 4 disc set goes on sale Tuesday 23 September.

We actually completed the 70 minutes of new documentary materials last February because at that time, Paramount was insisting that this new set had to go on sale for Father's Day on DVD.

So we worked at a maddening pace from Thanksgiving 2007 through Valentine's Day 2008. Then, a new regime at the studio reconsidered the release date. Then a few months later, Paramount announced that they were back in the BD camp (a "decent interval" had passed, I guess.)
By the time we were given the 6 month "reprieve," the work was essentially complete.

All the new documentaries were filmed and finished in HD and they look great (if I can say that), and the three Godfather films do look superb. The cheerleaders in the trade press and the industry booster websites are saying that this release will really "launch Blu-ray," but I am not so sure. A question for our blog readers: Does Blu-ray disc matter at this September
2008? Or will it be a footnote as viewers download films, VODs or get cerebral implants ?

'Godfather' Finds a New Way to Keep Dragging Us Back In
Posted on Sun, Sep. 21, 2008
Miami Herald


In one of the new featurettes found on The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration Giftset (Paramount, $70 DVD, $125 Blu-ray), actor Alec Baldwin compares the first film in the trilogy to a drug. ''When it's on, you're gonna watch it whether you want to or not,'' he says.

The Godfather movies -- at least the first two -- are, in fact, insanely rewatchable. But no matter how many times you've seen them before, these newly restored editions are a revelation. The subject of a painstaking, frame-by-frame clean-up that brought the original, badly damaged negatives back to the way they were intended to be seen on opening day, the first two Godfathers have simply never looked better.

Home theater aficionados who crave shiny, glossy images will be disappointed, though. Cinematographer Gordon Willis made distinct choices during the filming of the movies -- choices that would inspire an entire generation of filmmakers -- that resulted in images that look alternately underlit or overlit. The new discs reproduce those choices faithfully, from the film grain that permeates the shadows in Don Corleone's office to the blown-out whites of Connie Corleone's wedding dress.

The DVDs look great, but the Blu-rays are even better, practically doubling the amount of fine detail in wide shots and revealing subtleties in close-ups that were too fuzzy to register in previous releases (right before the restaurant shooting of Sollozzo and McCluskey in Part I, you can see tics and emotions cross Al Pacino's face that were simply invisible before).

Careful color correction has also evened the golden sepia tones used through the first two pictures, which the disc producers have craftily extended to the Paramount Pictures logo preceding the films, so it, too, is bathed in the warm, honeyed light of a memory. The negatives for Part III had not deteriorated nearly as badly, so the film's presentation here isn't quite as eye-popping. But it is still good enough to make you want to sit through the movie again and give it another chance.

This definitive release of the trilogy is accompanied by a definitive assortment of extras, running more than four hours in total. The 30-minute retrospective documentary The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn't recounts the legendary making of the first film, in which Coppola was forced to battle Paramount executives over practically every creative choice he made, including the casting of Pacino and Marlon Brando, neither of whom met the studio's approval.

Steven Spielberg, William Friedkin, South Park's Trey Parker and Sopranos creator David Chase are among the famous folk who show up to talk about the movie. Spielberg admits he was dismayed the first time he saw The Godfather, because he felt he would never be able to make a movie anywhere near as good and seriously thought about quitting filmmaking. Chase admits he had a problem with the presence of Brando and James Caan in the film, because they weren't Italian, but learned to live with it.

The 11-minute Godfather World consists of clips from other movies and TV shows that reference the trilogy, everything from The Sopranos (hilarious) to The Simpsons, You've Got Mail to a TV commercial for Audi autos. The fascinating Emulsional Rescue: Revealing the Godfather is a 20-minute featurette detailing the complex restoration process the first two films underwent, which was kick-started by a memo Spielberg sent to Paramount chief Brad Grey after that studio became the home of DreamWorks Pictures.

When the Shooting Stopped is a 15-minute look at the post-production process of the trilogy. Editing consultant Walter Murch recalls how producer Robert Evans vetoed the original plan to have an intermission in the middle of The Godfather (right after the Sollozzo shooting) because he ''didn't want to let the audience off the hook'' by giving them time to catch their breath. Murch also talks about the tweaking of the musical cue leading up to the horse-head scene and shows you both the original and the final versions, for comparison's sake.

Murch also discusses why Pacino's scream at the end of Part III was rendered silent, while Coppola reveals that his first cut of Part II was liked by no one, because he shifted back and forth between the story's two timelines too often, damaging the pacing of the movie. Once he minimized the chronological interruptions, the picture fell into place. The disc also includes a two-minute featurette in which Coppola finally shares the details behind the death of wiseguy Peter Clemenza, which was brushed off with a fleeting reference in Part II and no explanation (Coppola tried until the last minute to convince actor Richard S. Castellano to reprise the role in Part II, but Castellano would only agree if his girlfriend got to write all his dialogue).

The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration Giftset isn't just a monumental release for fans of the trilogy: It may also be the DVD of the year.

The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration on Blu-ray Disc

By Chris Chiarella Big Picture Big Sound

Godfather was an uncommon instance where I actually wanted to watch one of the featurettes, "Emulsional Rescue," before the movie itself. I know how they all end, so no worries about spoiled surprises, but the included vignette about the restoration helped me figure out what to look for, how to appreciate what we've been given in this significant new set. Several factors have left the physical elements for the Godfathers in horrible condition. The success of the film necessitated many duplicate prints being copied off of the original film negative. Add in the less-than-perfect quality of film stock circa 1971 and the abundance of dark, dark scenes, and we were left with a soft, murky mess for far too long on home video. Prior cleanup attempts had made some improvement, but not nearly on the scale of The Coppola Restoration.

A Blu-ray We Can't Refuse: The Godfather Trilogy - The Coppola Restoration
Glenn Erickson, Sep 19, 2008

Glenn takes the cannoli and says this release elevates these classics to a whole new level of home video.

"Film printing is really a contact sport."

That's a quote from Robert A. Harris, explaining how old film negatives accrue damage through lab handling. In a featurette on The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration, Harris and other film experts give the clearest explanation yet of the nature of film restoration. And it's only one excellent mini-docu in a score of interesting short subjects and interactive extras. Paramount's four-disc Blu-ray set -- available Sept. 23 -- includes all three Godfather films in stunning new high-definition transfers. It's the kind of release that will influence more home video enthusiasts to take the Blu-ray plunge.

Happily, the marketing hype is limited to an insert booklet, leaving Kim Aubrey's HD extras (located on a fourth Blu-ray disc) to examine the films in a critical light. The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn't is an exemplary making-of chronicling The Godfather's highly unlikely path to the screen. Key background is given in excellent interviews with Walter Murch, George Lucas, Francis Coppola, Peter Bart and Robert Evans, with additional input from other directors and actors. The beautifully organized docu touches on the difficulties of casting and production, comparing Coppola's ethnic vision with the portrayal of Italian-Americans in classic-era gangster pictures.

"Godfather World" concerns itself with the film's legacy, using clips from shows like South Park and The Simpsons. David Chase is on hand to explain how his TV series The Sopranos couldn't have existed without the The Godfather. His characters frequently discuss and debate scenes from Coppola's movies.

"Emulsional Rescue" gets into the details of the restoration process, using well-chosen graphics and visual examples to simplify confusing concepts. When cameramen Gordon Willis and Allen Daviau explain how over-printing damaged parts of the film negatives, we see the actual reinforced splices that marred earlier transfers. Willis purposely under-lit the movie for a certain look, leaving a negative that doesn't duplicate well. We find out that the 4K scanning process was able to recovered one major scene (the shooting of Captain McCluskey and Sollozzo) almost ruined by bad lab work back in 1971. Expert Robert A. Harris follows up nuggets of film wisdom like, "Added resolution is not the same as sharpness" with excellent explanations of the concepts involved. The insightful featurette is especially recommended for viewers uncomfortable with film technical talk.

"When the Shooting Stopped" isolates some great anecdotes from post-production, such as how Coppola cleverly retained control of the editing when the studio insisted on holding him to a contracted running time a little over two hours. Murch explains why the three-hour film has no intermission. He also remembers that the studio disliked Nino Rota's score so much that he had to re-engineer the music for the horse-head scene. Editor Richard Marks discusses the more experimental cutting in Godfather Part II, and Murch rationalizes his decision to drop the audio for Michael's screams at the end of Part III.

Three short films are orphaned interview bits; the best explains why Richard S. Castellano wasn't rehired to play Clemenza in the second movie. Godfather on the Red Carpet is a less interesting collection of comments from younger celebrities apparently taped at a preview of Cloverfield. Connie and Carlo's Wedding Album is a glossy presentation of photography from the Visconti-like wedding scene in Godfather #1.

The extras become exceptional again with The Family Tree and the Crime Organization Chart, interactive features that lay out the cast of characters for all three films using photos and pop-up info windows. The "Crime Rap Sheet" data on the second chart is especially helpful for keeping straight "Rivals and Associates" like the Tattaglias and Cittis. We need something like this for the books Dune and War and Peace!

Overall, this Blu-ray set has the best added value extras I've seen this year. Many new movies are burdened with puff pieces straight from the marketing department, while older classics are too often slighted with under-funded featurettes made on editorial assembly lines. [yowch...KA] Godfather: The Coppola Restoration is an exceptionally good Blu-ray release, and its extras elevate the stature of the disc supplement format.

'Godfather' trilogy dwarfs all other new Blu-ray releases
by Doug Nye
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

Simply put, “The Godfather” trilogy (Paramount, $119.99) is a magnificent example of how enjoyable great films can be on Blu-ray.

The set, which arrives in the DVD high-definition format Tuesday, not only includes all three films but a fourth disc that is packed with more than a dozen absorbing extras...Disc four includes featurettes “Godfather World,” “The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t,” “When the Shooting Stopped,” a piece on the restoration, a couple of “The Making of ...” shorts, additional scenes and much more. Coppola’s commentary also accompanies each film.

“The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration” will also be available in a standard DVD 5-disc set ($72.99), but the suggestion here is to opt for the Blu-ray edition. For those who haven’t switched to the format, “The Godfather” trilogy is the perfect reason to do it now.

Posted By JOHN LAW


Blu-Ray has given studios a whole new excuse to double-dip, though Godfather fans may forgive this one.

All three films have been beautifully restored with digital surround sound, eliminating the flaws which dogged the original DVD release in 2001.

This is the version we should have gotten back then, but people were so eager for the trilogy, they overlooked the scratchy print and steep price.

For this re-release, director Francis Ford Coppola brings the gorgeous cinematography back to its original lustre, giving these dark films -especially II - a noir look they haven't had since their original run in theatres. The restoration is discussed in an all-new bonus disc, showing how badly the first two film's original prints had eroded. It doesn't matter how many times you've seen I and II -watching them without any visual flaws and new surround sound is bliss.

The other treat on the bonus disc is The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn't, revisiting how Paramount nearly ruined the first film by, among other things, insisting it take place in a modern setting, and how the story shouldn't focus on the mafia. (Huh??)

Coppola fought every dumb decision to not only make possibly the greatest film ever, but save Hollywood from a slump which threatened the entire movie industry. Things were so dire before The Godfather, Paramount was sold for $600,000 and producer Robert Evans made a video begging the new owners not to shut them down.

The other features are hit and miss (does anyone really care what the cast of Cloverfield thinks about The Godfather?), but there's also the original supplements from the 2001 release which includes a great retrospective on the first film as Coppola was preparing Part III. And to get the hidden Sopranos tribute, just keep pressing 'next' on the screen for DVD Credits.

The Godfather Collection: The Coppola Restoration Blu-ray Review

Cinema's great crime trilogy debuts in a glorious high definition package.

Reviewed by Martin Liebman, September 18, 2008

Given the opportunity to travel back in time, specifically to the end of March, 1972, for the sole purpose of going to the movies in a major U.S. city, your choices of the notable films released that month were interesting and varied. The original Tales from the Crypt with Peter Cushing, and Frogs, with Ray Milland and Sam Elliott, might satisfy your desire to bring a little Horror into your life. If you would prefer a dose of Sci-Fi, you could choose Silent Running starring Bruce Dern, or the film version of Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel Slaughterhouse-Five, in which Perry King and Valeria Perrine each received their first screen credit. Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal’s What’s Up, Doc? satisfied both female audiences and the "date night" movie niche for the month. Each of these films is a somewhat entertaining example of their genre, but one film, released that same month, would not only redefine its genre, it would redefine American cinema and prove to be one of the most cherished and influential films of all time, and serve as a career-defining film for all involved. Released on March 24, 1972, based on the novel by Mario Puzo, and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather quickly attained the status of instant classic, and if anything, has only risen in the estimation of critics and film fans worldwide. The success of The Godfather led to the inevitable sequels, both with their own unique followings and reactions, each of which we will with time approach in this review. Although we cannot, as of today, travel back in time to witness this indelible American classic on the big screen, Paramount Pictures' Blu-ray edition, released some 36 and a half years following the original film's theatrical debut, allows both film aficionados and newcomers to these classics to see the films as closely to the originals as any home video format currently allows, and with the stamp of approval from director Francis Ford Coppola himself.

The Godfather Collection comes to Blu-ray with a fourth disc full of supplemental material, and a feature-length commentary track with director Francis Ford Coppola accompanying each film. Across all three movies, spanning some 10 hours, Coppola runs the gamut of The Godfather in what is a comprehensive overview of the films. Coppola never falls into the trap of only discussing the action on-screen simply to fill up dead air. Instead, his comments are always insightful, whether he is discussing the performance of an actor, minor details added to the movie from the Mario Puzo novel while retaining the "dynamism" of the book, or describing something as simple as shooting locations. Coppola has a way of storytelling that is rare indeed, remaining engaging and entertaining no matter the topic at-hand. His is a natural, authoritative, yet friendly approach and delivery, and I doubt even the casual Godfather fan would lose interest in any of the fine commentaries accompanying these films. Even at around 10 hours, these commentaries are well worth your time. I imagine a day when you may be under the weather and home sick from work or school might be the ideal time to dig through all of the tracks. What better than a day with one of the finest filmmakers of all time to brighten your mood and forget your ailments?

Disc four contains a wealth of extra materials, some of which is ported over from previous releases, and some of it is new for this incredible Blu-ray release. The features begin with The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn't (1080p, 29:46). "It is impossible to imagine a world without them," the feature states up front, regarding the Godfather films. Indeed, this piece tells the story of how the first film was almost passed on by the studios. The decade was the 1960s, and Hollywood was in upheaval, as the studios pinched pennies and people sought to exit the business rather than enter into it. This feature contains interviews with American Zoetrope co-founders Walter Murch, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, then-Senior Vice President of Paramount, Robert Evans, and others. As Zoetrope was founded in the late 1960s, Hollywood was in a period of flux, as tastes changed, ticket sales plummeted, and the future was bleak, thanks in large part to the introduction and mainstream embracing of television. This feature looks at the history of Paramount Pictures in the years leading up to the release of The Godfather, the non-acceptance of Sicilian mafia movies (due in large part to the lack of Italians working in and on such films), and Francis Ford Coppola's initial involvement in this project. Also discussed are squabbles over casting, shooting locations, the dark look of the film, the turing point in the film that also happened to be the turning point in the studio's backing of Coppola's work, the premiere of the film, and so much more. The piece then moves into reaction to the film, including that of Richard Belzer, John Turturro, Steven Spielberg (who calls this a confidence-shattering film, meaning he could never attain such directorial heights), Trey Parker, Alec Baldwin David Chase, and plenty of others. The feature, and the interviewees, also delve into the authenticity of the film, its contrast to previous gangster pictures, and more. This is a swift-moving 30 minutes and is a must-watch for anyone who purchases this set.

Godfather World (1080p, 11:19) is a pleasing look at the influence of the films in our culture and its mention and parody in film and television. Emulsional Rescue: Revealing the Godfather (1080i, 19:05) is an extended look at the restoration of these films. Included are interviews with Gordon Willis, Allen Daviau, Steven Spielberg, film preservationist Robert A. Harris, and others. This is a fascinating feature, an education all its own, and is required viewing for anyone who watches Blu-ray, reads our forums, or wants to appreciate what goes into the restoration process. ...When the Shooting Stopped (1080p, 14:18) looks more at the conflict between filmmakers and studio, this time focusing in on the music that plays over the famous "horse head" scene. Later, the piece delves into some thoughts on the themes of The Godfather sequels and how they tie the series together. The Godfather on the Red Carpet (1080p, 4:03) features a series of sound bites with various actors as they express their thoughts on the films.

This Blu-ray edition of The Godfather Collection is perhaps the most impressive set ever released on home video. Sure, other collections may have offered more supplemental features, more movies, and many have offered audio and video qualities that present to viewers and listeners that "modern" high definition experience, and all of that is absolutely wonderful. However, no other collection can boast three all-time classic films, so painstakingly restored and presented exactly as they should be, in line with the original theatrical presentations, beginning back on March 24, 1972, and spanning some 18 and a half years. Now, almost 18 more years after the third installment of the series first screened in theaters, The Godfather Collection is available to own in a package that director Francis Ford Coppola closely supervised during the year-long restoration; we can watch this new Blu-ray edition with the high expectation that the director himself has issued it with his own recommendation as to the presentation's quality. The set also contains a wealth of entertaining and insightful supplemental features. Despite this lengthy review, few need me to convey how good this set is. It speaks for itself, as do the films, and like the films contained thereon, The Godfather Collection on Blu-ray will go down in the annals of home video as one of the finest releases of all time. Leave the gun, take the cannoli, and buy the Blu-ray. This set easily receives my highest recommendation.

The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration Blu-ray Review
by Cindy White

EXTRAS: It's nice to see that all of the new extras have been produced in HD.

Among the new offerings, "Godfather World" features critics, authors, filmmakers and other celebrities talking about how they've been influenced by the films. Among those interviewed are Alec Baldwin, Richard Belzer, David Chase, William Friedkin, Trey Parker, Guillermo del Toro, Joe Mantegna (fun fact: he's voiced Fat Tony on The Sopranos for 17 years!), Sarah Vowell and Steven Spielberg. The featurette also covers the influence on pop culture as a whole, from The Sopranos to The Simpsons.

"The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn't" is the story of how the corporate masters at Paramount (then owned by Gulf & Western) tried their best to screw up The Godfather at every turn (they didn't want it filmed in New York; they didn't want it to be a period piece; they balked at the casting of DeNiro, Brando and Pacino; and generally disapproved of Coppola's entire vision). Through interviews with Coppola and his contemporaries such as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, as well as Hollywood legend Robert Evans, the old story of the making of The Godfather is rehashed once again. It's old territory, sure, but it's still interesting to hear the story from those involved. It highlights the clash between art and commerce and ends up being as much critique of American capitalism as the film itself.

More disagreements emerge in "When the Shooting Stopped," which focuses on the fights over the editing process, the length of the film, the music and the pace of the story. It's also one of the few new segments which discusses The Godfather III in detail, as the editor discusses the creation of the sequence in which Michael laments the death of his daughter.

The most pointless inclusion here is "Godfather on the Red Carpet," which seems to have been filmed at the premiere of the Paramount film Cloverfield. In this piece of gratuitous studio promotion, various stars from that film and other Paramount releases talk extemporaneously about their opinions and recollections of the Godfather trilogy. The actors appear to have been taken surprise by the question and sometimes seem a little out of their depth. The "Godfather World" featurette accomplishes the same thing, only better and with celebrities who actually have some authority on the subject.

"Four Short Films on The Godfather" is a bit of a misleading title, as the segments aren't really short films, but interview pieces. "GF vs. GF Part II" features film critics and other celebrities debating the merits of the two films and their opinions on which is better. "Riffing on the Riffing" has Richard Belzer testing the knowledge of the star of a one-man stage version of The Godfather with random quotes. "Cannoli" explains the significance of the famous Italian dessert as it relates to the films and reveals that the famous "leave the gun, take the canolli" line was not originally in the script, but improvised by actor Richie Castellano as Clemenza. And speaking of "Clemenza," the final segment here has Coppola answering the lingering question of the character's fate, something which has puzzled fans to this day. Apparently, the director refused to comply with Castellano's request that his girlfriend write his dialogue and chose to write him out of the sequel. In Coppola's mind, he merely died of natural causes.

Finally, the sly menu design on the first disc, featuring the tomato patch that where Don Corleone meets his natural end, is worth a mention and is the best of the three.

Score: 10 out of 10

The Bottom Line
A fantastic collection worthy of this masterpiece.

The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration

Blu-ray Disc reviews by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits
Film Ratings (I/II/III): A/A+/B-
Video (1-20): 19.5
Audio (1-20): 18.5
Extras: A+
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...

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.)...

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 a few other recent Warner classics on the format - as a new benchmark for the presentation of classic films in high-definition.

I'll tell you, it's days like this that I really love my job.

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