The latest 'Godfather' sequel—this one on Blu-ray—is going to make a killing.
How many times does Paramount think it can make us an offer we can't refuse? Fans of Francis Ford Coppola's "Godfather" trilogy have bought the VHS version, the laser disc version and, most recently, the 2001 DVD edition with new commentary tracks by Coppola that set a hard-to-beat standard for frankness, intelligence and wit. Now we're confronted with yet another version, the "Coppola Restoration," in both standard DVD and Blu-ray editions. The latest set has been struck from newly restored film of the originals, and bless the restorationists, who give us crisper images and better color without any of that shrink-wrapped slickness that digitization often produces—the DVD versions of these movies still look like movies. And don't think for a second that you're being suckered into buying something that you already own. These films haven't looked this good since the first week they played in theaters.
Most stories about film restoration sound the same. Again and again, we hear about neglect, deteriorating film stock and faulty printing. Even great films ("Lawrence of Arabia," "Vertigo") suffered these indignities. Still, the news that Coppola's first two "Godfather" movies direly required repair comes as a shock. It is hard to imagine two films viewed more often, or more cherished, by more people. Ironically, the first two "Godfathers" have suffered because of their popularity (the third installment, made in 1990, has suffered hardly at all). If you saw part one when it was briefly rereleased in theaters a few years ago, you had to wonder if all the original hoopla over Gordon Willis's photography was unquestioned hype, since a lot of what appeared on screen looked muddy and depthless. But that's what happens when duplicates are made from duplicates and no one bothers to compare the fifth-generation copy with the original print.
Will the new versions radically revise our opinions of these films? Obviously people have been watching and rewatching these classics without undue trouble for years (the most hilarious bonus feature included in the new set shows actors—and hard-core Godfatherites—Richard Belzer and Seth Isler lobbing lines from the script at each other like two tennis pros). But few films were ever more dependent on the way they looked than the "Godfather" movies. In scene after scene, it's the Rembrandt-like palette—orange, umber, red and a dozen shades of black—that defines the various moods of the movie. Destroy that look, and you sap a lot of the film's power. Restore it, and you get what the latest editions of these classics offer: freshly minted masterpieces.
Revisiting 'Godfather' trilogy
San Francisco Chronicle Datebook - Sunday, October 19, 2008
Any excuse to rewatch all three "Godfather" movies is welcome, but the new boxed set of "The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration" is one of the better reasons to come along in years. It features digitally restored versions of the films, plus all the outtakes and features from previous releases, plus brand-new documentaries about the trilogy from director Kim Aubry. (I'm in two of those documentaries, as a talking head.) On consecutive nights, I revisited these movies for the first time in about 10 years. Watching them, I had some new impressions, in some cases contrary to previous things I've written. For what it's worth, here are some random "Godfather" thoughts, fresh and unfiltered.
The Godfather: This film and "Casablanca," which also had a tortured production history, are the two most irresistible films in the American cinema, a succession of winning scenes, with no dip in audience interest, no time out for regrouping, just one great moment followed by another. We remember a movie for its best moments, but with "The Godfather" that means remembering virtually the whole thing. Its appeal is astonishing.
This time, I found myself marveling at the casting of James Caan and Marlon Brando. Francis Ford Coppola is an Italian American, right? So he knows as well as I do that these guys don't really act like Italian Americans. (Look at the difference between the two of them and Al Pacino and John Cazale.) Yet their performances have about them something truer than literal accuracy. They're like Kabuki Italians. They have a detailed internal life, but they also seem to be observing consciously what they're doing externally; that is, acting Italian. And somehow their approach is in dignified harmony with the tone and tenor of what Coppola was after. What I can't figure out is this: How did Coppola intuit that they would be right? It's one thing to aim for authenticity, and quite another thing to preimagine a theatricality that's truer than authenticity and picture it within a whole design. That's extraordinary.
Also, this time out I very much enjoyed Pacino's trajectory, not only the change Michael Corleone undergoes but also the hints of latent power and authority within him that are present early in the film. There was a moment I'd never noticed before: You know when Michael stands with a guy outside the hospital and they pretend to be armed Mafia soldiers in order to scare away a car full of assassins? At the end of that scene, the other guy goes to light a cigarette, but he's so terrified that his hands are shaking wildly. So Michael takes out a lighter and lights it for him, and then - this is what I'd never noticed before - there's a split second in which Michael looks down and takes in the fact that his own hands are not shaking. It's as if he's confronting tangible proof that he is different from other people - that, in a sense, he has the talent to make it in crime.
The Godfather: Part II: Years ago, I used to say that I thought "Part II was better than Part I, but having seen both back to back, I would say that Part I is superior. But Part II has lots of great things in it, and it's an exceptional movie.
However, one thing bothers me. Watching the movie, it's still not clear to me why Michael kills Fredo, or even when he decides to do it. There are conflicting interpretations, which we'll look at. But first, let's lay out the known facts, chronologically:
1) There's an attempt on Michael's life.
2) Johnny Ola (Dominic Chianese), who works for Jewish mobster Hyman Roth, calls Fredo in the middle of the night. And from their conversation we derive that a) The Roth mob was behind the attempted hit; b) Fredo was the one who set Michael up; and c) Fredo didn't realize that he was setting his brother up to be killed. (I say that he didn't know because he seems horrified at what Johnny and Roth have tried to do. However, he has not - and does not - go back to Michael and tell him that the Roth mob is out to kill him. And that's bad.)
3) Michael finds out that Fredo betrayed him and is devastated. (It's the one time anything really gets to him in the whole movie.)
4) He goes over to Fredo and kisses him, as though giving him the kiss of death, and tells him that he broke his heart. But it doesn't seem, at this point, that Michael intends to kill Fredo.
5) Later, Michael has a conversation with Fredo in which Fredo, explaining himself, gives way to anger and resentment. He announces, "I'm smott! I'm smott!" by which he means that he's intelligent, and further says that he got involved with Ola and Roth because he was tired of being a flunky and wanted something that was his own. At this point, Michael hardens and disowns him. And immediately after that, he tells his assistant that he wants nothing to happen to Fredo while his mother is alive, implying that Fredo is to be killed when his mother is dead. The order is still in effect after he ostensibly reconciles with Fredo, who is killed not long after their mother's funeral.
Those are the facts. Here is the question: Why does Michael decide to kill Fredo, and when does he decide to do it? I see three possibilities, or rather multiple possibilities within the following broad categories:
Possibility 1: The least interesting possibility has Michael deciding to kill Fredo when he kisses him. This is possible, but it drains the subsequent conversation scene of its dramatic consequence and makes Fredo's blunder (saying that he resented Michael) of no importance. In this scenario, Michael kills Fredo because he assumes Fredo was in on the conspiracy (not true) or because he thinks Fredo is too dangerous to let live (a debatable point). But to believe this is to believe that, halfway into the movie, Michael's moral descent is all but complete.
Possibility 2: This second possibility, the one I believe most people assume to be accurate, is that Michael decides to kill Fredo in the course of their conversation because something in Fredo's words reveals to him, with certainty, that Fredo was in on the plot to kill him. The idea is that Michael realizes that Fredo either knew or pretended not to know what the Roth gang was up to. The problem with this, though, is that there's nothing in what Fredo says that reveals his complicity with any certainty. Also, we were privy to Fredo's conversation with Johnny Ola, which seemed to exonerate him. Yes, there's still the possibility of Fredo's unconscious or semiconscious complicity, but it's a slender reed on which to justify fratricide.
Possibility 3: As in the second possibility, this scenario has Michael deciding to kill Fredo during their conversation because of something Fredo says. But in this version, Michael is wrong. That is, Michael assumes Fredo was in on the conspiracy, but Fredo, in fact, was not. To me, this is the best possibility, because it preserves the drama of the conversation scene, partly justifies the issue's ambiguity and presents a genuinely tragic misunderstanding. Michael, who seems able to read everybody he meets, has one fatal error in perception, and it's about his own brother. He assumes something about Fredo that isn't quite true and dooms both of them. This interpretation also supports the idea that Michael - instead of becoming an ideal don - is becoming more and more paranoid and twisted. (Or, rather, that in order to be an ideal don, becoming paranoid and twisted is inevitable.) Still, I've seen this movie half a dozen times and can't say I'm sure on this score.
The Godfather: Part III: Set in 1979 and 1980, this is an entertaining movie, very watchable, very enjoyable, but inferior to the previous entries. The movie has some big problems, but Sofia Coppola, who took the rap at the time of the film's release, really isn't one of them. I think all the story elements were there for a great movie, but as presently constituted and arranged, they're a little out of balance. The main problem is that the Michael Corleone of Part III is not like the Michael Corleone of Parts I and II. He doesn't seem to be the same person. The Michael of the first two movies was a my-way-or-the-highway sort of guy, driven by an intense fear of being controlled and an overwhelming sense of responsibility toward those in his charge. The Michael of Part III is a guy who has always been driven by a desire to do the right thing, one who has come to realize that his judgment has led him astray. Yes, people change. But generally, when people go off the existential edge, they repress their guilt and behave in even worse ways. Stalin didn't become a nice guy when he was 60. But Michael is a nice guy, and from the beginning of the movie. As the movie opens, he longs to go legit and wants to assuage his guilt. These are two separate desires that could and should have been more closely linked.
I understand the problem that confronted Coppola and his screenwriting collaborator, Mario Puzo. As Coppola says in one of the special features documentaries, by the end of Part II Michael was a "zombie." You can't make a movie about a human blank who is hardened against all human feeling. But what if, in Part III, he started out as that kind of guy? And what if he then experienced a health crisis that left him unable to suppress his guilt? What I'm saying is, in "The Godfather: Part III" Michael's guilt over Fredo is like a chronic illness, but in dramatic terms it might have been better if the guilt were sudden and acute. Then you'd have a movie about a guy suddenly and all at once having to face crimes and emotions that he's repressed for years. Truly, then it would have been about a guy cracking up, which is what I think the movie wanted to be but isn't quite.
I also have never figured out why the movie takes place in 1979 and 1980, even as it depicts the real-life events of 1978 - the death of Pope Paul VI followed by the death of Pope John Paul I a month later. Anyway, Part III is still a good movie. Pacino has a great confession scene. Andy Garcia (as Vincent) is lots of fun throughout, and the picture has provided the world with a handful of taglines, which is always a mark of cinematic vividness. I love saying, for example, that "on this day, I have been treated with no respect." Or "There's a stone in my shoe." And, of course, it's hard to imagine a world without "Just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in." Vincent Corleone's midlife crisis is 10 years overdue. Bring on Part IV.
E-mail Mick LaSalle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration Blu-ray Reviewhttp://www.dailygame.net/news/archives/008369.php
The Godfather and its 1974 sequel are revered by many as two of the best films ever made, and their influence continue to affect our culture nearly 40 years after their release. Unfortunately, the series "re-releases" on VHS, Laserdisc and a DVD box set have had poor picture and sound quality. Paramount had nowhere to go but up with The Godfather Trilogy's release on Blu-ray, and someone clearly needed to save the Corleones.
That someone ended up being Steven Spielberg, who, acting on behalf of Francis Ford Coppola, asked Paramount to clean The Godfather's prints. Film, of course, not finger.... Scanned at 4k resolution and digitally cleaned one frame at a time, the restored and (in the case of Part III) re-mastered prints have been assembled for release in a deluxe four-disc Blu-ray edition called The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration. The results are fantastic.
When it comes to the bonus material, Coppola and Paramount have assembled a terrific collection. Not only are all of the bonus materials that bestowed the 2001 DVD set here, we also get approximately an hour and a half of new supplements which are all presented in either 1080p or 1080i.
Clocking in at approximately 30 minutes, The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn't examines the origin, production, reaction and impact of the 1972 original. Roughly sixteen people are interviewed, a mix of individuals involved with the production in one capacity or another (Coppola, George Lucas, Peter Bart, Robert Evans and Walter Murch) as well as actors and filmmakers offering their own personal reflections on the impact the film made on them. This includes Sopranos creator David Chase, actors Alec Baldwin and John Turturro and directors Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Torro and William Friedkin. If you already know the history of the film's production, a majority of this material may ring familiar. But the doc is still well worth your time, if only to hear Spielberg admit the film was so well made it seriously shattered his confidence in his own storytelling abilities.
Emulsional Rescue: Revealing The Godfather (19:02) -- This is the most fascinating of the new supplements as it covers the restoration process of the first two films. Coppola begins the short explaining how Spielberg got the ball rolling on the project. Willis and Daviau discuss Willis' shooting style for the film, while Robert A. Harris and Paramount VP of feature post-production Martin Cohen go into detail on the lengthy process on the efforts to restore the movies as closely as possible to the way they originally intended to look.
When the Shooting Stopped(14:00) -- Looks at the post production of the series and features interviews with Walter Murch and Richard Marks, who worked on the editing of the second film. The importance of having a good editor on a film is driven home by Murch's story of how his reworking of Nino Rota's music cues during the infamous Horse's Head scene saved the Italian Composer's score from being discarded altogether by Paramount.
Godfather World (11:20) -- A quick look at the film's long-lasting impact on our culture via interviews with South Park co-creator Trey Parker, David Chase and actor Joe Mantegna (aka The Simpsons Mafioso Fat Tony). All offer up anecdotes and tidbits on how these films have influenced their own work over the years.
It's The Godfather Trilogy, so you know it rocks, and the Blu-ray transfer is fantastic. This is a must-buy for all Blu-ray owners. Seriously.
-- Shawn Fitzgerald