The Godfather Trilogy
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
Starring Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, James Caan, Richard Castellano, Sterling Hayden, John Morley, Richard Conte, Abe Vigoda, Robert DeNiro, Talia Shire, Morgana King, John Cazale, Mariana Hill, Lee Strasberg, Andy Garcia, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, Bridget Fonda, George Hamilton, and Sofia Coppola.
Can you buy The Godfather films too many times on home video? I don’t think so, and this new 4K Ultra HD edition is a good excuse to tell someone, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” while showing off the amazing restored prints of all three movies on your 4K TV. Paramount commissioned some new bonus features, along with porting over all the legacy content, and threw in codes for digital copies of the films.
I’ve written here before about the Great Films class taught by my English teacher, Mr. Truitt, at Cherry Hill West High School in New Jersey. I took it twice, during my sophomore and senior years, but I missed seeing the first two Godfather films, which he showed every other year. Of course, when I did watch them on my own back then, I saw them on VHS tapes, long before optical discs and widescreen TVs arrived.
Now, I’m able to revisit the trilogy in full 4K glory, courtesy of this new box set from Paramount. The Godfather trilogy was previously released on DVD and Blu-ray in sets that touted restored prints, but the films have finally come about as close to theatrical quality as you can get these days, thanks to 4K UltraHD. What a time to be alive, right?
Paramount tossed in some new bonus features, along with codes for digital copies of the films, but before I get to that, let’s take a look at the movies in this collection.
The Godfather (1972)
This is the movie that introduced the world to the Mafia in a way that wasn’t full of stereotypes. As director Francis Ford Coppola once remarked, many Hollywood films had previously featured Italian gangsters who all “spoke-a like-a dis” and made a big deal about loving pasta and having hair-trigger tempers.
The Godfather, however, introduced us to two kinds of families – Vito Corleone’s personal family and his mob one – while offering up characters who had layers to them. Sure, Sonny is a hothead, but it’s calm and cool Michael who ends up ascending to the throne by the end. The film is the story of Michael going from a decorated World War II veteran who tells his girlfriend “That’s my family, that’s not me” in the beginning to a Mafia don who rules with an iron fist and closes his wife out of his business dealings.
The film looks beautiful in 4K, as you’d expect, and I’m sure many pixels will be spent on comparisons between the Blu-ray version and this one. An incredible amount of work was put into preserving the film, as displayed in a couple of the new bonus features, and I’ll get to that later in this review.
Coppola recorded a new three-minute introduction to the movie that’s optional when you start the film. Clips from the movie and behind-the-scenes pictures accompany his reminiscence.
The only other bonus feature on the platter is Coppola’s commentary track that’s been kicking around for something like 20 years now, but it’s not only worth a listen if you’ve never heard it, it’s worth a re-listen if you last took it in a long time ago. For whatever reason, perhaps because he reminds me a little bit of my uncle, I’ve always found the director to be like that avuncular relative who loves to regale the family with stories.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★
The Godfather Part II (1974)
On the heels of the success of The Godfather, Coppola and screenwriter and author Mario Puzo not only went back to the well for another movie, but they expanded the scope of the storytelling to create a sequel that’s arguably better than its predecessor. Part II jumps back and forth between Robert DeNiro as a young Vito Corleone making his way through New York City in the early 20th century and Al Pacino as his son, Michael, strengthening his hold on his mob family while casting aside the personal family that was so important to his father.
The saga could have easily ended there, with Michael in the role of the lonely king on the throne, ruler of all he surveys and without enemies, but bereft of the one thing that his father said was more important than anything else. Where the first film was about the transformation of Michael, the second one is a tragedy about his “Succeed at all costs” mentality. I don’t think a third installment was necessary.
As with the first film, Part II looks amazing in 4K and is well worth the purchase of this set, especially if you skipped the Blu-ray collection and would like to own the trilogy in the highest possible quality. And like the first movie, Coppola shows up for another entertaining commentary track that’s well worth your time.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★★
The Godfather Part III (1990)
The third installment in the trilogy opens with the Corleone family in decline. Their lavish Reno estate has been abandoned, and Michael is trying to legitimize his family by connecting its finances to the Vatican. Meanwhile, Sonny’s illegitimate son, Vincent, wants to continue a life of crime, much to Michael’s consternation. And, yes, there’s a bit of comparing and contrasting going on between the mob and the Catholic Church.
Unfortunately, it’s a film that opens with promise but goes off the tracks, between Sofia Coppola’s wooden performance and Pacino playing what seems to be a caricature of himself. Even Michael’s relationships with his ex-wife Kay and his sister Connie are off, considering what he did to both of them in the second film. Sure, many years have passed since then, but there’s no sense of why they’re willing to have anything to do with him again.
You have two options when starting the movie: the theatrical version or the 1991 cut. The latter tacks on an extra three minutes of scenes, but none of them are of much consequence to the final product.
In the accompanying commentary track on the 1991 cut, Coppola addresses the negative criticism that’s been heaped on the film during the years since its release, and he even details his plans for a fourth movie that was derailed by Puzo’s death in 1999. His pitch involves going back to the Part II well by parallel pathing two stories, one about Vito’s rise to power and the other following Vincent as he takes the family into the cocaine trade. While it would have been interesting to see more of Vito’s story, Vincent isn’t someone I would have cared to see more of.
If you’re a fan of this film, though, you will appreciate the care and attention Paramount put into restoring it for this 4K release. It looks wonderful, so at least it has that going for it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★ / Movie: ★★
Mario Puzo’s The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone (2020)
Thirty years after the release of Part III, Coppola was finally able to put together the movie he originally wanted people to see in theaters. He’s developed a reputation for fiddling with his movies, as evidenced by Apocalypse Now Redux, Cotton Club Encore, and this one.
You can read my review of this film from its December 2020 release on Blu-ray to find out what I thought of the new version. (TL;DR: It’s marginally better now, but no amount of editing will ever put it on the same level as the first two movies.) I don’t recall a 4K edition of this one coming out back then, so this is the re-edited third film’s first bow on UltraHD.
The introduction that accompanied the Blu-ray edition is the only bonus feature found here.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★
Finally, we have the bonus features disc, which is a Blu-ray. The new extras found there are:
- Full Circle: Preserving The Godfather (16 minutes): This extra tracks the restoration work done on the movie, which started in 2007 and has continued off and on since then, as technology has improved and enabled better preservation methods.
- Capturing the Corleones: Through the Lens of Photographer Steve Schapiro (13 minutes): The on-set photographer looks back on his work on the movie, which involved getting the gig in exchange for guaranteeing that Life magazine would put The Godfather on the cover. Copious amounts of his photos are included, of course.
- The Godfather: Home Movies (9 minutes): This is a batch of silent on-set footage that was shot in 8mm during principal photography on Staten Island in 1971. The iconic Godfather score plays over it.
- Restoration Comparisons (10.5 minutes): Some of this is shown in the Full Circle extra, but here we have uninterrupted examples of various restored scenes from the first two films, with the 2007 version compared against the new one.
And here’s the round-up of the legacy stuff:
- The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t (29.75 minutes): Some of the greatest films in cinema history were created under incredible duress, and The Godfather is one of them. Coppola is joined by George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Sopranos creator David Chase, and others as he recounts his fight with the studio to get the movie made the way he wanted to.
- Godfather World (11 minutes): This is a look at the ways the movies have infiltrated American culture, with comments from Chase, actor Joe Mantegna, Alex Baldwin, and others.
- Emulsional Rescue: Revealing the Godfather (19 minutes): This is the original featurette that was created to discuss what was at the time a cutting-edge restoration of the movies.
- …When the Shooting Stopped (14 minutes): This featurette discusses Paramount’s attempt to cut the first movie down to 130 minutes, per their insistence that it not be longer than that, only to discover that doing so was impossible if the story was going to work. The other two movies are touched on too.
- The Godfather on the Red Carpet (4 minutes): No, this isn’t from a red carpet premiere of the first movie. It’s from the premiere of Cloverfield and it features a variety of celebrity from that red carpet talking about the movie.
- Four Short Films on The Godfather (7.5 minutes): These are four quick films broken into different topics, such as all the quotable lines from the movies and the comparison between the first two films.
- A Look Inside (73.5 minutes): This is a nice meaty making-of from 1990 that focuses mostly on the first two movies, with the third film viewed through rose-colored glasses since its release was imminent at the time. There’s plenty of behind-the-scenes footage to be found here, including some interesting Godfather screen tests, such as Robert DeNiro trying out for the role of Sonny.
- On Location (7 minutes): A tour of the various locations used for shooting.
- Francis Coppola’s Notebook (10 minutes): The director shows a notebook he kept while shooting the first movie. He used it to keep meticulous track of what he was shooting and says that he could have used it instead of a script.
- Music of The Godfather (8.75 minutes): This featurette covers the work of composer Nino Rota, who wrote the iconic “Godfather Waltz,” as well as Francis Ford Coppola’s father Carmine, who created music for all three films.
- Coppola & Puzo on Screenwriting (8 minutes): The pair talk about their collaboration on all three films.
- Gordon Willis on Cinematography (3.5 minutes): The director of photography talks about his work on the films.
- The Godfather Behind the Scenes 1971 (9 minutes): This is one of those old school (very old school) promotional videos that were created way back when to pitch movies to theater owners.
Rounding out the platter are 35 additional scenes, many of which were used in The Godfather Saga, which combines the three movies into one; text pieces about Coppola, Puzo and others; trailers; photo galleries; footage from Academy Awards acceptance speeches; a family tree to help you keep track of who’s who; and a timeline of the trilogy.
Whew! That’s a big bowl of Godfather goodness that will keep you occupied for a long time.