"The Godfather" Trilogy blu ray review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 1 Old 10-20-08, 05:24 AM Thread Starter
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Richard W. Haines
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Location: Croton-on-Hudson, NY
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"The Godfather" Trilogy blu ray review

One of the most anticipated blu ray releases was Coppola's "Godfather" features,
specifically the first two movies. It's being sold in an expensive box set with the
mediocre third movie along with lots of extras in prices that range from $61 (Amazon)
to $109 (Circuit City). List price is $129.

I was able to purchase a used set for a considerably lower price on ebay. Before
inserting disc one into my blu ray player, I skimmed through the original standard
definition DVD for reference. After watching the first half hour or so of the blu ray
I stopped, put in the standard edition again a bit bewildered. It was difficult to see
any dramatic improvement in terms of grain and detail. Then I researched some of
the information about the restoration and came to the conclusion the blu ray looks
as good as the movie is capable of looking in the format considering the way it was
shot. Robert A. Harris supervised the job. He also did the spectacular restorations of "Lawrence of Arabia", "My Fair Lady" and "Vertigo" in 70mm and "Rear Window" in Technicolor. He did an extraordinary job repairing and color correcting the faded negative of "The Godfather" but had severe restrictions in terms of what could be done with the remaining image in the digital domain.

"The Godfather" was photographed by Gordon Willis who was known as the "Prince
of Darkness". His preferred method of cinematography was to use very little light
on set with a wide open lens (f. stop 2) to give the equivalent of a 'film noir' look
in color. This went against the conventions of classic studio era
photography where they used a great deal of light and shot at high f. stops
(i.e. f.5.6, f.11) to generate a razor sharp and fine grain image on the release prints
with excellent resolution and dimensionality. But Willis was part of the "New Hollywood"
movement (as was director Coppola) which in large part was a rejection of those
standards. Now in theory the prints of "The Godfather" should've looked excessively
grainy and flat because of the thin negative, some of it being pushed in the processing. However, Willis was an advoate of dye transfer printing ("Glorious Technicolor") and specifically designed his work to be enhanced in that format. The dye transfer Technicolor prints of "The Godfather" did look very interesting.
The rich contrast (pitch black blacks) made the saturated amber fleshtones pop off
screen giving the image an intriquing dimensional appearance. These release copies
'filled in the grain' because of the nature of the process and looked very good.
Part II was also printed in the dye transfer format. In fact it was the last American
release in real Technicolor before they eliminated the process and switched to

The problem that Harris and Coppola had was adapting this 'look' to the digital format.
The bottom line is that it cannot be done. Video has a different contrast ratio
than film. What adapts best to blu ray (and standard defintion bump downs) are
negatives that have been fully lit at high f. stops. From that they can adjust the
contrast, sharpness and resolution to 'simulate' the way it looked on film. But even
in fully lit negatives it changes aspects of the imagery. For example you see so much
more detail when mastering directly from the negative rather than an actual release
print so flaws in the actor's face (scars, wrinkles) and make up become apparent
as they were in "Diamonds Are Forever" which was shot around the same time but
with classic studio photography.

In summary, "The Godfather" trilogy looks as good as it's going to look since you
cannot replicate the dye transfer process on video, only 'simulate' it depending
on the above mentioned variables. Given this fact I doubt whether any contemporary
director of photography would film a movie in the Willis style since the
primary market is DVD and cable, not theatrical exhibition.

In terms of the features themselves, "The Godfather" is a classic and one of the
top motion pictures of all time. I saw the film three times in it's original release
and many more in the repertory cinemas while I was at NYU. Although it may seem
so today, it was far from an 'all star cast'. Most were relative unknowns and became
stars after it's release. Brando was considered unemployable because of his indulgent
and erratic behavior in previous films that caused the productions to go way over
budget. Coppola actually had to persuade him to do a screen test before Paramount
would hire him but he ended up giving one of his definitive roles. He was considerably
younger than the character he was portraying but gave a very convincing performance
as a ruthless aging Don. Since I'm sure everyone here has screened the film more
than once, I won't give a plot summary.

"The Godfather II" has the unique distinction of being the first sequel to win an Oscar.
I have mixed feelings about it. There are certainly many brilliant sequences but the
way it's structured is a bit disorienting. There are two parallel stories intercut but
they don't really relate to each other which tends to undermine their dramatic impact.
In 1977 Coppola went through the out-takes of both features and re-edited
them into a mini-series called "The Godfather Saga". Unfortunately it was done on videotape and I don't believe there is an actual film negative of this version that can
be released on DVD. (Some of these extra scenes are contained in the suppliments
but they are full frame, very fuzzy and soft...probably from the video source)
I thought the footage in Part II worked much better when put in chronological order starting with the story of Vito Corleone arriving in America as an immigrant (played by De Niro) then continuing with everything contained in Part 1 with Brando as the Don and finishing with the rest of Micheal's story (Pacino) which was the remaining footage in the theatrical version. The out-takes filled in some gaps.

"The Godfather III" is pretty disappointing. Pacino had picked up some bad habits before winning the Academy Award for his over the top performance in "Scent of a Woman". He lost his performance subtlety and nuance that made him so brilliant in the first two features and began shouting and over-acting at this stage of his career. This third
segment doesn't add anything of interest to the main narrative about the mafia family and isn't worth seeing more than once in my judgment. It's not terrible but it seems like a rehash of plot elements you've already seen. What's missing from Part III is the character transformation that made the first two movies notable. The innocent Pacino is more ruthless than his father when he becomes Don in Part 1. De Niro gradually becomes the Godfather after arriving penniless as an immigrant then confronting the Black Hand society. The Andy Garcia character doesn't have this dramatic arc.

The 5.1 sound on the first two features is certainly better than the mono sound they
were released in but don't expect a contemporary sound field. Primarily the music
score has been spread out with a little ambience.

I recommend this box set if you want to be a completist and have the entire saga
and it is better than the original standard DVDs from years ago but don't
get your expectations too high regarding the visual quality of the movies since they
weren't designed for this format. They certainly look watchable and the direction and
acting are so good in the first two pictures you'll become absorbed in them and
become accustomed to their 'look' on DVD. I would advise waiting a while until
the price comes down or look for bargains. I wouldn't pay the list price of $129.

In summary picture quality B-, sound design B +, cinematography C,
performances, story and screenplay A +.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 11-26-08 at 07:53 AM.
Richard W. Haines is offline  


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