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Godfather Trilogy (4K Ultra HD), The
The impact and legacy of the The Godfather Trilogy cannot be overstated; these films are a permanent part of American culture and film history. Memorable quotes line the mouths of many, and the films - the first two at least - are synonymous with "best picture of all time" for film junkies and casual moviegoers alike. I cannot help but picture Marlon Brando, rising from the ashes of a near Hollywood blacklisting to the defining performance of his career as Mafia patriarch Don Vito Corleone, when I think about the trilogy. Adapted from the pages of Mario Puzo's crime saga by Director and Writer Francis Ford Coppola, the trilogy could have been an exploitative glorification of organized crime and violence but instead is a masterful rumination on family, ambition, and atonement. Not unlike the Friday the 13th saga, in which a mother kills for her family and then exits stage left, The Godfather becomes less about Don Corleone than his son, Michael (Al Pacino), and his journey from soldier to mafia prince to a man haunted by the demons of his past. We grow with Michael and supporting characters like right-hand man Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall); Kay Adams-Corleone (Diane Keaton), Michael's wife; and Don Vito's daughter Connie (Talia Shire). We experience the fury and tragedy of Don Vito's other sons, Sonny (James Caan) and Fredo (John Cazale), and Coppola never forgets that his trilogy is a tragedy.
If the Godfather is a perfect film, then The Godfather: Part II is even more successful. The first movie introduces us to Don Vito Corleone, Michael and the family, and winds down Don Vito's reign. The contrast in Sonny and Michael's leadership as Vito lies in a hospital bed prepares viewers for a tragedy that sends ripples across all three films. Michael's hiatus in Sicily following a mafia war brings him more tragedy and shapes the man he will become. The lifestyle he initially fled becomes his own, and the chilling, beautiful shot of the office door closing on Kay at the conclusion of The Godfather resonates tremendously. That Coppola structured Part II to show Michael's present timeline and Vito's youth (Robert De Niro excels in this role) and rise to power is another brilliant decision from the filmmaker. If Michael was trying not to be like Vito, then he continuously fails, mirroring his father's decisions at nearly every turn. He is also different than Vito in several key ways, including displaying a continual willingness to deceive. Where Vito was calculating and cold but always righteous, Michael gets so desperately in over his head after moving the family from New York to Nevada that he can hardly differential fact from fiction.
We see how Vito became the man Brando embodied, and themes of loss and retribution play a key role in shaping these characters and how they evolve in the overall narrative. Make no mistake, this is a saga, not simply three individual films to be enjoyed, though I maintain that the first two films complete a story in themselves. Michael's choices have consequences, and those come home in Part II and cause the reckoning that is The Godfather: Part III, which is really Michael's tragic story. I recently wrote extensively about Coppola's new version, The Godfather Coda, The Death of Michael Corleone, which surpasses the already underrated theatrical cut. "A Sicilian Never Forgets," indeed; and Coda/Part III certainly punishes the wicked. Decades of sin leave Michael broken and in poor health, fighting to keep his family together. Connie takes her place at the table Corleone, and Kay, the trilogy's moral compass, shakes her head in disgust at what Michael has become. There are different endings to this saga, depending on the version you watch, and both are powerful: Michael dies alone or Michael is given years to atone for his sins.
Religion, loyalty and atonement are themes intimate to these narratives. This is a trilogy that embodies the cultures of Italy and America; a saga that sees immigrants arrive at Ellis Island to then become powerful businessmen and leaders in the United States. It sees men fall into to temptation and fail to learn from the sins of their fathers. It depicts three generations of the Corleone crime family and the tragedies this distinction awards them. I could spend pages writing about The Godfather Trilogy, but there is nothing I can say that a thousand other writers have not already typed. This is one of the definitive American film experiences for a reason. The Godfather Trilogy is the rare experience that surpasses the hype. If you do not own these films you must, and fans will no doubt spring for this 4K upgrade without flinching.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
The previous Coppola restoration of these films was impressive nearly 15 years ago, but this new, definitive 4K Ultra HD trilogy knocks the socks off of previous releases. All three movies were shot on 35mm film, with cinematography from Gordon Willis that demanded each film be correctly curated during duplication and projected appropriately in theaters. The 2007 restoration by Robert A. Harris and Willis was extraordinary, as the film elements, especially for the first film, were in rough shape prior. The 4K digital intermediates created for that release were quite exceptional for the time, but Paramount and Coppola wanted to do something truly special for The Godfather's 50th Anniversary. As noted in the press materials and in the on-disc bonus material, Paramount and American Zoetrope restored all three films over the course of three years by utilizing the latest technology, newly discovered film elements, and the excellent base of Harris' previous work. Overseen by Coppola, these transfers are meant to present the films as they were seen - and meant to be seen - theatrically. I did not have the pleasure of seeing any of these films in theaters during their original runs, but I suspect Paramount succeed in their mission!
Each film is given a 1.85:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer with Dolby Vision and HDR10 (all from native 4K sources, of course). And ho-leee-shit do these movies look amazing in 4K. The best part is that they look authentic; nothing in these restorations has polished, boosted or modernized the films artificially; the Godfather Trilogy looks authentic, filmic and beautiful in transfers deserving of the films. I am going to discuss these transfers as a single being. Yes, there are slight differences in the presentations, which is expected given the two-decade gap between The Godfather and Coda, but the technical merits are largely similar thanks to the consistent vision by the filmmakers. The grain structure is consistent throughout, giving the picture a beautiful, deep feel that compliments the gorgeous cinematography and settings. There are some minor grain spikes in dimly lit scenes, but nothing that distracts at all from the presentation. Some shots are filmed with softer focus - purposely and to good effect - but the image is nonetheless handsomely detailed. Facial features are closely defined; the textures of fabrics and surfaces of set dressings are rendered beautifully; and striking outdoor locations appear to great effect.
I invite you to flip back and forth between the 4K and previous Blu-ray (or enjoy the featurette that does just that) and notice how much more detail is present in literally every scene. The blooming highlights that plagued Connie's wedding are gone; replaced by increased detail in the sky and for the bridal costumes. Blacks are gorgeous and inky; when shadow detail is marred by black crush it is an artistic decision. Contrast is wonderful; clarity exceptional; and image stability reference. The HDR pass is used to expert effect and never changes the intended look of the films. What it does do is increase the realism of the presentation, and there is not a shot where fidelity or saturation is an issue. The prints are absolutely pristine and free of damage - a representation of the 1,000 hours of restoration done just this go-round - and if any digital manipulation was used, it never detracts or catches the eye. With high bitrates and wonderful encoding, these transfers are an absolute win for Paramount and viewers.
Each film receives a wonderful 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. For The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II, viewers may prefer the original Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mixes, which are also offered. The surround mixes are pulled from the previous restoration, while the mono mixes are newly restored. The bottom line is that these films sound as impressive as they look. Let me emphasize that they sound natural; no one at Paramount has decided to make the trilogy sound like a Michael Bay film, and that's OK with me. Dialogue is absolutely clear, whether delivered from the center channel or the surrounds. Hiss, distortion and crowding are never an issue, and dialogue is balanced with Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola's charismatic scores perfectly. Ambient effects are meant to transport viewers into a scene, and here they do. Crowd noise, weather, and the busy street sounds of New York City are everywhere, moving through the surrounds with ease. Action effects, though relatively spartan during the trilogy, are striking when present. Gunfire ricochets across the surrounds; an explosion rocks the subwoofer; and a helicopter assault does just that to viewers. Balance, fidelity, and layering are all excellent. Each film also may be accompanied by a host of 5.1 Dolby Digital dubs, and there are a plethora of subtitle options.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This standard edition 4K Ultra HD release is a five-disc set. There are four separate DigiPack cases that slide into the outer cardboard box. Each film gets its own case with corresponding artwork, and the fourth houses a 4K disc with previous versions of Part III (the 162-minute theatrical cut and the 170-minute "Final Director's Cut" from 1991) and a Blu-ray Disc of bonus features. The outer box is slightly flimsy but has tasteful artwork, and I like the collage artwork for each of the DigiPacks.
I'll get to the bonus disc momentarily, but there are a few bonus features on the movie discs: You get three Audio Commentaries by Francis Ford Coppola (for The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II and The Godfather: Part III (1991 version). There is a Introduction to The Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola (2:54/4K) and an Introduction to Coda by Francis Ford Coppola (1:32/4K) on that disc. On the bonus disc you get a nice selection of newly created material and legacy content. The new content includes: Full Circle: Preserving The Godfather (16:21/HD) is an informative piece about the entire restoration of the trilogy; Capturing the Corleones: Through the Lens of Photographer Steve Schapiro (13:21/HD) offers remarks from the trilogy's on-set photographer; The Godfather: Home Movies (9:04/HD) is 8mm footage from the set of the original; and Restoration Comparisons (10:43 total/HD) is a two-part visual depiction of the differences in the 2007 and 2022 restorations.
The extensive legacy content includes: The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn't (29:46/HD), about the challenges Coppola faced bringing the Puzo novels to the screen; Godfather World (11:19/HD); Emulsional Rescue: Revealing The Godfather (19:05/HD); …When the Shooting Stopped (14:18/HD); The Godfather on the Red Carpet (4:03/HD); Four Short Films of The Godfather (7:20 total/HD); Behind the Scenes (2:00:14 total/HD); 35 Additional Scenes; Trailers; Multiple Image and Promotional Galleries; interactive Corleone Family Tree and Crime Organization Chart; James Caan Screen Test (0:39/HD); Puzo "For the Money" (0:06/HD); The Godfather Around the World (0:47/HD); Cost Nostra and Coppola (1:53/HD) and Text Information on the Filmmakers.
What are you waiting for? If you do not own The Godfather Trilogy this is a must buy. If you own previous versions of the trilogy, this is also a must buy. Francis Ford Coppola's definitive trilogy based on Mario Puzo's novels is cemented in American culture, and offers a fine, memorable, wholly entertaining viewing experience. Paramount has lovingly restored all three films, and this UHD release represents the definitive version of the trilogy for home viewing. Paramount throws in some newly created bonus content, tons of legacy features, and three cuts of Part III, too. DVD Talk Collector Series.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.