Godfather, The (US - BD)
Our Gabe revisits the first of Coppola's saga on BD, minus the extra features...
Once again, I find myself reviewing something I’ve already reviewed in a different packaging, and once again I’m not going to entirely re-write my thoughts. What follows here is a slightly re-edited version of the Godfather section of my Godfather Trilogy review, including the video, audio sections, as nothing has changed from the releases besides the number of films and extras.
The first question that comes to mind in dealing with a film of such unquestionably quality is one that should follow all beloved works of art, and one that becomes more and more relevant with each passing year—is The Godfather an overrated film? From the apparently not entirely subjective point of view that it may be the best film of all time, yes, it is somewhat overrated. There is room for improvement, and if someone doesn’t particularly like the film, they are more than entitled to this opinion, but realistically speaking, all hyperbole aside, The Godfather is one of the best films of all time, so the extent of the overratedness is pretty minimal. For the record, I’m slightly more fond of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas myself, if we’re comparing films strictly on subgenre, and none of Francis Ford Coppola’s films crack my personal top ten.
Watching the film again (again, again) I’m reminded that it isn’t the pompous wall of intellectual hobnobbery that its preceding reputation suggests. The film is smart, and lends itself to different readings, but it isn’t steeped in self-important metaphor as some of us may remember. Factually, a solid half of the film’s appeal is in its pulpy baroque nature, and its focus on plain and simple storytelling, and most importantly its treatment of characters. All three films are notoriously long, but the first episode moves the story from point to point without wasting screen time one listless or episodic narration, unlike many of its direct followers, specifically Godfather III and Brian DePalma’s Scarface. The pieces fit together, and unlike the effort of putting together Ikea furniture, the viewer isn’t left with any extra bits. Perhaps one could argue in favour of shortening the opening wedding, but it’s hard to consider anything specifically extraneous.
The Godfather is nearly equal parts larger than life opera and intimate family story, which ensures that the more symbolic and thought provoking bits aren’t coming from a place beyond the layman’s understanding (for lack of a less condescending phrase). The film’s enduring popularity likely has more to do with its accessibility in spite of its artistic integrity and intelligence, though it’s doubtful the film would create a similar stir if released into the modern film landscape. Melodrama can be ridiculous, and intimacy can be aggravating, but Coppola and his more than capable cast (who I really don’t need to praise specifically, it’s a given) find a balance between theatrical styles, and whispering closeness. It seems to me that the big schism between those that ‘get’ the film and those that simply enjoy watching it as a piece of entertainment is the ending, and the viewers' understanding of the tragedy that closes out the film. It’s not a happy ending, guys; it’s a very, very sad ending. Otherwise, The Godfather is one of those movies we can all just agree to love, no matter what our reasons.
This is, without a doubt, the best the film has looked since it was first released, but it does show its age. The Godfather features all those famously deep and dark nearly sepia browns and golds, and some sequences on this disc are simply breathtaking. The depth of the blacks is almost impossibly bottomless, and thanks to increased definition they now stand in better contrast to the rest of the frame. Even the relatively decent looking DVD release featured loss of definition in the darkest of scenes, creating basically a flat black image with only the slightest highlights. Don’t get me started on those fuzzy pan and scan VHS releases and TV versions. This isn’t to say that Coppola and DP Gordon Willis’ high contrast, noir inspired imagery is lost in high definition. The sepia browns and golds are even and as natural as can be expected from such a stylized pallet. And against these browns, golds, and blacks are dashes of bright red, orange, and green cleanly and fully bouncing off the screen.
Details are sharp compared to previous releases, but not compared to some similarly aged films on Blu-ray ( 2001: A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters of the Third Kind spring to mind). The problems mostly arise from the age of the stock, the deep darkness of the frame, and possibly the stock itself (sometimes older, non-anamorphic, spherical 35 mm lacks super high detail, though I don’t pretend to have even a working knowledge of such things). The frame is consistently grainy as well. Comparing the Blu-ray to the DVD I can plainly see that the dark blacks and blues get away cleanly this time around, but dark oranges and flesh tones are swimming with grain, and even a little bit of green and red noise. The New York, Vegas and Hollywood stock footage peppered throughout the relatively cheaply made film now stands out as limited in detail with blown out whites. The bright daylight scenes are in shocking contrast to the majority of the film, and feature greater details, and more impressive contrast levels. Roughly speaking, it ain’t perfect, but it’ll do, especially when considering what Coppola and Willis’ intended, which was an aged look.
The Godfather is as audibly subtle as suspense driven horror film, revelling in relative silence for minute after tension wracked minute, then bursting with the rough pops of gunfire and breaking dishes. Mostly this Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is similarly centred in its aural focus to the DVD release, but there are a few spiffing sound effects moments, and a very strongly represented score. The dialogue is somewhat inconsistent, sometimes suffering a little reverb, other times blurting a hair of tinny distortion, but it’s all understandable, even the whispery quiet moments. The surround and stereo channels come to surprising life with the presence of stuff like rolling thunder (check out the LFE during the hospital scene) and screaming street trains (the scene where Michael assassinates his enemies in the restaurant is probably the most aurally aggressive moment in the entire film). Additions like these and moving cars reveal a robust bass track, and though minimal, the surround effects work directionally.
The only extra here is Coppola’s commentary track, which was recorded for the original DVD release of the trilogy. The track is still fully formed, stimulating, and substantially listenable, but is a little bit unessential given its previous availability. If you’re like me, and you’ve already seen these films a dozen or so times, the track makes for an entertaining alternative to listening to the same old dialogue and music, no matter how brilliant it may be. You’ve got to respect the man’s ability to sit and talk to himself for nearly nine hours (if we count the commentary on the third film, which is not available separately). Still, most of these stories are pretty well known, but those that don’t own the trilogy collection have no other extras to work from.
This Sapphire Series release does, in fact, feature the same Coppola Restoration video and audio elements that accompanied the Godfather Trilogy Blu-ray set released in September of 2008, so there is no need for owners of that set to repurchase this film. I know there are those that really despise the third film in the series, but for the money it’s probably worth buying the collection set over this disc, especially for the extra added quality of the fourth disc’s documentaries and featurettes. Just think of the third film as a special feature. Those that positively cannot abide by Godfather III and who just don’t care about extras can be satisfied in the knowledge that they are getting the best possible versions of one of the best possible movies ever made.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 2nd February 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD English, Dolby TrueHD French, Dolby TrueHD Spanish, Dolby Digital Mono English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Director's Commentary
Easter Egg: No
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Cast: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, James Caan, Robert Duvall
Genre: Crime and Drama
Length: 175 minutes
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