What hasn't already been said about "The
Godfather?" Parts I & II have been seen so many times, and certain lines
and scenes have been parodied and copied, that it could be easy to
dismiss this latest re-release of the films. After hearing a classic
rock song from the 1960s that you've heard over-and-over again, for
example, much of the meaning and powerful statements that were made
become diluted. You don't get an emotional charge as you did the first
time you first heard the song. It becomes a familiar part of the
background and means virtually nothing anymore. In the case of "The
Godfather," the spoofs and parodies have somewhat taken away the impact
these films can make on an audience. Are these films worth re-visiting
again? Yes, and then some.
Even though I've been a film lover for years and have tried to study the so-called classics, I hate to admit it, but I'd never seen "The Godfather: Part II" in its entirety. I'd seen most of the film in bits and pieces, but never as a whole. I'd seen "The Godfather" and I'd seen most of "The Godfather: Part III." This is one of those cases when you're told in school that you have to read "Tom Sawyer." Even though the book is brilliant once you sit down to read it, it's still required reading. No one like to be required to read an old book. The same held true for me about "The Godfather" movies. Everyone says it's a classic, and the critics have said it's classic, so it's got to be good.
I'd been waiting for a definitive version of the films. I had wanted to see the first two films properly in 35mm, but I still drug my feet. Indeed, the first two films have been shown occasionally in the Los Angeles area in revivals, but I still was reluctant to see them. They're long movies. So I figured I'd wait for it on DVD, and by chance, Paramount put together a nice DVD set a few years ago. I found it well-done in regard to picture and sound. DVD is great, but the sound quality is subpar. It didn't turn out to be a disc set I was going to rush out and buy. With the advent of Blu-ray, the enticement was too much to handle. I'd finally dive right into the water and see if I could swim with the fishes.
My favorite out of the three films is "Part II." At first I was a bit taken back by the structure of the film which shows Don Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) as a young man coming into his own and Michael Corleone's (Al Pacino)struggle to maintain his power while he alienates his family in the process. It's interesting to see the dichotomy between the elder Corleone and the younger Corleone. Vito is a loving man, but don't cross him. Michael is ruthless and frightening in his calm. He's a loving husband and father, but work comes first. The second film in the series is stronger both in Coppola's direction and storytelling. The film, though a bit slow at times, manages to work on so many levels that you can't wait to see what happens next. Since I hadn't seen "Part II" in its entirety, it was fascinating to sit down and catch it all at one time. This is a remarkable piece of filmmaking, and I believe it's superior to the original film. The acting becomes even stronger than before and the intricate dual storylines are compelling.
"The Godfather" is also outstanding. I guess I've been desensitized to this film from having seen it spoofed or ripped off for so many years. Once I turned off my previous notions of this film, I became entranced in its beauty. From what I've understood, this was a troubled production and Coppola really was still cutting his teeth as a director. What's even more amazing to me is that he was still in his 30s when he made the first two films. He and his cast and crew pull off an amazing feat of creating a film that is timeless in its look at an Italian-American family. Despite the Corleone's penchant for revenge and killing, oddly enough, the audience cares for these people. Brando is excellent in the film. He makes it believable that he's a kindly grandfather around his grandkids and loves his family, yet can order an execution. Pacino is great in how he goes from the sweet brother of the Corleone kids to head the family business. His acting, as with the entire cast, is remarkable.
"Part III" is a film I find difficult to sit through. I saw it in 1990 in its theatrical release and walked out towards the final reel. "The Godfather" culture had been already engrained American society, so I knew who most of the returning characters were. Unfortunately, "Part III" doesn't have a cohesive story, good supporting characters or the necessary drama that made the first two films so good. There's very little conflict or a feeling of danger that we saw in the first two films. Michael isn't scary whatsoever in this film, where in the other two, you felt nervous and wondered what the "Don" would do to someone.
I've heard over recent years how "Part III" is better than what people may remember. I went back to the film with that mindset and came out feeling the same way as I did 18 years ago - the film doesn't work. The pacing is slow and the conflicts aren't very strong. Pacino is still good as Michael, but he looks like he's winded. The time period in which it takes place, 1979, looks like 1990 with the hairstyles and fashion. The rest of the cast seems as though they're on-screen as "star power," rather than being an intriguing part of the Corleone story. Andy Garcia, as Michael's up-and-coming protégé, doesn't have the grit or charm that his Mafia predecessors had. He seems like a nice guy trying to be a hot head and comes off as unbelievable. Joe Mantegna is an excellent actor, but he's far too charming in this film to believe he's a bad guy. The name of his character, Joey Zaza, always sounded funny to me. Sofia Coppola clearly looks uncomfortable playing the role as Mary Corleone. Being Francis' daughter, it's easy to pick on her lack of acting skills and possibly being "daddy's girl." In fairness, she probably felt uncomfortable acting. Imagine that a baseball manager with an all-star team calls out for a guy in the stands, who only played two ball games in his life, to come out and hit the ball with bases loaded. When I saw the film in 1990, her performance was the main reason why I walked out. I'm older and hopefully more understanding now to say she's better than I remembered, but her scenes are still difficult to watch. The whole idea of she and Garcia having a love affair (they're cousins in the story) made me feel creepy and still does. The film had an outstanding cast and crew under the leadership of Francis Ford Coppola, yet the film is a diluted ending to the Corleone saga.
The Blu-ray versions of this trilogy are stunning in their quality. Don't go in expecting the films being super shined with digital clarity to get every speck of dust and grain off the picture. Don't expect the soundtrack to blow you through the back wall of your entertainment room. These films, in my opinion, represent what can be done the right way on film restoration. Unlike Disney's handling of "Cinderella" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" to make them more appealing to audiences (i.e. young children), "The Godfather" films look like films from the period in which the were made. The film grain is present and warranted, while the softness of certain lenses gives the film its nostalgic quality. Rather than assuming what Gordon Willis or Coppola would've done with today's technology,
the restoration team consulted with Willis and Coppola. This restoration is the right way to do a restoration. I believe if the restoration team went into these films and cleaned them to be brighter and sharper for "today's audiences," the entire effect of the films would be greatly diminished.
The soundtrack on parts I & II was re-mixed for 5.1 sound in the 1990s. Those two films were originally released in mono sound, and the Blu-rays have that option. "Part III" had some 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo prints made during its 1990 run. All and all, the sound on each one of these discs is impressive. The soundtracks on parts I & II are usually very quiet. Yet the sound, once it kicks in on sound effects and music, is quite clear and impressive. It seems that the remixing was done very tastefully. The Dolby TrueHD sound is very good, though I believe that an uncompressed sound option would've been nice to have. The mono soundtrack on the first two films is available, but at a low bitrate so the sound quality lags behind the Dolby TrueHD tracks as far as fidelity is concerned.
Parts I & II are American cinema classics loved by both audiences and critics alike. Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo, taking a cue from Shakespearian tragedy, interweave the stories of Don Corleone and Michael Corleone into a tapestry of filmmaking brilliance. Coppola's writing and direction is in top form here. Watching parts I & II, one can admire the depth of his talent. Still in his 30s, Coppola managed build a mythological and dark world where you have to always watch your back and watch who you can trust.
The 1970s has a reputation for some daring filmmaking by young directors. Many critics and film scholars have cited that decade as being perhaps the best decade in film. It's hard to disagree when you sit down and watch the first two "Godfather" films. Critics and film scholars also seem to forget that there were plenty of bad movies made during the 1970s. But the "classics" are remarkable. "Patton." "Deliverance." "The Exorcist." "Jaws." The first two "Godfather" films have held up well over the years, and it's nice to see them shown with respect to the author's vision.
Special thanks to Click Communications
Photos: © Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.
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