Godfather Trilogy, The (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Mar 21, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Godfather Trilogy, The (4K UHD Review)

Director

Francis Ford Coppola

Release Date(s)

1972, 1974, 1990/1991/2020 (March 22, 2022)

Studio(s)

Alfran Productions/The Coppola Company/American Zoetrope (Paramount Pictures)
  • Film/Program Grade: See Below
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: A
  • Overall Grade: A

The Godfather Trilogy (4K Ultra HD)

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Review

Few films have had as strong or lasting an impact on American popular culture as Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Trilogy. Widely considered to be one of the greatest Hollywood pictures of all time—along with Citizen Kane and CasablancaThe Godfather is a masterclass of cinematic restraint. The Godfather Part II has grown in stature to be regarded among the finest sequels ever made. And if the trilogy’s third act, The Godfather Part III—now presented as Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone—is thought of as a kind of cinematic Fredo, it remains a worthy conclusion nonetheless, offering occasional flashes of Coppola’s earlier brilliance.

Together, the films tell the epic story of the Corleone family, one of five that control organized crime in America in the mid-1940s. The Godfather opens with patriarch Vito (Marlon Brando) at the height of his power, celebrating the wedding of his daughter Connie (Talia Shire) and the return of his youngest son Michael (Al Pacino) home from fighting in World War II. Vito’s eldest, Sonny (James Caan), is poised to step into his father’s shoes with the help of Vito’s adopted son and consigliere, Tom (Robert Duvall). The idealistic Michael has just met the girl (Diane Keaton) he plans to marry, and has ambitious plans for a legitimate career in business or politics. Meanwhile, Fredo (John Cazale) is also there, quietly undervalued by all of them. But when Vito denies rival families involved in the narcotics trade the protection of his paid-for political connections (because he believes drugs are dishonorable), they try to assassinate him, and Michael is drawn ever more deeply into a life his father had hoped he’d escape.

Watching The Godfather today, fifty years after its theatrical debut, one is struck by the film’s almost ruthless efficiency. Despite its length, not a moment of screen time is wasted here. Scenes never last longer than necessary. The film is also remarkably unflashy; it’s “just business,” as its characters often proclaim. Consider this bit of dialogue after Vito’s enforcers kill one of their own who betrayed them: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” In any other film, a moment like that would be played for its humor. Here, it’s simply matter-of-fact. Impressive too are the film’s verisimilitude and authenticity. The Godfather also revels in its dramatic subtleties, so that when the violence does occur it’s all the more shocking and brutal.

The Godfather Part II shines for its added dimensions, contrasting the rise to power of young Vito (Robert De Niro) in the 1910s with Michael’s own ascendance as the new Corleone patriarch in the 1950s, yet it too remains elegant and efficient. De Niro is as good in his role as Brando and Pacino are in theirs, making an already terrific ensemble cast that much greater. Both of these films are vital to the story of this family and of Michael in particular. By the end of the first, Michael has taken up his father’s mantle, but he’s not yet lost his soul. But by the end of Part II, he’s crossed a line from which he can never return. All that remains then is Michael’s downfall, which is why The Godfather Part III suffers by comparison. Whereas the previous films feel necessary, Part III is merely inevitable. It’s also clumsier and self-indulgent. The shortest entry in this series, it somehow feels more bloated. And while Pacino remains as compelling as ever, Andy Garcia, Eli Wallach, and Joe Mantegna are all solid, and Sofia Coppola is nowhere near as bad as some critics have claimed, without Brando, Caan, Duvall, De Niro, and Cazale, the ensemble cast simply lacks the gravitas it had before. (New cast members Bridget Fonda and George Hamilton also feel a bit out of place.)

Still the new 158-minute Coda presentation (completed by Coppola in late 2020) does Part III a service. For one thing, it opens with Michael negotiating with Archbishop Gilday to save the Vatican bank, then moves directly to the party celebrating the Pope having granted him The Order of Saint Sebastian, making the latter feel much more like a direct quid pro quo. Gone is the meandering opening in which Michael writes to his children in voiceover while the camera pans over the family’s abandoned Tahoe compound. About five minutes of additional footage has been trimmed throughout the rest of the film, mostly to improve the pacing of existing scenes, and there’s been a little bit of re-ordering as well. The film also no longer ends with Michael’s actual death, instead implying that he’s serving a greater punishment for his sins, cursed to wither into old age with the memory of what he’s done and lost. Finally, the title change to Coda more accurately describes this film’s importance in the series. Part III has never felt equal to the previous installments. It is, truly, a summation, distinct from all that’s come before—as much about advancing age and the passage of time as it is about the larger Corleone family drama.

The Godfather: A
The Godfather Part II: A+
Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone: B-
The Godfather Part III (Both Versions): C+

The Godfather and The Godfather Part II were both shot on 35 mm photochemical film using Arriflex 35 IIC and Mitchell BNCR cameras, with Bausch & Lomb Super Baltar spherical lenses (also Kowa Cine Prominar lenses for Part II), while Part III (Coda) was shot on 35 mm film in Super 35 format with Panavision Panaflex Gold II cameras and Panavision Primo spherical lenses. All three were photographed by cinematographer Gordon Willis and were finished on film at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It’s worth noting here that the way in which Willis lit his scenes and exposed his negative was specifically designed to ensure that neither the studio nor a sloppy lab could alter his intended look for the films. But their popularity, combined with the poor studio asset protection practices of the day, meant that the original negative endured excessive wear and tear. A few decades later, The Godfather in particular was in bad shape.

So in 2007, working at Francis Ford Coppola’s request and with input from Willis, Robert A. Harris performed an exhaustive restoration of all three films, working from then state-of-the-art 10-bit 4K scans of the original camera negatives (as well as best-available elements for sections of OCN that were lost or too badly damaged). The result of this effort were new 4K Digital Intermediates, preservation negatives, and separation masters, as well as The Coppola Restoration 2008 Blu-ray release. By 2020 however, film scanning and restoration tools had further advanced to the point that Paramount, American Zoetrope, and Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging began work on a new restoration (led by Andrea Kalas and James Mockoski) in honor of the original film’s 50th anniversary, this time scanning original negative in 16-bit 4K. While it relied heavily on the work done in 2008, this new effort also benefitted from the fact that additional pieces of negative had since been located in the studio archives. And as a part of this process, the films have also now been graded for high dynamic range (the 4K discs include both HDR10 and Dolby Vision).

The resulting visual improvement is dramatic. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that this is almost a night and day upgrade compared to the previous Blu-rays. For one thing, there’s now much greater detail visible in the image, while texturing detail is more refined. The expanded dynamic range means there’s more detail apparent in the shadows and highlights too, even in scenes that previously appeared crushed or blown out on Blu-ray. Film grain is light to moderate, organic-looking, and more evenly controlled. The film’s color palette is also far more nuanced, while remaining faithful to Willis’ intended look. Whereas the Blu-rays exhibited a strong orange push, reds and pinks are now more accurate, which benefits skin tones in particular. There are a few scenes, particularly early in the first film, in which the negative still reveals its age a little bit, but the improvement here is something you really need to see to fully appreciate. All it takes is a couple instances of swapping back and forth between Blu-ray and 4K to be truly impressed by the new restoration. It’s a marvel, representing the best these films have looked since their original theatrical release.

In terms of audio, all three films (five if you count the two previous versions of Part III) include lossless 5.1 Dolby TrueHD surround mixes. These are, for all practical purposes, the same tracks found on the previous Coppola Restoration Blu-rays (and of course Coda was first released in late 2020 on Blu-ray as well). These open up the soundstage just a little bit with music and environmental cues to create a sense of space, yet still remain fairly faithful to the original mono experience of the first two films. But for purists, Paramount has also thankfully included those original theatrical mono mixes here for The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, each fully restored in 2.0 Dolby Digital format. The differences are subtle, but you might notice that the mono has slightly different music cue placement and the like. No matter which you choose, dialogue is clean and clear. And the 5.1 mix for Part III (Coda) has slightly more aggressive use of the surrounds in dramatic scenes (it is, after all, a more modern production), while still sounding of a piece with the surround mixes for the previous films.

The additional audio and subtitles options on these discs are a little complicated, as they’re not consistent across all the films. Here’s what you get:

The Godfather – Audio: English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, English Restored 2.0 Mono Dolby Digital, Latin Spanish, French, Italian, and Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, and French, Italian, and Japanese 2.0 Mono Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Danish, Latin Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Norwegian, Brazilian Portuguese, Finnish, and Swedish

The Godfather Part II – Audio: English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, English Restored 2.0 Mono Dolby Digital, Latin Spanish, French, and Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital, and French and Japanese 2.0 Mono Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Danish, Latin Spanish, French, Japanese, Dutch, Norwegian, Brazilian Portuguese, Finnish, and Swedish

Coda – Audio: English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, Czech, German, Spanish, Latin Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, and Russian 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Polish 2.0 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, German, Spanish, Latin Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Romanian, Simplified Chinese, Slovak, Finnish, Swedish, and Thai

The Godfather Part III – Audio: English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, and German, Spanish, Latin Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, and Russian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Cantonese, Danish, German, Spanish, Latin Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Romanian, Simplified Chinese, Finnish, Swedish, and Thai

Paramount’s new 4K Ultra HD release of The Godfather Trilogy is a five-disc set. Each of the three films gets its own UHD disc (BD-100s all) to ensure maximum data rates. The previous versions of Part III are also included on a fourth UHD disc, with both the 162-minute Theatrical Cut and 170-minute 1991 Cut (previously known as the Final Director’s Cut) available via seamless branching. These previous versions too are newly restored and remastered. The 4K discs included the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary by Francis Ford Coppola (on The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, and The Godfather Part III – 1991 Cut)
  • The Godfather Introduction by Francis Ford Coppola (4K – 2:54)
  • Coda Introduction by Francis Ford Coppola (4K – 1:32)

There’s a fifth disc in the set as well, a regular Blu-ray packed with bonus features that include the following:

  • Full Circle: Preserving The Godfather* (HD – 16:21)
  • Capturing The Corleones: Through the Lens of Photographer Steve Schapiro* (HD – 13:21)
  • The Godfather: Home Movies* (HD – 9:04)
  • The Godfather: Scan Element Comparisons* (HD – 5:19)
  • The Godfather Part II: Scan Element Comparisons* (HD – 5:24)
  • The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t (HD – 29:46)
  • Godfather World (HD – 11:19)
  • Emulsional Rescue – Revealing The Godfather (HD – 19:05)
  • …When the Shooting Stopped (HD – 14:18)
  • The Godfather on the Red Carpet (HD – 4:03)
  • Four Short Films on The Godfather (HD – 7:20 in all)
    • GF vs. GF Part II (HD – 2:16)
    • Riffing on the Riffing (HD – 1:39)
    • Cannoli (HD – 1:39)
    • Clemenza (HD – 1:45)
  • The Corleone Family Tree (Interactive)
  • Crime Organization Chart (Interactive)
  • Connie and Carlo’s Wedding Album (Gallery)
  • Behind the Scenes:
    • A Look Inside (SD – 73:29)
    • On Location (SD – 6:56)
    • Francis Coppola’s Notebook (SD – 10:13)
    • Music of the Godfather: Nino Rota (SD – 5:30)
    • Music of the Godfather: Carmine Coppola (SD – 3:17)
    • Coppola & Puzo on Screenwriting (SD – 8:07)
    • Gordon Willis on Cinematography (SD – 3:45)
    • Storyboards – Godfather Part II (Gallery)
    • Storyboards – Godfather Part III (Gallery)
    • The Godfather Behind the Scenes 1971 (SD – 8:56)
  • Additional Scenes:
    • Scenes (1901-1927) (SD – 9 scenes)
    • Scenes (1945) (SD – 10 scenes)
    • Scenes (1947-1955) (SD – 7 scenes)
    • Scenes (1958-1979) (SD – 8 scenes)
  • Galleries:
    • The Godfather Trailer (HD – 3:40)
    • The Godfather Part II Trailer (HD – 4:16)
    • The Godfather Part III Trailer (HD – 4:21)
    • Photo Gallery
    • Rogues’ Gallery
    • Acclaim & Response (4 SD clips and a text page)
  • Additional Material:
    • James Caan Screen Test (HD – :39)
    • The Sopranos (HD – 1:34)
    • Puzo “For the Money” (HD – :06)
    • The Godfather Around the World (HD – :47)
    • Cosa Nostra & Coppola (HD – 1:53)
  • The Filmmakers:
    • Francis Ford Coppola (Text)
    • Mario Puzo (Text)
    • Gordon Willis (Text)
    • Dean Travoularis (Text)
    • Nino Rota (Text)
    • Carmine Coppola (Text)
  • Godfather Chronology (Interactive Timeline)
  • 2008 Credits (Text)
  • DVD Credits (Text)

* Newly-created for the 4K release

Several of these features are brand new, including significant material on the 2020 restoration effort, a lovely piece on the work of freelance photographer Steve Schapiro (who passed away in January and who was the set photographer on the first film), and rare 8 mm home movie footage of the production of The Godfather shown here for the first time. The rest are legacy features carried over in their entirety from not only the 2008 Blu-ray release, but also the original 2001 DVD release as well. And it’s not just the video material but text-based content too. We’ve covered much of this previously here at The Bits, and fans will already have seen most of it. Suffice it to say that it’s a huge collection of worthy material on the making of this trilogy. Really, about the only thing you don’t get here are the chronological Godfather Saga and Complete Epic versions of the films that have appeared on home video over the years. (One can always hope those will get a remastered release in the future.) Note that the package also includes a slip with Digital codes for 4K streaming versions of The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, and Coda.

Often imitated yet never equaled, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Trilogy rightly belongs in the library of any serious student of cinema. Paramount’s new 4K release represents these films well indeed, with the best video quality on any home format to date, along with a wealth of new and legacy special features. This may well end up being regarded as the best UHD release of the year. It’s not only highly recommended, it’s not to be missed.

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

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