"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli." That classic line from The Godfather could sum up Francis Ford Coppola's original 1972 film, his entire trilogy, and even the whole phenomenon. Yet it wasn't in the script. This is just one of the many revelations to be found in The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration.
Another is the enormous range of expressions now visible in Al Pacino's once seemingly blank face and eyes as his career-defining character, Michael Corleone, prepares to kill Sollozzo and McCluskey. And that points to the most striking revelation here: the rendering of Gordon Willis's cinematography. After all, this four-disc set of all three films is billed as a restoration supervised by director Coppola -- and this is Blu-ray. Willis's lighting has always been celebrated for its originality. But now, in The Godfather and Part II (1974), you can actually see for the first time in decades the shadings, the textures, and the glowing, golden tones that had been lost in the shadows and fog of nth-generation prints taken from battered negatives. With 4K scanning of the best sections from all available sources, shot-by-shot color correction, and frame-by-frame repairs, the transfers will have you marveling again at all the subtleties and beauty of these films.
True, the passage of time between the first two films and Part III (1990) means that there's a variation in picture quality within the set. Detail and clarity are of course much greater in the final installment, which has more of the punchy look we've become accustomed to in recent Hollywood productions. But even in the 36-year-old original, you can see the intricacies in the pattern on Luca Brasi's waistcoat, despite it being white on white. The blacks in the much-commented-upon dark scenes are solid and inky, but you can still differentiate the cut of Vito Corleone's suit.
Meanwhile, outside, the brightly lit wedding-reception scenes have the look of old photographs filled with a panoply of distinct tones. Here, as Kay Adams, Diane Keaton has fresh young skin that looks very natural and lovely. Although her salmon-orange dress is set against other equally saturated outfits, there is no bleeding. Elsewhere, shiny cars have a dimensionality to them, as do some close-ups; chiaroscuro lighting in the scene where Brasi is killed lends faces a solid, demonically sculptural look. And picture contrast only gets better with each chapter in the trilogy.
All three films have Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtracks. The first two are mixed from mono (also included), so they're not as active as that of Part III, but they still bring the full music off the screen, with some nice placing of individual instruments across the front channels. And in an audio effect like the explosion of Michael's car in Sicily, the suddenly surrounding bassy roar is as startling as it should be. On the night of another attempted assassination in Part II, thunder and rain abound, and then the attack fills the soundstage with machine-gun bullets smashing everything in their path. Part III takes the sonics a step further. Its more immersive mix of the wonderful, sweeping music is so open and present -- seemingly close enough to touch -- that toward the end of the saga, it really sounds like you're at the opera.
Coppola's engaging commentaries have been carried over from 2001's Godfather DVD Collection, as have all the featurettes on the production, script, music, and cinematography. Added to these are an array of new documentaries -- all in high-def on this Blu-ray set -- covering topics like the battle to get the first film made, the saga's cultural influence from The Sopranos to The Simpsons, and the technicians' unsung work on the trilogy. It's a rare pleasure to listen to the creators honestly evaluating both their successes and their disappointments. And it's a true education to have Walter Murch talking about experiments in sound edits and showing you three versions of the horse-head scene -- each with different music cues, eliciting very different feelings.
Although there is much to devour, you'll never feel stuffed. Even after the feast above, I still found room for the 34 deleted scenes. Yes, on Blu-ray, it's a step down to watch them in unrestored, standard-def footage. But you're still getting a chance to savor even more of the myth -- and who would ever decline an extra helping of The Godfather?
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