The Godfather (4K UHD)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo (based on the novel by Mario Puzo)
Stars: Marlon Brando (Vito Corleone), Al Pacino (Michael Corleone), James Caan (Sonny Corleone), Richard S. Castellano (Clemenza), Robert Duvall (Tom Hagen), Sterling Hayden (Police Captain McCluskey), Al Lettieri (Sollozzo), Diane Keaton (Kay Adams), Talia Shire (Connie)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1972
Country: U.S.
The Godfather 4K UHD
The Godfather

The Godfather ... is the first completely authentic modern myth in American cinema ...” —Jake Horsley, TheBlood Poets: A Cinema of Savagery, 1958-1999

A half century after it won the Academy Award for Best Picture and helped launch the careers of a half-dozen actors and a 31-year old director named Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather remains a riveting piece of work, a true masterpiece of the American cinema. Having viewed it more than a dozen times, I am still floored every time I see it and am reminded of what a cinematic landmark it truly is, especially when placed in context with the two sequels that followed it.

The Godfather, which was based on a fictional Mafioso potboiler by Mario Puzo, is not so much about power itself, but about the transfer of power. It tells the story of the fictional Corleone family and how the family’s power moves from the aging father, Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), to his youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino). Power is seen as the ultimate commodity, more important than money or possessions. In this way, The Godfather is a deeply American film, because the Corleone family is a twisted mirror reflecting genuine American enterprise.

Michael is one of Vito’s four sons, three of blood, one adopted. Sonny (James Caan) is the eldest son, but he is too hot-tempered and unstable to lead the family. Fredo (John Cazale), the middle son, is likeable, but slow and unmotivated. And Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), the Irish-German adopted son who works as the family’s attorney, could never lead the family because he is not Sicilian.

At the beginning of the film, Michael is staunchly against taking part in the family’s illegal businesses. He is a hero of World War II who has gone out of his way to separate himself. After explaining to his girlfriend, Kay (Diane Keaton), how his family operates through violence and intimidation, he responds to her stunned look by saying, “That’s my family, Kay. It’s not me.” But, as the film progresses, we realize he is only deluding himself. Michael is very much a part of the family, and he slowly begins to understand that he is the natural choice to succeed his father. Part of the film’s strength is its careful portrayal of Michael’s evolution into a cold-hearted, ruthless leader, much more dangerous than his father ever was.

What is so startling and so brilliant about The Godfather is how it effortlessly draws you into its world, which is constructed as much out of pulp magazines and gangster films from the ’30s as it is from authentic Italian-American experiences. From the first frames inside Don Corelone’s dark, amber-hued office, the viewer is immersed in the ebb and flow of the Mafia life, with all its stark melodrama and sudden violence. The film never ventures outside this frame of reference, so we are never allowed to identify with anyone except the Corleones. By doing this, Coppola makes them accessible and understandable, even tragic and sometimes noble. Otherwise, they would simply be power-hungry liars and murderers.

At the center of the Corleone family is the Marlon Brando character. Brando brings an incredible amount of wisdom, respectability, and honor to Vito Coreleone. He is the patriarch of the most powerful family in New York, but he is not above the simple aspects of life. He is first and foremost a father who takes great pride in his family, something many “legitimate” men can’t claim. “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man,” he says, showing how his power is supported by a morality that many upright Americans are lacking.

He doesn’t mind dealing in gambling and prostitution because he sees those as simple vices that society can accept. But, when given the chance to get into the narcotics business, he senses the decay it will bring. He refuses to go along, thus touching off a 10-year war that engulfs most of the film. The narcotics dealers, led by Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), think the old man is losing his edge, when in fact he is just trying to hold on to the old morality that most of America was beginning to discard in the postwar years.

This morality is key to The Godfather because it helps the viewer identify and sympathize with the family. The family is always of the utmost importance, the emphasis being on the group, rather than the individual. When Fredo makes the mistake of arguing with Michael in front of others, Michael pulls him aside and gravely tells him, “Don’t ever take sides against the family again.” That is the ultimate sin.

Arguments have been made as to who is the protagonist of the story, Vito or Michael. In my eyes, they are both the protagonists, with the power exchange being the link between them. The first half of the film deals with Vito while he is in power, and the second half details Michael’s rise, with the final frames of the film ensuring us that he is now the Godfather for the next generation.

The greatest sequence, which cuts together quiet scenes of Michael standing godfather to his sister’s child with the brutal violence of his henchmen murdering all the family’s enemies is a masterpiece of both editing and storytelling. The two opposing halves of the sequence show Michael’s dual nature: In the legitimate sense, he is becoming godfather to a child, a highly respected and religious position. But, in a larger sense, by ordering the murder of all his enemies, he confirms his position as head of the Corleone family--the new Godfather.

A riveting film from beginning to end, The Godfather is a landmark in American cinema. At its heart, it is simply great storytelling. All the elements are there, from Gordon Willis’s superb cinematography to Nino Rota’s haunting score. For three hours it draws you into its world, bringing complex characters to life and letting the drama unfold slowly and surely. It is an excellent depiction of the inherent, all-encompassing dangers of power and its ability to corrupt. Time has not diminished this masterpiece, but rather solidified what critics and audiences alike knew when it was first released: This is one of the greatest motion pictures ever made.

The Godfather Trilogy 50th Anniversary 4K UHD Box Set

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 (all three films)
  • The Godfather 4K
  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround
  • English Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • Italian Dolby Digital 5. surround
  • Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • The Godfather: Part II 4K

  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround
  • English Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone 4K

  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround
  • Czech Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • German Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Polish Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Russian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • The Godfather Part III 4K

  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround
  • German Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Russian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Subtitles The Godfather 4K: English, English SDH, French, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish; The Godfather Part II 4K: English, English SDH, French, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish; The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone 4K:English, English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Swedish, Thai; The Godfather Part III 4K: English, English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Cantonese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Swedish, Thai
  • Audio commentary on all three films by director Francis Ford Coppola
  • Video introduction by Coppola
  • “Full Circle: Preserving The Godfather
  • “Capturing the Corleones: Through the Lens of Photographer Steve Schapiro” featurette
  • The Godfather: Home Movies” featurette
  • “Restoration Comparisons” featurettes
  • “The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t” featurette
  • “Godfather World” featurette
  • “Emulsion Rescue: Revealing The Godfather” featurette
  • “...When the Shooting Stopped” featurette
  • The Godfather on the Red Carpet” featurette
  • Four Short Films on The Godfather
  • The Corleone Family Tree
  • Crime Organization Chart
  • Connie and Carlo's Wedding Album
  • The Godfather Family: A Look Inside retrospective documentary
  • The Godfather Behind the Scenes” 1971 featurette
  • Additional scenes
  • Trailers
  • Galleries
  • Godfather Chronology
  • James Caan Screen Test
  • The Sopranos
  • Puzo “For the Money”
  • The Godfather Around the World
  • Cosa Nostra & Coppola
  • The Filmmakers: Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo, Gordon Willis, Dean Tavoularis, Nino Rota, Carmine Coppola
  • DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    Release DateMarch 22, 2022

    Having reviewed DVDs, Blu-rays, and now 4K UHDs, I recognize that there are times when I get it wrong. To wit, here is a sentence from my review of the Robert A. Harris-led restoration of The Godfather trilogy that was released on Blu-ray in 2008: “this new digital restoration … seems to have brought the films as close as they will ever come to how they looked theatrically.” Well, I was wrong, and I am happy to say so in light of Paramount’s truly stunning new 4K boxset, which features all-new restorations that benefit not only from the increased resolution and color that 2160p/Dolby Vision offers, but also the discovery in the ensuing years of additional and better film elements for the transfers. As detailed in the supplements, the restoration and archival teams at Paramount and American Zoetrope painstakingly pieced together all of the best known surviving elements to create all-new transfers that noticeable improve upon the previous restoration (which is rightfully commended as the foundation upon which this one could be built). The image boasts demonstrably better detail, which we can see, for example, in Connie’s wedding dress, which used to be mostly blown-out whites, but now has visible lace patterning. The image is still fairly heavy with grain and slightly soft, but the grain is much finer and less noticeable, which also enhances minute details throughout (the general softness is the intended look and any attempt to sharpen it would be disastrous). Colors also get a significant boost, giving the films a more natural palette of strong reds and blues to complement the blacks and earth tones, rather than reds that are a bit orangey and blues that lean toward teal. Thousands of hours were also spent repairing dirt, nicks, tears, and splices, leaving the films all but pristine. Obviously The Godfather, being the oldest of the films and the one whose original 35mm negative took the most abuse, benefits the most from the restoration, but Part II also looks demonstrably better in all those categories, as well. All three films were shot by cinematographer Gordon Willis, which gives them a visual consistency despite spanning 18 years of production. The image on The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corelone is mostly likely just the full 4K presentation of the transfer of the new re-edit that we got on an individual Blu-ray release last year. These are films of dark shadows, heavy contrast, and golden lighting, and the 4K transfers are truly gorgeous, with deep, rich, warm imagery that is alive with grain and texture, making the experience of watching them again feel that much more rewarding. The soundtracks for the films appear to be the same Dolby Digital True HD 5.1 surround remasters we got on the 2008 Blu-ray set. The forlorn horns that greet us at the beginning of each movie have exquisite depth and resonance, as does all of the music. The first two films, both originally recorded in monaural, are necessarily limited to an extent, with most of the soundtrack coming from the center speaker. Gunshots and explosions are given added impact, and directionality and imaging are used sparingly but effectively, with only a few instances sounding forced.

    The supplements are extensive, drawing together almost everything that was included in the original 2001 DVD set and the 2008 Blu-ray set and then adding several new supplements. All of the supplements, with the exception of the audio commentaries, are housed on a separate Blu-ray disc, which is convenient. I should also note that the original theatrical cut of The Godfather Part III is included on a 4K UHD disc in the same case with the supplements disc, which is appropriate since Coppola now views The Godfather Coda as the true third film. However, it is nice for us completists that the original theatrical cut is not only included in the boxset, but has been given first-rate 4K UHD treatment.

    First, the new stuff: We can lead off with the 16-minute featurette “Full Circle: Preserving The Godfather,” which focuses on the new restoration of the film. It includes interviews with numerous archivists and restoration experts and gives us a fascinating glimpse into the work that was done to create this new release. “Capturing the Corleones: Through the Lens of Photographer Steve Schapiro” is a new 13-minute featurette in which set photographer Steve Schapiro reminisces about his time documenting the production. “The Godfather: Home Movies” consists of 9 minutes of silent 8mm footage shot on set during the production of the opening wedding scene. And, finally, there are about 10 minutes of visual comparisons of The Godfather and The Godfather Part II that demonstrate how substantial the difference is between this new restoration and the one from 2007.

    From the 2008 Blu-ray set, we have two featurettes: “The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t” (29 min.) and “Godfather World” (11 min.), which feature interviews with an impressive list of people who were either involved in making the films or have been somehow affected or influenced by them. The former category includes director Francis Ford Coppola, editor Walter Murch, then-Paramount vice president Peter Bart, and then-senior vice president Robert Evans, and the latter category includes everyone from Coppola friends and fellow New Hollywood luminaries George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and William Friedkin, to directors Kimberly Peirce and Guillermo del Toro, Sopranos creator David Chase, films critics Kenneth Turan and Mick LaSalle, South Park co-creator Trey Parker, and actors Joe Mantegna, Jon Turturro, and Alec Baldwin. “The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t” explores the film’s conflicted production history and how it came close to never making it into production, while “Godfather World” is an intriguing and often amusing look into the films’ vast cultural impact. It focuses a great deal on how they influenced The Sopranos, but we also get clips of hilarious Godfather parodies from The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, and SCTV (as well as that infamous Audi commercial), plus clips from Seth Isler’s amazing one-man stage-show The Godfadda Workout, in which he recreates much of the film playing all the roles himself. More information about the film’s actual production can be gleaned from “…When the Shooting Stopped,” a 15-minute look at the film’s postproduction with particular emphasis paid to the film’s score.

    Those interested in the films’ difficult 2007 restoration will enjoy “Emulsional Rescue,” an in-depth 19-minute look at how the badly damaged original negatives were scanned at 4K by Motion Picture Imaging and restored. We get some great behind-the-scenes footage of the lab work taking place, as well as interviews with restoration expert Robert A. Harris; cinematographer Gordon Willis, who shot all three films, and Allen Daviau, who served as consulting cinematographer for the restoration; Martin Cohen, executive vice president for postproduction at Paramount who oversaw the restoration; and a host of digital artists who made the work happen.

    After that the supplements start to get a bit thin. “Godfather on the Red Carpet” is simply four minutes of various actors gushing about the film on the red carpet for the premiere of Cloverfield (there was no small amount of Paramount synergy at work here, especially with the presence of so many of the actors from the then-upcoming Star Trek reboot). “Four Short Films About The Godfather,” which run 7 minutes total, feel like outtakes from the longer featurettes that didn’t naturally fit anywhere (these include debates over which is better, The Godfather or The Godfather Part II and Coppola explaining why Clemenza’s death is a bit fuzzy in the second film). The Corleone Family Tree and Crime Organization Chart are pretty cool interactive features that give a fairly ridiculous amount of information about the characters and the actors who played them (if you’ve ever wanted to see Sonny’s rap sheet, this is for you). Finally, there is “Connie & Carlo’s Wedding Album,” which is stills gallery of 25 photos from the opening wedding sequence.

    Also included is the entire archive of supplements from the 2001 DVD box set. First up is director Francis Ford Coppola’s commentary—actually, his commentaries. Coppola fills an entire commentary track for each of the three films, and they are all outstanding. Perhaps it is because Coppola is such an experienced and knowledgeable director; perhaps it is because the films themselves are so deep and rich in meaning and history; or perhaps it is because Coppola had so many years to sit back and reflect on his achievements and failures. Most likely, it is a combination of all three, but whatever the reasons, these commentaries are definitely worth listening to, especially the one for Part III in which Coppola discusses the less-than-enthusiastic response to the film and offers a defense of it.

    The Godfather Family: A Look Inside is a 73-minute retrospective documentary produced by Paramount in 1991 after the completion of Part III. It includes numerous interviews with those involved, including Coppola, novelist/screenwriter Mario Puzo, producer Fred Roos, and actors Al Pacino, James Caan, and Robert Duvall, among others. Most intriguing, though, is the inclusion of numerous screen tests conducted for the first film, including tests of James Caan and Martin Sheen playing the role of Michael Corleone. The behind-the-scenes supplements include six featurettes. The first, “Francis Ford Coppola’s Notebook,” is a 10-minute interview with Coppola in which he discusses an enormous “prompt book,” which he describes as a “multi-layered roadmap” that he used to plan the film down to the smallest detail. “Music of The Godfather” contains two sections, a five-and-a-half minute recording of a meeting in 1972 between Coppola and composer Nino Rota in which Rota plays for Coppola the famous waltz music for the first time. The second part is a three-minute interview with composer Carmine Coppola (Francis’s father) filmed while Part III was being scored. “On Location” is an interesting bit in which production designer Dean Tavoularis returns to the street on the lower East Side of Manhattan that was literally transformed for Part II. This featurette includes still images from the production as well as an extensive bit of black-and-white footage from a documentary shot during Part II‘s production. “Coppola and Puzo on Screenwriting” consists of eight minutes of interviews with Coppola and the late Mario Puzo on how they collaborated to write the three films. There are a few interesting bits here, including Puzo’s dislike of Coppola’s decision to have Michael order Fredo’s murder at the end of Part II and his desire to make a Part IV that would focus on Sonny during the 1930s. The last featurette, “Gordon Willis on Cinematography,” is actually an excerpt from the excellent documentary Visions of Light, coproduced by the American Film Institute. Also featuring interviews from noted cinematographers Michael Chapman, Conrad Hall, and William A. Fraker, this featurette is a crash course on The Godfather‘s visual style and the great risks Willis took in making it look the way it does.

    Also included is a nine-minute promotional featurette on The Godfather produced in 1971. Presented in scratchy, faded full-frame, it offers little insight into the film itself although it is interesting as an example of how Paramount was trying to position the film during its theatrical release. Additional supplements include an astounding 34 deleted scenes, many of which long-time Godfather fans will recognize as having been included in the re-edited 1977 The Godfather Saga, which cut together the first two films in chronological order. A number of the scenes, however, had not been seen before. The extra scenes are organized chronologically by year as the would appear within the entire saga, and each is preceded by a brief description of the scene and how it would fit into the larger narrative.

    There are also a number of storyboards from Part II and Part III, an extensive stills gallery of production and behind-the-scenes shots, the Corleone family tree with personal histories of all the major characters, a timeline of events in all three films, archival TV footage of Coppola and others accepting their Oscars in both 1973 and 1975, and theatrical trailers for all three films presented in anamorphic widescreen.

    Copyright © 2022 James Kendrick

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    Overall Rating: (4)

    James Kendrick

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