The Godfather on Blu-ray

The Godfather trilogy is released today in the US on Blu-ray Disc.

Although the UK release doesn’t come out here until October it is worth writing about what is a key release for the Blu-ray format and also a significant re-release of two of the greatest films ever made (and yes I’m talking about the first two parts).

What’s interesting about this version is that they underwent extensive frame-by-frame digital restoration that was closely overseen by writer-director Francis Ford Coppola.

The process took more than a year to complete and each of the films includes a commentary by Coppola.

Bill Hunt at the Digital Bits explains in more detail as to how this restoration came about:

The result is that the films have not only been rebuilt and saved, they’ve been restored to quality as good or better than the original theatrical presentations – quality consulted upon and approved by both Coppola and cinematographer Gordon Willis.

Thankfully, a couple years ago, director Francis Ford Coppola contacted Steven Spielberg (then newly partnered with Paramount and Viacom) to see if Spielberg might be able to use his clout to help save the films.

This he did, and so a complete physical and digital restoration was eventually done under the supervision of our very own Robert A. Harris and his Film Preserve (with the help of many talented artists – and artists they are, believe me).

To make a very long and complex story short, the best photochemical elements from around the world were gathered, allowing the films to be reconstructed literally piece by piece.

The footage was then scanned in 4K resolution so that print damage could be repaired digitally and the original color-timing could be recreated precisely.

For more on the restoration process check out this extensive article by Stephanie Argie in American Cinematographer, which includes some interesting information, notably that the original negative – surely one of the crown jewels in the history of cinema – was in poor shape:

As he got into the project, Harris discovered that the negatives for the first two Godfather films had sustained additional damage in the 1980s, when Paramount sent them to an optical house to make new prints.

The original rolls were disassembled and then reassembled incorrectly, a cheaper but chemically damaging fill was used, and the films’ lyrical 12′ and 16′ dissolves were replaced with dissolves of generic length for ease of printing.

He recalls, “I locked a current print into a synchronizer with an original print, which is what I always do when I begin a restoration, and they were not tracking at all. Paramount knew nothing of this [damage].”

It also explains how they recruited the original cinematographer Gordon Willis to help them with their work:

Harris believes it’s critical for a cinematographer to be part of the restoration process, and because Willis lives in Massachusetts and could not be in Los Angeles for the many months the restoration would require, Harris asked Daviau to consult on the project.

“Allen standing in for Gordon was one master standing in for another,” says Harris. “Allen has the best eyes in the business —he’ll see a quarter-point difference shot to shot.

The first thing I asked him to help with was figuring out exactly what ‘black’ is in these films; that was our biggest challenge in terms of Gordon’s work. Allen donated his time, and without him and Gordon, we would have been lost.”

The new extras are on the fourth disc, along with all the special features included on the trilogy’s initial 2001 DVD release.

The brand new featurettes on the Blu-ray version are all in HD and include the following:

  • The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t (29:46): A feature on how Coppola’s production company Zoetrope was created at a time of great uncertainty for the major studios like Paramount and the numerous difficulties the film faced before and during the production.

  • Emulsional Rescue (19:05): Goes in depth about the process and the effort involved in restoring these films.
  • When Shooting Stopped (14:18): Looks at the post-production and editing for all three films.
  • Godfather World (11:19): This looks at the extraordinary influence of the Godfather films on popular culture with contributions from other filmmakers and writers.
  • Godfather on the Red Carpet (04:03): Various actors and celebrities comment on the films.
  • Four Short Films on The Godfather (07:20):Not exactly self contained films but ‘The Godfather vs. The Godfather’, ‘Part II’, ‘Cannoli’, ‘Riffing on the Riffing and Clemenza’ are short segments of interview footage that include anecdotes and trivia from the series.

If – like me – you haven’t made the jump to Blu-ray yet, the Godfather films also will be available on standard DVD as The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration DVD Collection, with five discs — including one of the old special features and another of the new.

* N.B. Just to recap the UK release date for the Blu-ray Disc and regular DVD sets is October 27th *

> Official site from Paramount Pictures
> The Godfather at the IMDb
> Find out more about The Godfather at Wikipedia
> Bill Hunt reviews the Blu-ray set at The Digital Bits
> Find out more about Blu-ray at Wikipedia
> DVD Beaver has a detailed review and screengrabs