The Godfather Screen Tests

How would The Godfather worked out if Robert De Niro played Sonny Corleone and James Caan played Michael?

These screen tests give an interesting glimpse of what might have been.

Here is De Niro as Sonny:

As for the critical role of Michael Corleone, this video shows Al Pacino, James Caan and Martin Sheen auditioning for the part alongside Diane Keaton:

The tests were edited by Marcia Lucas (wife of George) who went on to edit Star Wars (1977).

> The Godfather at Wikipedia
> Details on The Godfather Blu-ray release


Robert Duvall on The Godfather III

Back in 1991 Robert Duvall gave an unusually frank interview with Bob Costas, in which he revealed why he didn’t appear in The Godfather III.

After playing Tom Hagen, the Corleone’s in-house lawyer and consigliere, in the first two films he was under no illusions that the reasons Part III came about were financial.

Added to that, he was upset that Pacino was offered 5 times the amount he was going to get.

His analysis of the film is spot on:

When you see the movie, it is not as good as the first two.

…I thought the premise was very interesting …but when I did see it, …it just wasn’t as good.

…It was fifteen years later and it was like it had been done. …They did it for money.

Watch the interview below, in two parts:

> Robert Duvall at the IMDb
> The Godfather series at Wikipedia

DVD & Blu-ray Thoughts

In Defence of Blu-ray

Blu-ray won’t be as successful as DVD but it is still the best way to watch a properly restored film at home.

A recent post on The Guardian’s film blog by Shane Danielson titled ‘The devil is in Blu-ray’s detail‘ put forward the notion that the sharpness of Blu-ray is somehow a problem.

For those still unaware of it, Blu-ray is the high definition successor to the DVD, an optical disc format for which you need a specific player and an HD television.

As someone who was once a partial sceptic of HD formats, at least until the industry sorted out the ludicrous format war and high prices, I read Danielson’s post with a mixture of intrigue and then gradual disbelief.

I suspect it was meant to be a contrarian think-piece putting forward the notion that the upgrade to Blu-ray isn’t really worth it.

After all, who needs to fork out extra for a format in which you can see the make-up on actor’s face? Isn’t it all just a big money making scheme to make us replace our DVD collection?

Well, it is certainly true that commercial imperatives have driven the shift to Blu-ray, as broadcasters and consumers gradually move to digital and high definition.

If you want to buy a new TV, you will be hard pressed to find one that isn’t an HD set.

One of Danielson’s points is that too much detail revealed in a high definition version of a film can be a bad thing, but he makes some key mistakes in highlighting the Blu-ray versions of Psycho and The Godfather.

For a piece with the word ‘detail’ in the title, he gets Martin Balsam‘s name wrong (calling him ‘Robert’) and there is no mention whatsoever of how the whole film actually looks on the format.

Furthermore, it is a little silly to complain about the strings on Martian spaceships in the Blu-ray version of George Pal’s The War of the Worlds, especially when no such version of the film actually exists. (I can only assume he is referring to the DVD version, which kind of undercuts his wider point).

Having actually seen the Psycho Blu-ray, I can only repeat my admiration for the team who oversaw its transfer as it looks marvellous and, as someone who has only ever seen it on television, the sharpness and clarity of the image makes a welcome change.

As for the make-up on Balsam’s head in a particular scene, it isn’t really noticeable unless you want to freeze the image and analyse the split second it occurs.

I get the idea that some people take issue when certain elements of a film are ‘corrected’ for the Blu-ray release, such as when DNR is used to smooth out the image (e.g. the new Predator Blu-ray) but in this case I don’t think the argument stands up at all.

The restoration of The Godfather Blu-ray is another matter entirely.

Danielson says:

I remember being in the Virgin Megastore in Times Square back in 2008, and pausing to look at a screen showing Coppola’s The Godfather, which had been released on Blu-ray a fortnight earlier.

It was the trattoria sequence, when Michael kills McCluskey and Sollozzo, and it looked great . . . in fact, it looked TOO great.

The colours were rich and burnished (that background red, in particular), the shadows were deep – yet at the same time, there was a precision to the images, a sort of hyperreal clarity, that didn’t jibe with my memory of having watched the film, either in the cinema or at home.

It seemed weirdly artificial, somehow, and watching it, I felt that I could almost see the grain of the film stock, the flicker and shudder of individual frames, such was the degree of visual information on offer.

I felt, suddenly, like Ray Milland’s character in The Man With the X-Ray Eyes. This could, I realised, drive me mad, if I let it.

Aside from the fact that it is highly dubious to make a judgement on a transfer from one scene observed in shop two years ago, he couldn’t have picked a worse one to illustrate his point.

Not only is the restored Blu-ray version of The Godfather a thing of beauty to behold, it is probably probably one of the landmark releases in the format, overseen with great care and attention by restoration guru Robert Harris.

Anyone who actually watches the complete version of The Godfather on Blu-ray, rather than idly chatting to a Virgin Megastore employee, will actually realise this.

There is also a twenty minute feature titled ‘Emulsion Rescue’ which details the painstaking task of restoring this sequence, featuring interviews with director Francis Ford Coppola, cinematographer Gordon Willis and others involved in the process.

In particular, they discuss the famous restaurant sequence with Michael, McCluskey and Sollozzo and reveal that the original materials on which the film was shot were in a particularly poor shape.

Explaining the full technical details on how that scene was restored, they highlight how digital technology was used with the co-operation of the filmmakers, helping preserve their original artistic vision.

With this in mind, there have been cases where the Blu-ray release of a classic film has caused some controversy.

For the 2009 Blu-ray release of The French Connection, director William Friedkin altered the fundamental look of the film, which angered cinematographer Owen Roizman, who described the new transfer as “atrocious”.

This presents a peculiar conundrum. Digital technology allowed Friedkin to change the look of his own film for the Blu-ray version, but is he betraying his original vision from 1971 that first captivated audiences? Or is that his artistic right as director?

On the wider matter of the format as a whole, it is probably true to say that it will never be as popular or as profitable as DVD.

Last Christmas the current rate of sales was reportedly nowhere near the original projections Sony had for it a few years ago and the cost of consumers upgrading to new television equipment in a recession also stunted the uptake.

Perhaps the most useless aspect of Blu-ray Discs is BD-Live, which is meant to provide interactive experiences when you hook up your player to the Internet.

Aside from the technical hassle of actually connecting a Blu-ray player to your home internet connection (and I speak from bitter experience on this) the features aren’t all that appealing.

But bizarrely, BD-Live always seems to be one of the ‘selling points’ talked up by manufacturers and Blu-ray marketing campaigns when it is clearly rubbish, for now at least.

So with all the teething problems the format has had, why would I recommend it?

Unlike Danielson I don’t see any romance or inherent ‘magic’ in cathode ray tube televisions and I’m not suspicious of carefully restored digital transfers of great films.

A good Blu-ray simply looks far better than its DVD counterpart, with a much tighter and richer image. For the most part, it really is that simple.

The optimal experience for seeing any motion picture is still a fine print at a decent cinema, but aside from critics and cinephiles visiting repertory cinemas, how many times do viewers experience quality projection and sound at their local cinema?

Just in the last year I saw two films (Funny People and Sherlock Holmes – not exactly classics, admittedly) at a multiplex and the projection and image quality for both were appalling.

When you think of why DVD proved popular, it wasn’t just because of the relative cost but was also partly due to digital technology in the home rapidly catching up with that of the average cinema.

Another obstacle Blu-ray faced from early on was that the jump from VHS to DVD was much more noticeable to the casual consumer than the leap from DVD to the newer higher definition format.

Not every release looks pristine, but when they have had care and attention lavished on them the results can be stunning: Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, The Godfather trilogy, North By Northwest, Baraka, Blade Runner, The New World, The Dark Knight and Psycho are just some films that look incredible on Blu-ray.

As for the cost, they have come down in price a lot over the last 18 months to the point where many new releases are actually cheaper than DVDs were at a certain point in time.

Another misconception appears to be that you need to replace your whole library of DVDs.

This is incorrect as Blu-ray players do actually play DVDs, which means you can pick and choose which titles you want to see in glorious HD (e.g. The Godfather) and those you don’t (e.g. any film featuring Danny Dyer).

When discussing Blu-ray and future home video formats, someone often pipes up with a line about how we are all ‘downloading films now anyway’.

It is almost inevitable that some time in the future, the legal delivery of films to our homes will be via a next generation broadband pipe.

However, that is still some way off as most people still watch films on physical discs (DVD, Blu-ray) with a more targeted niche choosing digital downloads via iTunes, Netflix, Lovefilm, Amazon and presumably YouTube by the end of this year.

If you are a visual purist, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to get 1080p films via iTunes anytime soon as the size of the film. It seems 720p is more likely when Apple unveil their revamped ‘iTV’ box.

Whilst there is a convenience factor to digital downloads that will probably mean that Blu-ray is the last optical disc format, it will take a few years before mainstream viewers fully embrace full digital delivery via their television sets or other devices.

Added to this is the fact that Blu-ray sales in Europe grew siginificantly during the first quarter of this year, although that is tempered by the fact that DVD sales are still around ten times greater.

Blu-ray has had its problems and will eventually go the way of DVD and VHS, but there is still a lot to be said for the format, especially when it comes to revisiting classics that have been properly restored.

> More details on The Godfather restoration at The Digital Bits
> Find out more about Blu-ray at Wikipedia


Francis Ford Coppola’s notebook for The Godfather

Francis Ford Coppola‘s insanely detailed notebook for The Godfather is revealing of his passion for the project and maybe a key reason the final film turned out so well.



Gordon Willis talks about The Godfather

Legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis talks about his landmark work on The Godfather films.

DVD & Blu-ray News

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