Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo’s The Godfather is often held as one of the greatest American-made films of all time - and for good reason. This is the film that defined careers for some of the greatest Hollywood talents of a generation. With the impeccable talent behind the camera and the amazing cast including Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, John Cazale, and Talia Shire - the film exudes talent and artistry in every frame. Now newly restored for 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray - the film looks better than ever with an impeccable demo-worthy Dolby Vision transfer with clean audio including the restored mono track.
Read our The Godfather: Part II - 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review
Read our The Godfather: Part III 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review
The Godfather is one of those rare films that has been broken down, analyzed, and written about endlessly for the last fifty years, and yet there’s still room for discussion. From the incredible source novel that spawned it to the turbulent production and post-production process to its grand release in theaters in 1972, the film has many stories to tell. On one hand, we have the cinematic story of an immigrant who rose to prosperity through a life of crime but desperately wants to legitimize his family name so his children don’t have to pay the price for his sins. On the other hand, you have the behind-the-scenes story of a rising filmmaker who just won an Oscar with a lot to prove with a major production and a maverick studio president tasked with turning around the ailing fortunes of Paramount. It’s such a rich story that a television series is set to release April 2022 - nearly 50 years to the day of the premiere of The Godfather. Mario Puzo’s story and the story of the making of the film go hand-in-hand and are equally fascinating.
Born in 1982, I grew up knowing The Godfather. My parents had the first two films on VHS but it was one of the few movies they never let me watch - partly because it’s long but also I believe they thought I wouldn’t like a slower dramatic film like this. So my first true introduction to The Godfather was actually when I pulled Mario Puzo’s novel off my parents’ bookshelf when I was around thirteen years old. I count myself blessed that my folks never hid books from me because reading The Godfather was one of the greatest literary experiences I’d ever had at that point in my life. I started reading it during a long car trip for vacation and I couldn’t put it down. I don’t even remember where we went for vacation, I think there was sand and a beach, but I couldn’t tell you if it was in Michigan, another state, or if we flew somewhere for a Caribbean getaway. But I remember reading every page of that book. And I remember finally sitting down to watch the two-tape VHS copy on our gigantic 27-inch television.
Essentially the latter half of the original novel The Godfather is cinematic perfection. From those first frames of pitch black and the Nino Rota score to those first words “I believe in America” to that slow fade-in and Gordon Willis’ beautiful cinematography revealing the proud face of Salvatore Corsitto’s Bonasera - I was hooked. The film proved to be a meticulous recreation of the late 1940s and early 1950s as the Corleone family works to move past their criminal enterprises into a life of legitimacy and safety. Every scene from the book was brought to life with an incredible cast including Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, John Cazale, Robert Duvall, and James Caan. Because I read the book I knew the full weight and importance of the simplest gestures and looks from the various actors. It was all there and I loved it. That led to a near-immediate viewing of The Godfather: Part II and a much later viewing of The Godfather: Part III because my folks just never got around to buying that one.
There’s been a lot of stories told about who is responsible for what and why The Godfather came together so well. As one of the finest pieces of American filmmaking, if you’re discussing if it’s all because of Mario Puzo’s great story or if it’s Francis Ford Coppola being a meticulously detailed director or if it’s because of Robert Evans’ own claim for responsibility, it’s important to remember the film is great. It’s a perfect collaboration of amazing talent. There was a lot of conflict during its production but like steel sharpening steel - it only made the film better.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
No home video format is ever truly worth its salt without The Godfather. In time to celebrate this film’s 50th Anniversary, Francis Ford Coppola and Paramount Pictures brings The Godfather to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, currently exclusive to a full trilogy five-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digita set. The film is pressed on a Region Free BD-100 disc and is housed in a paper digipak alongside the three more digipaks for the two sequels and the bonus features disc. The disc loads to a static image main menu with the iconic theme music playing and a standard navigation structure. The only bonus feature on this disc is Francis Ford Coppola’s Audio Commentary. All other extras are found on the Bonus Features disc.
With the introduction of any new high-end home video format, the question that’s often asked (maybe more so than even The Abyss) is “when are we getting The Godfather?” That day has finally come and it was worth every day we waited. When The Godfather Trilogy arrived on DVD and then later on Blu-ray, the films were met with heaps of praise but some small issues would always crop up to hold them back from greatness. That my dear fellow Corleone fans is not the issue here. Since the last restoration, more elements and pieces of the film have been rediscovered allowing Coppola and his team to go back and give this film even more love and attention than they did in 2007. And with that, this is the first time I feel like Coppola and Paramount absolutely knocked it out of the park.
Gordon Willis’ beautiful deep brown/black, orange/yellow sepia photography is perfectly captured with this new 4K restoration with Dolby Vision HDR (and HDR10). Details are stunning and lifelike - every frame can be meticulously scrutinized. Film grain is organic, naturally cinematic without becoming intrusive or distracting but retained without any overt signs of smoothing or tinkering. Edge enhancement is not an issue. Black crush is not a problem. In short - it’s essentially as close to perfect as it gets. Colors aren’t changed or enhanced, they’re just improved and authentic to the original intentions of the production
The dark and dreary opening scene with Bonasera and Vito sets the high benchmark for the rest of the franchise. This scene with its pitch-black shadowy backgrounds deftly avoids the serious crush issues of past releases. Everyone wearing their black tuxedos no longer completely disappear into the background. Similarly, when Michael and Enzo the baker are standing out front of Vito’s hospital, the essential amount of shadow separation and lighting nuance ensures everything looks dark and gloomy but never loses image depth or edges into crush. During the bright daylight sequences at the wedding, Michael in Sicily, or Michael and Vito’s last conversation in the garden - it’s gorgeous with lifelike details and robust colors. Whites are crisp and clean without blooming and impressive specular highlights - especially in the darker scenes. Again, I’m going to point out the image depth, it’s so vivid and life-like that I was floored. After Coppola's recent restorations of Apocalypse Now, The Outsiders, and The Cotton Club, I was sure this was going to be a great experience but I didn't expect it to be this incredible!
The Godfather comes with a pair of audio options for fans to choose from. You get the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track we’ve all come to know and love but also we get the restore lossy Dolby Digital mono track. Truth be told, it’s the dealer’s choice. I’ve only ever been able to enjoy the mono track when I got to screen an archival print so it’s nice to hear that track again. It might not quite have the same “oomph” and presence of the 5.1 mix - but it’s still a clean and effective mix.
Not that I had any issues at all with the 5.1 mix. That TrueHD track remains a great piece of work, moody and full of atmosphere. The sound of the train getting louder and louder in the restaurant sequence is just beautiful surround work. Having both options available is a nice touch and earns a strong hat tip to the restoration team for including it.
The Godfather is cinematic royalty. As much as it drew on classic gangster pictures for inspiration, the film set the benchmark for all epic gangster films to follow. With perfect performances from Marlon Brando and Al Pacino and an intricate screenplay by Mario Puzzo and Francis Ford Coppola, all of the essential elements in filmmaking clicked for this iconic film. Thanks to Coppola and Paramount’s unending efforts to preserve this film, we now have what can be argued as the definitive and best home video release yet. This 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with Dolby Vision HDR is a gorgeous piece of film restoration work from the first frame to the last. Currently only available with the Trilogy box set, this is better than I'd hoped for. Because this film is only available in a trilogy box set, I'm forgoing the standard "recommended" portion here and saving it for the full collection write-up.