‘Godfather Restoration’ on DVD generates excitement

Posted by · 4:35 pm · August 3rd, 2008

The Godfather RestorationI wonder if any of us really understands the impact of home entertainment, beginning back in the early 1980s with the advent of the VHS and BETA tapes one could rent to play on new machines known as VCRs.

My parents, God bless them, bought one right away, perhaps a way to get their eldest son (me), away at college, to come home and visit weekends. I did indeed, and after Dad would pick me up at the bus station, we would stop at the video store and grab 10 or so movies for the weekend.

I rarely went for new releases.  Instead I chose films that I had seen once on the late show, perhaps, or films of interest I might have heard about.  Sometimes I might even have gone for the films I had never heard a thing about but were directed by someone I recognized or featured an actor I knew.

I was 19 when I hit university and felt I was pretty well educated cinematically, having seen many films at the rep theaters in town.  I would set my alarm for the late shows, attending showings at the libraries and consuming every book I could find on film. So the advent of the VHS tape was a film lover’s wet dream.

I watched literally thousands of films at home, over and over, studying them and finding something new each time. When I became a professional critic (when someone finally paid me for it) I made it clear that in addition to reviewing new releases in theatres, I must be permitted to review what was out for the home market.

The generation of film-goers that followed me me (I am 49) are far better equipped with film knowledge than I was as a teen, but they have seen probably thousands more films than I had seen at that age as well. Furthermore, the special features on DVDs provide audiences with extraordinary knowledge that we were simply never privvy to.

Yes I know there are disadvantages to home viewing.  Perhaps it has bred bad manners in movie theaters — talking, coming and going, cell phone use — but I still believe that films should be seen on a movie screen whenever possible.

I am thrilled that Paramount and Francis Ford Coppola have gone back to restore “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II” in the upcoming “The Godfather Restoration,” which will also include the film that does not exist in my universe, the wretched “The Godfather Part III.”  Entirely new generations will get to see two of the greatest films ever made, enjoy the insightful commentary and documentaries that come with the set, and hopefully, come to understand that art can also be entertainment.
My dad, who always supported my addiction to movies, took me to see “The Godfather Part II” the day it opened in theatres, and I have seen it many times since, written about it, celebrated it in lectures and articles, and will do so again when this set arrives.  I believe it to be the greatest North American film I have ever seen…period.  Right behind it is “The Godfather” the two combining to create a stunning family legacy, superbly acted and directed and written as well as the two finest American films ever made.

Does it get any better?  Coppola’s genius was making the first film, based on a pulp novel, into a brilliant allegory about the perversion of the American dream, while his second film, deeper, richer in tone and more complex explores how absolute power corrupts absolutely. In a bold stroke he showed us how the Corleone crime family was born out of necessity with Vito (Robert De Niro), and then years later we see his son Michael consolidate his power and eliminate his enemies.

And the difference between the two men would prove striking.  Vito would never lose his soul and find himself alone as Michael would. Vito would be loved and feared, Michael simply feared (and with reason). Would any other director considered for the job have brought the majesty or sense of operatic tragedy that Coppola did to these films? I doubt it.

The only down side to the set is the inclusion of “The Godfather Part III” which I refuse to acknowledge or accept as either a film or part of this series. Paramount betrayed Coppola, not willing to pay Robert Duvall half of what Pacino was getting at a time when Duvall had an Oscar and Pacino did not. Duvall and his character Tom Hagman were integral to the screenplay.  But the studio refused, forcing Coppola and screenwriter Mario Puzo to write the character out, which likely cost MORE than it would have just to pay Duvall what he wanted and deserved.

The film is a pale imitation of what came before, the Michael of this film bearing no connection to the Michael of the previous. While the first two installments richly deserved the Academy Awards they won for Best Picture, the third strangely was nominated, but mercifully won nothing.

The new set hits stores soon, and as a lucky member of the press I should have mine anyday…like a kid home from university for the weekend, I cannot wait.

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5 responses so far

  • 1 8-03-2008 at 4:42 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    JEEZ. Enough bashing on The Godfather Part III (which has become so painfully en vogue in the years since its release that I honestly think people are just wired to do it without understanding the undeniable power some of the film contains).

    Yes, Sofia Coppola was pretty terrible. Yes, Andy Garcia and, to a lesser extent, Joe Mantegna borderline take the material to the edge of self-parody. But to disavow the film, which offers a solid and beautiful denouement to a story that needed to be wrapped up no matter how brilliant we concede the first two installments to be — it’s just madness.

    And I have no idea what to make of this statement:

    “the Michael of this film bearing no connection to the Michael of the previous”

    HARDLY. Pacino was exactly what he needed to be in this film, exactly what the character needed to be. Just because you may have been intoxicated by the downfall of Michael’s soul in the first two films, perhaps attracted to the wickedness of his character, does not mean it isn’t entirely possible — entirely likely, I’d say — that his older age would bring the shame and weariness he conveys so well in this film.

    Puzo said it was one of the best performances he’s ever seen — specifically sited the cry from the steps (a drag for many, but I loved it) to be the best acting he’s seen out of any performer ever.

    I just think it is incredibly short-sighted to disavow the film completely. It is flawed, it is nowhere near as powerful as the other two efforts, but it is what it is, and I wouldn’t declare it a total loss.

    All of that out of the way — I’m really looking forward to this set.

  • 2 8-03-2008 at 5:57 pm

    John Foote said...

    Disagree and totally — the end of Part II was perfect, PERFECT and Coppola returned for money and no other reason and then was screwed by Paramount over money — the sequence where Pacino jumps in the car in Sicily to drive his ex-wife around? One of the world’s most powerful Dons driving without protection in Sicily??? Stupidity…and when did Connie become a killer? Last I saw her she was just being permitted back into the family and now she is ordering killings?? Garcia, a fine actor does l;ittle more than glower and look intense rather than “being”, and Pacino, My God Kris I could not disagree more — at the end of Part II he is utterly lost, and yet years later is this totally different character, and I mean totally different…which is where the film fails on every level for me. You are right it is not perfect, and a pale shadow of the other two, and I too am looking forward to this set…but not for Part III, believe me. I disagree entirely with Puzo about Pacino and think again people are blinded because he is Al “freakin’ Pacino and are afraid to criticize him. He has one genuine moment in the film, aisingle moment when I believed him and that was his confession to the priest who will become Pope…other than that…nothing. I was not attracted to his wickedness in the other films, but rather the manner in which he could not grasp how his father could have both of his families and Michael could not. Vito did what he did in the early days to survive and his wife knew and respected that. Michael did not have to take the path he did, and though Kay always knew he was a killer ( ithink) she wanted the Michael she met, who was gone the moment he killed those men in the restaurant. I have watched the third film many times, and still, after all these years and many viewings…hate it. Perhaps Duvall told me too much about the original script for the third film and I pine for that…I will concede that. I had the chance to read that script and it was astounding…Hagen betraying Michael…my God, it would have been a stunner instead of this. Sorry Kris, we obviously part company…seriously on this one. We share one thing…we are both looking forward to the set, albeit for different reasons.

  • 3 8-04-2008 at 1:07 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I find Part III undervalued too – though lately I’ve become almost frightened to mention that in public. Yes, the characters have shifted, or even altered, somewhat over the decades, but so do people. I appreciated that Coppola trusts his audience to join in him in that leap.

    Now I’ll really go out on a limb… I don’t even think Sofia Coppola is THAT bad in it. Nervy and under-directed, for sure – but she has an interesting, very contemporary screen presence that serves the character quite well. (I seem to remember Pauline Kael being one of her defenders, but I could be wrong.) If she were any other actress but the director’s daughter, she wouldn’t have been ridiculed quite so mercilessly.

    Part of the difference in perspective may lie in the fact that when I was introduced to the Godfather phenomenon, all three films already existed – so the third part doesn’t feel as invasive as it does for you, John.

    To each his own. But you can’t refuse to acknowledge the film. It’s there, for better or worse.

  • 4 8-04-2008 at 6:19 am

    John Foote said...

    Guy makes a great point…I had lived with the first two films for all of my teenage years and much of my adulthood and here comes a third that to me, TO ME, violates everything the other two created. Now Michael wants to be loved?? Come on!! And you know what I never though Sofia was the reason the film stunk, she did her best in a difficult situation and even when Pacino and Keaton came to Coppola with their concerns he waved them off sticking with her. She tried and failed, and we always learn more from failure do we not?? Had she never made that film and learned acting was not her strebngth she may never have decided to write and direct the brillinat “Lost in Translation”. I will concede this…I know too much about the film that might have been, that would have been had Paramount not nickel and dimed both Coppola and Robert Duvall. I stand by what I said..I hate the film, and Coppola should have left well enough alone. I spent fifteen years listening to rumors about SYlvester Staloone taking it over, John Travolta, even Eddie Murphy for God’s sake, and when I heard Coppola was doing it, I was excitied. But after seeing it I sat in the theater stunned, disappointed and feeling betrayed..which is my right, just as it is the right of anyone else to like the film.
    But I don’t.
    And I never will. When I interviewed Coppola four years ago I told him what I thought of the third and he himself stated the original script would have made a stronger film…and I agree. Can you imagine the drama of Hagen having betrayed Michael, all that resentment built up over the years comes boiling over? The Vatican plot was still intact but the family betrayals were first and foremost.
    This is the beauty of film criticism, we are all critics, and does this not provoke great debate??