The Godfather appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The restored transfer offered visuals that seemed to be close to the original footage.
Sharpness was fine. Occasionally I thought some wide shots were a wee bit soft, but those were minor issues. The majority of the flick looked well-defined and concise. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and edge enhancement was absent.
In terms of source flaws, the movie exhibited only a few. I saw maybe a couple dozen small white specks throughout the flick and that was it. Grain was prominent at times, but it remained within appropriate levels for a movie of this one’s age and visual design; it’s a very dark flick, so the grain was quite reasonable given that factor.
Not exactly a bright Technicolor extravaganza, the palette of The Godfather remained decidedly low-key. Orange-tinted yellows dominated the flick, though reds also came through at times. Only a few scenes boasted more dynamic tones; for instance, the opening wedding scene went with fairly natural colors, and some brilliant hues emerged there.
Otherwise, this was a nearly monochromatic affair. Those yellows looked awfully heavy – heavy enough that I occasionally wondered if the transfer mucked with the original color design. Given the talent involved with this restoration, I trust that the hues do represent the 1972 intentions; director Francis Coppola, cinematographer Gordon Willis and noted film preservationist Robert Harris supervised this sucker, so I have to believe they tried to keep things faithful.
In any case, while the heavy yellow tone could become a bit of a distraction at times, it wasn’t anything truly problematic. The transfer represented those hues in a clear manner, and the occasions during which the flick went with other hues became quite positive. As I alluded, the wedding scene looked solid, and the other occasions that featured more vivid tones seemed strong. This was an unusual palette, but the DVD represented it well.
Black levels came across as deep and dense; indeed, they acted as one of the transfer’s strengths, as the dark tones were sumptuous and rich. Contrast was quite good, and shadow detail seemed up to the task in this dimly-lit flick. Most of the low-light situations appeared to be appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. Sure, parts of the movie were quite dark, but that seemed to represent the original visual design; I saw no signs that the transfer suffered from excessive opacity. Though this wasn’t an image that stunned, it offered a strong representation of the source material. I debated whether to give it a “B” or a “B+”, but I thought it provided enough strengths to merit the higher mark.
I found some ups and downs via the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Godfather. Taken from the film’s original monaural stems, the mix attempted a pretty wide soundstage. The audio stayed primarily located in the forward spectrum, but it spread elements out across the front speakers. Quite a lot of ambient effects cropped up in the sides, and the music showed nice stereo separation as well. Surround usage appeared minimal for the most part. During a few scenes – such as those that involved trains or planes – the rear channels kicked to life fairly nicely, but for the most part, nothing more than general reinforcement came from the surrounds.
Audio quality created some minor concerns, most of which stemmed from artificial reverb added to the mix. Speech showed this light echo much of the time. I suppose this intended to give the lines a feeling of place, as the reverb was supposed to place us in the action. This didn’t work, however, as the echo made the dialogue sound less realistic and more distant. The reverb wasn’t a terrible distraction, and the lines remained intelligible and reasonably warm, but I felt it was unnecessary.
Effects also showed some echo, but not to the same degree. These elements worked acceptably well. Though the effects tended to show their age and suffered from a little distortion, they usually appeared reasonably clean and full. A few of the effects elements also came across as pretty powerful and dynamic. When Tom Hagen’s plane lands in LA, and when the train roars by while Michael’s in the restaurant, I found the track to offer good reproduction and force to these bits. Another scene in which thunder roars provided solid breadth and depth. I could have lived without the reverb, but the effects were generally fine for their age.
Music acted as the best aspect of this track. The score showed generally good reproduction. At worst, those elements sounded fine, and at best, they could be quite full and rich. Yeah, they had a little too much reverb as well, but I didn’t find much fault with the music. Overall, this was a decent remix, though one I couldn’t grade above a “B-”, largely due to the bouts of reverb.
While the original 2001 release of The Godfather - as well as the 2004 solo edition - only included a 5.1 remix, this 2008 restoration also provided the monaural track that accompanied the flick’s theatrical run in 1972. I thought it offered the most satisfactory audio of the bunch. Sure, it lost the moderate expansion of the soundfield, but it gave us cleaner audio. In particular, speech was clearer and more natural, as it lacked that annoying reverb heard in the remix. I felt the monaural audio was smoother and more direct, so it’s the track I recommend.
How did this DVD’s picture and audio compare to those of the original 2001 disc? Both showed improvements. The 2008 release’s 5.1 audio was a bit better than its predecessor’s, mainly because it sounded a bit more natural and clear. However, I liked the monaural track best of all, so its inclusion made the 2008 disc much more satisfying in terms of audio.
As far as the visuals went, there was no contest: the 2008 disc blew away its ugly predecessor. That one was marred by softness, blotchy hues, edge enhancement and many source flaws, among other problems. It was completely unsatisfying, so this new transfer offered a night and day improvement.
Only one extra appears here: the same audio commentary from director Francis Ford Coppola found on the 2001 disc. The director provides a running, fairly screen-specific affair. Although the track suffered from a fair number of empty spaces, I had little problem with the gaps, largely due to the length of the movie itself; at nearly three hours, that’d be a lot of room for Coppola to cover.
I also didn’t mind the blanks too much due to the quality of the commentary itself. I wouldn’t call this a great track, but Coppola offered a lot of solid information and he did so in an engaging way. In a refreshing move, he mainly covered problems encountered during the making of the film. Many commentaries suffer from “happy talk” syndrome, but that definitely wasn’t the case here; Coppola never seemed petty or bitter – he who laughs last and all that – but he did relate the difficulties he encountered in a frank manner. Ultimately, he added a lot to the table during this interesting and informative commentary.
The Godfather earned the second position on the American Film Institute’s most recent list of the Top 100 films. More than 35 years after its initial release, I find it hard to quibble with that choice. The Godfather remains a very solid piece of work that succeeds on almost all levels. As for the DVD, picture quality seems quite positive, and audio is acceptable in its 5.1 remix and very nice in its monaural version. A good audio commentary from director Francis Ford Coppola adds a nice level of information to the package.
This is unquestionably the best DVD representation of The Godfather to date, and it’s the one I’d recommend to fans. Whether or not you own the old disc, this is the one to have, so it’s definitely worth the double-dip.
Note that you can buy this release either on its own or as part of a boxed set called “The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration”. This set also includes The Godfather, Part II, The Godfather, Part III and two discs of supplements. Though you can get the two sequels individually, the two DVDs of extras can only be found in the boxed set. Actually, one of those two platters already appeared in the 2001 boxed set, but the other disc is exclusive here. “The Coppola Restoration” retails for $72.99.
To rate this film, visit the Boxed Set review of THE GODFATHER