GoodFellas appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While generally solid, this wasn’t a consistently stellar presentation.
Sharpness was usually positive. A few minor instances of softness crept into the presentation on occasion, but these remained mild. The majority of the flick looked concise and accurate. I noticed no signs of shimmering, jaggies or edge haloes, and source flaws were minor. I saw a few specks, and there’s an intrusive vertical line that popped up at the 1:16:42 mark and stayed onscreen for seven seconds. Otherwise, the flick seemed clean.
For the most part, GoodFellas went with a naturalistic palette, though one that tended toward the red side of the register. The colors usually remained tight and solid throughout the flick. I thought the red lighting was a bit heavy, but otherwise colors worked well. Blacks were dense and firm, while low-light shots appeared nicely visible and never became too dark. This wasn’t a great presentation, it seemed good enough for a “B”.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of GoodFellas sounded like the same one from earlier DVDs. The mix didn’t seem terrific, but it was above average for audio from 1990. The soundfield emphasized the front speakers to a large degree. Speech showed up in the right spots except for the narration. It usually popped up close to the center, but at times it blended to the sides for no apparent reason, and that caused some minor distractions.
Music consistently offered nice stereo imaging, and effects often broadened out the spectrum well. The various elements were accurately placed and meshed together neatly. Surround usage remained minor throughout the flick and played a small role. Most of that activity occurred during the May 11, 1980 sequence, which included helicopters and the most prominent rock music in the flick. Otherwise, the surrounds essentially remained passive.
The quality of the audio also seemed good but unexceptional. Speech usually came across as natural and concise. I noticed no issues with intelligibility, though a little edginess crept in at times. Music varied dependent on the source, as the movie included a wide range of tunes. Overall, they were adequately reproduced and seemed to represent the original recordings well.
Effects displayed good accuracy and were clean. I noticed virtually no distortion and also thought the elements packed nice bass response when necessary; for example, gunshots blasted effectively. The audio of GoodFellas never excelled but it was more than acceptable.
How did the picture and sound of this Blu-ray compare to the 2004 Special Edition DVD? The audio literally appeared to identical, and I’d guess that the visuals came from the same transfer used for the 2004 DVD. Of course, the Blu-ray tightened up sharpness and made the picture more dynamic, so the transfer provided improvements.
The Blu-ray contains most of the DVD’s extras along with some new components. I’ll mark Blu-ray exclusives with special blue print.
On Disc One, we open with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Martin Scorsese, writer Nicholas Pileggi, producers Barbara De Fina and Irwin Winkler, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, former GoodFella Henry Hill, and actors Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Frank Vincent, and Paul Sorvino, almost all of whom were recorded separately for this edited, non-screen-specific piece; toward the end, we heard from Liotta and Hill together, but otherwise the participants stayed on their own. The commentary doesn’t fill the movie’s entire running time, as it skips some parts and lasts a total of two hours, four minutes, and 13 seconds.
We learn about many subjects connected to GoodFellas. At the start, Pileggi and Scorsese go over developing the script and bringing the movie to the screen. From there we hear specifics of the production, with an emphasis on the creation of some notable scenes, and we also get information about casting, the actors’ approaches to their characters, and the atmosphere on the set. We find some fascinating tales like Sorvino’s generally negative outlook; he initially regretted taking the part, and when he first saw the final flick, he hated it. Overall, this commentary proves extremely informative and engaging.
For the second track, we find notes from Henry Hill and former FBI agent Edward McDonald. The pair sit together for their running, screen-specific commentary. Not surprisingly, Hill dominates the track as he talks about the reality behind the film. We learn about specifics of various situations and people. We also hear about some events not depicted in the film, like Hill’s military service. McDonald presents things from the law enforcement point of view, as he details the methods used to snare wiseguys and goes over some different circumstances. He also chats a little about his cameo role as himself.
While valuable overall, this commentary becomes somewhat frustrating at times. It suffers from more than a few gaps, and at times Hill just chuckles about the excesses of his youth. I thought Hill could have elaborated on more of the situations that he did, which made it disappointing when he failed to do so. Nonetheless, there’s enough useful and interesting insight here to make the commentary worth a listen.
Three featurettes follow. Getting Made: The Making of GoodFellas runs 29 minutes, 36 seconds and includes interviews with Scorsese, DeFina, Winkler, Pileggi, Liotta, De Niro, Pesci, Sorvino, Bracco, Vincent, Hill, Schoonmaker, and Ballhaus. We hear about working on the script, casting and the actors’ work on their roles, Scorsese’s approach to the film and improvisation, photographic choices, the film’s editing and music, and reactions to the film and studio concerns. Surprisingly, “Made” avoids much redundancy after the commentary, as it presents similar subjects but different takes on them. It moves through the production in a clear and concise manner and offers a nicely tight examination of the film and its creation.
After this we find The Workaday Gangster, a look at gangster realities. It lasts seven minutes, 58 seconds as we get comments from Hill, DeFina, Pileggi, Vincent, Scorsese, and Sorvino. Mostly they reflect on the issues that affected Hill and others of his ilk, with an emphasis on the darker side of the experience. Some of this echoes Hill’s commentary, but it nonetheless provides a good little glimpse of the truth behind the movie.
In Made Men: The GoodFellas Legacy, we hear reactions from some folks not associated with the film. The 13-minute and 33-second featurette includes remarks from actor/director Jon Favreau, directors Albert and Allen Hughes, director Joe Carnahan, director Richard Linklater, director Antoine Fuqua, and director Frank Darabont. They lavish praise on GoodFellas and let us know what they think makes it such a special film. This offers a few interesting perspectives since it comes from filmmakers, but it seems too heavily focused on plaudits and not enough on a critical interpretation of the work.
In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, the disc concludes with Paper Is Cheaper Than Film, a look at Scorsese’s planning. It takes four minutes, 27 seconds to show movie clips along with Scorsese’s original script notes and mini-storyboards used to compose shots. It’s a moderately insightful glimpse of Scorsese’s processes.
Disc Two – a DVD, not a Blu-ray, by the way – includes additional supplements. The main attraction comes from a documentary entitled Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film. Narrated by Alec Baldwin, this program runs one hour, 45 minutes, 43 seconds, and it provides notes from Pileggi, Scorsese, Royal College of Art author/rector Sir Christopher Frayling, film historian/author Glenn Mitchell, Silent Players author Anthony Slide, Postwar Hollywood: 1946-1962 author Dr. Drew Casper, Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood author Mark Vieira, Inside Warner Brothers author Rudy Behlmer, film critic/novelist Kim Newman, The Golden Age of Cinema: 1929-1945 author Dr. Richard B. Jewell, The Gangster Reader author Alain Silver, author/film historian Jeffrey Vance, Sopranos writer/producer Terence Winter, film critic/author Peter Travers, Little Caesar: A Biography of Edward G. Robinson aithor Alan L. Gansberg, actors Joan Blondell and Edward G. Robinson (via archival footage), The Tough Guys author Gregory William Mank, directors William A. Wellman, Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks and Mervyn LeRoy (archival), screenwriter John Bright (archival), Donnie Brasco director Mike Newell, Underworld USA author Colin McArthur, The Women of Warner Bros. author Daniel Bubbeo, From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies author Molly Haskell, Bonnie and Clyde screenwriter Robert Benton, Mean Streets screenwriter Mardik Martin, The Gangster Reader James Ursini, film critic/author Richard Schickel, The Dark Side of the Screen author Foster Hirsch, Power and Paranoia: History, Narrative and the American Cinema author Dana Polan, Hal Wallis: Producer to the Stars author Bernard F. Dick, film critic/author Leonard Maltin, film historian Tony Maietta, City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield author Robert Sklar, Bogart author Eric Lax, actors Virginia Mayo and Joan Leslie, Black Out: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir author Sheri Chinen Biesen and author/professor Patricia King Hanson.
“Enemies” looks at the roots of the gangster genre and early examples, social influences and the genre’s heyday in the 1930s, and its subsequent development over the decades. With almost two hours at its disposal, “Enemies” certainly gets a lot of time to explore its subject, and it fills this time well. We get just enough movie footage to flesh out the comments, and those remarks provide a rich history of the gangster films. Yeah, it skimps on info about movies made since the 1940s, but it doesn’t purport to investigate all eras of gangster flicks; as the title notes, it focuses on the “golden age”. “Enemies” becomes a wholly satisfying documentary.
Disc Two also features four Merry Melodies and Looney Tunes. We find 1933’s I Like Mountain Music (6:59), 1937’s She Was An Acrobat’s Daughter (8:35), 1946’s Racketeer Rabbit (7:52) and 1954’s Bugs and Thugs (7:12). All of these connect to the gangster theme, but they vary in terms of quality. Mountain features magazine subjects who come to life; it appears because it shows a few gangsters. It’s cute and interesting for archival reasons but not actually very entertaining.
Daughter shows a night at the movies and attempts humor via the onscreen material and the antics of the audience. It makes the cut due to its parody of Bogart’s The Petrified Forest. I like it more than Mountain; it’s not a classic, but it amuses well enough.
As for Rabbit and Thugs, both star Bugs Bunny. The former casts Bugs as a wanderer who ends up amidst gangsters; these characters include spoofs of Edward G. Robinson and Peter Lorre. Thugs places Bugs among bank robbers, neither of whom appears to have a clear cinematic antecedent. Both are entertaining, though I prefer Rabbit; its Robinson/Lorre parodies add kick to it.
Finally, we locate a hardcover book. This comes as part of the package; open up the disc’s casing and the book appears on the left half. It features a mix of components. It presents a short introductory look at the film, biographies for Martin Scorsese, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and Lorraine Bracco, an interpretive essay called “Jump Into the Fire: Henry Hill’s American Nightmare”, and some trivia. It also provides various photos and movie publicity. The book adds a nice touch of class to the set.