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4K Ultra HD Review: The Godfather Trilogy -“Stunning”

Last month, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, Paramount Pictures released The Godfather Trilogy on 4K Ultra HD – The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, and Coppola’s recently re-edited version of the final film, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone.

Every effort was made to create the finest possible presentation for today’s audiences who can watch the films using technology that has advanced dramatically since 2007 when the last restoration was completed by eminent film historian and preservationist Robert Harris. Using that work as a blueprint, the team spent thousands of hours to ensure that every frame was evaluated to create the most pristine presentation while remaining true to the original look and feel of the films. All work was overseen by Coppola.

Many different things had to be done to do that, including:

  • Over 300 cartons of film were scrutinized to find the best possible resolution for every frame of all three films.
  • Over 4,000 hours were spent repairing film stains, tears, and other anomalies in the negatives.
  • Over 1,000 hours were spent on rigorous color correction to ensure the high dynamic range tools were respectful of the original vision of Coppola and cinematographer Gordon Willis.
  • In addition to the 5.1 audio approved by Walter Murch in 2007, the original mono tracks on The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II have been restored.

I won’t go into a deep review of the actual films themselves in this piece as that has been done many times. The first two films are true classics and the new version of the third film has definitely improved on original cut (you can read our full review of that here).

It took me a long time to watch The Godfather. Everyone was always saying how good it was and that I needed to watch it. Being an idiot at the time I used to think, “don’t tell me what to watch!” Past me was stupid! When I did finally sit down to watch it I was kicking myself. It is brilliant and a stunning piece of cinema. I didn’t think it could get any better and then I watched The Godfather II.

Even though the original is 50 years old, it is still an incredible piece of filmmaking. Not a moment is wasted, which may be odd for a film with such a long runtime. Every moment is essential and the performances from everyone are truly incredible.

If you have never seen it then I urge you to find the time to sit down and watch it. The fact you can now do that in this stunning 4K Ultra HD makes me very envious of first time viewers.

The Godfather already looked stunning from the cinematography, set design, costumes and mise-en-scène. This new restoration just makes everything better. The details are lifted and clearer, the colours are gorgeous and the black level is deep and lovely. It is just what you want from a film being restored. They just get it all spot on. There is also the perfect amount of film grain to ensure you still have that proper film experience.

The scene with Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in the restaurant with Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo and police captain Mark McCluskey is one of my favourite scenes and it was like watching it for the first time again. The neon light bouncing off the faces and furniture, the seedy lighting of the restaurant and the way Al Pacino’s eyes just go dead when he realises what he is going to do are better than ever.

Seeing how good it was for the first film, I thought that would be it for the following two films. However, the picture quality improved for each subsequent film. Just amazing to see. The colour palette and balance is absolute perfection in all three films.

Despite The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone being the weakest film of the three, yet improved immeasurably in the new cut and when watching all three together, probably looks the best out of all three of the films.

The audio mix is equally stunning. There is a wide separation in the mix which means you get an enormous sense of place when listening on surround sound. Yet it still feels organic and well-balanced.

The box set includes many of the extras that have featured on previous releases,  but there is some new content that is well worth watching.

  • Introduction to The Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola
  • Full Circle: Preserving The Godfather—Paramount Pictures archivists detail the incredible restoration process with archival footage showing the evolution of the film through various home entertainment incarnations as picture and audio technologies make quantum leaps over the decades.
  • Capturing the Corleones: Through the Lens of Photographer Steve Schapiro— In this reflective and frank discussion, special photographer Steve Schapiro shares his unique perspective and cherished memories as a witness to the making of this seminal film.  Commentary on curated archival images makes for a fascinating, never-before-seen addition to the production’s history.
  • The Godfather: Home Movies— An assortment of 8mm home movie footage shot in 1971 offers a candid glimpse into the production of The Godfather.  Shot on location at the Norton family estate on Staten Island’s Emerson Hill, this is the first time it’s been made available to the public.
  • Restoration Comparisons— Before and after highlights showcase extensive picture quality improvements to The Godfather.

All together it makes for a truly fantastic home cinema experience and I cannot recommend it enough.

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