The Godfather appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The restored transfer offered visuals that seemed to be close to the original footage.
Sharpness was strong. If any notable instances of softness materialized, they escaped me, as I thought the movie displayed fine clarity and delineation. 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 about a 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 disc 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. Only the smattering of print defects concerned me, and they knocked this down to a “B+” presentation. Remove those and this would be a solid “A”.
I found some ups and downs via the Dolby TrueHD 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 roared 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, as 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.
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 Blu-ray’s picture and audio compare to those of the restored 2008 release? Audio was a wash. Both the TrueHD track and the standard Dolby Digital mix from the DVD seemed virtually identical to me; I still preferred the mono either way.
Visuals showed a decent bump on the Blu-ray, though. Both the DVD and the Blu-ray clearly used the same transfer, so they showed identical source defects. However, the Blu-ray demonstrated better definition and felt more natural overall. This is clearly the best the film has ever looked on any home format.
Only one extra appears here: the same audio commentary from director Francis Ford Coppola found on the 2001 and 2008 DVDs. 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 third position on the American Film Institute’s 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 Blu-ray, picture quality nearly reaches the “excellent” level, while 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. As a fan of The Godfather, I recommend this Blu-ray to all folks with an interest in the film. It’s an outstanding release.
Note that you can buy this release either on its own or as part of a boxed set called “The Godfather Collection”. This set also includes The Godfather, Part II, The Godfather, Part III and supplements.
To rate this film, visit the Boxed Set review of THE GODFATHER