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The Godfather cover

Blu-ray Reviews: The Godfather

Originally published in Sound and Image, Feb/March 2009, v.22#4
Last updated 27 June 2009

The Godfather
1972 - Paramount Home Entertainment (Australasia) Pty Ltd
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, Richard Conte, Al Lettieri, Diane Keaton, Abe Vigoda, Talia Shire, Gianni Russo and John Cazale

Movie: 5 Picture: 3.5 Sound: 3.5 Extras: 4

One Friday afternoon in 1977 I purchased a copy of The Godfather in paper back. I finished reading around four the next morning. I was reluctant to see the movie because in those days the practice seemed to be to take a title and a basic plot, mutilate it and put a camera in front of the result.

Yet the movie, when I finally made my way to it, proved to utterly faithful to the book with omissions only for length. This movie is not perfect, but it is as close to perfection in a movie as any human being could ever hope to make.

At the moment, you can only buy the Blu-ray version of this movie as part of the four disc box set, 'The Godfather - The Coppola Restoration'. As such, you also get Parts II and III of the movie and a disc of special extras. Part II is basically about as good the first movie. Both movies occupy two of the top three places of the Internet Movie Database Top 250 list. Part III is often remarked upon with contempt, but in fact it is a decent enough movie that merely fails to rise quite to the heights of the first two parts.

Something out of the experience of most movie companies happened in the 1980s: their back catalogue unexpectedly assumed value. The reason: VHS sales and rentals. Then, in the late 1990s, with the introduction of DVD, the picture quality became important.

This presented a problem, because without much importance originally placed on the back catalogue the master film copies weren't treated well (Disney excepted, since they re-release theirs for each new generation of kiddies). The Godfather had suffered. My DVD copy of the 2001 release was weak, pale, and low of contrast and resolution.

The 'Coppola Restoration' is the result of a year of work in attempting to restore the print to pristine condition. The result is eminently watchable, but it remains grainy, especially in the darker scenes, and a with stylised Renoir-like colour palette during the opening wedding scene.

An eye-popping magnificence of picture this disc does not present. But it is the best you will likely ever see. So buy it and enjoy.

Running time: 177 minutes
Picture: 1.78:1 anamorphic, 1080p24, MPEG4 AVC @ 27.00Mbps
Sound: English: Dolby TrueHD 24/48 3/2.1 @ 3557kbps (Core: Dolby Digital 3/2.1 @ 640kbps); German, French: Dolby Digital 3/2.1 @ 640kbps; German, French, Commentary: Dolby Digital 2/0.0 @ 192kbps
Subtitles: Danish, German, English, French, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish, Turkish, English for the Hearing Impaired, German (Commentary), English (Commentary), French (Commentary)
Extras: Bookmarks (This is part of the four Blu-ray disc set, which also includes The Godfather: Part II and The Godfather: Part III, plus a disc of special extras.)
Restrictions: Rated MA (Australian rating); Region Free

This is the video bitrate graph for this movie, generated by BDInfo 0.5.2:

The Godfather video bitrate graph

Comparison: Blu-ray vs PAL DVD

Here are some comparisons between the Australian PAL DVD (the version released in 2001/2002, not the Coppola Restoration version released at the same time as the Blu-ray) and the Australian Blu-ray version of this movie. At the top of each is the full frame (suitably shrunk down) used in the comparison, with a 250 pixel wide detail from the frame underneath. The left side is from the PAL DVD. The image was captured digitally from the disc, scaled up from its native 720 by 576 resolution to 1024 by 576 (to present in the correct aspect ratio). I then scaled it, in order for it to be comparable to the Blu-ray version, to 1,920 pixels wide.

The detail is from that last scaled version, and has not been rescaled again. The right side is from the Australian Blu-ray. This has not been scaled at all. Different applications were used to capture the two frames, so I am not comfortable comparing the colour between the two, merely the detail and sharpness. For visitors from NTSC lands, generally the PAL DVD is just a touch sharper than the NTSC DVD.

If you are expecting eye snapping sharpness from this movie, you will be disappointed. It is grainy and at times soft. But I will keep returning to the grain. This is on the film print, and since it has survived the extensive restoration performed upon the movie, I can only assume that this was also in the camera when the movie was first shot. Look, for example, at Marlon Brando's 'white' shirt:

Comparison 1

The colour palette also reminds me of the kind of thing one sees in Impressionist paintings. While with sections the grain makes the movie look like the work of Georges Seurat, the next scene could have been composed by Renoir. I hadn't quite realised, or I have since forgotten, how spectactularly bad the DVD was. Note, this was not a cheapie. This is the fancy cardboard set containing all three movies along with a disc of extras that, I seem to recall, cost me in excess of $100 when I purchased it several years ago. It isn't consistently this bad, which makes me suspect that perhaps the problem was parts of the unrestored film print that were used:

Comparison 2

This being The Godfather and all, I thought I'd stick with murder for the remainder of these comparison shots:

Comparison 3

Seurat reappears here. It isn't just that there is plenty of grain, it's that the grains are so widely apart in hue:

Comparison 4

I know, I know, in all of these I say 'ignore the colour differences'. But the (plentiful) blood on the DVD version simply does appear unrealistically orange compared to the Blu-ray version:

Comparison 5

When I was trying to grab comparison shots of this one I came into some unexpected difficulty. Specifically, I chose a Blu-ray frame perhaps a second after this one, and couldn't find it on the DVD. Eventually I worked out that the fade to black at the end of this scene commenced quite a bit earlier on the DVD. So I backed up to an earlier grab:

Comparison 6

Nothing like a bullet in the eye to make -- or end -- your day:

Comparison 7

© 2002-2008, Stephen Dawson