The Godfather Trilogy – Francis Ford Coppola

Paramount Pictures is celebrating the 45th anniversary with a re-release of the 1972 classic The Godfather, and its two sequels.

I have a bit of a sordid history with these films. I’ve never been a fan of crime family stories, I can’t relate to them, and have never understood the hypocrisy that seems inherent in their characters – all this talk of honour and family while they have no issue betraying, even killing others, and their families, all in the name of greed.

Now don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate this trilogy as film, as cinema, but the stories never seemed to really appeal. I was eager to see if I still felt that way when I dug into the trilogy again.

This time around, I have to admit, I enjoyed the journey through the Corleone saga. At the centre of the trilogy is Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, who over the course of three films turns into a titanic performance which sadly did not grab him an Oscar, despite his nomination for his turn in the second film.

Each of the films is epic in length, easily breaching the three hour mark. Yet, they fly by, because the writing, Mario Puzo’s source material adapted by himself and Coppola is involving, the performances are sharp and the story is incredibly well-scripted.

The level of detail across the trilogy is in-depth, and caused some reshoots along the course of production to make sure things were true to the time. And there is a lot of time. The first film is set post World War II as the Godfather Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) and his family is beset on all sides by threats to their empire. From there we travel through the 20th century.

The second film serves as both sequel and prequel. We continue with Michael Corleone as he and his family try to cement a new position and empire for themselves in Nevada. But then, through flashback we see the rise of Vito Corleone (played here by Robert DeNiro, who took home an Oscar for his role) after his arrival in America at the turn of the 20th century.  This film is one of the few that proves that the sequel can exceed the original film.

The final instalment is a bit of a different animal. Coming 16 years on the tail of the second film, Pacino, Coppola and Puzo had changed, and the film reflects that. Michael is trying to legitimise his businesses, while mentoring his nephew, Vincent (Andy Garcia). He tries to deal with the sins of his past, and make things right. This may not have been what the mainstream audiences wanted at the time, but the film has aged well, is surprisingly solid, and features some solid performances.

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All three films do.

In fact the cast of the trilogy is a virtual who’s who list of 70s and 80s actors – Brando, Pacino, DeNiro, Garcia, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Bruno Kirby, Eli Wallach, Bridget Fonda, Abe Vigoda, and Joe Mantegna.

With previous releases Paramount has packed the DVDs and Blu-Rays with tons of extras, putting them in box sets, catering to the Godfather fans. These 45th anniversary editions are bare bones editions delivering us a wonderful transfer of image and sound, with only a commentary on all three films by Coppola to take us behind the scenes.

For this trilogy, that suits me fine. I don’t need endless featurettes that have been previously released about performances, scripts, music, and the films’ releases.  Instead, what Paramount has done has released this series at an incredibly affordable price, allowing film lovers to add them to their collection.

This time through, I got so more out of this series. The iconic imagery, the quotable dialogue, the masterful performances. While the subject matter still doesn’t appeal to me, I can freely admit to enjoying these films now. They were influential, still are, and the series, the first two films especially defined a generation of film-goers as well as shaping cinema itself.

While Brando is easily the face of the series when one mentions The Godfather, it is very much Pacino’s trilogy, and he is fantastic throughout the series. Coppola made sure the brilliant actor was surrounded by the details and talent that would elevate the films beyond common movie going to screen legend.

And Paramount is making sure, with this edition, that any film buff who wants to add this series to their collection is able to. What better way to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the film?

It’s like Paramount wanted to make an offer you couldn’t refuse. I know I couldn’t.

The Godfather Parts I, II and III are available today from Paramount Pictures on blu-ray. Pick up, settle in, enjoy, and always remember, leave the gun, take the cannoli.

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