I can’t speak with any authority about the forthcoming restored Godafther discs (being called “The Coppola Restoration” but more precisely the hands-on work of restoration guru Robert Harris) because, I’m told, the quality of the work isn’t that pronounced unless you watch it on Blu-ray with a 46″ or 50″ Plasma or LCD flat screen.

A DVD Beaver frame capture from the Blu-ray version of the restored Godfather.

A DVD Beaver frame capture from the DVD version.

And for the umpteenth time, I don’t own either of these devices. Maybe I’ll spring later this year. Depending. I know I have to get with it.
The word from properly-equipped reviewers with good eyes is that the the original Godfather and The Godfather, Part II do indeed look better than ever. Upgraded, finessed and made to look as terrific as they’ll ever look on a home screen. (I’m ignoring The Godfather, Part III for obvious reasons.) One reviewer said the restored versions have a bit more of a reddish quality.
On top of which Harris has told me that the various frame captures we’ve been seeing on various home theatre sites are not accurate representations of how the Blu-ray and DVD versions look. Not really. Too many tech variables, he says. One frame-capture that gets it half-right, he allows, is the one that ran on Brad Brevet‘s Rope of Silicon that shows the differing color schemes in the Paramount logo. The restored version has a sepia-tone thing going on, while the older version has a standard bluish-creamy-light gray scheme.
I did, however, see a 4K projection of the restored Godfather at a special, super-secret screening on the Warner Bros. lot last fall, and the truth is this: (a) it looked superb — those wonderfully burnished Gordon Willis colors have never been put forth with greater love or precision but (b) it didn’t exactly make my eyes pop out of their sockets on metal springs. It’s not like the Godfather films have ever looked that bad. For my money the last set of Godfather DVDs (i.e., the ones that came out in May 2004) look pretty damn good.
I’m trusting that the new Blu-ray versions will look somewhat (perhaps even strikingly) better, but the main reason for the Coppola-Harris restoration wasn’t to necessarily blow everyone’s socks off but to restore these films — to yes, make them look as good as they did when they first came out of the lab in ’72 and ’74 (again — forget Part III), but also to render the elements in their best possible condition, fully preserved and protected fur future generations.

The Paramount logos are they appear in the differing versions; the new restored version is on the right.

Now comes the heresy portion…ready? One reason — perhaps the reason — that the restored Godfather pics look very handsome but not necessarily drop-your- pants wowser is because Harris and Coppola went with the original, slightly grainy look of both. Grain purists believe that grain is integral, essential, vital — as important as needle-sharp focus or proper framing or the original colors not being drained of their vibrancy. Coppola and Harris did the absolutely correct thing, of course, by rendering the films exactly as they were shot and meant to be seen back in the day. It would have been a scandal if they hadn’t gone this route.
But I am not a fool for grain, and if I were running Paramount Home Video I would be issuing simultaneous grain-rape versions of the three Godfather films. Versions that would look that much cleaner, sharper, spiffier. The same darkness, the same amber-lit tones, the same Willis palette…only a bit less filmy. If PHV did release grain-rape versions, people would indeed be going “wow!,” “holy shit!” and “Jesus, this is really different!”
I realize this is a bad thing to be discussing, much less asking for. Only a Philistine who doesn’t understand or appreciate the natural beauty of celluloid — someone disrespectful, plebian, coarse — would even conceive of such a thing…right? But all I’m saying is that I’d like to be able to see grain-rape versions as a Philistine option. For people like me, I mean. I’m one of the few who really love and cherish the grain-rape version of PHV’s Sunset Boulevard, so you know where I’m coming from.
I’m not the only one to think along these lines. I’ve been told by an excellent authority that a few minutes of footage from the original Godfather — the third-act garden scene between Marlon Brando and Al Pacino (“He reads the funny papers,” “Senator Corleone, Governor Corleone…something,” “We’ll get there, pop”) — were given the grain-rape treatment, and that it was viewed by some on the Godfather restoration team, and that the result was fairly stunning.
Why was this even done, given the commitment to adhere precisely to the original look? Beats me, but I’m told it was.