The Godfather trilogy is a set of three films that are considered to be among the three greatest ever made for theatrical release. The three films together tell the story of a mafia family as they grow and change throughout the 20th century, painting a very poignant picture. The series features marvelous acting from Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, and especially Al Pacino, who in the eyes of many people, steals the show.
On October 9, 2001, the entire series was released together in a five disc DVD set, providing the first all-digital release of this classic film series. The set is crammed with extra features, so buying the set is highly recommended for pretty much anyone who enjoyed the film series. What follows is a review of the three films and the contents of this set.
Disc 1 - The Godfather (1972)
The Godfather was released theatrically in 1972, based on a bestselling novel by Mario Puzo. It was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and was distributed by Paramount Pictures. The film runs for two hours and fifty five minutes.
This movie mostly focuses on the character of Don Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando), the head of a New York mafia "family". As the film opens, with a memorable scene in which he conducts business at the wedding of his daughter, Don Corleone is firmly in control and things are going smoothly for the family. However, problems soon begin to arise when a gangster supported by another Mafia family, Sollozzo (played by Al Lettieri), announces his intentions to start selling drugs all over New York. Vito hates the idea of drugs (yep, this film has an anti-drug theme) and is quite happy with his current rackets of gambling and protection that make him money. As a result of Vito's refusal to go along with the mafia entering the drug trade, an attempt is made on his life. Sollozzo then kidnaps one of the Don's advisors and tries to make him force the Don's son Michael (played magnificiently by Al Pacino) to agree to sell drugs, but the plan goes wrong when Sollozzo finds out that Don Vito is still alive.
There are also several subplots going on, including one of the most famous storylines in film history, which results in the famous line, "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse," and the famous scene of a Hollywood producer waking up next to the bleeding head of his prized racehorse.
This is one of the few movies that really captures the magic of the book it is based on, and with the acting performances of Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, along with the superior script and breathtaking cinematography, it may in fact surpass the book.
This film features an optional feature-length commentary by the director, Francis Ford Coppola. For fans of filmmaking as I am, this is one of the best parts of the set, because he does an excellent job discussing some of the elements of creating one of the greatest films of all time as you are watching it.
The Godfather won several Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Marlon Brando, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture in 1973. It was nominated for six other awards as well. It also won five Golden Globes, an American Cinema Editors award, a British Academy Award, and a Grammy for best score.
Discs 2 and 3 - The Godfather Part II (1974)
The Godfather Part II was released in 1974, based again on a bestselling novel by Mario Puzo. It was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and was distributed by Paramount Pictures. The film runs for three hours and twenty minutes.
The plot here continues the groundwork laid in the first one, both into the past and into the future. The tale is essentially in two parts that alternate back and forth, and quite honestly, it makes a lot more sense if you watch The Godfather first. One of the major storylines revolves around a young Vito Corleone (played by Robert De Niro) growing up in Sicily and first coming to New York around 1910. The other major storyline branch follows Michael Corleone in the 1950s as he attempts to expand the family business into Las Vegas, Hollywood and Cuba.
As before, each of the major storylines has several subplots that are quite interesting and entertaining. This film perhaps exceeds the original in bringing the world of the mafia to life, but the overall plot is perhaps a touch weaker.
Like the first film in the set, this film features an optional feature-length commentary by the director, Francis Ford Coppola. All of the director commentaries in this set are excellent, comparable to the previous high-water mark in commentaries, Fight Club. One minor complaint: to ensure playability in as many players as possible, the discs were single-layered DVDs and thus this film was too long to fit on one disc, so you'll have to swap discs halfway through if you have a single disc DVD player.
The Godfather Part II, like its predecessor, won several Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor for Robert De Niro, Best Art Direction, Best Director for Francis Ford Coppola, Best Music, Best Writing, and Best Picture at the 1975 show. It received four additional nominations as well. In addition, the film won a British Academy Award and six Golden Globe awards.
Disc 4 - The Godfather Part III (1990)
Widely considered the weak link in the trilogy, The Godfather Part III was written by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola (this time, it's not a novel adaptation). It was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and was again distributed by Paramount Pictures. The film runs for two hours and forty nine minutes.
The plot here continues a few years after Part II, with Michael Corleone (again played by Al Pacino) growing older and wiser. As a result of the bloodshed and pain he's seen in his life, he's trying to legitimize the family interests and remove himself from the violent underworld of the mafia. Unfortunately, much like he was angry and violent when he was young, the generation under him is ambitious and looking for power. The movie revolves around Michael's attempt to balance an effort to legitimize the family with keeping the younger mafiosos under control. It's a very nice study of Michael Corleone, making you realize that the trilogy is about him, not Vito.
The many subplots here deal with a rebel gangster trying to upset the order of the New York mafia, as well as a great story involving the romance of his daughter with another young mafia hitman.
This film again features a wonderful feature-length commentary from Francis Ford Coppola. Before seeing this entire set, I had held this film in somewhat low regard, but after seeing it a few times and hearing the commentary, I now think it is a fitting close to the story and, if not an equal to, at least an appropriate coda to the first two films.
The Godfather Part III received seven Academy Award nominations and seven Golden Globe nominations, but failed to win a single one of the awards.
Disc 5 - Extra Features
The fifth disc of the series includes about three hours worth of extra features that I found to be quite enjoyable and worthwhile. They provide a lot of extra insight into the films and complement the other four discs very well.
The best part of the disc is probably the mini-documentary "The Godfather Family: A Look Inside" (73 minutes in length), which summarizes the making of the series. In terms of actually seeing what's going on behind the scenes, this provides a great peek into the filmmaking process. Along with this comes the original "Making of The Godfather" mini-film from 1971, roughly 20 minutes in length.
There are several deleted scenes from the movies of varying quality. There are at least two that are quite interesting, concerning Marlon Brando's portrayal of Vito Corleone, but some of them aren't too worthwhile. It's definitely better if you've seen the films a few times.
In addition, there are five short segments that focus on cinematography, music, the director, locations, and the screenplay. These each run about fifteen minutes. You can also find trailers for all three films and Academy Award acceptance speeches (check out what Marlon Brando did when he won his 1973 award).
There is also a lot of text-and-picture based information on the disc, good for drifting through when you sit at your computer with the disc in the DVD drive. "Francis Ford Coppola's Notebook" is like an extension of the feature-length commentaries and is quite entertaining for a read-through. Also fun are the Corleone family tree and the timeline.
These are three great films, loaded down with special features. If you enjoy watching films (as I do) or making films on your own (as I do), this disc set is well worth purchasing. If you like the Godfather films, I also recommend checking out Scent of a Woman, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and the television miniseries The Last Don; these are all excellently done and feature either similar topics, similar styles, or the same actors.