If you've been on the fence about what Blu-ray can do, the just-released The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration will make you a convert. It's not that the restoration looks shabby on regular DVD — it most assuredly does not — but the The Godfather Trilogy on four Blu-ray discs screams the word "definitive." Suddenly, scenes from the first two Godfather films that looked bathed in mud instead of light take on the burnished glow of something freshly minted. I had doubted that the brownish tones and murky shadows that director Francis Coppola wanted from cinematographer Gordon Willis would ever be possible to reproduce on disc. No more. "I believe in America" is the first line uttered in The Godfather trilogy. Well, I believe in this restoration. The DVD is a monumental achievement that preserves the film's resonant mood, stirring storytelling, haunting Nino Rota score, and gallery of career-defining performances, including Marlon Brando as the iconic Don Vito Corleone and Robert De Niro as the younger Don. Both deservedly won Oscars. In adapting Mario Puzo's novel about a Mafia family, Coppola turned Mario Puzo's pulp bestseller into lasting cinema art. Parts 1 & Ii remain indisputable American classics. The fact that the trilogy's major competition for your DVD dollar this week is Sex and the City: The Movie — adding 12 minutes of deleted scenes to a film that was already punishingly long — is laughable. The Godfather Trilogy is the keeper, and it raises a question that needs to be asked.
What about The Godfather IIi? Does it belong in the same class or even the same DVD package as its predecessors? Since its release in 1990, Part IIi has always been the whipping boy, the one that got in on its pedigree. Seeing it again nearly two decades later, I'm beginning to cut it a break. Sure, the plot strands keep unraveling as Coppola turns Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) into a Mafia King Lear, hungry for respectability and forgiveness but heading for madness. "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in" is the line Michael famously utters. But some sequences have aged into distinction, such as Michael leaning for support on his bastard nephew Vincent (Andy Garcia in the film's best performance), who makes the mistake of falling for Michael's daughter Mary. The received wisdom is that Coppola made the mistake of casting his unprepared daughter, Sofia, in that pivotal role. The way I see it, Mary's final words and her father's scream on the steps of the opera house is everything that's right and wrong about this movie. Also right, in a film that often substitutes flourish for substance, are the flickers of humanity that Pacino lets us see in Michael. Let's face it, Pacino gives the performance of his life in this role.
OK, enough of me. Do you have an impassioned defense of The Godfather IIi or would you like to see it banned from the new DVD package? Are there scenes you recall with special admiration or abject embarrassment? The floor is yours.