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Another 5-star movie in a (barely) 4-star release... ****UPDATED 12/31/2010 for new 20th Anniversary BluRay***
on August 22, 2004
There's nothing I can say that hasn't already been said about "Goodfellas"... it's one of the best movies ever. To hell with the AFI, this is arguably one of the top 10 American movies ever made! Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco: five top-notch talents operating on all 8 cylinders in this story about three decades of life in the mob.
Now, you'd think that Warner Brothers would give this movie the most complete Warner DVD release that's ever existed. A fervent popular following, a high level of anticipation for a special edition, and the current booming state of the DVD industry should've made this a no-brainer slam dunk for Warner's marketing and home video departments. And so, after years of having to flip over the old disc, after years of almost crushing that flimsy snap case, after years of listening to that 5.1 surround that sounded suspiciously like 2-channel, should you get this new version?? The answer is a resounding..."maybe".
Arguably the biggest plus to this new edition of "Goodfellas" is the fact that the whole movie is contained on a single side of a dual-layered disc. The "all-new digital transfer", enhanced for 16:9, is only a marginal improvement over the original release (which was also listed as being "enhanced for widescreen TVs" on the package; it wasn't). Strangely enough, in the scene where Jimmy (De Niro) and Paulie (Paul Sorvino) go to convince Henry to go home to Karen, there is a very noticeable screen-split line on the film that sections De Niro's face in half. This isn't the transfer's problem, per se; it looks more like something off the film print. The strange thing is I don't remember this streak being present on the old version. Maybe it's only a minor peeve, but still, this is the kind of thing you'd expect a studio to clean up for a special edition.
The English audio is the same old Dolby-Surround-masquerading-as-5.1 mix used in the old version. The package incorrectly lists Spanish as the alternate language; it's still French. Nothing more to say about that.
The disc menus are static, and they all have this generic-sounding jazz score playing over them. Remember all the jazz in "Goodfellas"? Yeah, me neither.
Of course, the real reason most people are running out to get this new set is to see the special features. This DVD includes 2 commentaries: one with various cast & crew members, the other with Henry Hill & ex-FBI agent Ed McDonald (who plays himself at the end of the movie). Of the 2 commentaries, the track with real-life players Hill and McDonald is infinitely more interesting, even though Hill mumbles more than Keith Richards having an acid flashback.
When I bought this set, I was looking forward to some feature-length Scorsese, Pesci, Liotta &/or Bracco commentary (I didn't dare to hope for Robert De Niro, I mean, be serious), with some funny stories or moviemaking info. Instead, what you get is a few new comments cobbled together with 10-15 year old sound bites from De Niro and Joe Pesci. Basically, the first 90 minutes of commentary is a total strokefest ("oh-this-guy-was-so-great", "oh-she-did-a-really-good-job") with only Scorsese, author Nick Pileggi, Liotta, and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus saving it. It picks up towards the end, though, when Lorraine Bracco (who shoots down the "screen-specific commentary" illusion when she talks about having watched the movie on the morning she's being interviewed) and editor Thelma Schoonmaker drop some funny thoughts.
As for the rest of the extras? There's really no need to have a second disc to contain them; the total running time of all the "documentaries", as Warner calls them ("featurettes", I call 'em), along with the theatrical trailer is less than an hour. Plenty of room for these on the first disc, but then I guess Warner felt they needed another selling point with the whole 2-disc thing. To summarize the 1/2-hour making-of documentary: "Martin Scorsese is a great director." Remember those 6 words and everything else is cream cheese.
The second major documentary, at around 13 minutes long, has interviews with some younger writer-directors who've found themselves influenced by "Goodfellas". Only 5 words to remember this time: "'Goodfellas' is a brilliant movie."
The other two featurettes are about 10 minutes altogether. One is a storyboard-to-screen comparison, the other is a little throwaway piece with some cast & crew anecdotes. 4 words will do this one just fine: "Warner Brothers is lazy."
It's really a shame that Warner Brothers couldn't wait just a tad longer and include some truly special features for one of the best movies their studio has ever produced. With the stellar jobs they've done on their other 2-disc reissues, like "Enter the Dragon", "The Right Stuff", "Singin' in the Rain" --jeez, even "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" has better features than this!!-- I expected Warner Bros. to really pull out all the stops for this new edition of "Goodfellas", but it's a big letdown. Still, it is an improvement (no matter how minor) over the previous release, and as it is probably the "best" version we're ever gonna get on DVD, I would have to recommend picking it up.
However, if you already own the movie, keep three things in mind. Ask yourself 1.) if you really mind flipping the old disc over, 2.) if you've got a normal full-screen TV, do you really need a new anamorphic transfer?, and 3.) do you really need to see the special features if they're not exactly top quality? If your answer to any of these things is "no", then I'd think long and hard about shelling out another $20.
**UPDATE - 12/31/2010** Having recently gotten a PS3, I've been going nuts updating as many of my DVDs as possible to Blu-Ray, but like most people who've made the switch, I've come to learn that it's not always worth it in every case. I just got the new 20th Anniversary Edition Goodfellas BluRay and I can confirm that it has the same exact lame special features we were issued on the so-called "special" edition DVD six years ago (with two "new" extras; more on that in a minute).
The image upgrade is noticeable to me, but not impressive enough (that line is STILL running down De Niro's face) for me to recommend laying out yet another 20-odd dollars for the same product. C'mon, Warners, all this time and you still haven't learned your lesson? And being that this is Blu-Ray, maybe a TrueHD audio track would be in order? Nope, we get the same old 5.1. Thanks a pantload.
So what's new on this 20th Anniversary release? Well, I'll admit it does have a snazzy hardbound book-shaped case, even if it doesn't have much in common with the film, design-wise. There's also a pretty nice booklet about 30 pages long with stills from the movie. There are also two additional features that weren't present on the original DVD: a documentary on the history of the '30s and '40s gangster movies and a selection of mob-themed Looney Tunes shorts. The problem is, this is recycled content; the cartoons can be found in the Looney Tunes sets, while the documentary is a leftover from a Warner Brothers gangster movie box set released a few years ago. They're both fun, both interesting, but have only the most tenuous connections with Goodfellas. Couldn't squeeze one substantial new extra out of this new release, could they? Once again, all people wanted was a little decent treatment given to one of the best movies ever produced by a major studio. Once again, Warner Brothers has proven they just don't get it. Fair enough, but this is the last copy of Goodfellas I buy. I don't care if they come out with the deluxe 25th Anniversary 3D Super-BluRay Scratch 'n Sniff Edition, I'm not biting.
On a side note, I just want to say thanks to everybody for all the helpful votes and whatnot, glad you found this review useful over time. Take care!