Customer Review

57 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "grain" is purposeful. Films look their best ever., May 26, 2011
This review is from: The Godfather - The Coppola Restoration Giftset (The Godfather / The Godfather Part II / The Godfather Part III) [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
what people are calling "noise" is simply the anolog nature of the source film. its like criticizing vinyl for "hissing". that IS the film. if you saw it in the theater in '71 you saw that "noise" on the screen.

yes, something shot digitally is going to look cleaner, but let's be clear here: its not supposed to look clean.


`The Godfather' Restoration
by Bill Desowitz

The Holy Grail for digital restoration is definitely 4K. The Godfather and its indispensable sequel, The Godfather Part II, couldn't have been saved without it. Thanks to an assist from Steven Spielberg, who convinced Paramount Pictures to finance their full-digital restorations along with the re-mastering of The Godfather: Part III, the landmark Mafia saga arguably looks better than ever.

The result is The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration, available on Blu-ray and DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment September 23, following a limited theatrical run in selected cities (the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, September 5-11; Film Forum in New York, September 12-October 2; the ArcLight Dome in Hollywood, September 19-25; and the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, October 3-16).

"What took so long was waiting for technology to catch up with need," asserts Robert Harris (Rear Window, Vertigo, Spartacus, Lawrence of Arabia), the specialist tapped by director Francis Ford Coppola to supervise the six-figure restoration project under the guidance of Paramount post-production chief and Spielberg alumn Martin Cohen. They worked for more than a year with Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging (MPI), while Pro-Tek Preservation Services inspected and stored all of the surviving film elements.

However, the damage was worse than Harris realized as a result of decades of overuse and abuse. "What was left of the original camera negative [OCN] had been severely overprinted," Harris explains. "When we received the element, I believe that there were only five or six shots in the first 20 minutes that were still original. Virtually every splice was held together with mylar tape. Tears went into image in hundreds of frames. Sections were totally without perforations. The Godfather was shot on Eastman negative 5254, which has wonderful fade characteristics, and although it had faded, it was still very, very correctible for color. Part II was probably 75 percent better, as many more prints were made and there wasn't the need to continually go back to the OCN."

The MPI team, led by technical director/senior colorist Jan Yarbrough and Daphne Dentz, vice president of Digital Services, first scanned the negative and other replacement cuts, imported the terabytes of data into the computer system and then repaired, cleaned and color-corrected every frame. In addition, MPI also made a complete set of 4K preservation negatives, separation masters, and back-up data tapes for the trilogy.

"Because of the way The Godfather was shot--because of the exposures, because of the black levels, because of the grain structure--it really couldn't be done without working entirely in 4K [the equivalent of film resolution]," Harris suggests. "We harvested an image from the negative and everything and anything under the sun, and put the picture together shot by shot."

"Around 60 percent of The Godfather negative was destroyed or unusable, so we had to replace it with images from six different kinds of elements, including CRIs and separations from CRIs," adds Yarbrough. "The biggest challenge was finding the replacements for the damaged areas, going through all the replacements that we could dig up, evaluating them for what the best fit was going to be, and getting that element to blend in color-wise with the existing camera negative it would literally be cut into."

Although Coppola was not directly involved, he was always available for suggestions. One adjustment was to the famous opening shot: "We wanted the blacks to be truly black, and the first image of Bonasera [Salvatore Corsitto] was to appear out of that," Coppola recalls.

Thus, the bulk of the aesthetic heavy lifting rested with Gordon Willis, the trilogy's iconoclastic cinematographer. Known as the "Prince of Darkness," Willis typically underexposed light to heighten the mood of a scene and maintained strict control so his films couldn't be brightened.

"The Godfathers were designed to have a kind of classic retrospective look," Willis explains. "The lighting structure came out of a need to present Marlon Brando properly as an aging, monolithic Don. My choice was to use overhead lighting to enhance Marlon's make-up; the only thing I wanted to hide on occasion was his eyes. All the lighting came out of Marlon's need, but it worked extremely well for everything else."

Unfortunately, Willis was unable to travel to LA from Massachusetts, so he led them through the basic design telephonically, with one imperative: Do not dial out the grain structure. Cinematographer and Spielberg alum Allen Daviau (E.T.) was therefore recruited as a liaison. "Allen can see a quarter point difference from shot to shot," Harris notes. Daviau particularly helped in defining the color black.

"You have to realize that it isn't simply black," Harris adds. "For example, the wedding scene was shot to look like 1940s Anscochrome, along with its inherent tendency to sometimes be overexposed, which in reversal means totally open whites."

For color, Willis chose an innovative combination of brassy yellow and warm red that he maintained throughout the trilogy. "If you notice," he added, "I change the visual quality throughout Part II. There's a clarity in the 1950s that isn't there in the turn of the century work, which had a softer, more diffused look; keeping the color constant binds the entire tapestry together."

The most telling enhancement, oddly enough, was to The Godfather's pivotal restaurant sequence in which Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) guns down Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) and Captain McCluskey (Sterling Hayden). Due to a printing error, half of it looks like a "Xerox of a Xerox of a Xero," according to Harris .

"The story behind that scene is quite interesting," he recalls. "When Joanne Lawson, my long-time assistant, and I were going over both recent prints as well as a 1972 print shot by shot and frame by frame, we noted major problems in the sequence--many, many dupes--and called Gordon. We explained what we were seeing, and he became momentarily silent. He then broke into an interesting grouping of expletives, and explained that the shoot had been over two nights. Both were planned to have the dailies pushed by the lab. The first night came back fine, but with the second--which is inclusive of all footage after Al exits the men's room, as well as the cutaways to Sterling Hayden and a few long shots--the lab forgot to push it, and it came back very, very thin. Gordon switched labs. Technicolor Hollywood did yeoman-like work in producing dupes to attempt to match the footage.

"This was one sequence that we held to the very end of the restoration," continues Harris, "as we had Pro-Tek inspection technician Joe Caracappa looking through hundreds of cans from which we could attempt to harvest a better image and the sequence finally looks as it should. You can really see the tension on Michael's face for the first time."

Another challenge was figuring out what stock to print on: Eastman Vision or Vision Premier. "We went `round and `round and did several tests and finally left the decision up to Francis, who said to go with Premier because he really liked the deep blacks," Yarbrough says. "I get amazed with the digital tools that we have--we use Baselight--and that we're able to take the same negative and work some magic here and get a better looking image than what Gordon could, photo-chemically, with the right densities and image resolution."

Surprisingly, Harris, the film purist, has been won over by the digital cinema version: "Higher resolution, steadier image, and blacks that come quite close. A beautiful image overall."

Bill Desowitz is editor of VFXWorld (, part of Animation World Network ( He can be reached at
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