Gift givers on the prowl for stocking stuffers for their film-buff friends have a classic option this season: “The Godfather Trilogy: Omertà Edition.”
A towering achievement and widely acknowledged as one of the greatest films ever made, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 Oscar-winning masterpiece “The Godfather,” along with its two sequels, has long been as much admired for its below-the-line attributes as for its storytelling prowess. The film’s painterly use of chiaroscuro and the golden palette created by cinematographer Gordon Willis — nicknamed the Prince of Darkness by his DP peers — has never been equaled for its subtlety and expressiveness.
However, time has not been kind to the film, and the rich colors of the original 35mm negatives have slowly faded. Dirt, decay and scratches have also taken their toll.
Now, in time to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the first film’s release, Paramount Home Entertainment has released the entire restored version of the trilogy on Blu-ray in a four-disc so-called Omertà Edition, priced at about $35. It includes Coppola’s restoration of the first two films, the remastered version of “Part III,” commentary by Coppola, a disc of previously released in-depth special features, a scene-anatomy foldout and trivia and quote cards.
The 4K restoration took three years to complete, per Andrea Kalas, VP of archives at Paramount Pictures. “The studio looked at the original negatives and also a number of early intermediate elements, including interpositives and internegatives, and then we scanned every single one that might be useful in order to be able to choose the best possible source image,” Kalas explains. “That meant finding the best-looking image, with no scratches for the most part. But if there was an image that was closer to the original negative but that had a few scratches, then we might choose that one and then clean it up. So the whole process was very much a patchwork.”
The project was done at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging and supervised by restoration guru Robert A. Harris, under the direction of Coppola. Colorist Jan Yarbrough also played a key role. “He was able to understand the original intent of the cinematographer, and using the latest technology was able to bring out the best possible look,” Kalas says.
The first “Godfather” needed a lot of restoration help. “It took a year of me working on it,” says Yarbrough. “But the other two weren’t in such bad shape — especially ‘Part III.’” The colorist and his team used a Baselight color grading system, which allowed them to random-access 4K digital files and then be able to pick and choose among them as needed, explains Yarbrough. “It’s a very useful tool for restoration work,” he adds.
Yarbrough also worked on the second film; colorist Ray Grabowski worked on the third. “Francis came in to check on prog- ress and was very happy,” says Yarbrough. “He made no changes or corrections to the work.”
Yarbrough, whose credits include “The Dark Knight” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” says that cleaning up the first “Godfather” was his toughest restoration job ever: “We ended up retouching or replacing 70% of the original camera negative because there was so much damage.”
Ultimately, however, with the restoration limited to 45,000 numbered disc sets, some fans might wind up having to take the cannoli.