Being given the job of restoring arguably one of the greatest films of all time, “The Godfather,” is daunting enough. Doing it under the watchful eye of its director, Francis Ford Coppola, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the filmmaker’s Academy Award-winning opus is another level entirely.
It was a team led by restoration expert Andrea Kalas, Senior Vice President of Archives at Paramount Pictures, and James Mockoski, Archivist and Restoration Supervisor at Coppola’s American Zoetrope, who took up the mantle.
“The burden of restoring this masterwork was something everyone felt,” Kalas recalls, noting that it required some of the finest artisans in the industry to do so.
Laura Thornburg, Executive Director of Preservation, had left Paramount, but Kalas brought her back to oversee the restoration. Says Kalas, “That is, in my opinion, why the result is as good as it is. We knew how serious, daunting, and exciting it was.”
“This is something you can’t do overnight,” remarks Mockoski, revealing that it was five years ago when the restoration project was first raised. “Andrea started the conversation around the time Francis wanted to dive back into ‘Coda,’ and he said that when the 50th anniversary came around, he wanted to be a part of it. This effort is a journey over 50 years.”
The Zoetrope archivist considers the digital restoration in the mid-2000s to be the first real attempt to “bring this film back,” but they were now able to push it further.
“Technology, monitoring, software, and hardware have all changed,” Mockoski explains. The work done in 2007 proved invaluable in restoring the trilogy, which is being released on 4K Ultra HD for the first time. However, it was just one of the vital pieces of the puzzle.
“We had a reference from the 2000 restoration, a video master, and a Digital Cinema Package for theatrical,” Kalas reveals. However, the video master didn’t look right on today’s technology, so the team used the DCP and the original print as their guide.
“If you’re using the original negative, you’re not compromising quality, and that’s what we strive for,” Mockoski says. That was showcased during the restoration of key scenes such as the wedding. “That first reel, which includes that scene, was three different sources. The most challenging thing was to go from IB Tech prints to CRI to original negative and even that out.”
While there are pops of color, such as the rosy pink bridesmaid’s dresses, “The Godfather’s” palette leans into earthy tones and deep blacks, perfectly showcased in costume design by Anna Hill Johnstone such as Marlon’s Brando’s iconic tuxedo.
“James was the one that said to put some more grain in it,” Kalas enthuses. “All of a sudden, this detail in the blacks was there. It was amazing. He could see where it needed to go with the high dynamic range, the grain level, and the composition.”
Kalas and Mockoski saw using high dynamic range as an integral part of the restoration as it would make the film “look as cinematic as possible for the home viewer.” However, it also created issues. “It throws colors and bright lights everywhere. You have to train it, bring it in, and teach it how to work with the film and the cinematographer’s vision,” she adds, likening it to “an excited kid.”
When they screened the finished work for Coppola himself, how did they know they had succeeded?
“James was texting me that day saying, ‘He’s telling stories,’ and I visibly relaxed,” Kalas explains. “I knew that meant he was immersed in the film, remembering it and enjoying it. I knew that meant we’d done it.”