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Released theatrically on March 24th, 1972, The Godfather, considered by many to be one of the greatest films ever made, turns 45 this year. To celebrate the occasion, Paramount has issued a 45th Anniversary Edition of the Blu-ray. While the video transfer, audio track, and included commentary track appear to be the same ones available on previous Blu-ray releases, there is all new art work, and a snazzy slip cover. If you haven’t added The Godfather to your Blu-ray library, now is a great time to do it!

The 1972 classic that started it all, The Godfather is based on the 1969 novel of the same name by Mario Puzo who also co-wrote the screenplay. Although many films had been made about gangsters prior to The Godfather, it was Coppola’s sympathetic portrayal of the Corleone family and their associates, and his portrayal of mobsters as complex individuals that made The Godfather and its sequel especially unique. The Godfather was voted greatest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly, and is now ranked as the second greatest film in American cinematic history – behind Citizen Kane. Both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II have been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, so it is fair to say that Coppola’s trilogy has had a major influence on not only American film, but the culture as well.

The Godfather chronicles the lives of two godfathers of crime, Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), the patriarch of the Corleone family, and his son Michael (Al Pacino), who eventually inherits the mantle of “Godfather.” The film opens in 1945, at the end of World War II at the wedding of Don Vito’s daughter, Connie (Talia Shire). With the wedding scenes, Coppola provides the viewer with a real sense of Sicilian family and culture. After all, these movies are about family above all else.

It’s during the wedding celebration that Coppola lets us know what the Corleone family is all about. As guest’s party outside, business goes on as usual; supplicants come to do homage to the powerful Don and ask him favors. We are also introduced to Don Vito’s son Michael, a returning War hero; his fiancée, Kay (Diane Keaton); Michael’s older, hotheaded brother, Sonny (James Caan); and the weaker brother, Fredo (John Cazale). Then there’s a long line of Mob associates: Peter Clemenza (Richard Castellano), Sal Tessio (Abe Vigoda), Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana) and consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall). In addition, we meet Al Martino as pop singer Johnny Fontaine (supposedly patterned after Frank Sinatra) and Richard Conte as a powerful rival gangster, the dapper Don Barzini. Later, we meet Sterling Hayden as a crooked police captain, McCluskey; John Marley as a Hollywood mogul, Jack Woltz; and Al Lettieri as a ruthless killer, Virgil Sollozzo.

It’s hard to fathom now, but it has been written many times that several of Coppola’s casting choices weren’t popular with executives at Paramount. The studio was particularly displeased with his choice of Marlon Brando to play Don Vito Corleone; they wanted Laurence Olivier. In the end, Coppola chose Brando over Ernest Borgnine on the basis of Brando’s screen test, which also won over the Paramount leadership. The studio didn’t want the unknown Al Pacino to play Michael, preferring Robert Redford or Ryan O’Neal. Paramount only relented after Coppola threatened to quit the film if Pacino wasn’t cast. Despite his casting victories, on the included commentary Coppola maintains that he was shadowed by a replacement director, who was ready to take over if he were fired.

The Godfather received a good deal of criticism (and still does), along with much praise. Some observers feel that Coppola painted a picture that is far too sympathetic to mob culture and their activities. Certainly, the director and screenwriter go out their way to make Don Vito an honorable man. But they don’t for a moment let us forget about the corrupt business they’re in. Despite a tight budget and heavy pressure from Paramount to produce a hit, Coppola produced a genuine classic. The Godfather eventually won three Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor (Brando), and Best Screenplay Adaptation.

Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, Paramount ‘s 1080p transfer is quite good. Sharpness is strong throughout, with no apparent areas of softness. clarity and delineation are also very good. The image is clean, with the exception of a few white specks that pop up. However, it should be noted that the specks are small and brief, they didn’t dampen my viewing experience. Grain levels were appropriate throughout. The color palette is rather dark, and low key, but it works well for the film, and black levels are appropriately dense. There are a couple of small print defects–the aforementioned specks, and a couple of small scratches–but otherwise, this is a fine transfer.

The Dolby True HD 5.1 soundtrack is a bit of an up and down proposition. Taken from the film’s original monaural stems, the mix attempts to fill a large soundstage. Audio was centered largely in the fronts, with ambient sounds in the sides. Music was provided with a nice sense of separation. Actual surround activity was minimal. A noticeable echo made dialogue sound a lot different, though it was always understandable. in this case, even though it shortened the soundfield a bit, the including mono soundtrack offers the best listening experience.

English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles are included.

The following extras are available:

  • Audio Commentary with Writer / Director Francis Ford Coppola: Coppola is surprisingly honest about the various problems he faced during the shoot in this largely screen-specific chat. He discusses the locations, the script, the cast, etc. This is an interesting commentary, in that it seems so true.