How many times does Paramount think it can make us an offer we can't refuse? Fans of Francis Ford Coppola's "Godfather" trilogy have bought the VHS version, the laser disc version and, most recently, the 2001 DVD edition with new commentary tracks by Coppola that set a hard-to-beat standard for frankness, intelligence and wit. Now we're confronted with yet another version, the "Coppola Restoration," in both standard DVD and Blu-ray editions. The latest set has been struck from newly restored film of the originals, and bless the restorationists, who give us crisper images and better color without any of that shrink-wrapped slickness that digitization often produces—the DVD versions of these movies still look like movies. And don't think for a second that you're being suckered into buying something that you already own. These films haven't looked this good since the first week they played in theaters.
Most stories about film restoration sound the same. Again and again, we hear about neglect, deteriorating film stock and faulty printing. Even great films ("Lawrence of Arabia," "Vertigo") suffered these indignities. Still, the news that Coppola's first two "Godfather" movies direly required repair comes as a shock. It is hard to imagine two films viewed more often, or more cherished, by more people. Ironically, the first two "Godfathers" have suffered because of their popularity (the third installment, made in 1990, has suffered hardly at all). If you saw part one when it was briefly rereleased in theaters a few years ago, you had to wonder if all the original hoopla over Gordon Willis's photography was unquestioned hype, since a lot of what appeared on screen looked muddy and depthless. But that's what happens when duplicates are made from duplicates and no one bothers to compare the fifth-generation copy with the original print.
Will the new versions radically revise our opinions of these films? Obviously people have been watching and rewatching these classics without undue trouble for years (the most hilarious bonus feature included in the new set shows actors—and hard-core Godfatherites—Richard Belzer and Seth Isler lobbing lines from the script at each other like two tennis pros). But few films were ever more dependent on the way they looked than the "Godfather" movies. In scene after scene, it's the Rembrandt-like palette—orange, umber, red and a dozen shades of black—that defines the various moods of the movie. Destroy that look, and you sap a lot of the film's power. Restore it, and you get what the latest editions of these classics offer: freshly minted masterpieces.