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The Godfather Part II Blu-ray Review (45th Anniversary Edition)

The Godfather Part II (1974) movie poster The Godfather

Theatrical Release: December 20, 1974 / Running Time: 202 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Francis Ford Coppola / Writers: Mario Puzo (book & screenplay); Francis Ford Coppola (screenplay)

Cast: Al Pacino (Don Michael Corleone), Robert Duvall (Tom Hagen), Diane Keaton (Kay Corleone), Robert De Niro (Vito Corleone), John Cazale (Fredo Corleone), Talia Shire (Connie Corleone), Lee Strasberg (Hyman Roth), Michael V. Gazzo (Frankie Pentangeli), G.D. Spradlin (Senator Pat Geary), Richard Bright (Al Neri), Gastone Moschin (Don Fanucci), Tom Rosqui (Rocco Lampone), Bruno Kirby (Young Clemenza), Frank Sivero (Genco), Francesca de Sapio (Young Mama Corleone), Morgana King (Mama Corleone), Mariana Hill (Deanna Corleone), Leopoldo Trieste (Signor Roberto), Dominic Chianese (Johnny Ola), Amerigo Tot (Michael's Bodyguard), Troy Donahue (Merle Johnson), John Aprea (Young Tessio), Joe Spinell (Willi Cicci), Oreste Baldini (Vito Andolini as a boy), Harry Dean Stanton (F.B.I. Man #1), Danny Aiello (Tony Rosato)

Buy The Godfather Part II from Amazon.com: Blu-ray • DVD • Instant Video • Trilogy Blu-ray • Trilogy DVD

The Godfather Part II has long been considered the gold standard for sequels. It is a product of a different era. Back in the early 1970s, having already given them an acclaimed,
popular, and instantly iconic film in the original, director Francis Ford Coppola still had to fight Paramount Pictures to call the sequel The Godfather Part II. Nowadays, colons and subtitles are often preferred to numerals, but for a long time the biggest question would be whether to slap a "2" or "II" onto the original hit's title for the follow-up, sometimes adding a "Part" for class.

The second Godfather was the first sequel to win the Oscar for Best Picture. It was one of just three sequels in the 20th century even nominated for the industry's highest award. The others: The Bells of St. Mary's, which incidentally is discussed in the original Godfather, and the subsequently much-maligned The Godfather Part III in 1990. Since then, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Toy Story 3, and Mad Max: Fury Road all drew nominations, with Rings winning 2003's Best Picture.

The sequel has come to feature more prominently in Hollywood. This past weekend, three sequels were in the top ten at the box office and that is pretty typical for the summer movie season. If you count The Lego Batman Movie as a sequel (even if it is more just a spin-off), then four of the year's top five grossing films in North America are sequels. (The fifth, #1 domestically by a wide margin, is a remake: Beauty and the Beast.) Though typically fruitful commercially, sequels have increasingly commanded respect from critics in recent years as well. The final Harry Potter movie. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Certain X-Men installments. To go beyond the mainstream, Richard Linklater's Adapted Screenplay Oscar nominees Before Sunset and Before Midnight.

It's not unprecedented; The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are all highly regarded. But in a way, all of it, good and bad, can be traced back to The Godfather Part II, which isn't considered just a great sequel, but one of the greatest films of all time, period. It's ranked 32nd on both of the American Film Institute's Top 100 American films countdowns. It's even higher on IMDb's Top 250, having sat in third place behind only The Shawshank Redemption and the first Godfather for over ten years now. It's also a fixture in other all-time greatest lists, from reader-voted countdowns produced by Entertainment Weekly and Time Out to the more expansive, academic, and highbrow Sight & Sound.

The young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) rises to power in 1910s New York in the elder narrative of "The Godfather Part II."

While I think I'm safe in assuming that this review does not pose your introduction to the saga, I still feel obligated to include a little bit of Part II synopsis, mostly recycled from my 2008 review of the trilogy's DVD collection.

In the 1950s, the Corleones, an Italian-American crime family, are settled into Nevada and business is booming, until an attempt is made on the lives of Michael (Al Pacino) and his family. Efforts to determine who was behind the Lake Tahoe mission bring Michael to Miami and Cuba, where he consults his father's longtime associate and his potential partner Hyman Roth (a rare performance by renowned method acting teacher Lee Strasberg). Meanwhile, we also follow young Vito Andolini from Corleone, Sicily to New York City, where he (Robert De Niro) moves from small-time laborer to respected community figure in scenes conveyed largely with subtitled Italian dialects. Following an intermission, the movie throws us without warning into a Senate Hearing against the Corleone Family, where Michael is asked to respond to a long list of accusations. Preoccupied by business, Michael sees his relationships with wife Kay (Diane Keaton) and brother Fredo (John Cazale) become strained.

Between the dual timelines and more attention being paid to the early century period setting, Part II definitely provides the most epic feel of the three films in the series. I'm always impressed by how one gets so wrapped up in what's presented here that they hardly notice that the film loses two of its predecessor's greatest screen presences in Marlon Brando and James Caan (who's only seen in an evocative newly-created flashback set in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack).

Part II hits some of the same beats as the predecessor, but never in a déjà vu kind of way. It's not taking The Hangover Part II's approach of recreating what worked in a more outrageous fashion. Coppola and his co-writer Puzo, who wrote the original novel, are all in on investing in these characters, exploring where life takes them, and reflecting on how they got here. It gets pretty dark. Watching Michael, this clean-cut war hero who circumstances threw into this family business, flourish as don and so gradually evolve from man to monster, is supremely compelling storytelling. Coppola gives a classical, almost operatic feel to the proceedings, but the passage of over forty years hasn't rendered them any less timely or relevant.

Celebrating New Year in Havana, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) gives his brother Fredo (John Cazale) a kiss while acknowledging he knows of his betrayal.

After the first film had to pull off something of an Academy Awards coup to take Best Picture, defeating to the more widely nominated Cabaret (which earned Bob Fosse the Best Director award), Part II was more immediately recognized as something special. It drew eleven nominations, winning six. Coppola got his first Director award. Nino Rota, whose nomination on the original film was withdrawn over reused themes, won Best Score.

A barely 30-year-old De Niro won his first Oscar, effectively launching one of the great acting careers. To win, he had to defeat Strasberg and Michael V. Gazzo, castmates in the more modern narrative with whom he shared no screentime. Pacino, nominated Lead this time after going Supporting last, lost again, this time to Harry and Tonto's Art Carney,
which is kind of a head scratcher, although Carney and his film are good. Pacino surprisingly would have to wait another nearly twenty years before winning his first (and thus far only) Oscar, for Scent of a Woman.

The debate of The Godfather vs. Part II rages on with no clear winner. They're both excellent films and complement one another in a way that perhaps no other pair of films do. (To me, the only pair in the same conversation on this front is the first two Back to the Future movies.)

In honor of the original film's 45th anniversary, Paramount has given the first two movies new standalone Blu-ray editions. Actually, "new" might be overstating it. The SKUs are new. The packaging is new. But the discs are the same ones authored back in 2008 as part of the trilogy's Coppola Restoration collection. But if you hate box sets, bonus features discs, and Part III, these might be the perfect low-priced releases for you.

The Godfather Part II: 45th Anniversary Blu-ray cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby 2.0 Mono (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled
Release Date: May 9, 2017 (Disc originally released September 23, 2008)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Still available in Trilogy Blu-ray ($29.99 SRP; September 23, 2008), on DVD ($9.80 SRP; September 23, 2008), and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The biggest bummer about The Godfather Part II's first DVD release was that the movie was spread across two discs. That was corrected by 2008 when the film got a newly-authored DVD and its first Blu-ray. Nine years later, that Blu-ray is the same one you'll find here sporting what is billed The Coppola Restoration. It is a substantial effort, which gets this cinematic milestone looking just the way its maker wanted it to. Of course, the biggest difference between the DVD and the Blu-ray is resolution. The DVD was practically perfect by standard definition standards. The Blu-ray offers the same thing only with a significant number of additional lines of resolution. Is there room for improvement within Blu-ray? Perhaps, but not really enough to wonder why Paramount hasn't bothered to reauthor the film in the nine years since it first reached Blu-ray.

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack nicely distributes the Oscar-winning score while keeping dialogue crisp even when it is often spoken in hushed tones. Again, Italian dialogue, which this time is rather abundant, is translated by a nice-looking default secondary English subtitle track.

Michael Corleone looks on as cruel justice is carried out on The Godfather Part II's Blu-ray menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Tons of bonus features have been dug up or produced for these movies. Alas, the vast majority of them have been relegated to bonus features discs in the trilogy collections and do not make it here.

All we find here on this single-disc release is an audio commentary by director/producer/screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola, recorded back in 2001. Here is what I said about it back in my 2008 review of the Coppola Restoration DVD collection.

Acrimony is mostly absent from Coppola's Part II commentary, as he recalls the smooth experience that followed his reluctance to make a sequel. There are many fascinating revelations made here. They include: his original plan to merely produce with Martin Scorsese directing, having to rewrite the entire script in a weekend to satisfy Al Pacino, dealing with actors not returning (Frankie Pentangeli's role was essentially written for Clemenza), deletions that have been reinserted for certain TV airings, aspects gathered from his life and those of his ancestors, and his one condition that Paramount most objected to (the title).

The menu lays a little bit of score over one of the film's final shots, of Michael looking out at the lake as a pivotal scene I shall not spoil.

The artwork of the tasteful silver and gold embossed slipcover (which devotes one spine to Pacino and the other, De Niro) is reproduced in the eco-friendly keepcase below, whose full-color disc (again unchanged from 2008) is joined by an important notice about Blu-ray Disc firmware and a double-sided ad promoting other Paramount gangster movies with similar-styled artwork and The Godfather: Family Dynasty mobile game.

Corleone consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) subtly gives some advice to incarcerated near-rat Frankie Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo) in one of the final scenes of "The Godfather Part II."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Anything is possible but I can't imagine anyone liking The Godfather and not also liking The Godfather Part II. Francis Ford Coppola's dark, epic follow-up does what a sequel should, building and expanding instead of simply trying to repeat what it already did well. The two films are so complementary and compelling that it's awfully tempting to pretend this early '70s pair is the entire series and that Part III was just a rumor or a non-canonical reboot. In truth, that not so beloved finale isn't that bad, except when it's being compared to two of the most perfect dramas in the history of cinema.

Obviously, I recommend owning the first two Godfather movies, but I can't see much reason to opt for these standalone editions over the four-disc trilogy collection that is still in print and barely costs more.

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Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video / Trilogy Blu-ray / Trilogy DVD

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola:
The Godfather • The Godfather Part III • Francis Ford Coppola: 5-Film Collection
Rumble Fish • Peggy Sue Got Married • John Grisham's The Rainmaker
New York Stories • Bram Stoker's Dracula • Jack • Dementia 13

Al Pacino: Scarface • The Insider • Dick Tracy • Any Given Sunday
Robert De Niro: Goodfellas • Taxi Driver • Everybody's Fine • The Intern • Silver Linings Playbook
Talia Shire: Rocky | Diane Keaton: Annie Hall • Father of the Bride
Robert Duvall: The Killer Elite • Tomorrow • The Judge • Newsies | G.D. Spradlin: Ed Wood | Gastone Moschin: Caliber 9
1970s: Jaws • Chinatown • The Friends of Eddie Coyle • The Black Stallion • Thunderbolt and Lightfoot • Nashville
Best Picture Winners: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest • Moonlight • The Best Years of Our Lives • From Here to Eternity
Goodfellas (25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray + Digital HD) • Animal Kingdom • Live by Night • Thief

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Reviewed May 15, 2017.



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