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Friday, October 10, 2008

DVD Review: Let's Talk About The Godfather: Part III.

Posted by Erik Henriksen on Fri, Oct 10, 2008 at 4:36 PM

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A couple of weeks ago, The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration came out on DVD and Blu-ray. It's a five-disc set, with all three films plus two discs of special materials. After watching the whole trilogy last weekend, I had a couple of realizations: The Godfather is amazing. The Godfather: Part II is mostly amazing. The Godfather: Part III is ten billion times worse than you remember it being. And, finally, Andy Garcia has a truly bewildering amount of chest hair. It's insane. You could lose a Robin Williams in there.

More thoughts after the jump, including but not limited to musings on Francis Ford Coppola's luck, how good Robert De Niro used to be, how Al Pacino Now looks less like Al Pacino Then and more like a dessicated, angry mummy who vaguely resembles what Al Pacino Then used to look like, and Sofia Coppola's crimes against humanity. Oh, and incest!

I'm going to do it anyway, but I feel weird going off on The Godfather: Part III. Well, I sort of feel bad, 'cause it feels too easy, but also, why not: It's a fucking terrible movie, the sort of pretentious, bloated, tragically confident, ill-advised, way-too-expensive clusterfuck that one witnesses maybe once every decade. The fact that it followed two of the most acclaimed and beloved films in American cinema makes it seem even worse in comparison, but honestly, even if this thing had just been released on its own, without any lead-in, it would've been laughed out of theaters. And sadly, Part III is the film that sticks with you more than anything else in the trilogy--not just because it's the final one, so it inevitably leaves an acrid aftertaste, but because, as with all lousy sequels, it negatively colors everything that's come before--making you question if all the fantastic stuff in The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II was maybe just Coppola getting lucky.

Let's recap: The jarring, gripping, gorgeous The Godfather (1972) more or less tells the story of Michael Corleone (Pacino) taking over for his dad, crime boss Vito (Marlon Brando, in the performance that would spawn a thousand parodies). Part II (1974) follows Michael's ascent to power, while also flashing back to how a young Vito (now played by De Niro) came to be Godfather. (Part II is really great overall, but it suffers from the same flaw that most split-narratives do, which is that one story--in this case, Vito's--is inevitably more interesting than the other.) Part III (1990!?) jettisons just about everything interesting, instead feeling like Godfather Babies: This time around, we follow what amounts to the weakening/downfall of Michael Corleone, which would be interesting if it wasn't portrayed so goofily, but anyway it doesn't matter, since co-writer/director Coppola spends just as much time with Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) and Mary Corleone (Sofia Coppola)--two cousins who decide to ruin the Corleone name and the Godfather trilogy by committing two terrible crimes: (A) being annoying as humanly possible, and (B) boning. (Shudder.)

III might be kind of a blessing in disguise, actually, in that it makes the first two parts look that much better by comparison. While in III Michael is mostly a rambling, aging, bland old man who every once in a while has to cram some candy in his mouth to avoid a diabetes attack, these character disappointments are also reminders of what's come before: Every time Michael starts whining and weeping about the sins he's committed and asking people for orange juice so he can moderate his blood sugar, it just makes you think back to how he used to be interesting and badass and tough and smart and sad in the first two films. Likewise, every time III's plot devolves into cartoony, operatic histrionics, it makes you appreciate the smaller, subtler machinations of the fist two films even more. And pretty much every scene in III reminds you that Robert Duvall isn't in this final chapter at all, which just utterly blows: As adopted family member and advisor Tom Hagen in the first two films, Duvall did a lot to hold those films together, and his presence is sorely missed amongst all the schlocky gibberish in Part III.

I swear to god I didn't set out to write this post to just be a dick and just rip on Part III, so let me change course: This box set is still pretty great, not only because the first two films have been remastered and look fantastic, but because the whole presentation is really solid: With straightforward menus, killer picture quality, and the option to listen to the original mono sound (at least on the first two films; III only has 5.1), this is totally the way to watch the Godfather films. Sure, each of these movies are loooong, but still: Snagging this set and curling up for the weekend seems like the ideal way to watch these things. There are visual and plot connections and threads that go through these films that are only really noticeable when you watch them together as one huge, nine-hour-long deal. These are also some of the most visually beautiful films you could ever ask for, too (even Part III! There! I said something nice about it!), and the performances, almost across the board, are exceptional, especially with Duvall and De Niro. (I'm going to keep my mouth shut about Sofia, here, because I really, really like her as a director. So let's just say she made an excellent decision to move her career behind the camera rather than in fron--FUCK I CAN'T HOLD IT IN SHE'S THE WORLD'S WORST ACTRESS EVER.) Plus, it's great to own all of these films just to watch the weird, ghoulish transition that Al Pacino's face has made in the past 30 years: he is literally unrecognizable in the first two films when you compare him to how he looks in Part III and how he looks now. That's one more weird, unexpected legacy that The Godfather films have, I guess, though I'm pretty sure it's one I could have done without.

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