Why can’t Francis Ford Coppola keep his hands off The Godfather? He followed his 1972 original with The Godfather Part II, The Godfather Saga (I and II recut for TV with additional scenes), The Godfather Epic (a video release of Saga with still more changes), The Godfather Part III, a director’s cut of III (nine new minutes for video), and now a 10-hour Mafia mastodon called The Godfather Trilogy 1901-1980. This from a man who said in the mid-’70s, ”The idea of a sequel seemed horrible to me.”
Do we really need this latest revamp, especially at $200? Let’s see what’s in it. Essentially, the five-tape set (reworked by editor Walter Murch under Coppola’s supervision) is the three-tape Epic with the director’s cut of Godfather III tacked on. In addition to a handful of heretofore-unseen sequences that appear in the first two thirds — an extra scene of conversation between Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and his consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) and a scene where Corleone goons take charge of a casino, for instance — Murch trimmed some shots that had been added to Saga. But there’s nothing added to the footage from III.
It’s not the details that make this package matter, though; it’s The Godfather Trilogy’s monumental scale. For once, the human urge to have it all in a neat little box has dovetailed with a filmmaker’s ambitions; seen in one high-carbo clump, all the disparate parts of Coppola’s epic comment on one another. The opening hour, with Robert De Niro as young Vito Corleone, now seems a nostalgic prelude to what follows. The rich characterizations of the Marlon Brando-dominated Godfather evoke a courtly, bygone villainy. Watched without the tempering De Niro segments, the soulless depravity of Godfather II makes the link between big business and crime mordantly clear. And the neo-Shakespearean eccentricities of Godfather III seem far more apt after seven hours of setup.
There’s a personal dimension, too, that wasn’t as noticeable before. By the time he made III, Coppola had come to see Pacino’s Michael Corleone as his venal alter ego, and he filled the screen with parallels, some obvious (daughter Sofia plays daughter Mary), and others less so (Michael faces the death of a child). But among the previously unreleased scenes in Trilogy — actually, it was cut after the initial theatrical premiere of Godfather II — is a sneaky delight in which De Niro’s Vito Corleone visits a Little Italy gunsmith named Augustino Coppola. The man has a son named Carmine, who plays the flute for his father’s customer. Suddenly we realize we’re seeing Francis’ father — the scene is based on an incident in composer Carmine Coppola’s childhood — and fiction and reality conflate with a dizzying snap. In that moment, Francis Ford Coppola truly brings his epic home and guarantees that Trilogy will be the version that lasts. Until his fingers start itching again. A