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‘Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone’ (review)

On Christmas Day in 1990, over a decade and a half after the first two Godfather films were released, The Godfather Part III was released to mixed reviews and mediocre box office success.

Whereas the first two had spectacular reviews and multiple Oscars including Best Picture for both Part I and Part II, the third and final chapter in The Godfather saga was an adequate, however lackluster entry to the series. I personally loved it and will die on the hill that it is an outstanding finale to the saga.

Now 30 years later Francis Ford Coppola, with the blessing of Paramount Pictures, has returned to the world of The Godfather to restore the final chapter in the Corleone Story. The film is now closer to what he and author Mario Puzo had initially intended the film to be.

Recut and renamed back to its original title, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, this new revision is about as close to what Coppola and Puzo had originally intended for this final chapter of The Godfather Saga.

As Coppola states in the new introduction to the film he intended this to be a summing up of the first two films and as a coda to the life of Michael Corleone’s life. I believe he has succeeded in his efforts.

I have watched the complete Godfather trilogy so many times that it is so ingrained in my mind that I can quote it almost verbatim in its entirety. I have watched it in its original three separate film trilogy version and I have watched it more in its chronological storytelling version only available in The Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980 laserdisc box set where Coppola re-edited the films in chronological order starting with young Vito and ending with the death of Michal Corleone. I have read numerous behind the scenes making of books so I am intimately familiar with the story of these films.

As I stated earlier I love the third film.

I think it was destined to never live up to many people’s expectations no matter how good it was. Lightning rarely strikes twice let alone three times. Yes there are problems with it. Most I forgive because they were not faults with the film itself but with behind the scenes troubles with the production like Robert Duvall holding out for more money, which I don’t blame him at all for, he deserved the money.

However, Hamilton played the company lawyer well and didn’t try to be “Tom like”; he was just a ruthless businessman and legal advisor. Nothing else. Had Duvall not held out for more money we wouldn’t be having this conversation but he chose his salary over being in a legacy film. A film with a much smaller budget than Coppola wanted/needed to do the film in the first place. I mean they even wouldn’t pay Pacino what he was asking and he took less money to be in it, so I am sad Duvall didn’t follow suit.

Winona Ryder had to drop out at the last minute due to exhaustion leading to Coppola casting his teenage daughter, Sofia, a very green actor at the time, stepping in to play Michael’s daughter. Her performance was unanimously bashed by critics and audience members universally as the worst. Again, not her fault. She was put into an impossible situation she was not ready for.

For the few problems with this film there are so many sublime and absolutely stunning moments, subtle performances, gorgeous photography, and now iconic lines of dialogue.

What i find brilliant is that the cinematographer, Gordon Willis, photographed all three films and their look is so even across all three films. There are 16 years between Part II and Part III and the style, lighting, color palettes, and camera work are all consistent. Again, Gordon’s use of shadows is brilliant.

Revisiting this film year after year I grow to love it more and more and its strengths definitely outweigh the few problems I have with the movie overall.

This brings me to the new The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone.

I loved this new restoration version. Coming in at close to 8 minutes shorter than the “Director’s Cut” previously released on home video, Coda is a much more concise film than the previous home video release. It brings the whole saga to a much better conclusion.

The film’s new opening, which isn’t new footage but a reshuffle of scenes, is more in line with the original two films openings. I think I knew it wouldn’t be “new” as in unseen footage or new footage. I suspected he had just recut it so the opening and ending would be different from what we had seen before so my expectations were tempered in that way.

My true fear was that he might have pulled some kind of George Lucas BS and shot a new beginning and ending using that “de-aging” computer effects and made up some new scenes to insert so I am actually relieved that it was just a scene reshuffle. Having trimmed certain scenes has also helped the pacing a great deal. I am also pretty sure Sofia Coppola may have redubbed some of her lines so they aren’t as flat and monotone, though don’t quote me on that. He did however trim a lot of her more egregious dialogue so her performance is much more subtle and definitely works even better.

I definitely thought it flowed better and was a more precise retelling than the theatrical or director’s cut. I still think that they should have kept the “death” scene at the end but just cut before he dropped out of the chair. Ironic that “the death of Michael Corleone” doesn’t end with his actual death. Yes, I know it isn’t the physical death the title refers to but the death of all he strives to protect.

The new sound mix is beautiful and really utilizes the surround technology perfectly. The restoration and new color grade is even more vibrant and makes the colors pop off the screen. Never has so much brown, gold, and taupe vibrantly jumped off the screen.

I am sad that there were no extras on the Blu-ray. I expected a bunch of behind the scenes of the restoration process and at least a documentary on the editing process Coppola went through choosing what to include and why he chose edits he chose, Alas there is nothing other than the Blu-ray and a digital code for a VOD copy of the film. Perhaps in the future we will get something on a future release. For now we have to be happy with the film itself.

I have always loved how operatic the third film was and how it is a beautiful crescendo to the first two films.

I think people should really give this film a second chance again with this new version of the film. Is it a perfect film? No, and if you hated it originally you probably won’t like this version either.

However if you were on the fence or didn’t think it was great, but didn’t hate, it then you may really enjoy this new cut of the film. Previous issues have mostly been fixed or at least lessened as much as Coppola could do without shooting new footage and using what already exists.

You may not love it as I do, but I think you will like it and accept it into the Corleone family.


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