There isn’t a lot about Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather that hasn’t already been said, but Paramount Home Video’s new 4K edition of all three Godfather films indicates there’s still much more to see. Working from the original materials, the studio painstakingly scanned, repaired, and where necessary recreated the film’s original cut to create a vivid, lustrous new presentation.
Andrea Kalas, who works for Paramount, and James Mockoski, who works for Coppola’s production company Zoetrope, recently spoke to The A.V. Club about the enormous task of remastering and revitalizing this venerated classic for its 50th anniversary. In addition to discussing how technology has facilitated the process of rebuilding films for these releases, they talked about the line they navigate between an artist’s vision for their work and the viewers who may claim it as their own, and finally hinted at some of the titles that cinephiles may soon see debut in high definition on Blu-ray, and perhaps even in theaters.
The A.V. Club: Having done press about the James Bond restorations back in the mid-2000s, which explored the rebuilding of frames and a lot of those aspects, is it easier now to restore a film, or is it a more difficult process because there’s more material to go through, at least on something like The Godfather?
James Mockoski: Scanners are far better than they were 15, 20 years ago. It’s so superior. You get a rock solid, steady image. Software for digital restoration has come a long way in how they can handle dirt, scratches, and imperfections. So, yes, when you watch the disc and you compare the 2008 with the 2022 disc, and the difference in the level of cleaning, you’ll see, and that’s the software technology.
Andrea Kalas: It’s the ability to be subtle. I think the tools aren’t hammers anymore. They’re finally trained instruments. You can really fix a small thing without impacting something else. So that’s an amazing thing. But I think the other thing about this particular restoration is there’s a very analog aspect to that, which was we dove deep into thousands of boxes to find the best material that would give those digital tools their best shot in making it the most beautiful image. So this was a particularly interesting project from that perspective.
JM: I remember there was one example in ’08 that’s very subtle—no one picked it up—but the software was difficult to manage and it was hard to make fixes of frames. There’s one shot of a pigeon just appearing out of nowhere because they had to clone a section of the film. That’s an easier fix today. So as Andrea said, it’s a lighter touch. It’s being more subtle than a heavy hand at that time, and I hope that people appreciate that there are less of those fingerprints or artifacts.
AVC: Coppola and Gordon Willis presided over that 2008 restoration, and Coppola has certainly cultivated a reputation for going back to revisit his films. But how difficult is it to sort of navigate the thin line that must exist between potentially a filmmaker going, “This never quite looked the way that I wanted to, so I’d like to change or improve it,” and a certain point where a film sort of enters the cultural consciousness and is no longer necessarily just owned by that creator?
AK: I might talk about [The Godfather: Part III, a.k.a. Coda: The Death Of Michael Corleone] for a minute first, because that’s the one movie he did touch of this three. But the other two, he did sort of agree with your point that they’re not his anymore in a way, they’re the world’s. And III, I had the most amazing experience during the pandemic, which was when he finished the cut of III, [Coppola] showed it to the cast in the Paramount theater, mid-pandemic, when it was just like me and Pacino and Andy Garcia. It was an amazing day, and they came out of that screening so emotional. This franchise, obviously The Godfather meant so much to them. And obviously the criticism when III came out hit home very hard. And to see Coda the way it’s done now, it’s more understandable, it’s clearer, it’s better. And they were so emotionally moved by that, that I got that in a very interesting way, that it was like the burden of the other two was on that third. So I think it’s a very particular thing in this instance. But it’s not something that is cut and dried that you can say, “This is the policy, and it should always be this way.” I think that is the line that one always has to walk to make sure that you’re maintaining that thing that exists in the culture versus the idea of the creator having some intervention.
JM: I think always Francis is of the mind to have one foot in the past with the fan base that he knows that support this film over the last 50 years. But we also have to ride the fact that this is a 50-year-old film and library films [are] a very challenging thing to find new audiences. And Francis is very much aware of that. And that’s why he always likes to explore new technology and new ways to present his films. And this is a new presentation for him. He wanted to explore HDR. And we had success with Apocalypse Now and his other films in HDR, and a new audience expects a different look. So I think it’s still respectful to where we’ve come, but also we push it a little bit in a new direction hopefully can bridge the gap between young and old.
AVC: Home video is becoming an increasingly sort of rarefied field for collection. Do any technological advancements that make it less expensive to do this process lead you toward either doing more, or is it offset by the fact that people are buying fewer Blu-rays and DVDs?
AK: I think we would’ve approached it exactly the same way, no matter how it was going to come out, whether it was going to be streaming only, theatrical only disc only, all of the above, some of the above. There is no reason to make that assumption when you’re starting a restoration. You have the ability to say, okay, let’s do it right from the beginning. Let’s scan everything that’s possible. Let’s do the full color correction. So that whatever way somebody—I sent James a funny picture of somebody watching it on their watch, and the joke was, “I’m watching the way Coppola intended”—and he was like, it actually doesn’t look that bad! But that’s the point. If you do it right, it doesn’t matter how you watch it eventually, because it’s going to be really good. So there’s no reason that “disc or not” moves that needle.
JM: I’d say that technology has become cheaper for us. We were able to start doing our own restoration. Francis is in a different position than Andrea or this studio. We own a collection of his films—not The Godfather, wish we could own it—but for him, having control over his films, he wants the best presentation. And it usually always starts when we do a restoration, it has to be theatrical-minded. We’re going to put it out in theaters. So for him there is a course of what he wants to do with his films, and always first number one is get it back into the cinemas and then do the best presentation on home video as possible.
AVC: There are a number of Paramount movies that I would love to see restored in this way, starting with The Conversation, but also the director’s cut of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Once Upon A Time In The West, and The Conformist. How much is Paramount as an act of preservation, much less of rereleasing these films, utilizing this process going forward?
AK: First of all, you’re not the first one, or the only one thinking about those specific titles. I won’t say any more than that, but you’re not alone. But the other thing is we’ve been incredibly fortunate at Paramount where we had the right people in the right corner offices supporting the idea of preservation and restoration. So we have, since I got here in 2009, restored over 1,500 films. And we are constantly ongoing to make sure that catalog is up to date and restored, and then how we release them out is a separate process altogether that we work on with our home media marketing people. But that is definitely something that Paramount has seen as an important part of their duty as a copyright holder is to make sure these things are preserved and restored. And I couldn’t be prouder of that.
AVC: I would love to see your version of The Conversation.
JM: The anniversary’s coming. So look out around then!