I don’t even know what year to attach to this thing. The Godfather was released in 1972; The Godfather: Part II in 1974. In 1977, a chronological version of the two movies, titled The Godfather: A Novel for Television, was aired on network television. Coppola needed the money because Apocalypse Now was having so much trouble. Besides sticking the DeNiro-as-Vito material at the front, and the events that began in 1958 at the end, (with the original movie in the middle), Coppola added some deleted scenes, and edited some material for violence, sex, and language.
That’s not what I just watched. In 1981, a version was released to video that restored the violence (and, of course, removed the commercials). Somehow this version was almost an hour shorter than A Novel. That’s not what I just watched, either.
No, the one I watched was on HBO. It’s got all the violence and sex and cussing. It doesn’t have any commercials. It runs just over seven hours (ten minutes shorter than the 1977 “original”, twenty-eight minutes longer than the video version). I can’t tell what HBO did ... remastered it in HD and 5.1 audio, who knows what else. Of course I had to watch ... I’ve never seen the chronological version, although back in the 70s I did watch Parts I and II in one sitting at a theater. I named those two movies my all-time favorites, and without question, that is how you should introduce yourself to the films. Do not watch the “Saga” or “Epic” or “Novel” until you’ve seen the originals. This re-edit is for the fanatics who can’t get enough of The Godfather.
The added scenes are a bit startling if you’ve seen the movies a lot of times ... you don’t expect them. And they don’t really add much ... you can see why they were cut in the first place, although they aren’t bad. What really matters is the reframing of the narrative onto a chronological timeline, and this is occasionally quite bizarre.
When Part II came out, we got to see a great actor, Robert DeNiro, creating a character that was clearly believable as the same person who would grow into Marlon Brando’s Don in GF I. When you watch the movies “in order”, though, it appears that Brando is building a character out of what DeNiro has established.
There are admittedly certain pleasures to seeing the story unfold as it would on the calendar. You see the progression of the characters’ lives. But the back-and-forth of the flashback structure in Part II offers insights that, for me, outweigh the narrative comfort food of chronology. By seeing Vito as a young man interspersed with Michael as a man older than his years, we learn by contrast.
Part II broadened the first film ... it gave depth to the story and the characters we had already met. The Epic/Saga/Novel is best appreciated as a seven-hour bonus feature on the Blu-ray disc.