I am a huge fan of the Godfather films. The first is certainly one of my favorite films ever and Part II is arguably one of, if not the best sequel ever filmed. I think what draws me to them is not the crime element, but the character study of the Corleone family and Al Pacino’s Michael in particular. To see the descent of this man who was once so idealistic into a force to be reckoned with is amazing. I know it’s all subjective I feel these two films you can attach the term “masterpiece” to.
I’ve read before about The Complete Epic. This originally began as a TV version of the first two films cut in chronological order. The Godfather Part II, for those who don’t know shows a parallel story between the descent of Michael and the rise of his father Vito. The scenes with young Vito (Robert DeNiro in an Oscar-winning performance) obviously take place before the original film. This version takes all those scenes and places them at the beginning of the film, followed by the events of the first film and concluding with the main story of Part II. This version recently aired on HBO and is currently available on HBO Go and I imagine is also available On Demand if you have a subscription. If you have never seen these films go see them as separate films first. Then come back and watch The Complete Epic. The story will make sense either way but the impact of the story shifts subtly in each version as I will explain.
First I have to say, I love this version! I’ve seen both of these films many times and it felt like I was watching for the first time. There is over an hour of scenes that did not make the separate film releases that really add to the experience. In the original versions these would have seemed superfluous but added back to this version gives us an extra insight into characters and for me help formulate new ways to think about them. For example there are some added moments with James Caan’s Sonny in the moments after his father is shot. Normally we all know Sonny as a hothead, but these few extra moments with him getting the news, dealing with it and mobilizing his people shows that perhaps his temper doesn’t boil when you don’t give him time to simmer. At least that’s how I interpreted it.
Another aspect I did enjoy was Vito’s story at the beginning. Robert DeNiro has such charisma in that role and once his early years are complete and we move on to Marlon Brando playing Vito, it feels like a perfect character evolution and I still sense the presence of DeNiro in Brando’s performance even though it is the other way around.
There is one thing however that is lost by placing Vito’s story in the beginning and that is the parallel between his rise to power and his son Michael’s descent as a human being. It was a decision that made The Godfather Part II a great film. But there is still something positive about it. Now father and son bookend the film. We see the spectrum that the Corleone men sit on. Vito even as a young man built himself up to a point. There was line that he would intend to stay on one side of and cross when needed. Not a moment before nor after. Michael, went beyond that point. He crossed that line that his father tried not to cross and became what Vito did not want for himself not any of his sons. It makes you wonder were there signs in Michael’s childhood that Vito noticed which would be why he told him he never wanted this life for him. It’s a different way at looking at the two men. Oh and one more thing, the origin of Hyman Roth. I’ll just leave that there.
Watching The Godfather Epic has given the crime saga an new lease on life for me. It’s a new movie. I knew the story but now I feel I have more to chew on. If you are a fan of these films I recommend you give this version a chance. I really hope this gets a blu-Ray release in the future!