Film preservation is not focused solely on rescuing and restoring crumbling black and white films from the earliest days of Hollywood. Preservationists’ sites can be focused on films needing repair from as recent as the 1970s. Before George Lucas embarked on his “improvements” for the the original Star Wars trilogy Special Editions, the negative and elements from the original 1977 blockbuster needed to undergo extensive restoration first.
Another American classic in need of rescuing was Francis Ford Coppola’s gangster epic, The Godfather. Fortunately, Paramount Pictures has stepped up and just completed a vast digital restoration of all three films, completely overhauling them for a future DVD release. Last month, American Cinematographer ran a great article on the digital restoration work done to the films. As is the case with most American Cinematographer articles, it tends to be heavy on the technical jargon, but if you can still push your way through all that, you can still get a good idea for the hurdles that the crew jumped in order to preserve the films.
Case in point, the famous scene in the first film where Michael Corleone, played by Al Pachino, kills Sollozzo and McCluskey. The elements the restoration team had to use for this scene had numerous problems, from tears in the negative to variations in the processing of the original camera negative over the two days that the scene was shot. Led by Robert Harris, who writes a never-frequent-enough column over at The Digital Bits, the restoration team went in and had to use computers to preform a number of tweaks and fixes, most of which that would not have been possible with a chemical restoration process. The two before and after pictures on the left gives you an idea of the results they were able to achieve.
The newly restored films will be available on DVD (and possible Blu-Ray) in September. Hopefully Paramount will also strike a small number of prints to release to theaters. Reportedly, Coppolla has stated that the films look the best they have since they were first released.