After presenting various cuts of “The Godfather” trilogy over the years presented on television, HBO has decided to offer up their own version of Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” entitled “The Complete Epic.” Clocking in at a little over seven hours and presented in HD, the idea for “The Complete Epic” is that “The Godfather” and “The Godfather II” are spliced together telling the entire saga of the Corleones chronologically. They then injected a lot of deleted and or extended scenes for the purpose of exposition and further elaboration on plot points somewhat evaded and under explained in the aforementioned films. As well, what’s considered “The Complete Epic” does not include the often maligned “The Godfather III.”
The entire saga of the Corleone family ends on the youngest of the family, Michael, sitting alone in the garden of his house, and left with his thoughts and crushing guilt that he’s alone, having turned away the love of his life, and bereft of a relationship with his children. After cutting off his allies, alienating his most trusted friends, assassinating his enemies, and murdering his only surviving brother Fredo, Michael is a man on an island now cursed with the Corleone empire, and tasked with living the rest of life burdened with the cruel deed he committed as a way to protect a family that, in the closing scene, is but a shell of its former self. Michael’s descent ends the moment he breaks his father’s cardinal rule of murdering family.
In “The Complete Epic” we’re able to view not only the rise of Vito Corleone, but how the journeys of Vito and Michael parallel in striking ways. Both men were affected by their parents, both men rose to power by eliminating very strong entities in the underworld, and both men sought revenge for the deaths of their loved ones. Vito’s is only slightly more compelling and disturbingly abrupt as we witness a young Vito be basically run out of his own home by a vicious mobster named Ciccio, who proceeds in murdering everyone in his blood line and then going after the young boy. Only when he flees to America does Vito fight and claw his way to an empire and build himself the ultimate dream of a successful business, wonderful family, and justice for those that he lost. Only in America does an immigrant like Vito go from pauper to aristocrat in a matter of years.
When he meets Ciccio as a man, he’s not some immigrant who is begging for money. And he’s not dead, as Ciccio wanted that night when he was a young boy. He is a successful businessman with three sons and a daughter, and he’s about to conquer the world. And he confronts Ciccio with a sly whisper and a vicious dagger across his chest as Ciccio bellows in pain before finally dying. Vito gets his own kind of justice and makes an example of Ciccio that makes waves and transforms Vito in to the head of one of the many strong dynasties in the business and criminal world. As the crime in the underworld Vito eventually becomes embroiled with threatens to consume the Corleone family in the first film, he has to struggle to keep his brood in tact.
He is also running against the clock, tailoring his hot headed and outspoken middle child Sonny to take over the family business and keep the legacy of the Corleones in tact. The problem is Vito is facing a new generation of eager young men who will do whatever it takes to make their business boom, even if it means murdering their allies and committing devious back door deals. By the time Vito meets the Tattaglias they’re attempting to strong arm him, and when he displays a keen resistance, they attempt to assassinate him, and weaken the foundation the Corleones hold over the government and law enforcement.
Micheal’s involvement in the family is only by circumstance and sheer mistake, as Sonny’s own temper becomes his ultimate undoing, making it possible for Michael to avenge his father, and maintain his power. Vito is replaced by a younger version of himself, but in the sequel Michael reveals that he’s even more vicious than Vito ever was, and does not operate on the same principles and rules Vito did. He doesn’t have the benefit of years of training that Sonny did, so while he does operate with a brilliance that helps him become a very powerful crime boss, he can’t reap the rewards of the smaller lessons that Vito imparted on Sonny and Tom Hagen, which defeats him in the end.
There are pros and cons with HBO deciding to run the entire saga chronologically since beginning with Vito is brutally compelling and absolutely mind blowing. But once we do find Vito as an old man, and played by Marlon Brando, the scenes where Vito is taking favors on the day of his daughter’s wedding loses its dramatic impact. It merely transforms in to something of another day in Vito’s life and how he lives it now that he’s reached the peak of his success, rather than a prime example of how the Corleones wield their power, along with the politics of the crime underworld. The scenes of Vito taking favors from desperate businessmen, while Tom Hagen sits in a corner pontificating the legal loopholes is still mesmerizing to experience, but it doesn’t punctuate the introductions of these characters.
It’s merely more plot progression and further emphasis on how Vito went from operating out of a store front to now being sought out at his own home. Francis Ford Coppola’s direction along with the performances shine no matter what format is presented, or how the movies are edited. Even if the movies were cut of their sexual content and blunt violence, the tale of the Corleones still captivates anyone that can appreciate gargantuan actors delivering amazing cinematic turns. The violence further serves to display the difference between Vito and Michael, while also depicting how everything in the crime world is a chess game.
Vito’s revenge is much more poetic, as he sneaks around Italy tracking down the men that murdered his family, and even eliminates Fanucci during the festival, shooting him down as fireworks blast in the distance. Michael’s elimination of the heads of the families is vicious and cold, and somewhat comes back to hurt him when he begins dealing with an elderly Hyman Roth, who expresses rage at how the assassination cheapened the legacy of Moe Green. The way both men conduct their business decide their fates, and are clear indicators that perhaps the Corleone family was almost always doomed to fall, no matter which son took hold of the throne once Vito Corleone died. Vito’s children were immense extremes of too passionate or too weak in their constitution to provide swift action to their enemies.
Both “The Godfather” and “The Godfather II” are enormous masterpieces, with the first film presenting a portrait of a family, while the follow up presents the portrait of a world. “The Complete Epic” is a wonderful new perspective for hardcore fans to view their favorite films. It’s also a top notch starter course for potential movie buffs interested in two American masterpieces that excel in acting, writing, direction, and cinematography. And if you’re so inclined, you can go re-visit the films in their original order, completely separate. The beauty is there’s no wrong way to watch “The Godfather.” It’s just that good.