GoodFellas: 25th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)

April 30, 2015 11 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”

GoodFellas is the true and amoral autobiography of a small time hood named Henry Hill (Ray Liottta). It’s the anti-Godfather, a ground-level view of the underground. Breaking a night club line or breaking the law – it’s all the same to heedless Henry. Crime isn’t a moral issue here, it’s a lifestyle issue. The star of the movie is a way of life and not a character. It’s like Scarface without Scarface, but…that’s what it is. It’s a movie of vivid, viscious contrasts. The good fellas turn into raging bad guys in the wink of the camera’s eye and that’s what makes it so memorable. Criminals who are perpetual adolescents; a blackly humorous and deeply scary thought. Following Henry through three decades of life in the company of friends, we see both the actions and the consequences of those actions. Henry, with sidekicks Tommy (Joe Pesci) and Jimmy (Robert DeNiro), tantalize and terrorize to get their way. Avoiding the cops or bribing them, the style of life that they’re accustomed to is one that most of us will never know and GoodFellas tells that tale – and does it in glorious fashion.

Scorcese, a master with music and editing realizes that the images tell the story much better than words ever will. The fact that it’s a true story makes it that much more entertaining and interesting. As much as I liked the opening act of the movie, I now prefer the latter part of the film with the drug-induced Tommy and Henry trying to outwit the authorities. The movie is famous for so many things, but none moreso than Pesci’s improvised “Am I funny” speech. Oddly enough, the movie won only one Academy Award – Best Supporting Actor (Pesci). It lost out to Dances with Wolves in the Picture, Director, Supporting Actress, Screenplay and Cinematography categories. GoodFellas is a great movie, no doubt about it. The poster hangs above my bed. In the “Fun Fact” category, the “F” word is used 246 times, most of them by Tommy. Truly this is one of cinema’s masterpieces and it seems to only get better with age. If, by chance, you are reading this review and have never seen the film – do yourself a courtesy and check it out as soon as possible.

Video: How’s it look?

GoodFellas is, has been and most likely always will be one of Warner’s stars. It was one of the initial releases on the DVD format back in the mid to late 90’s and one of the initial Blu-ray and HD-DVD releases as well. In 2007, a Blu-ray DigiBook was released with a good-looking, but not great, transfer. Nearly a decade has passed and for the 25th anniversary of the film, a new transfer has been created for this Blu-ray. Having seen the film on virtually every format imaginable, I’m very accustomed to the way it looks (and has looked). Without a doubt, I can say that this is easily the best the film has ever appeared. The 1.85:1 AVC HD image has undergone a new 4K restoration that brings out the life, vividness and vigor in the film. Blacks are deep and solid, detail has been improved and though there’s still a fine layer of grain in the film, it works here as it does with so many of Scorsese’s other films. Doing a A/B comparison with my previous Blu-ray, the details are noticeable. My best explanation is to watch a re-mastered film and then its trailer. It’s not perfect, but it’s damn close.

Audio: How’s it sound?

Originally presented in surround, the film was given a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix for its DVD release and then that same mix was used on the 2007 DigiBook. As with the video presentation, the newly-upgraded DTS HD Master Audio mix is essentially everything that I’d imagined it would be. Scorsese’s films don’t rely on the soundtrack, but it’s more of an extension of the film itself. Hearing “Beyond the Ocean” or “Layla” in uncompressed sound only intensifies the emotional impact of the movie. Vocals seem a bit cleaned up as well, not that they were bad to begin with. Ray Liotta’s deep, gravely voice narrates the film and it sounds crisp and robust. Surrounds are active and the LFE even have a few moments to shine (when young Henry blows up a car). The ending scene where Tommy fires the gun just before the Sex Pistols song – amazing.  No complaints here in the least!

Supplements: What are the extras?

Warner’s Anniversary editions usually aren’t lacking in supplements and this is no exception. Though a majority of these were previously-released, it’s nice to see them in this edition. I usually don’t comment on cover art as I feel it’s pretty subjective, but I have to question this new look. Traditionally the city scape and the characters of Tommy, Henry and Jimmy have been looking over the city with a dead body on the street. That’s been changed and now a handgun takes front and center with only Jimmy and Henry on the cover. I’m not sure what the motivation was to get rid of Joe Pesci’s character on the cover as it was his performance that led to the film’s only Oscar. Nevertheless, it’s only a cover and I’m not losing any sleep over it.

Previously-Released Supplements

  • Audio Commentary 1 (Cast and Crew) – A screen-specific track by Scorcese, Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, Frank Vincent, Nicholas Pigletti, Irwin Winkler, Barbara DeFina, Michael Ballhaus and Thelma Schoonmaker. A lot of people to be on one track. But, they’re not as talkative as they could be. Scorcese and Pigletti tend to dominate the track and it’s nice to hear a commentary by Scorcese, as he doesn’t do a lot of them.
  • Audio Commentary 2 (Cop and Crook) – The real Henry Hill (who has since come out of the Witness Protection Program and since this track has passed away) and the FBI agent who arrested him, Edward McDonald. Hill is very frank when making his comments and I found it amazing at how many times he would say “this is exactly how it happened.” He later admits that 99% of what happened on screen is what really happened. My only complaint would be that he is a bit of a low talker and his words were kind of hard to make out.
  • Getting Made – A 30 minute segment on how the movie went from script to screen.
  • Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film – The most robust supplement on the disc is this 106 minute documentary. While not focusing on Goodfellas per se, but rather the genre as a whole with emphasis on some of the James Cagney films.
  • Made Men: The Goodfellas Legacy – This tells how the movie has inspired some of today’s younger directors, among them: Jon Faverau, Antoine Fuqua, Richard Linklater and Frank Darabont. They tell of how brutally realistic the movie was and how it ushered in a new wave of how to make films.
  • The Workaday Gangster – As told by Henry Hill, the life he had versus the life he has now and how he couldn’t get out of the business.
  • Animated Shorts – From Warner’s vast catalog, four are included: I Like Mountain Music, She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter, Racketeer Rabbit and Bugs and Thugs.
  • Paper is Cheaper than Film – Essentially a fancy way of showing some storyboard to screen comparisons by Scorcese.
  • Theatrical Trailer

New Blu-ray Supplements

  • Scorsese’s GoodFellas – This new 30 minute documentary features a veritable “who’s who” of Scorsese’s films. Produced by Director Brett Ratner, this is a look back at the film with stars from it as they describe the movie and its lasting influence. Although listed, I wasn’t able to find anything by Jack Nicholson (who appeared in Scorsese’s The Departed). Maybe it’s just me?
  • Book – Similar to what you’d find in some Criterion releases, this 36-page book contains a collection production stills as well as an essay entitled “The American Dream Gone Mad: The Legacy of Goodfellas.
  • Martin Scorsese’s Letter – This letter seems to provide a summary of what Scorsese wanted to accomplish on the film from an artistic standpoint. Additionally, he acknowledges some of the contributors to the film itself.

The Bottom Line

GoodFellas is a classic in the most sincere form of the word. Its lasting influence and critical acclaim over the last two and a half decades are a testament to that. It’s one of those films that, whenever I see it on, I watch it. The acting is superb and I simply love the storyline.  This new Blu-ray is undoubtedly the best I’ve seen the film look and sound and with the wealth of supplements, this belongs on your shelf – it’s a no-brainer.

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