GoodFellas (HD DVD)

January 28, 2012 12 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.”

In the fledgling days of the DVD format, Martin Scorsese’s “GoodFellas” was one of the initial releases by Warner Brothers. The disc contained a couple of theatrical trailers, was spread across both sides of the disc and sported a non-amaorphic, grainy transfer. Thank God those days are gone. As it is, “GoodFellas” ranks as my personal second favorite movie of all-time (just behind “Caddyshack”). It’s been honored with just about every award out there except perhaps the one is so rightfully deserved, Best Picture. Losing out to “Dances with Wolves” (a great movie too, but not nearly as good as this), we’re still wondering when Martin Scorsese will pick up that Best Director statue. The movie, with its graphic violence and foul language, polarized audiences when it burst on the scene in late 1990. It reunited the DeNiro/Pesci team from “Raging Bull” and gave newcomer Ray Liotta the role that made him a star. People think movies about the mafia are all the same and it’s natural to assume that this and “The Godfather” are essentially the same movie. People, of course, are wrong. “GoodFellas” is the anti-Godfather, it’s tells the story from the street hood’s level whereas Don Corleone lived in a mansion. Scorcese, together with Nicholas Pileggi (who wrote the book this movie was based on – “Wiseguy”) penned the script and made movie history.

“GoodFellas” tells the true life story of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). Raised in a poor Irish neighborhood, Henry idolizes the glamorous lifestyle of the gangsters at the taxi stand. He’s soon “adopted” by Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino) and emerges as a trusted insider in the Cicero family. He grows up with a life of crime that he only thinks is right and we view the world through his eyes. His two partners in crime are Tommy (Joe Pesci) and Jimmy (Robert DeNiro). Their lives don’t abide by the rules of a normal society. As Henry puts it “…if we wanted something, we just took it…”. Violence, lying, murder are all a part of their normal lives and Henry was right in the middle of it. Henry marries Karen (Lorraine Bracco), a Jewish woman who is infatuated by Henry and his lifestyle. She too becomes quickly immersed in the life and accepts that what he is doing is ok, so long as he doesn’t get hurt. As the decades go by, the family is getting more and more into drugs. This involvement leads to the inevitable downward spiral that Henry goes through during the last third of the movie. Greed turns to corruption and as the desire for more and more money grows, so too does the psychosis of Tommy. Family members and friends aren’t spared from his wrath. Someone talks or is thought to have said or done the wrong thing, they’re dead. It’s then that as the only way out, Henry enters the Witness Protection Program and sells out his “family”.

There’s no good way to really put a plot like this into words. Scorcese is such a master with music and editing, in the movie in particular, that the images tell the story much better than words ever do. The fact that all of this is true makes it that much more entertaining and interesting. As much as I liked the opening third of the movie, set in the 50’s, I now prefer the latter part of the film with the drug induced Tommy and Henry trying to outwit the authorities and keep Paulie from knowing what they were up to. 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 which was for 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, for heaven’s sake! In the “Fun Fact” category, the “F” word is used 246 times, most of them by Tommy. I really can’t say enough great things about the film. It ranks at #29 on the Internet Movie Database and was selected to the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Greatest Movies (#94). If that doesn’t say something, then I don’t know what does. If you own the current disc, give it to someone who will watch it because buying this new DVD is a must.

Video: How does it look?

The dawn of HD-DVD is already upon us and Warner is once again opening their vaults to give some of their movies the High Definition treatment. Thankfully “GoodFellas” is among their first titles (just as it was on standard DVD). I’ve owned this on just about every format conceivable: VHS, Widescreen VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Two-Disc Special Edition DVD and now HD-DVD. I can honestly say that “GoodFellas” has never looked better. Warner’s initial line of HD-DVD contains mainly newer films, but “GoodFellas” is over 15 years old making it their first true “catalog” title on the new format. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this title, but the 1.85:1 image is literally stunning. I was seeing things that I never really noticed before, little patterns in the shirts, I could make out the street signs and billboards in some of the outdoor shots. Suffice it to say I was thoroughly impressed with this presentation on HD-DVD. If this is any sign of things to come, I’ve truly died and gone to heaven. Note to Warner: “Caddyshack” on HD-DVD in the near future please?

Audio: How does it sound?

Warner’s first wave of HD-DVD titles had a bit of a problem with the audio. It was sampled at a much lower rate than their standard DVD counterparts and thus, the volume had to be cranked up to get a decent sound out of the discs. It appears that error has been fixed for this release and I will say that you’ll need to have a receiver equipped with HDMI inputs to get the “True” out of the Dolby True HD soundtrack. It cost me a pretty penny, but I went out and purchased such a receiver. I’ll have to agree with some of the other reviewers out there that the Dolby True HD has a much more robust feel to it. I’d compare it with DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 – it just sounds like there’s more going on in the track. That’s not to say that either version is inferior, but the True HD track has a lot going for it. One of the better examples is the ending scene in which Tommy fires about 7 rounds into the camera. Man…what a sound! “GoodFellas” sounds as good as it looks!

Supplements: What are the extras?

The folks at Warner have included all of the supplements from the recent “Two Disc Special Edition” of the movie over to the HD version. Included are two commentary tracks…well, make that one and half (I’ll explain). The first track is a screen-specific one 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. The track I found more interesting was the “Cop and Crook” track with the real Henry Hill (who has since come out of the Witness Protection Program) 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.

There are four featurettes and the original theatrical trailer. First up is “Getting Made” which is a 30 minute segment on how the movie went from script to screen and so forth. Scorcese evidently read the book while he was making “The Color of Money” in 1985. He then collaborated with Nicholas Pigletti to write the screenplay and the rest, as they say, is history. “Made Man: The GoodFellas Legacy” tells how the movie has inspired some of today’s younger directors, among them: Jon Faverau, Antoine Fuqua, Richard Linklater and Frank Darabont among them. They tell of how brutally realistic the movie was and how it ushered in a new wave of how to make films. We then find “The Workaday Gangster” which is told by Henry Hill. He tells of the life he had versus the life he has now and how he couldn’t get out of the business. Lastly we find “Paper is Cheaper” which is a fancy way of showing some storyboard to screen comparisons by Scorcese. One of the better movies in the last 30 years has gotten the HD treatment and if you have the means, pick this up.

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