Over the last several days I have been watching the approximately 423 minute version of The Godfather and The Godfather 2 entitled The Godfather Epic. It’s a re-edited version of the first two films in chronological order with some deleted footage included. The Godfather Epic was originally released in 1990 as a box set on VHS. A similar version, running slightly longer at 434 minutes, known as The Godfather: The Complete Novel for Television, aka The Godfather Saga was broadcast on NBC back in November 1977. As mentioned, both versions include scenes not in the final films such as Michael’s first meeting with his father after returning from Sicily and Sonny’s taking charge of the family after his father was severely shot in an attempted assassination. In total, the Novel for Television/Saga included approximately 75 minutes of unseen footage. Since it was made for broadcast television some scenes of violence and nudity were trimmed to meet the commercial TV standards of the day.
Individually, the first two Godfather films are dark brilliant works of cinematic art filled with three dimensional characters and story telling. On the surface, it’s a gangster film like so many others. However, there are layers that go much deeper. It’s a story about family, organization, power, greed, ceremony and respect. Francis Ford Coppola took what was basically a commercial pulp novel and found new levels of complexity unrealized in the original work.
If you have not seen the original films, do not start with The Godfather Epic or any other chronological re-edited version. Go straight to The Godfather and The Godfather 2 directly. By skipping the originals and watching this version you will miss the complex parallel editing, especially in The Godfather 2 where Coppola juxtaposes the stories of young Vito and Michael. That said, there are good things that become more apparent in the chronological versions; Vito’s growth from a young man, making an honest living to have a good life for his wife and kids. It’s obvious at the beginning of the film Vito has no intention of becoming a criminal. Slowly, he is drawn in, with the help of a young Clemenza (Bruno Kirby). He natural instincts kick in and he slowly evolves into the respected Don. We also watch Michael’s change more clearly from the young seemingly innocent war hero. He wants to stay away from the family business and tells Kay (Diane Keaton), his girlfriend, the murders and corruption in his family are not him. However, like his father, he is drawn in after the Don is shot. We watch him grow into the powerfully strong, determined and ruthless underworld boss eliminating all enemies real or perceived with cold blooded tactical decision making and deadly force. This includes his own brother Fredo (John Cazale) who foolishly and consistently betrays the family and Kay, his wife, who is ostracized from the family when she wants a divorce. More importantly to Michael is her wanting to take his kids with her. He would never let that happen. In the end he is on top. Alone, but on top.
The other thing here, and you obviously see this in the original versions also, is the acting. Particularly from Brando, Pacino and De Niro. The Brando/Pacino scenes together are breathtaking. In the chronological versions we get the added scene I mentioned earlier, Michael’s first meeting with his father after returning from Sicily. In all their scenes, watching the young Pacino work with Brando who was his, and De Niro’s, spiritual artistic godfather is spellbinding. For these scenes alone, seeing the two young actors grow and develop, just like their characters, is worth the price of admission.
 There is also The Godfather Trilogy which combines all three Godfather films into chronological order with added scenes.