Hyperbole aside, Goodfellas is pretty much the best movie ever. Every single shot and sequence is filled with virtuoso style - a perfect marriage of filmmaker and material. Despite the existence of (at that time) two Godfather films, Once Upon a Time in America and his own previous efforts to chronicle the criminal underworld, Martin Scorsese's 1990 adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi's novel Wiseguy manages not only to be distinctive but the definitive film about life in the mob.
It's also a film that has endured a long and sordid history on home video, and a title that many, many, many people want to own, but aren't sure whether they want to buy again, and again, and again. All of which is why Goodfellas is the subject of this installment of Making The (Up) Grade.
What's Already Available: Unsurprisingly, Goodfellas was one of the first films released on DVD, enjoying a single-disc set in March of 1997. Shockingly, that release not only featured no extra content whatsoever, but was a double-sided disc which preceded dual-layer technology and required the viewer to get up halfway through the film and actually turn it over to finish it. (Admittedly, this was not necessarily new to laserdisc collectors, but in retrospect, the technology seems positively primitive.)
In 2004, Warner Home Video remedied both the film's presentation problems and content deficiencies with a Two-Disc Special Edition, released both as a standalone set and as part of a boxed set entitled The Martin Scorsese Collection. This edition provided remastered picture and sound, as well as the following bonus materials: two commentaries - one by Scorsese with members of the cast and crew and one by ex-gangster Henry Hill and ex-FBI agent Edward McDonald; the making-of featurette "Getting Made;" "Made Men," featuring other filmmakers on the influence of GoodFellas; "The Workaday Gangster" mod life featurette; and "Paper Is Cheaper Than Film" storyboard comparison.
Finally, in early 2007 WHV released the film on Blu-ray in a single-disc set that contained all of the content from the two-disc DVD set.
What's In The New Set: All of the same presentation and supplemental content as the Two-Disc Special Edition and single-disc Blu-ray, as well as a standard-definition second disc featuring "Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film," as well as a selection of gangster-themed Looney Tunes cartoons. Both discs come in "booklet" packaging similar to the studio's release of other benchmark films such as Amadeus, and are accompanied by 30+ pages of text and commentary about the film.
What's The Difference In The Movie Itself: Nothing that I can tell. The presentation quality is obviously superior to the SD Special Edition, which was the only version I had for comparison, but it seems unlikely that Warner Home Video remastered the film yet again after producing an initial high-definition version just a few years ago. (Mind you, this isn't unheard of, but given the general appearance of the transfer there's no evidence they further spruced up the film.)
That said, the color quality is terrific, and the clarity is unsurpassed: the blacks are deep and true, the focus sharp, and the overall tone of the images is more vivid and consistent. Diehard grain enthusiasts will be gratified to see that neither Scorsese nor his Blu-ray producers scrubbed the film of its gritty look, but overall the film looks beautiful, polished and authentic to its original negative.
What's The Difference In Everything Else: The second-disc is really where all of the "new" content comes in, but I can't help but wonder whether even a documentary about gangster films would be of interest to anyone but the biggest fan of this film of gangster tomes in general, especially since this film is essential to virtually any home video collection. For those who might be unfamiliar with the previously-available content, it should be noted that although the documentaries are terrific, the commentary track featuring Scorsese is a piecemeal compilation of comments and observations culled from featurette interviews, and not a dedicated commentary by the director.
The difference may be negligible to some, but quite frankly, there are few things more interesting to true cinephiles than the prospect of Scorsese waxing poetic at his leisure about any film, much less one of his bona fide masterpieces. In which case, what I'd hoped for was a real, new commentary from Scorsese, by himself, but as a stand-in or substitute the two tracks on this edition and the previous two is satisfactory – at worst.
What's The Final Grade: C. Goodfellas is one of those films that deserves the deluxe treatment alongside Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, and while I understand why it probably won't ever get its own expansive velour boxed set, I think the film has never quite gotten the clear-eyed attention it deserved, from its initial Oscar snubbing to its subsequently dubious DVD iterations to a Blu-ray which, while the most complete collection of content to date, is not an obvious improvement or expansion of what is already available. Again, however, if you skipped the initial Blu-ray release like I did in the hopes of something bigger, this seems to be the end-all be-all of Blu-ray release for this film, which makes it an automatic purchase.