In fact, the only really puzzling aspect of this two-disc release is the new cover art. It may seem somewhat trivial, but for some unfathomable reason the Warner art department has omitted Joe Pesci from the cover. The iconic original art has been replaced with an awkwardly framed, oddly nonchalant shot featuring only two of the three indispensible stars of the film. Pesci of course was awarded Best Supporting Actor for his iconic performance, the only Oscar gold won out of the film’s six nominations.
That superficial nitpick aside, we now have a truly remastered presentation from a 4K scan of the original camera negative (supervised by Scorsese himself). The results are startling, graced by a fine-grained, authentically film-like look throughout. The colors seem to be muted overall, which might take a bit of getting used to for anyone accustomed to earlier incarnations (I watched the laserdisc version countless times, and the brighter colors of that presentation are burned into my memory bank). One of the most notable improvements is obvious anytime there’s an abundance of red light (which happens quite often—in nightclubs or during the roadside knifing of Billy Batts). Instead of a smeary, oversaturated mess, these scenes now boast stable contrast.
There are some wide shots that suffer from a lack of fine detail in the darker areas, but for the most part the new Blu-ray offers an outstanding viewing experience. And for the first time, we’re treated to a lossless audio presentation. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack offers a truly noteworthy upgrade of the hyperactive, multi-layered audio elements that make GoodFellas such a sonic delight. Liotta’s ever-present narration boasts incredible fullness. Scorsese’s genius inter-weaving of pop standards and classic rock is at the forefront, but never putting dialogue clarity in the backseat. The new high definition transfer and lossless audio mix combine for a fittingly awesome audio/visual experience.
The Blu-ray case is accompanied by a 36-page hardcover book (same dimensions as the case) loaded with photos and some general information about the film. There’s also a single-page letter from Scorsese explaining the importance of the film. As for extra features, there is only one brand-new piece here: a 30-minute featurette (produced by A-list director Brett Ratner, no less!) called “Scorsese’s GoodFellas.” As with the new cover art, Joe Pesci is unfortunately MIA. But we do hear new reflections from Lorraine Bracco, Liotta, De Niro, Scorsese, and editor Thelma Schoonmaker. A couple of non-GoodFellas Scorsese collaborators pop up too, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Harvey Keitel.
All the previous features from the earlier two-disc Blu-ray release are carried over, including the excellent 105-minute mafia film documentary Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film and numerous GoodFellas-specific featurettes (all standard definition). Disc one carries over both the previously-available ‘cast and crew’ commentary and the even more essential commentary by the real Henry Hill and FBI agent Edward McDonald (who plays himself in the film). If you haven’t heard this one, especially in light of Hill’s 2012 passing, it’s a really worth the time. Hill talks at length about his real experiences and how the film deviated from his real life (it’s mostly accurate, he claims).
As for the film itself, what more can be said? GoodFellas is certainly as great as any of Scorsese’s classics and could be considered the most indelibly-realized embodiment of his cinematic style. From the dual-narration by Liotta and Bracco as husband-and-wife Henry and Karen Hill, to the expertly-timed freeze frames, to the aforementioned all-pop song soundtrack, to the breaking of the fourth wall, this film has technical virtuosity to spare. The climactic “May 11, 1980” segment, during which Henry and various mob associates transport weapons and drugs, is perhaps the greatest example of how much giddy visual and aural excitement can be packed into a sequence without the use of special effects or other enhancements.
GoodFellas is brimming with moments that have become iconic over the last quarter century, probably highlighted by the famous “How am I funny?” scene that developed out of an improvisation between Pesci and Liotta (Scorsese’s co-screenwriter Nicolas Pileggi, whose Hill biography Wiseguy served as the basis for the film, talks about receiving endless praise for that scene even though he didn’t write any of it). Scorsese lures us into Hill’s mafia-run world, seducing us with the money, the food, the VIP nightclub treatment. He makes us understand why this outsider accepted Paulie Cicero’s (Paul Sorvino) invitation into the mob so readily.
But Scorsese’s brilliant framing device—the murder of “made man” Billy Batts (Frank Vincent)—turns the tables, with the second half of film becoming something of a darkly comic urban horror film. We see Henry sell out his “friends” for his own benefit, turning people like Jimmy Conway (De Niro), who were once regarded as family, into fearsome enemies. Scorsese builds paranoia and dread as Henry’s entire life caves in around his family. It’s ultimately as honest a depiction of greed and the corrupting power of money and privilege as any.
Warner Bros.’ GoodFellas two-disc Blu-ray 25th Anniversary edition also includes a Digital HD download.