GoodFellas (1990)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Paul Sorvino, Lorraine Bracco
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurettes, Storyboard Comparison, Theatrical Trailer

Martin Scorsese's "GoodFellas" is a modern classic, no doubt. It is one of those films that everyone has seen and one that everyone should see. It is dark, disturbing, violent and at the same time intriguing, charming and full of style. Well, it is IS a Martin Scorsese film. And it is a mob movie, so it is what Scorsese is best known for.

"GoodFellas" tells the story of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and his life among the mafia in New York. Growing up in a neighborhood were wiseguys ruled Henry soon becomes entangled in the web of the mobsters and as he reaches adulthood he's a made man himself. Everything seems good. The money is coming in in troves, the booze is flowing, the girls are hot and there's always something to do and something going on. But the more successful the mobsters become the more they lose touch with reality, living by their own rules, believing they could bribe and take on just about anybody – including the American judicial system.

Well, as they say, the higher they go, the harder they fall, and as things spin out of control in Little Italy, Henry suddenly finds himself between a rock and a hard place. The more powerful his friends become the more their character faults and personalities surface – and not for the better. Some of them turn into true psychopaths who take pleasure in hurting and killing people. The more blood, the better. And it becomes their downfall. Completely without restraint or common sense they become raging lunatics destined for the fall.

Cast with actors like Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci, as well as Ray Liotta as the central character, this film couldn't have been any better. It is a masterpiece that sheds light on the underbelly of the mafia, not from a sensationalist standpoint, but from an emotional one, through the yes of someone who is in the midst of it all. Someone who realizes that things have gone to the dogs and who begins to have inhibitions and second thoughts about what he sees, questioning if this lifestyle is truly what he's been aspiring to for all his life.

After starting up "GoodFellas" on this HD-DVD the thing that immediately struck me was the image – and not in a good sense. The overall image quality is mediocre at best. At first it looked simply a bit murky to me and overly soft and so I decided to take a closer look to analyze the picture in more detail. Well, out of all HD-DVDs I've seen so far, this is probably the worst-looking one I am sorry to say.
The transfer – while generally fairly clean – shows significant artifacting of various kinds. Foremost the image shows limited color fidelity and gradients and subtle hues are completely washed out, turning many areas of the picture into unnaturally flat-looking surfaces. The image also reveals quite a bit of dot crawl and noise as well as compression artifacts. Like I said before, this is a mediocre transfer at best and I am not sure what happened here. Sadly I do not have the DVD version handy right now to make a side-by-side comparison but I would almost suspect that the image on the DVD was more faithfully rendered than what we have on HD-DVD here, especially since there were many occasions where I found the image degradation on this high definition transfer distracting from the feature presentation.

I will go out on a limb here and say that what we see here may be a shortcoming of the HD-DVD format in its current incarnation. "GoodFellas" is a fairly long movie running 145 minutes. Add to that numerous extras and my initial guess would be that the feature film has been over-compressed because of storage limitations on the actual disc. Or maybe someone just allocated a bitrate for the release that is too restrictive in general. It would be interesting to see how the Blu-Ray version looks like by comparison – assuming, of course, that it will be compressed separately utilizing a high bitrate. That comparison will have to wait for a little while, though, until Warner releases a Blu-Ray version of the film.
Black levels on the transfer are deep but shadow delineation suffers from dot crawl and creates an image that is never as clean and detailed as one would hope.

The audio section of the release offers up a Dolby Digital Plus track in English as well as Dolby Stereo tracks in French and Spanish. The audio tracks sound natural and have a good frequency response, making for a good directional sound field that is never exaggerated. It is noticeable however that the audio tracks have been mastered at the correct volume – unlike the ones for "The Last Samurai" and The Phantom Of The Opera" for example, which were mastered at a level that was about 10db lower than it should have been. This problem has been corrected here and I expect it to be corrected on all releases going forward.

The bonus materials on the disc are once again carried over from the DVD version that was released some time ago and includes a cast and crew commentary track with Martin Scorsese, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, Frank Vincent and many others. Given the amount of people on the track, you will find a lot of valuable information and insight here on both the characters, the background and the production itself.

The second track features the real Henry Hill and former FBI agent Edward McDonald as they discuss the historical, cultural and ethical background of the film as well as the witness protection plan. Very good track with lots of interesting bits of information, and highly educational, too.

The release also contains three documentaries covering various aspects of the movie. "Getting Made" is a featurette with new interviews by some of the film's stars, notably Bracco, Liotta and co-writer Nicolas Pileggi. Aslo included is "Made Men: The GoodFellas Legacy," and "The Workaday Gangster," all of which offer additional insight into the characters and events of the movie and their real-life counterparts.

"Paper Is Cheaper Than Film" is a storyboard-to-film comparison that also shows viewers how much easier and affordable it is to plan out scenes in storyboards before actually shooting them. The movie's theatrical trailer rounds out the release.

Needless to say that I was a bit disappointed by this HD-DVD version of "GoodFellas." I expected more, quite frankly. The image does not live up to the high definition promise and given the movie's notoriety I fear that it may be many viewers' first encounter with the high definition video format. No doubt, many of which will ask themselves, "Is this as good as it gets?"
Still, I am sure fans of the film will want to add this version to their collection despite its shortcomings.