Goodfellas – 4K UHD Review

Note, until 4K Blu-ray screencap extraction is possible, all review screencaps will be sourced from the included Blu-ray in each package in 1080p resolution.

The Movie (4.5/5)

Martin Scorsese has a fascination with crime. He loves showing us corruption and scandal in all walks of life, whether it be in our casinos, our police departments, or the streets of our cities at night. Many of his strongest movies feature large ensemble casts committing horrible crimes, tearing each other apart, and demonstrating a lack of morals or even a grounded sense of reality, forcing us to watch as their worlds collapse around them as a result. This is demonstrated through movies such as The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street, Casino, and even in certain ways Taxi Driver. There’s always a deeply set human element to his movies – he doesn’t totally glorify crime, but he usually gets pretty close, allowing his leads to fly a little too close to the sun in order to get away with it. There’s only one movie however, where I feel he gets a little too close for comfort, has a little too much fun submerging us into the life of gangsters and their way of life – that movie is Goodfellas.

Goodfellas, adapted from the 1986 non-fiction book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, tells the story of Henry Hill, the boy who, as long as he could remember, wanted to be a gangster. The film takes us through the 1950s-1980s, following Henry as he abandons school and family life to become a member of the Italian mafia in Brooklyn. Under the guidance of mob boss Paulie Cicero, he becomes a full-fledged member of the mob, carrying out all sorts of blue-collar and large scale crimes. There he falls in with Tommy and Jimmy, two dangerous criminals who only serve to further Henry’s decent into the crime dynasty. Together, they commit massive heists, committing and covering up murders, and collecting money from all sorts of people who owe the mob money. Their large scale and widespread crime spree ultimately lands them in prison, where Henry discovers and drags his crew into the dangerous drug smuggling game, beginning a slow descent into madness as his world begins to decay around him.

Released to critical acclaim in 1990, Goodfellas is a movie that oozes charm and charisma. It’s one of those films that features lead characters who are so easy to like that it becomes tough to condemn them as they slip deeper and deeper into the madness of mob crime, which is both a strength and a weakness. They’re angry, aggressive people who step over everyone, and exercise the full extent of their ability to intimidate others. And somehow, the script and the careful direction of Scorsese makes it so easy for us to fall in love.

The movie, which spans multiple decades, is one of the most elaborate period pieces ever to escape the doors of Hollywood. Everything is caked in shadow, but the way the sound is designed, and the way the sets are decorated make it feel like a labor of love. You peer into the details of every shot, and you see something new and specific to each decade. The styles change, the crimes change, and everything just clicks as we move from the more conservative 1950s into the edgy and cocaine fueled 1980s. Honestly, I know the trio of powerful performances from Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta are typically viewed as the star of the film, but I have always had a soft spot for Scorsese and his crew’s attention to detail in his work, and Goodfellas stands up as one of his busiest, but most authentic works.

The film’s cinematography, which uses a ton of camera movement and freeze frames to help keep you on your toes, compliments the film’s story perfectly. In combination with the editing, which just pushes and pushes us through a huge amount of content in a little over two hours, it makes for a nearly disorienting experience. The camera is constantly moving through rooms, and panning all over the place in nearly every cut – one Steadicam sequence in general stands out as a masterful way of presenting the story, in which cinematographer Michael Baullhaus and his team push us through a the Copacabana club and introduce us to the scope and scale of the world Henry is now immersed in. Its influence can be seen all over the place, and it’s one of the high points of the movie.

Goodfellas is a violent, angry movie full of murder, shouting, and maintains an overall sense of ugliness that shows up as soon as you look under the surface just a bit. There are so many classic moments, such as Joe Pesci’s classic funny scene, that just make these people look like psychopaths as soon as you start and think about it. These people are crazy, and delusional, existing in a bubble that, as it edges closer and closer to popping throughout the movie, just somehow becomes more fun. Henry Hill is such a crazy guy, so in love with what he’s doing, that even as he bludgeons his way through life, leaving a trail of destruction behind him, that it somehow comes off as good fun.

I love Goodfellas – I consider it the last really good mob movie, but it teeters on the edge of being scary. It’s only Scorsese’s masterful hand behind the scenes that keeps things flowing, and keep it from blowing right over the edge into psychological disaster territory and that’s why it’s so brilliant. It’s full of incredible performances, great cinematography, an engaging and interesting script, so much so that I don’t think we’ve seen a mob movie of its caliber since.

The Video (5/5)

Goodfellas was shot of 4-perf 35mm film using Arriflex cameras a Zeiss spherical lenses. It was cropped in post production to 1.85:1 for theatrical presentation. For it’s 25th anniversary, it was carefully restored in full 4K resolution last year. That master, which was used to create a new Blu-ray release last year, was used to create this new 4K UHD presentation in the a slightly opened up 1.78:1 aspect ratio.

This is why we’re here guys. Modern Hollywood movies are pretty much stuck between a rock and a hard place, working with 2K digital intermediates, or goofy 4K hybrid sort of upscaled messes. Classic Hollywood is where we’re going to see the biggest benefits to 4K presentation, if done right. Everything Scorsese and his team did during production is here – no upscaling, no recompositing, no nothing. Just straight celluloid, scanned, cleaned, and color balanced to support the full capabilities of HDR presentation.

Goodfellas looks unbelievable in 4K UHD, with one caveat – you CANNOT watch this movie in broad daylight. It is such a dark movie, with many of the film’s best scenes playing out in dimly lit clubs, and taking place at night. The blacks are so rich, and so well defined in this HDR enhanced transfer that even though at time its like looking through a window into real darkness, it is nearly impossible to watch in my screening room at 3 in the afternoon. After some readjustment in the room however, I was able to dig deep into the darkness, and I was blown away. Unlike the murkiness that sometimes plagues 1080p stand Blu presentations, things resolve in such sharpness even in the darkest of scenes. Right from that first scene in at the side of the road, where our lead actors’ faces were only lit by car tail lights and surrounded in darkness, the way the grain resolved and the detail popped, I knew I was in for a real treat. Grain is sharp and clear over the entire transfer, and detail, especially in close ups is phenomenal. The transfer features incredible color for a film with such a drab, urban style Overall, it is slightly darker than previous transfers for home video, but it helps ground the film even further. I know this sounds like borderline hyperbole, but Goodfellas looks amazing in 4K UHD. If you have the player, and you have the TV, you owe it yourself to check this one out.

The Audio (4/5)

Goodfellas was released to theaters in 1990, in the last days of pre-Dolby Digital and DTS surround mixes bringing multi-channel audio to the masses. As a result, it was mixed in Dolby SR for theatrical screenings with matrixed surround sound off of a stereo optical track. For home video, on both the included Blu-ray and 4K UHD Blu-ray, it has been mixed in 5.1, and presented via a DTS-Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track.

As far as movies go, Goodfellas won’t ever really be remembered for its amazing sound mix, but what we’ve got here sounds just fine. Most of the action takes place front and center, with the stereo channels serving only to add atmosphere in the larger club scenes and the like, and the occasional bit of music  Surrounds are never really a huge presence in the mix, but do get pretty active during some of the larger scenes, such as the Copacabana walk through sequence. Overall, a solid mix that fits the film comfortably.

Special Features/Packaging (x/5)

Released to home video by Warner Home Video, Goodfellas is packaged in the standard black 4K UHD Blu-ray case, with an accompanying slipcover. The front artwork of both case and slipcover feature the classic Goodfellas artwork with the three leads spread across the poster over the title, and a dead man lying below. At this point, I’d be disappointed if I got anything else, its quite an iconic piece or artwork. They both feature a large 4K Ultra HD banner, and an HDR banner that is printed into the artwork – mildly irritating. The back artwork features headshots of our three leads, a review quote, a paragraph about the movie, a list of features, a big Ultra HD banner, credits, and technical specs. Overall, nothing special, but the black style of UHD Blu-rays seem to really fit the artwork of the film.

Onto the features:

4K UHD Blu-ray Disc:

I’d love to report whether or not the 4K disc features the audio commentaries of the Blu-ray disc, but my UHD Blu-ray player failed about 5 minutes from the end of the feature, and I was unable to go back and check. I will update this later when I have a new player in possession.

Blu-ray Disc:

Audio commentaries – 2 commentaries, one performed by the film’s cast and crew, and the other performed by Henry Hill and the FBI agent who got him into witness protection program. Very informative, and well delivered all around.

Blu-Ray Special Features Disc:

Scorsese’s Goodfellas – a 30 minute documentary feature in which actors and filmmakers talk in depth about making Goodfellas, and what makes it such an entertaining, powerful movie. They talk about the film’s themes, and ideas explored through its depiction of gangsters.

Getting Made – a half hour documentary feature about working with Martin Scorsese and making the film. A hold over from the standard definition era, showing great behind the scenes footage, with plenty of archive footage from the making of the film.

Made Men – a 13 minute feature that explores the legacy of Goodfellas, and the impact its had on filmmakers and what filmmakers feel about the movie. Another hold over from the standard def era.

The Workaday Gangster – an 8 minute feature that discusses how true to life the events of Goodfellas were in terms of its relevance to real life gangsters as hard working men.

Paper is Cheaper Than Film – a 4 minute standard def feature that details the drawings and notes that Scorsese made on his script, and how they turned into finished scenes.

Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film – an hour, forty five minute feature-length documentary that looks at the gangsters films from Hollywood’s golden age, narrated by a number of film historians, authors, and actors.

I Like Mountain Music – a Merrie Melodies musical, black and white cartoon where a group of magazine characters come to life and sing a jolly tune about mountain music.

She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter – a Merrie Melodies cartoon about venturing out to the movies during the age of movie palaces.

Racketeer Rabbit – a Looney Tunes cartoon, in which Bugs Bunny must deal with feuding gangsters.

Bugs and Thugs – another Looney Tunes cartoon, in which Bugs Bunny must deal with a gangster who’s just participated in a bank robbery.

Theatrical Trailer – the film’s trailer from its original 1990 release.

Overall, Goodfellas sports a decent set of extras, albeit ones that are held over from earlier releases of the film. That’s disappointing, but expected as we just got a nice 25th anniversary Blu-ray release which compiled everything available, and all of that material is included here. The packaging is standard, but fitting of the lovely new black UHD Blu-ray case style.

Technical Specs (click for technical FAQs)

Video

Codec: HEVC

Resolution: 2160p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Audio

DTS-Master Audio 5.1 (English)

Dolby Digital 2.0 (Spanish, both Castilian and Latin, and French)

Subtitles

English SDH

Spanish

French

Runtime: 145 minutes

Overall (4/5):

A friend of mine once tried his best to convince me that Goodfellas is the most entertaining movie ever made? Is he right? We’ll never know. As far as I’m concerned however, Goodfellas is a spark of brilliance in the long, and well celebrated career of Martin Scorsese as a director. The film is well acted, tightly scripted, and gives a good balance of human commentary and straight entertainment through its portrayal of the gangster lifestyle. This new 4K UHD Blu-ray sports an incredible new 4K HDR enhanced video transfer that truly shows what UHD Blu-ray is capable of, and sports a fair audio 5.1 surround sound track. The packaging is perfect for the classic Goodfellas poster artwork, and packs a ton of previously available extras into the definitive Goodfellas home video release. Recommended.