The Video Game With An Offer You Can't Refuse
Francis Ford Coppola, director of the trilogy of Godfather films, has accused the developers of failing to consult him and expressed his fear that the game will be a travesty of his Oscar-winning 1972 masterpiece.
The developer, Electronic Arts, achieved a coup by wooing Marlon Brando, who won an Academy Award as Don Corleone, out of retirement to record a voice-over for the game six months before his death last year. James Caan, who played Sonny Corleone, and Robert Duvall, alias Tom Hagen, were also recruited, but Al Pacino, who portrayed Michael Corleone, refused.
Coppola, however, is unimpressed. 'I knew nothing about it,' he said. 'They never asked me if I thought it was a good idea. I went and I took a look at what it was ... What they do is they use the characters everyone knows and they hire those actors to be there and only to introduce very minor characters. And then for the next hour they shoot and kill each other.'
Speaking on the US cable network show Sunday Morning ShootOut, he added: 'I had absolutely nothing to do with the game and I disapprove. I think it's a misuse of the film.'
Coppola has broken ranks with a number of directors, including George Lucas and Peter Jackson, who regard games as a vital extension of the merchandising bonanza around a blockbuster film. Actors including Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench and John Cleese have lent their voices to a James Bond game, while it emerged last week that Sean Connery will record dialogue for a game version of From Russia With Love.
For all its bursts of violence, The Godfather, based on Mario Puzo's novel, is seen by critics as a supreme piece of storytelling and characterisation. Coppola's wrath is unlikely to be lessened by a recent description of the Godfather game as 'a free-roaming, Grand Theft Auto -style romp through New York city, spanning the years 1945 to 1955'. Grand Theft Auto is a violent game in which players shoot cops and and steal cars.
David DeMartini, executive producer of the Godfather game, insisted that Coppola had been broadly supportive. He told last month's Electronic Gaming Monthly: 'We did meet with him and he embraced the project - not as something he wanted to work on, but he invited us up to his private library, where we spent many hours, and we have access to all of his notes via this library. He was very gracious.'
Of the cast members, DeMartini added: 'We had an opportunity to discuss with Marlon some of the greatness that was The Godfather and some of his perspectives on the film. We've been working in very close collaboration with Paramount to obtain the original actors and recapture some of that authenticity of their performances.'
The makers insist the game will be faithful to the plot, including Sonny's death and the horse's head in a bed. James Caan jokily observed of his participation: 'Not to be maudlin about it, but my kids can play with me after I'm gone.' Electronic Arts has also secured the rights to the music Nino Rota composed for the film. The game is due out in November for the PC, PSP, Xbox and PlayStation 2.
In recent years the video games industry has become more lucrative than Hollywood itself, thanks in part to titles such as GoldenEye, another Bond adaptation released in 1997 on Nintendo 64. One of its British designers, David Doak, now at the games developer Free Radical, said: 'The difficulty they have is that The Godfather is not an action film like James Bond. There is extreme violence, but it's cathartic and secondary to the characterisation. I'm sure that's the problem for Coppola, who's essentially a storyteller.'
Simon Smith-Wright of Electronic Arts said last night: 'People should reserve judgment until they play the game. Just as the film had to please Mario Puzo's readers, so this game will prove to fans of the film how exciting interactive entertainment can be.'