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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 87.09)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Italian: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital Surround
  Subtitles
    English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Italian - Hearing Impaired, Romanian, Bulgarian
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary - Milos Forman & Peter Shaffer
  • Awards/Nominations - 2002 production, 60 min

Amadeus - Director's Cut

Warner Bros./Warner Home Video . R4 . COLOR . 175 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Look into the life story of a great many of the world’s most legendary composers and you’ll find the perfect material for a captivating story of how they and their music came to be. The ingredients are all there, and most of them remain the same even in the modern world’s supposedly more enlightened times - ambition, ego, creativity, extreme emotional highs and lows, inspiration, poverty, despair; it’s perfect story fodder for the movies. Telling the stories of the great classical composers has some advantages; for one, the blurring of the line between history and myth caused by the distance of time often allows for some creative leeway on the part of those doing the storytelling. That’s something that greatly displeases those who expect biographical movies to be 100% historically accurate. But the idea is to create entertainment based on real events, not a documentary; a bit of creative embellishment is the rule rather than the exception in such films.

Director Milos Forman’s masterful filming of Peter Shaffer’s stage play Amadeus has come in for more than its fair share of criticism since its release in 1984, not least because of the movie’s advertising tagline (“everything you’ve heard is true”). Whilst striving for accuracy in portraying the life of one of the greatest of all composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Shaffer (who adapted his play for the screen) and Forman took some extreme liberties with the story of their subject. That’s to be expected, of course, but ironically the “inaccuracy” that caused the most discussion - the assertion that rival composer Antonio Salieri murdered Mozart - is actually not something directly suggested by the film at all.

The reason that Amadeus won so many plaudits and eight Oscars (including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Adapted Screenplay) has a lot more to do with its passion than its intricacies. For many moviegoers, an evening with Amadeus was the first time they’d been extensively exposed to classical music, and it resonated with a lot of people - the soundtrack record rocketed up pop-centred album charts and became a hit in its own right. The film is a celebration of Mozart’s music as much as it is a drama about his life, and it’s the music that takes centre stage throughout. And as written by Shaffer and portrayed by Tom Hulce, the title character is a rock star of his time, a force of nature with John Lydon hair whose effortless musical genius is countered by a gargantuan ego and an unstoppable passion for fast living, big drinking and flamboyant partying. There’s no extended hypothesising or talkiness in this version of his life, just a passion for music making and a disdain for the rigidity of the social and political systems of the time. Meanwhile, rival composer Salieri hovers around the sidelines, fully aware of his own mediocrity and sent into a lifetime of jealously and self-pity by the continuing genius of a man who he views as a crude and vulgar anomaly.

The acting is perfect by all concerned, and Forman’s direction is spot-on, capturing the humour of the script (and there’s plenty - much of the film is played semi-comedically) without ever sacrificing dramatic bite. And with eye-poppingly beautiful production design and cinematography throughout (along with an undeniable contribution from the city of Prague) it’s a thoroughly immersive experience. It may not be the most accurate of life stories, but it’s certainly one of the most involving, exciting and rewarding movies of its type ever made.

The new “Director’s Cut” of the film that appears on this DVD restores a few scenes cut for time by the director and expands on others, with the result being a 20-minute increase in the running time. The additions are mostly worthwhile, with a key scene between Salieri and Mozart’s wife Constanze particularly helpful in understanding the distrust between the pair that’s evident later in the film (incidentally, despite this scene involving nudity the film retains its PG rating in Australia).

  Video
Contract

Photographed in widescreen splendour by Miroslav Ondricek (who deserved an Oscar for his work, but had to settle for a nomination), Amadeus needs to be seen in its full 2.35:1 aspect ratio to be properly appreciated. But video transfers of the movie to date have been underwhelming, with the earlier Warner DVD (one of the first they released) suffering from colour inaccuracy, lack of detail, lack of shadow detail and compression artefacts, as well as being split across two sides of a DVD (something that was recently rectified by a remastering of that old release). But with the Director’s Cut comes a brand new 2002 video transfer, and compared to what’s come before it’s a revelation (and yes, it’s in the PAL format for the Australian release). Colours are now rich and vibrant, and the green tinge that permeated darker scenes on the old DVD is completely eliminated, replaced by the warm colour palette that was always intended to be there. Night scenes are much better handled as well, with ample shadow detail. Throughout, the film’s wide contrast range is better handled, and the result overall is more natural, more inviting.

Image detail has been vastly improved as well, though this has been compromised a little by some too-obvious use of digital sharpening which causes some excessive graininess and some minor issues in finely detailed backgrounds; it’s as though there’s not enough data bandwidth to resolve all of it accurately, though it’s worth mentioning that compression-wise this is a very intelligently authored disc. Such problems are relatively small, and will pass unnoticed by the majority. They’re noticeable mainly because the transfer in every other way is nearly flawless. In comparison to what’s been available before, though, we suspect most people will see this new disc and be too busy going “ooh” and “ahh” to worry about minor shortcomings. Incidentally, the scenes added for the Director’s Cut version are seamlessly interwoven with the original material; if you aren’t looking for them, you’ll never notice the spots where material has been added.

The three hour film is stored on a dual-layered disc, with the layer change placed mid-way through the movie and well handled.

  Audio
Contract

The audio for the Director’s Cut was supervised by the original sound personnel, and as a result this mix isn’t the radical reworking that some seem to have expected. Nor should it be; the idea here wasn’t to create a show-off soundtrack for the Dolby Digital age, but rather to bring the original six-track mix (done in 1984 for 70mm prints) up to a more modern technical standard. This has been done superbly, with the musical score freshly remastered and the dialogue and effects tracks cleaned up for the digital age. The result sounds superb; largely front-focussed, but using the surrounds for ambience when needed, it’s a soundtrack rich in detail and sumptuous warmth, and belies the age of the material.

The LFE channel is used extremely sparingly, and usually only when extreme emphasis is required (which, of course, is the way it should be used). A comparison with the original sound mix reveals that most of the same decisions were taken again for this mix, LFE use included.

The remastered audio is offered in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and matrixed surround formats, something that’s becoming quite rare on DVDs these days. Both tracks are mastered at an unusually high average level; many who turn the volume up to their usual setting will be rushing to turn it down again before too long!

  Extras
Contract

The text-based extras of the original DVD were hardly involving (though there was an isolated music score track that is sadly omitted here) and Warner has taken the opportunity to add some bonuses for this new release. Though it comes as a double-disc set, the main reason for that is simply the film’s length - there is no room on the movie disc for the documentary that’s included here. The fold-out cardboard packaging with outer slip case that this release is provided in, by the way, is identical to the packaging used in the US.

Audio Commentary: Director Milos Forman and writer Peter Shaffer offer many insights into the film’s production and the transition from stage to screen, as well as the various obstacles that got in the way during shooting. It’s good, informative listening, and Forman in particular is extremely engaging and enthusiastic. Encoded as Dolby Digital 1.0 mono.

Documentary - The Making of Amadeus: This hour-long retrospective documentary is superb, bringing back much of the principal cast and crew for new interviews about Amadeus - Tom Hulce (looking like Tim Curry these days!) and Elizabeth Berridge (who has kept a fairly low profile since this film) are here, as are Jeffrey Jones, Vincent Schiavelli and of course Forman himself. There are some fascinating stories and recollections to be found here, and it’s superbly put together with footage from the movie itself as well as rare production photography included. F. Murray Abraham’s interview clips are older (presumably he couldn’t return for a fresh interview) but he’s got some great stories to tell regardless. Produced on digital video, the documentary is presented here in its proper 16:9 format, with stereo sound.

Cast and Crew: The usual Warner cast-and-crew cop-out, a single screen with no accessible biographies or filmographies.

Awards: A series of text screens listing the awards the movie has won.

  Overall  
Contract

A magnificent visual and aural treat of a movie which is effortlessly engrossing for its three hour running time, Amadeus is a film which has stood the test of time well and plays today, nearly two decades later, just as well as it did when first released. The new Director’s Cut was a risky prospect, but succeeds in expanding the film’s scope without compromising its quality and dramatic flow.

Warner’s two-disc DVD set mirrors the US version almost exactly, and while there’s not a lot here in terms of quantity when it comes to extras, the superb documentary and fascinating commentary provide true quality, something that’s lacking in most extras packages these days. Sound quality on the feature is superb, and the video transfer would have gotten perfect marks as well if it wasn’t for the overdone use of digital enhancement. Still, it’s a widescreen picture that most people will be purely delighted with.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=2002
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      And I quote...
    "One of the most involving, exciting and rewarding movies of its type ever made... A widescreen picture that most people will be purely delighted with."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
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    • Audio Cables:
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    • Video Cables:
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