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Dreamworks/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 152 mins . G . PAL


Steven Spielberg seems to have a duty in life - to direct historical dramas that deserve to be presented to the public yet in many circumstances, represent unpleasant aspects of human history. A story must be told and the challenge is to present them accurately, yet in an entertaining and non-exploitive manner.

Is this a flip side to his usually big-budget special effects 'crowd-pleasers'?

Amistad is one of these foils to the 'Jurassic Park' stuff.

It is the story of a previously obscure incident in America's colonial past and it has to do with slavery. A Spanish slave ship is transporting slaves illegally from Sierra Leone to the Americas. The slaves revolt, killing most of the crew and they end up intercepted by the US Coast Guard. The next battle takes place with the American legal system. The Africans want freedom; their opponents want to define their legal state of ownership. The court case becomes a mirror of the state of slavery in the US continent and it draws in the British, Spanish and the US Southern States. It also decides the very nature of the succeeding American Government and the path to Civil War. It is a very early 1839 after all...


The video is a rehash of what I saw in 'The Haunting'. It too is a very dark film punctuated by flashes of light. It is also filmed mostly indoors especially in the sort of 18th Century architecture you would expect. You will see the insides of various courtrooms frequently! The complexity of these scenes will test your DVD player.

The varied costumes of the principals are always sharp and a testament to good MPEG encoding.

Dark scenes were generally very good with excellent differentiation between the blacks of the Amistad's hold and the stone greys of the colonial prisons.

Excellent colour rendition and contrast as well - the brightness of Africa and the gaudy uniforms of various military staff will contrast with what is a generally drab street scenes of 18th Century America.


The main track is a Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448k/s. A German 5.1 track is also present. A dts version exists on the US market.

Firstly the music is by John Williams. It is an unobtrusive score that stays in the background. Of note is the varied use of African tribal music styles. The music is of quite excellent quality but of vastly different character to what you may expect from prolific Williams.

The Dolby 5.1 track is another winner from Dreamworks. Exceedingly clear, with decent bass and surround when needed. It is however not a 'actioner' type soundtrack. It is a dialogue heavy film so the excellent intelligibility makes the courtroom scenes easy to understand.

That is not to say that there are no heavy uses of 5.1 - the scenes on the slave ship especially in inclemental weather are quite intense and the recreations of early 18th century street life are quite complete.

I keep hearing the sharp metallic clinking of chains in all channels...


True to form, extras are bare. They are limited to a short featurette and trailer.

Granted, this is a long film and the audio rate is elevated. I do notice that this is often the case with his movies on DVD - long run times and a detachment from the 'film making process' and an emphasis on the film itself.


Whether you buy it depends on how you consider Spielberg's more 'serious' works. I know some people dislike stuff like Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan because it is not 'entertainment' in the strictest sense. I understand the strong subject matter and the explicit and factual way that Spielberg displays inhuman acts against subjugated people. You hardly come out of these films feeling elevated and happy. For a lot of people, it is not easy to watch.

It is however a fine presentation of an important and perhaps, overlooked film and I admit that I am one of those who would like to have a library of Spielberg's movies on DVD - his lighter fare and the stuff that wins the hearts of the 'Academy'.

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      And I quote...
    - Tony Lai
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