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Milos Forman
F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Simon Callow, Roy Dotrice, Christine Ebersole, Jeffrey Jones
Peter Shaffer

The Man... The Music... The Madness... The Murder... The Motion Picture...
Rated R.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Picture; Best Director; Best Screenplay; Best Actor-F. Murray Abraham; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Costume Design; Best Makeup; Best Sound.
Nominated for Best Actor-Tom Hulce; Best Cinematography; Best Film Editing.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround
English, French, Spanish

Runtime: 160 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 12/16/1997

• Isolated Music-Only Track
• Production Notes
• Theatrical Trailer

Music soundtrack

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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Amadeus (1984)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

It falls into the category of flogging a dead horse, but as Iíve noted many times in the past, I rarely agree with the selections made for Oscarís Best Picture. As such, it's a nice surprise when the Academy actually gets things right. They did so once - and only once - during the 1980s, when Amadeus won the prize for 1984. It was about time; by my reckoning, it was the first one they chose correctly since The Godfather Part II in 1974.

Back during its theatrical run, I didnít fly eagerly to see Amadeus, though. Actually, I knew about the project for quite some time prior to 1984, as my father attended an early US performance of the play upon which they based the film. He raved about it, which caused me to assume the natural teenage reaction: I figured that the fact he loved it must mean that it actually sucked.

Well, I don't much like plays anyway. Right around the time of the 1985 Academy Awards show, I took in Amadeus and thought it seemed surprisingly good. Not amazing, but much less artsy and pretentious than I expected. I even mustered up a (very) brief interest in Mozart shortly after that.

Amadeus had all the markings of a pretentious little art film. I mean, a biography of Mozart? How could that not seem dull?

That assumption could not possibly be farther from the truth. Obviously, Amadeus is no thrill a minute blastfest, but it certainly does an exquisite job of involving and entertaining the viewer.

Of course, quite a few historical liberties occur along the way, but that's okay with me; history's malleable enough as it is, and I don't expect stories of this sort to maintain the absolute accuracy I'd demand of a real biography. There's enough truth there to satisfy critics, and the liberties do not seem gratuitous or excessive.

Liberties had to be taken because most of the movie is depicted from the point of view of Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), Mozart's musical rival. This approach works very well because it allows the viewer to appreciate Mozart without the film seeming pedantic; it never feels like we receive any sort of stiff "music appreciation" lesson.

Director Milos Forman keeps the film grounded without ever becoming too heavy. Historical films such as this all too often become deadly serious pseudo-documentaries that may inform us about the period but certainly do not entertain us. Forman propels the film along at a good pace so that we never get bogged down or bored with the material.

One way in which Amadeus also draws in the viewer stems from the liveliness of the setting. The 18th century is not depicted as the dry, sterile period we might expect; while it clearly seems very different from modern times, Forman establishes enough connection with our present-day attitudes that we can easily relate to the characters. It's a period piece, but it never feels stuffy or stodgy; Amadeus always appears vibrant and full of life.

A lot of that life stems from the terrific performances in the film. Abraham justifiably won the Oscar for his multifaceted performance as Salieri. He portrays the inner demons in the man and his obsessions without making him into a caricature; he keeps him accessible and likable, no matter how conflicted he becomes.

As Mozart himself, Tom Hulce does a very good job, though Abraham outclasses him. In contrast with the nuanced performance as Salieri, Hulce's Mozart appears a little too broad and cartoony. This method works well to offer contrast between Mozart the semi-hedonist and the much more introspective, repressed Salieri, but Hulce may go just a little too far at times. He usually cannot display the subtleties of the character's various emotions as well as Abraham does. Nonetheless, it remains a pretty strong performance; while it could have been better, it does not do anything to harm the film, and Hulce frequently provides very entertaining and effective work. He also adds a touching sense of innocence and naÔvetť that helps make his scenes with Abraham more effective.

Amadeus features a very good supporting cast as well. I like Roy Dotrice as Mozart's father Leopold most of all. He doesn't get all that much screentime, but a great deal of the film details Wolfgang's less than terrific relationship with his overbearing father, and Dotrice clearly shows us why Wolfie felt the way he did about daddy. Still, even though he plays something of a "heavy," Dotrice plays him deftly enough that we never see him as a bad guy; while in retrospect he clearly did not always act in Wolfgang's best interest, he seemed to do what he felt was best at the time.

As the remaining main player, Elizabeth Berridge seems adequate but nothing more as Mozart's wife Constanze. Her performance frequently appeared a little forced, but she remains acceptable. Of the remaining supporting performers, only Jeffrey Jones as Emperor Joseph II really stands out from the crowd. It remains largely a comedic role, and Jones nicely makes the Emperor seem sort of silly but not like a complete buffoon; Jonesí reading of Josephís trademark "There it is!" provides one of the film's greatest pleasures.

And many varied pleasures appear during Amadeus, one of my all-time favorite Best Picture winners. After 18 years, the movie remains lively and engrossing, as it rarely misfires. The flick avoids the usual ponderous trappings of the genre and seems like a terrific historical drama.

The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio B / Bonus C-

Amadeus appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though consistently decent, this picture showed a number of flaws that rendered it generally average.

Sharpness appeared fairly good, but some softness occurred. Most of the movie came across as reasonably distinct, though. Only occasional shots looked moderately fuzzy, and those generally happened during low-light sequences. However, since Amadeus included lots of dark scenes, that became a more than periodic issue. Jagged edges and moirť effects created no concerns, and I also noticed no issues related to edge enhancement. However, print flaws seemed somewhat problematic. I saw a fair amount of light specks and marks, and the DVD looked generally grainy at times. In addition, the image wobbled noticeably at times.

Amadeus boasted a natural but lively palette. The colors consistently seemed vivid and bright, and they appeared wonderfully rich. The film offered a nice range of hues via the many elaborate costumes and backgrounds, and they always seemed solid. My only concerns related to skin tones, which occasionally looked somewhat pinkish.

Black levels also were fairly deep and dense, but shadow detail looked a little problematic at times. Director Milos Forman used virtually no artificial lighting for the movie; everything came from either natural sources or from candles. Low-light scenes came across as somewhat drab and gauzy. The film took on a somewhat soft appearance during darker scenes, which caused significant parts of the movie to seem a bit murky. Overall, the image of Amadeus looked fairly good given the age of the release, and at times it seemed very positive. However, as a whole it seemed fairly average.

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Amadeus, it presented a reasonably vivid affair. Not surprisingly, the focus remained on the music. The score displayed good stereo imaging and really added a lot of kick to the mix. Otherwise, much of the track stayed fairly heavily oriented toward the center channel. I noted reasonably good general ambience throughout the film, and some more heavily populated scenes - like those at balls or on bustling streets - provided a greater level of activity. The surrounds seemed fairly passive throughout the movie, but they contributed a nice sense of reinforcement, particularly in regard to the music.

Audio quality appeared pretty strong. Speech came across as natural and crisp, and I noticed no issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects largely played a minor role in the film, but they always seemed accurate and well defined, with no issues related to distortion or other areas. Of course, the music remained the most important element, and the mix provided fairly solid reproduction of the score. The pieces of music sounded a little flat at times, but they usually came across as acceptably bright and vivid. Low-end could have seemed a bit deeper, but the material generally sounded acceptably full. In the end, the audio of Amadeus needed to pack a little more punch, but it still worked fairly well given the vintage of the material.

As for the supplements, we get a decent variety of written pieces to peruse. As they frequently do, Warner Brothers split the notes into a number of different categories; they all could have been called "production notes," but I guess this method lets you more easily access the sections you want to see. Anyway, the disc covers Behind the Scenes, Casting, Musical Notes, Salieri and Mozart, A Mozart Chronology, Locations, and Awards. That last category just lists the prizes the film won, whereas each of the other sections offer some rudimentary but reasonably interesting information about the film.

In addition, the DVD also includes some good Cast and Crew biographies and the filmís theatrical trailer. Of most interest to many will be the alternate music-only track. Presented with Dolby Surround 2.0 audio, this indeed offers all of the music included in the film. While the lack of 5.1 reproduction seems disappointing, the isolated score still provides a valuable addition to the set.

Note that Warner Bros. reissued Amadeus as a special edition DVD. For most people, Iíd recommend that set over this old one. However, the original disc still may appeal to some folks. For one, it includes the filmís 160-minute theatrical version instead of the 180-minute directorís cut. Personally, I preferred the shorter edition, but I will stick with the longer one simply because it doesnít harm the film, and the presentation seemed superior to that on the old DVD.

In addition, the original platter provided an alternate music-only soundtrack that didnít appear on the directorís cut. This didnít matter to me; I still own the exquisite laserdisc set, and it included the music on CD. However, this feature may make the old disc worth your attention, especially since you can find it for less than $20; that amounts to little more than the cost of a CD, so you might want to pick up the earlier platter just to get this feature.

To rate this film visit the review of AMADEUS: Director's Cut.