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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.

2-Disc set
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround
English, French, Spanish

Runtime: 180 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 9/24/2002

• Audio Commentary With Director Milos Forman and Writer Peter Shaffer
• ďThe Making of AmadeusĒ
• Theatrical Trailer
• Awards, Cast and Crew

Music soundtrack

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Amadeus: Director's Cut (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 appears 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 A- / Audio B+ / Bonus B+

Amadeus appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer looked quite solid and thoroughly topped the picture seen on the original DVD from 1997.

Sharpness seemed excellent. The movie remained nicely crisp and detailed from start to finish, as very few instances of softness appeared. Overall, the picture was accurate and well defined. Jagged edges and moirť effects created no concerns, and I saw only a smidgen of light edge enhancement. Print flaws caused almost no issues. I detected a few specks - mostly during some of the scenes added to the directorís cut - but otherwise the image seemed very clean and fresh.

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 deep and dense, while shadow detail seemed appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. Director Milos Forman used virtually no artificial lighting for the movie; everything came from either natural sources or from candles. Although this should have led to a grainy appearance, but that didnít occur. While the natural light made the picture more of a challenge to render, but Amadeus seemed very concise and detailed on this new DVD.

How did the image of the ďdirectorís cutĒ compare to the old 1997 DVD? It seemed substantially tighter. It eliminated the many small but persistent print flaws and also presented a clearer picture. It appeared less gauzy and flat in low-light sequences, and it also lost the wobbling that affected some parts of the original. That release looked good in its day, but this new one definitely seemed superior.

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Amadeus, it presented a vivid affair. Not surprisingly, the focus remained on the music. The score displayed excellent 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 excellent. 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 very solid reproduction of the score. The pieces of music sounded bright and vivid, and they boasted fairly good dynamic range. Low-end could have seemed a bit deeper, but the material generally sounded acceptably full.

When I compared the 5.1 track heard on the directorís cut with the 5.1 audio from the old DVD, I didnít discern the same substantial growth that I witnessed between the two visual transfers. However, I felt the directorís cut presented somewhat stronger audio. It appeared brighter and more dynamic. Stereo imaging seemed similar, but the new DVD offered music that came across as a bit livelier and more accurate. Both were satisfying, but I preferred the new track.

The original release of Amadeus came out during DVDís first year of existence. While the December 1997 was not totally devoid of extras, that package lacked many supplements, even though quite a few already existed via a splendid 1995 Pioneer Special Edition laserdisc. Happily, the new two-DVD version of Amadeus alters that equation, as it provides a mix of good bonus materials.

For one, the version of Amadeus seen here offers the filmís recent directorís cut. This edition adds exactly 20 minutes of previously excised footage. Many of the additions consist of small bits, but two long new sequences appear. One shows Salieri and Constanze as she tries to get him to recommend Mozart for a job, while the other offers a look at a disastrous experience Mozart had as a tutor. Another moderately substantial bit shows Katerina Cavalieriís reaction to Mozartís engagement.

I felt a mixed reaction to the added footage. Some of the bits seemed useful, such as the tutorial sequence; it nicely demonstrated Mozartís monetary problems, and it helped flesh out a subsequent exchange between Wolfie and his father. I didnít care for either the Salieri and Constanze piece or the engagement-related sequence, however. They altered the natural flow of the film and harmed the parts that immediately followed them.

Ultimately, I prefer the original theatrical cut. The 20 minutes of added footage doesnít actively harm the movie, but none of it measurably improves the piece; even the parts I like donít make Amadeus a better film. While the new bits seem interesting to see, I wish Warner Bros. had used seamless branching to allow us to watch either the original version or the directorís cut; Iíd rather watch the theatrical edition in the future.

In addition, DVD One tosses in an audio commentary with director Milos Forman and writer Peter Shaffer. For the most part, both were recorded together for this usually running, screen-specific track. Why the caveats? Most of the commentary came from the 1995 special edition laserdisc. The differences occurred during the scenes added for the ďdirectorís cutĒ. Those segments included new information, most of which revolved around Formanís discussion of the scenes. The majority of the track duplicated the 1995 session, but it did provide new remarks during those periods.

My only negative thought about this commentary related to its empty spaces. More than a few gaps popped up throughout the piece, and they became moderately extended at times. However, the content of the track helped make up for that weakness. Forman dominated the piece; Shaffer mostly related historical facts about Mozart as well as some other general material. Forman proved to be most entertaining and lively, and he offered scads of wonderful stories about the production. He covered working with the actors, dealing with the period setting, contending with shooting in a then-communist country, and many other issues. Formanís chat tended to be anecdotal in nature, so donít expect a clear and concrete discussion of the creation of the film. Nonetheless, the commentary seemed nicely vibrant and compelling; despite the semi-frequent spaces, I still really enjoyed it.

On DVD One, we also find a list of the Awards won by Amadeus as well as a Cast and Crew area. The latter includes filmographies for director Milos Forman, writer Peter Shaffer, producer Saul Zaentz, and actors F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce.

From there we move to DVD Two, which includes two additional pieces. We see the filmís theatrical trailer. Presented anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby Surround 2.0 audio, this ad touts the original release of Amadeus, not the directorís cut. After that we find a 60-minute and 35-second documentary called The Making of Amadeus. This program uses the standard format. It mixes clips from the film, production stills and outtakes, and interviews. We hear from director Milos Forman, writer Peter Shaffer, actors Tom Hulce, F. Murray Abraham, Jeffrey Jones, Vincent Schiavelli, and Elizabeth Berridge, producer Saul Zaentz, musical director Sir Neville Marriner, executive producer/assistant director Michael Hausman, production designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein, choreographer Twyla Tharp, and costume designer Theodor Pistek.

Overall, this is a top-notch documentary. It covers most aspects of the production from beginning to end. We donít learn what inspired Shaffer to write the play, but the tale starts with Formanís introduction to the piece and his subsequent interest in it and development of it. From there we go through casting, which offers some very intriguing pieces of material. Not only do we get a look at call sheets with some big names on them, but we also see silent footage of a few tryouts. These obscure the faces of the actors, but Iím pretty sure they include Mick Jagger and Elizabeth McGovern. Later on, we check out some cool outtakes, such as one in which a performerís hat catches fire.

The backbone of the program comes from the interviews, though, and they provide a lot of excellent material. We get a solid look at the production, and I especially like the comments from the actors. We learn of the ways they worked together, and the remarks from Abraham and Hulce about the filmís climactic scene seem particularly compelling. Overall, this documentary packs a lot of great information into its hour, and it definitely deserves a look.

Note that this program does not repeat the documentary found on the Amadeus laserdisc from 1995. Most of the material is new. Almost all of the interviews come from modern sessions; only the comments of Abraham, Von Brandenstein, and Pistek emanate from the mid-nineties.

More than 17 years after I first saw it, I remain enchanted with Amadeus. The film hasnít aged a day, and it offers a lively and intriguing historical drama that brings its subjects to life with surprising energy. The DVD provides very positive picture and sound plus some solid extras. While the roster of supplements seems a little small, the quality of the material appears quite good; quality definitely beats quantity. Iím not totally enthralled with the longer ďdirectorís cutĒ of Amadeus, but this DVD still warrants a firm recommendation from me.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.7427 Stars Number of Votes: 276
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