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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 11/5/99

Immortal Beloved
Special Edition - 1994 (1999) - Columbia TriStar

review by Frank Ortiz, special to The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Immortal Beloved: Special Edition Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B/B+

Specs and Features

121 minutes, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch in chapter 16, at 1:03:36), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary by director Bernard Rose, theatrical trailer, documentary Beloved Beethoven, "making-of" featurette, film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), English & Spanish (DD 2.0), subtitles: English & Spanish, Close Captioned

Immortal Beloved is an enthralling film, with beautiful European locations, exquisite music, excellent direction, and stirring performances. But is it too good to be true? All controversy regarding true history set aside, this movie is utterly wonderful. It's an honest and beautiful film, that is more an experience than it is a bio-pic. In the theaters it captured me, and now I have the opportunity to be captured all over again on DVD.

Writer-Director Bernard Rose (who also made Candyman, of all things) provides a surreal window view into the passions and pains of Ludwig van Beethoven -- his life, his love and his music. The beauty and tragedy captured by the direction, and dramatic performances from Gary Oldman, Isabella Rossellini, Valeria Golino and Johanna ter Steege, are almost soul-zapping. It's many of the smaller details in this film that evoke so much of the emotion. Check out the detail in the deep-color lighting and period costumes. It just adds immensely to the totally visual experience.

The story, in its simplistic glory, is based on a letter that Beethoven wrote to a mysterious lover. The true identity of this love is forever lost to history, but the fun of this film is all in the interpretation of who he or she may have been. The movie begins with the grand entrance to the Fifth Symphony's first movement... the intro into the funeral of the great composer himself, Ludwig van Beethoven. We meet the secretary Anton Schindler (played by Jeroen Krabbe), who is attempting to complete the requests of Beethoven's last will and testament. In the process of going through his paperwork, a letter is found. From there, Anton makes it his mission to locate the intended recipient of the letter, Beethoven's immortal beloved. We then flash back to the mystery, as Anton does his detecting, and the audience gets to guess who it might be.

The main performance by Gary Oldman is wonderful. Oldman specifically learned how to play the piano for this film, to allow the musical performances to look true. Beethoven, the composer, created so much beautiful music... and ended up living most of his life without the simple joy of hearing it performed. Oldman's presentation of the character is as intense as it is believable. My own opinions on Beethoven were questioned: Do I accept this interpretation of his life? Could he have alienated himself from all his loved ones? Do I understand why he felt compelled to do so? Do I respect his accomplishments all the more? Regardless of my own conclusions, Oldman and Rose explore the complexity and mystery of Beethoven with respect and adoration. Two scenes always come to mind when I recall this movie -- on this DVD, they're chapter 8 (Testing a New Piano) and chapter 26 (Ode to Joy). Both scenes leave me speechless.

The video quality is just excellent. The 16x9 transfer shows exceptional clarity, with the deep colors well represented and with very good contrast. The sound is just as beautiful -- the DD 5.1 mix is clean and full, and conveys the film's soundtrack wonderfully. I did, however, notice that the DD 2.0 mix has a slight compression issue. I checked it on both on my stand-alone player and PC drive. It's serviceable though, if you keep in mind the slight contrasts in volume (loudness) level in the music's crescendos and decrescendos. A slight peeve is that there isn't a DTS track. If any disc screamed for DTS, this one does. DTS would have added even more depth to the audio, given that the music is so important in this film.

There are a couple of other extras: a Spanish language track (let's hear it for Columbia Tristar for including alternate languages on their Region 1 releases) and a commentary with director Bernard Rose. This commentary track is really great, as is the "making of" featurette, and the original documentary (entitled Beloved Beethoven). These bonus items really help round out an already stellar disc.

I can and will recommend this SE disc to fans of Gary Oldman's work, any music fans out there, and fans of DVD... which probably covers just about all of you. Sure, the story may make some leaps of faith concerning the known history this important man, but again, that's also the fun thing about this film. In any case, the storytelling by this cast and crew is simply amazing, and should not be missed by anyone.

Frank Ortiz
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