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review added: 12/20/02



Amadeus
Director's Cut - Special Edition - 1984/2002 - (2002) - Orion (Warner Bros)

review by Graham Greenlee of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Amadeus: Director's Cut - Special Edition Film Rating: A

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

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
180 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ???), audio commentary (with director Milos Forman and writer Peter Shaffer), filmographies, awards listing, film-themed menu screens, scene access (46 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0) and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Material
NR, widescreen (1.78:1), 16x9 enhanced, The Making of Amadeus documentary, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (15 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none


"Your work is ingenious. There are simply too many notes, that's all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect."

Told in flashback, Amadeus follows the dual storylines of both Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri, two composers trying to win the favor of Emperor Joseph (Jeffery Jones) in 18th Century Vienna. Salieri is basically a musical hack, desiring to be a famous composer since he was a child. It's not that he doesn't try, but he just does not possess the talent that Mozart does. Mozart, on the other hand, is a musical genius who can tear apart another composer work without effort, yet he doesn't even have enough discipline to earn a living doing what he's best at.

Salieri is immediately infuriated with Mozart, who feels as if every time Mozart laughs his childish laugh that it is God laughing, taunting Salieri for his lack of talent. Thus, Salieri conceives a plan to undermine Mozart and to destroy every ounce of humanity that Mozart can cling to. Nobody, except Mozart's wife, Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge), has the slightest idea of the evil underpinnings of Salieri.

At the heart of this entire spectacle is an excellent, compelling study of envy. Of course, an interesting question that can be brought up is that if we are raised in poverty or no skill in a particular area, is that your fate? Are you doomed to the situation that you're born in? Of course, the film doesn't answer this, but it does creep into your skin, and you'll find yourself asking many questions that you would not normally. Amadeus is a very physiological film, but thanks to great performances, as well as excellent writing and directing, it's easy to follow, and it's clear why it won the 1984 Best Picture Oscar.

It's quite amazing how well Amadeus has held up over the last 18 years. It is a film that could have been made fifty years ago or today (albeit as an independent film, most likely.) The excellent attention to detail crafts some of the most gorgeous sets and costume to grace the screen, and not only do they look good, but they feel lived in.

And of course, one can't mention the film with mentioning the score, which, as an adaptation of Mozart's music, is some of the best work you'll hear in a film score. It was promoted that none of Mozart's original work was in any way modified for use in the film, which in and of itself is an impressive feat. But those who are familiar with classical music will notice that early in the film, where Salieri imagines one of his own operas, the final note of the piece has been changed to be a more dramatic finale. So while the filmmakers held true to their promise about Mozart, they did modify Salieri's work. God continues to laugh, I suppose.

Amadeus was first released on DVD back in 1997, the format's inaugural year. At that time, Warner was forced to release this film, as well as others (such as Goodfellas and The Color Purple) as "flippers." They were called that because the technology of RSDL (Reverse Spiral Dual Layer) was a little costly to mass-produce, and the format was stuck with single layered discs. Instead of forcing a two-and-a-half-hour movie onto a single layer, and thus losing image quality, many of these films were split on different sides of one disc, forcing the viewer to eject the disc and flip it over to continue watching the film. This was one of the reasons laserdisc didn't take with mainstream home enthusiasts, and certainly was a problem that was corrected when it became cheaper to produce RSDL discs.

Now, in 2002, it's obviously easier and cheaper to press dual layered discs, and for this special edition of Amadeus, the entire three-hour director's cut is provided on one disc without flipping. I was a bit hesitant that the image would still appear compressed, but to my surprise this is a surprisingly vibrant transfer, devoid of any visible compression artifacts. Presented in anamorphic widescreen (in the film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio), the detailing on the sets and costumes is just amazing and completely devoid of artifacts. The colors are bright, and despite a great deal of red in the cinematography, I didn't notice any bleed. There is a fair amount of edge enhancement, with noticeable haloing, although it is unobtrusive.

Another jewel in this release's crown is the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix created specifically for the director's cut, which fully immerses you into the concert experience in many of the opera scenes. The surrounds are used wonderfully for sound effects that simulate the acoustics of the huge halls, and also to engulf you in applause. Even in non-performance scenes, the surrounds are used for the score, and while the score doesn't have an incredibly large dynamic range (the lows aren't that low and the highs aren't that high), it still has great fidelity. As does the dialogue, which is always intelligible, however booming the score is. (Just of note, the volume on this release is recorded at a higher level than on most DVDs, similar to the Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace release. Just a warning, the first note will give you quiet a shock.)

What this release lacks in number of extras, it makes up for in the sheer wealth of information, making this more of a special edition than a lot of day-and-date releases that seem to earn the name simply by having a lot of two-minute featurettes. First up on Disc One is the audio commentary with Milos Forman and Peter Shaffer. Both won Oscars for their work here, Forman for Directing and Schaffer for Writing, and nearly twenty years later, are still quite familiar and knowledgeable about the subject. They do a bit of back patting and repeating of what's on screen, but a lot of their comments, oddly enough due to the film's length, do not repeat very much from the The Making of Amadeus documentary on Disc Two. They include a great wealth of research and gossip about the locations and figures. Both make great banter between each other, and the track is informative and entertaining without becoming boring (given that you like the film.) Disc One also includes filmographies for many of the filmmakers and a full listing of the awards given to the production.

On Disc Two, The Making of Amadeus joins The Beginning and Godfather: A Look Back as one of my favorite documentary extras on a DVD release. While The Beginning gave a fly-on-the-wall experience for The Phantom Menace, and Godfather: A Look Back made you feel like you were part of the large filmmaking family, The Making of Amadeus puts you right into the middle of the making of the film, and impressively does so without a lot of behind-the-scenes footage. Told mainly with pictures and interviews with several members of the cast and crew, Making of... pulls you through their experiences from adapting the stage play to the film to the premiere. The material covering the problems with the Red Police while shooting in communist Czechoslovakia is particularly interesting. While it may sound like your run-of-the-mill promotional featurette, there is a sense of importance to the production, unlike your "Ho-hum, another movie" featurettes that we've been seeing lately. This is especially good if you've become somewhat jaded with DVD extras. Disc Two also includes the theatrical trailer for the recent re-release.

There may not be a great wealth of extras here, but the quality of the hour-long documentary and the full-length commentary are above average, and the transfers are quite nice. Many "older" films don't seem to hold up very well anymore, but Amadeus is a timeless, engaging drama, and is still very much recommended.

Graham Greenlee
grahamgreenlee@thedigitalbits.com




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