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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Amadeus (Director's Cut) [Blu-ray]


(Milos Forman, 1984)






Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Saul Zaentz

Blu-ray: Warner Home Video



Region: All

Runtime: 180 min

Chapters: 45

Size: 50 GB

Case: Warner Blu-ray Book (2-disc)

Release date: February 10, 2009



Aspect ratio: 2.40:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: VC-1



English Dolby TrueHD 5.1; English, Spanish, French, German & Italian Dolby Digital 5.1.



English, French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese & Korean.



• Audio Commentary by Director Milos Forman and Writer Peter Shaffer

• Documentary: The Making of Amadeus (60 min.)

• Theatrical Trailer

• Bonus CD Disc: More Mozart (included in book)

• Digital Copy Disc (loose)



The Film: 9
A great deal has been written, sane and hysterical, about Peter Shaffer's play and, by extension, the movie, so I shall be brief: Amadeus is not about the life of Mozart. It is not about the death of Mozart. It exalts Mozart's music, but does not mean to instruct as to how its composition actually came about, nor when, nor where – at least not with any consistency.

The play isn't really about Mozart. It is about Salieri. Not the actual composer, but the idea of one such he could have been – a conservative, but very popular hack who might have realized the facile genius that was Mozart. Shaffer proposes a Salieri who believes and accepts that what gift he possesses has been conferred by God. In exchange for his talent and popularity at court,
Salieri lives the life of a virtuous man. We have the impression that he would have preferred not have to pay the price.

And then he meets Mozart whom Forman paints in broad strokes as an escapee from Animal House. He is a foul-mouthed, egotistical, debaucher. The very idea that his middle name should be "Amadeus" – "beloved of God" – so offends Salieri's notions about the moral order of the universe that, like Cain, he suffers a most profound grief for his God who has apparently forsaken him. How could God have granted this insect the gift of the angels! Salieri asks. Since Salieri cannot confront God directly with his rage, he resolves to return the offense by taking away everything that Mozart holds dear.



Image: 5/7
Transferred from the same master that created Warner's Director's Cut DVD, differences are subtle, but apparent: The DVD is flatter, darker in the darker scenes, brighter in the bright scenes; the DVD is consistently redder, to the point I think it would be fair to deem it a color cast, and it also reveals slightly more information on the edges. The Blu-ray is a little cleaner than the latest DVD, especially noticeable on the first frame on the far side of a cut. Neither image is very highly resolved. A certain blotchy quality is occasionally revealed on faces. Grain in varying degrees is present, as expected and hoped, but the image is soft to the point one feels the effects of DNR as well as its attempts at reversing its effects: waxy faces and artificial sharpening.


 DVD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM



DVD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM



DVD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM



DVD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM



DVD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM



DVD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM



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Audio & Music: 6/10
Alas, subtle as the improvement in image is of the Blu-ray over the DVD, I would not fault anyone who would be hard-pressed to hear the difference between its compressed and uncompressed audio tracks. I confess this came as something of a surprise for where but in the complex symphonies and operas would we be granted the realization of what high-resolution audio is all about. It's not that the audio is therefore insufferable, it's just that it is not particularly elevated. Part of the problem may reside simply in the mixing of the original music tracks into a surround matrix where focus and dynamic nuance is likely to be compromised. But this alone cannot account for the lack of difference. Even the dialogue is not all that much more clarified in Dolby TrueHD.


Operations: 4
Not much to go awry here – except that it does. I don't much appreciate loose inserts that describe the contents of a disc that has a permanent place in the box. The bonus CD is part of the 2-disc book, yet the index of its contents is easily lost. On the other hand, I only wish that the book form of presentation, as Warner offers here, was standard operating procedure for Blu-ray discs, as I cannot abide the cheap plastic cases that the great majority of international Blu-rays have had the bad luck to find themselves.




Extras: 6
The extra features for this Blu-ray disc are exactly the same as for Warner's 2002 two-disc Special Edition Director's Cut DVD, with the addition of a bonus disc of nearly an hour of Mozart recorded by Sir Neville Marriner and a Windows Media digital copy disc. The hour long documentary on the making of the film, made for the two disc Director's Cut DVD with interviews of Forman, Saentz, Shaffer and others and transferred in watchable standard definition, is very worthwhile, as is the feature length audio commentary, even though it duplicates much of what's on the doc.



Bottom line: 7
While I would have preferred a true and faithful high definition transfer, this new Blu-ray edition from Warner is the best home video available. Given the subtle improvement, if you are on the fence about an upgrade I recommend renting first. If you've never seen this movie, then there is no excuse not to buy it and watch it. And then watch it again.

Leonard Norwitz
February 15th, 2009








About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

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