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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Amistad [Blu-ray]


(Steven Spielberg, 1997)



Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: Deamworks SKG

Video: Dreamworks (Paramount)



Region: FREE! (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:34:43.315

Disc Size: 49,890,354,277 bytes

Feature Size: 46,642,268,160 bytes

Video Bitrate: 32.75 Mbps

Chapters: 24

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: May 6th, 2014



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



DTS-HD Master Audio English 4169 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 4169 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)

Dolby Digital Audio French 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps / DN -4dB
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps / DN -4dB / Dolby Surround
Dolby Digital Audio Portuguese 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps / DN -4dB / Dolby Surround



English (SDH), English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, none



The Making of Amistad (26:33 in SD)

• Trailer (2:38 in 1080P)





Description: This Steven Spielberg-directed exploration into a long-ago episode in African-American history recounts the trial that followed the 1839 rebellion aboard the Spanish slave ship Amistad and captures the complex political maneuverings set in motion by the event. Filmed in New England and Puerto Rico, the 152-minute drama opens with a pre-credit sequence showing Cinque (Djimon Hounsou) and the other Africans in a violent takeover of the Amistad. Captured, they are imprisoned in New England where former slave Theodore Joadson (Morgan Freeman), viewing the rebels as "freedom fighters," approaches property lawyer Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey), who attempts to prove the Africans were "stolen goods" because they were kidnapped. Running for re-election, President Martin Van Buren (Nigel Hawthorne) overturns the lower court's decision in favor of the Africans. Former President John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) is reluctant to become involved, but when the case moves on to the Supreme Court, Adams stirs emotions with a powerful defense. The storyline occasionally cuts away to Spain where the young Queen Isabella (Anna Paquin) plays with dolls; she later debated the Amistad case with seven U.S. presidents. The character portrayed by Morgan Freeman is a fictional composite of several historical figures. For authentic speech, the Africans speak the Mende language, subtitled during some scenes but not others



The Film:

Power in Hollywood: a tired subject if ever there was one, but ''Amistad'' demonstrates what it really means. It's the ability to use images like this flashback, and like the stark, agonizing depiction of the captives' Atlantic crossing right afterward, to create the full empathy and immediacy this subject matter deserves. It's the creative means to bring any experience home to an audience, whether it comes from a faraway planet or from our underexplored past. It's the ability to make a $75 million holiday movie about a shameful chapter in American history simply because one thinks that's the right thing to do.

Thus the worthiness of ''Amistad'' is irrefutable, as are its credentials despite the current legal uproar over source material. After all, this is a film featuring a cameo appearance by a former Justice of the Supreme Court (Harry A. Blackmun, seen briefly as the Justice rendering an 1841 decision). It has excellent cinematography (by Janusz Kaminski) with an avowed debt to Goya. It had Dr. Clifton Johnson, creator of the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University in New Orleans, to advise the filmmakers on African tribal life and translate portions of dialogue into the Mende dialect. It has two Academy Award nominees (one a winner) cast as American Presidents. Its authenticity is so earnest that it has real African actors shackled in real chains.

Excerpt from Janet Maslin at the NY Times located HERE


The revolt on a Spanish slave ship off the coast of Cuba in 1839 put the new American constitution to a severe test and gives Steven Spielberg an opportunity to demonstrate his mastery of the cinematic arts.

Essentially a costume courtroom drama concerning the rights of what used to be called savages, the film can hardly be accused of playing safe. One of its qualities is a refusal to compromise integrity for the sake of commercial advantage. The sentimental gloss put upon The Color Purple is missing here. These Africans speak a strange tongue and have no concept of Uncle Tom.

The inhuman conditions on the slave ship and the cruelty of its crew are presented as bad-enough-for-animals-good-enough-for-natives. The trade is seen for what it was, a lucrative barter of chattels. The idea that these black beasts might benefit from the legal protection bestowed upon civilised people is beyond the comprehension of slavers. Why not let a water buffalo vote?

Excerpt from Eye For Film located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

2.5 hour Amistad comes to Blu-ray to the delight of, director, Steven Spielberg's fan-base. The image seems solid without manipulation. It's dual-layered with a very high bitrate. There is some variation in style between from the grainier flashbacks - helping signify the time differentiation. Colors are subdued and certain scenes (Ocean swimming getaway attempt) standout as bright and impressive. Fine grain textures are notable in the background. Contrast exhibits black levels that vary, appropriately, depending on the being indoor or outdoor. The film gives a vérité-leaning to the brightness - seemingly without much artificial lighting made obvious in the indoor scenes. Everything looks authentic to the original, IMO. There is no noise or glaring deficiencies - the visuals are very clean without speckles or damage. There is only minor depth - more a function of the period style. This Blu-ray does it's job well in terms of representing the film's video in 1080P resolution.

















Audio :

A very robust DTS-HD Master 5.1 surround track at 4169 kbps is used and handles the myriad of effect noises and explosive aggression used in the seizure of the Spanish ship and the flashbacks. You can sense the film's aural power - and the track handles exporting the depth without issue. Spielberg’s go-to composer, John Williams has done the score with classical pieces included (Giovanni Battista Viotti's Andante from Quartet No. 2 In B Flat Major and Andantino from Quartet No. 3 In G Major). It has wonderful orchestrations with traditional African music chants (ex. Dry Your Tears, Afrika excerpted text from the poem by Bernard Dadié) and instruments sounding crisp in lossless. There are foreign-language DUBs and optional subtitles and my Oppo has identified it as being a region FREE disc playable on Blu-ray machines worldwide.


Extras :

For supplements only the past, 26-minute, behind-the-scenes featurette (in SD) is included. It has detailed information on the production, characters. There is also a theatrical trailer in HD.



I had seen the film on DVD many years ago but this 1080P presentation impacted me more significantly. Amistad is, kind of, mid-range Spielberg - and from that you can usually expect certain strengths. This is an excellent story told by a precision craftsmen. The performances are great and don't fall upon one significant protagonist character. As a variation from the director's formula - it doesn't use children. Without researching, I expect some poetic license with the history and plot. But taking everything into account, overall Amistad is a very entertaining piece of cinema. The Blu-ray is adept and provides a solid video presentation and impressive audio track. When you are in the mood for a film of this nature - the BD will certainly provide the best viewing you are likely to get of a movie that is frequently fascinating. 

Gary Tooze

April 30th, 2014


About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze






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