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Amadeus. The man. The music. The magic. The madness. This is the incredible, mostly true story about the relationship between two composers in 18th century Vienna -- Antonio Salieri, the successful court composer for Emperor Joseph of Austria, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a child prodigy who, while vulgar and irritating, writes the greatest music the world has ever heard. The film unfolds in a series of flashbacks, as Salieri is consumed with jealously by Mozart’s natural talent, and is unable to accept the knowledge that he will never possess the genius of a man he cannot stand.
For more about Amadeus and the Amadeus Blu-ray release, see Amadeus Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on February 11, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Milos Forman
Writer: Peter Shaffer
Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Simon Callow, Roy Dotrice, Christine Ebersole
» See full cast & crew
Amadeus Blu-ray Review
An engrossing Best Picture classic debuts in high definition...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, February 11, 2009
It's always a nerve-wracking experience to revisit former award winners and old personal favorites. Will an acclaimed masterpiece still pack the same punch it did twenty-five years ago? Will a nostalgic classic stir up the same feelings it once did? Will age leave a rousing drama with nothing more than dated performances and laughable production values? These are the questions I found myself asking as I removed Amadeus from its case and stared down at my Blu-ray player. Thankfully, all of my doubts and fears were put to rest within minutes; with each passing scene, director Milos Forman's staggering period biopic proved it deserved every Oscar it brought home, all the praise critics hurled its way, and every ounce of affection I've held for the film all these years.
Based on a 1979 stage play by screenwriter Peter Shaffer (which itself was inspired by Mozart and Salieri, a short play by Aleksandr Pushkin), Amadeus tells the sprawling tale of a young musical prodigy named Mozart (Tom Hulce) and his encounters with a manipulative rival named Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham). At the end of his life, Salieri -- committed to an insane asylum after attempting suicide -- decides to confess his sins to a priest... among them the murder of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Told through a series of flashbacks, Salieri describes how excited he was to learn he was going to meet the renowned genius, the intense disappointment he felt when he discovered the boy was a crude and foppish dolt, and the growing bitterness he developed towards God for giving a fool like Mozart such an extraordinary gift. Believing God was somehow mocking his meager talent, Salieri explains how he became obsessed with destroying the legendary composer's career and legacy; an obsession, he says, that led to Mozart's murder.
It's a loose biopic to be sure -- no one should come to Amadeus looking for a factual depiction of Mozart's life or death -- but the film's historical accuracy is beside the point. Shaffer's screenplay presents a story of rage, revenge, and madness; a cautionary tale that follows a well-regarded master composer as he falls prey to his own insecurities and self-doubt. Forman and Shaffer aren't concerned with the untimely death of a brilliant mind, they're focused on the slow descent of his rival. As a result, the story simmers with unexpected developments, dark twists and turns, and some truly unsettling performances from both Hulce and Abraham. Both men are at the top of their game, playing to their physical strengths as well as their carefully-honed crafts. They not only transform their characters into opposing sides of the same coin, they effortlessly present two variations of insanity that have evolved from the debilitating discontentment that consumes both their lives.
More importantly, Shaffer and Forman's depiction of Mozart becomes moot as well. Because the entire story is told from the perspective of Salieri (who, lest we forget, is recounting his story from the confines of a mental institution), the legitimacy and credibility of his every description is ironically undermined by his hatred for the film's title character and his own shaky state of mind. Because Mozart is an impish caricature in Salieri's mind, he appears so on screen. Because Salieri believes Mozart to be a curse from God, we see the fool's every action leading both men to ruin. To his great credit, Hulce deftly indulges his rival's skewed memories by creating an obnoxious, self-destructive creature that forces us to side, rather unexpectedly, with the mustache-twirling villain of the film. Mozart is a tragic figure to be sure, but Salieri is more so; a pitiful soul who's brought his terrible fate upon himself.
Even so, the film isn't just an engrossing study of envy and jealousy, it's a sumptuous period piece that continues to lure viewers into its lush 18th and 19th century vistas and candlelit chambers. In 1984, the film was nominated for more than fifty awards and took home eight Oscars (including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director, among others), but I'm fairly certain it would earn similar acclaim if it was released today. Forget the fact that it's a twenty-five year-old catalog film, Amadeus is a timeless classic that should be revisited by generations of filmfans for countless years to come.
Amadeus Blu-ray, Video Quality
Amadeus has endured its fair share of technical flops on home video. Early VHS copies didn't do the film's lavish production design or stunning cinematography justice, laserdisc failed to capture the details of Mozart's drunken exploits, and more recent DVD editions were littered with digital clutter, muddy colors, and murky details. For the most part, Warner rights these previous wrongs with an impressive 1080p/VC-1 transfer that outshines every other release of the film to date. Colors are richer, blacks are deeper (albeit slightly inconsistent from scene to scene), contrast is far more stable, and skintones are finally natural and lifelike. Delineation is still problematic in a few passing shots, but detail has received a significant bump in overall clarity and texture definition. Fabric and hair are crisp, edges are sharp, and background elements are refined. Moreover, the image doesn't suffer from rampant artifacting, source noise, or heavy banding. While I caught sight of some grain spiking, the print has been cleaned up quite well.
The only downside? Overzealous post-processing. Not only has digital noise reduction (DNR) been applied to the transfer, but edge enhancement has been peppered in to compensate for its ill-effects. While the artificial sharpening does firm up object edges (at the cost of injecting distracting halos into the proceedings), it fails to conceal the waxy close-ups, hazy textures, and intermittent motion smearing caused by the noise reduction. With some old fashioned love and affection, Amadeus could have remained faithful to its source and reaped the benefits of a high-def upgrade. Unfortunately, shortcuts were taken and the resulting picture falls short of its potential. The transfer may be strong enough to please DVD owners and satisfy fans of the film, but it simply doesn't reach the bar set by the best catalog transfers on the market.
Amadeus Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Warner's rich Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track improves matters, overcoming the film's age with resounding reproductions of Mozart's most stirring music. Violins croon their melodies in the center channel, slowly spreading their song across the soundfield as a resonant classical hall is painstakingly crafted before you. As their shrill cries grow louder, cellos bloom in their midst, giving way to the light wheen of bassoons and flutes fluttering across the soundstage. The trump of horns emerge from every direction as the rear speakers hurl the mounting whirlwind of sound around the listener with calculated abandon. Without warning, the entire orchestra erupts in a crescendoed flurry of instruments vying for your attention. Low-end tones rumble across the floor, treble tones are clean and steady, and meticulous prioritization preserves the slightest oboe in the storm of trumpets and timpani swirling around your home theater. Make no mistake, every time Mozart's compositions dominate the soundstage, Amadeus aggressively peddles its sonic wares to anyone willing to listen.
Of course, it's deflating anytime the music subsides since the rest of the film offers little more than conversational chit-chat and subtle environmental ambience. Don't get me wrong, dialogue is perfectly intelligible and well balanced, interior acoustics are realistic and convincing, and fidelity is quite commendable for a twenty-five year-old film... it's just that it all seems a bit uninvolving compared to the enveloping orchestral sequences. Uneven experience aside, Amadeus sounds great for a catalog classic and will exceed most viewers' expectations.
Amadeus Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Arriving in one of the more handsome Digibook cases I've seen, the 3-disc Blu-ray edition of Amadeus includes all of the substantial special features from its 2002 Director's Cut DVD counterpart, an extended version of the film, a bonus compilation CD that contains some of Mozart's finest music, and a Digital Copy for good measure. While the supplemental package only consists of a documentary and a commentary, the features' extensive and informative nature, the inclusion of the hour-long audio CD, and the quality of the 36-page production booklet make this release well worth its cost.
I foresee some potential gripes with this release. First and foremost, the Blu-ray edition of Amadeus (like the 2002 Director's Cut DVD) doesn't include the Isolated Score track available on the original 1997 DVD. As a result, discerning Mozart fans will have to hold onto their old copies of the film if they want to enjoy Sir Neville Marriner's unsullied efforts. Thanks to Blu-ray.com member "Paul.R.S" for making me aware of the missing track.
To a far lesser extent, it may also bother some that the digital copy disc is bundled in a small CD sleeve separate from the main digibook. Honestly, I don't see the point in keeping a DC disc in the case anyway -- you either use it (in which case the disc itself is worthless) or you don't (in which case you probably never will) -- so it didn't irk me. Now that I think about it, I wish Warner would bundle the digital copy separately more often. What did get under my skin was the Digibook itself. As much as I love the idea of pairing film, photographs, and the written word, the case itself is large and gangly next to more familiar Blu-ray cases. It's a shame that its width prevents it from sitting neatly alongside other releases. Ah well, aside from the missing Isolated Score, they're both minor complaints.
Amadeus Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you've never seen Amadeus, shut down your computer, make your way to a local video store, and rent a copy ASAP. It's a wonderfully acted, beautifully shot, and meticulously designed period classic that still holds up today. The Blu-ray edition is a great place to start. While its video transfer could have been more faithful to its source, it still offers a substantial upgrade over previous releases. Add to that an immersive lossless audio track, an engaging collection of special features, and an attractive digibook that includes an hour-long audio CD is sure to please newcomers and longtime fans alike. What more are you waiting for?
Amadeus: Other Editions
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• Amadeus Blu-ray Re-released on No-DigiBook Case - July 9, 2009
Warner Home Video has announced that it will rerelease 'Amadeus: Director's Cut' on September 15. This movie had already been released on Blu-ray on February 10, in a 'DigiBook edition', while the new edition will come in a regular Blu-ray case. Additionally, ...
• Today on Blu-ray - February 10th - February 10, 2009
In a time when a musicians' popularity rises and falls more often than the tides, it is somewhat difficult to imagine that a single person could be regarded as "the best", and that people could hold that sentiment over 200 years after his death. I of course speak ...
• Amadeus; A History of Violence for February - October 20, 2008
Warner Home Video has announced that they will bring the Oscar-award winning/nominated films 'Amadeus: Director's Cut' and 'A History of Violence' to Blu-ray on February 10th. Both films will be presented in 1080p VC-1 video accompanied by 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtracks. ...
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