|Amadeus (Director's Cut)|
|Written by David Krauss|
|Thursday, 05 March 2009|
And that's just what rival composer Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) feels when he first meets Mozart (Tom Hulce) at the court of Austria's emperor, Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones). Salieri's dream is to create music the masses will revere both in his lifetime and beyond, yet his limited talent precludes him from achieving his goal. He's also insanely jealous of Mozart, a self-confessed vulgar man who's also a living conduit for some of the world's most beautiful music. Finished symphonies reside in his head, and he transcribes them without alteration or correction, almost, Salieri says, as if he's taking dictation. Yet Mozart's arrogance – coupled with an annoying, effeminate guffaw and immature attitude – alienates those around him, especially Salieri. Adding insult to injury, Mozart heartlessly degrades Salieri's compositions, turning the court composer's envy into hatred. To retaliate, Salieri hatches a deranged, potentially violent scheme to steal Mozart's glory and inflate his own reputation.
'Amadeus' is largely fictitious, but cleverly takes kernels of truth and weaves them into a compelling, substantive narrative. Both Mozart and especially Salieri are well-drawn, complex creations, and Shaffer (who won a Tony Award for his play and an Oscar for his adapted screenplay) infuses them with conflicting qualities. We admire Mozart, but it's tough to like him; we can relate to Salieri, yet can't approve of his actions. Still, despite all of his ill will, Salieri still appreciates Mozart's music. He may enjoy sabotaging the composer, but he's also Mozart's biggest fan. Tragically, though, the music that inspires him also plunges his soul into darkness.
Forman and Shaffer transform the stage play into an epic, but never allow the pageantry to outshine Mozart's music or the film's dramatic conflict. In the past, Hollywood has struggled to depict composers' lives, but 'Amadeus' gets it right by making the music an influential character in the drama. The Prague locations, lavish costumes, and meticulous set design immerse us in the 18th century, yet Forman makes the atmosphere so relatable, we often forget we're watching a period picture. In short, it's easy to see why 'Amadeus' won so many Oscars.
Abraham shines in his Oscar-winning turn as the tormented, conniving Salieri, especially during his scenes as an elderly man, while Hulce captures Mozart's playfulness and conceit, as well as his sober sense of purpose and enslavement to music. As Mozart's commoner wife, Elizabeth Berridge is far better than I remembered her to be, and this director's cut (which adds about 20 minutes to the film's running time) develops her relationship with Salieri more fully, lending her character and performance more depth.
Warner's 1080p/VC-1 transfer is far from perfect, but for an aged film, 'Amadeus' makes a fairly solid transition to Blu-ray. Many scenes are slightly soft, but there's a good amount of sharp, well-defined images that burst forth with excellent contrast and vibrant color. Pastels are especially impressive, and many costumes flaunt intricate patterns and lots of adornment, but there's never any shimmering or breakup. There is some film, but it suits the period and the film like quality of the transfer well. Blacks possess good depth and stable, true fleshtones predominate. Even Abraham's heavy makeup as the elderly Salieri looks very natural in high-def. A few close-ups look a bit smooth, but any enhancement effects aren't blatant enough to distress or annoy.
Some may say Warner's penchant for 16-bit audio might compromise Mozart's music, but this Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track really sings, providing pure, full-bodied tones with wonderful texture and shadings. The sound easily fills the room. Dialogue is well prioritized, and fine details are all vividly rendered.
'Amadeus' arrives on Blu-ray in an attractive digibook that includes a glossy 36-page booklet with production notes, cast and crew profiles, analysis, and trivia. The extras, all of which are in standard definition and ported over from the previous DVD release, include a lively audio commentary with director Forman and writer Shaffer, an hour-long documentary about the making of the film, and an audio CD compilation featuring eight symphonic and operatic tracks. There's also a digital copy disc for Windows Media Player only.
Like Mozart's immortal music, 'Amadeus' hasn't lost its luster. Twenty five years after it’s release, every element of this film continues to impress. The 1080p transfer may not be reference quality, but it's still a worthy upgrade, and the excellent high-def audio really enhances Mozart's music. This Best Picture winner most definitely deserves a spot on your shelf, especially in this handsome Blu-ray collector's edition.