Amadeus stands as one of the most beautiful Bly-rays currently available. One of the most opulent films ever produced, director Miloš Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The People Vs. Larry Flynt) shot the film primarily in France, Austria, and the Czech Republic. Though most of the scenes take place indoors and there are no special effects to speak off, the opulent costumes, surroundings and music envelop the viewer from beginning to end.
Screenwriter Peter Shaffer based the film on his stage play, which focused on the last decade of Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s life; specifically, the musician’s rivalry with fellow composer Antonio Salieri. When the film as released in September of 1984, several scholars questioned the validity of Mozart’s portrayal as an immature, childlike figure and bristled at the notion that Saleri could have poisoned him out of jealousy; whatever the truth, the story as written makes for a great story. Add to that the films riveting scenery, costumes, music and talent actors and you have a near flawless movie that deserved each one of the eight Academy Awards Amadeus received, including Best Picture.

Amadeus1.jpgGiven the questions raised about the validity of Shaffer’s script, Amadeus should be looked at as a film loosely based on his life, rather than a straight biography. At the end of his life, Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham)–committed to an insane asylum after attempting suicide–decides to confess his sins to a young priest. First and foremost on his mind is the murder of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce). Salieri was once the most famous composer in Europe, but the priest doesn’t recognize anything he plays on the piano installed in his cell. That is, until the old man plays a work that the priest declares is “charming…I didn’t know you wrote that.” “I didn’t,” responds Salieri. “THAT was Mozart.”
Told through a series of flashbacks, Salieri recounts how excited he was to learn he was going to meet the genius, Mozart. Further, the overwhelming disappointment he felt when he discovered the young man was a disrespectful lout. Saleri goes on to explain, he couldn’t understand why God would give such a fool, such an extraordinary gift. Saleri became increasingly jealous. Mozart was able to come up with a piece of music on the spot; Saleri often had to put in hours of hard work to obtain similar results in quality. According to the film, despite Mozart’s obvious genius, not everyone appreciated his work. The Emperor Joseph II (by Jeffrey Jones), for example, contending that his operas contained “too many notes;” criticism that clearly hurt Amadeus throughout his life.
Shaffer’s screenplay is so well written, it’s impossible to avoid becoming engrossed in the story of rage, revenge, and madness. Amadeus is a cautionary tale that follows a brilliant composer as he falls prey to his own insecurities and self-doubt. Shaffer and Forman don’t concern themselves with the circumstances surrounding his untimely death. Instead, they focus on the slow descent of his rival. As a result, the story contains dark twists and turns that allowed F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce to both give riveting performances.
When discussing Amadeus, it’s impossible not to mention the music. Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields provide excellent support, playing the music of Mozart that fills the film. Amadeus is a film one can appreciate for its acting and for its visual splendor, to be sure, but also for the sheer exuberance of its music making.
The Blu-ray disc features the Director’s Cut of the movie, using about twenty minutes’ worth of material never seen in its original release and bringing the film’s length to an exact three hours. Some may argue that’s too long but most will find the time flies by. The additional scenes help to flesh out Saleri’s hatred for Amadeus. While additions aren’t crucial to the story, any film collector will want to add this edition to their libraries.
Amadeus comes to Blu-ray with an impressive 1080p/VC-1 transfer that outshines every other release of the film to date. Colors are richer, blacks are deeper, contrast is far more stable, and skintones are 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.
Unfortunately, some may notice the overuse of post-processing. Digital noise reduction (DNR) been applied to the transfer as well as edge enhancements to compensate for the effects of the DNR. While the artificial sharpening does firm up object edges, it doesn’t conceal waxy looking close ups and intermittent motion smearing caused by the noise reduction. So while most viewers will feel Amadeus looks great, cinemaphiles will likely feel Amadeus doesn’t match up to the standards of the best Blu-rays currently on the market.
The Warner audio engineers provide two English soundtracks, lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and regular lossy Dolby Digital 5.1. As one might expect, the sound, most of it musical, shows up best in TrueHD, robust and well defined. The regular Dolby Digital is a bit thinner and edgier by comparison. When the music opens up to the rear speakers, the ambient sounds are quite good, even though it is mostly musical bloom. There’s no question the musical passages benefit from the enveloping concert-hall resonance of the surround channels.
Besides the three-hour director’s cut of the film, the Blu-ray disc contains several bonus items. First, there’s an audio commentary with director Milos Forman and writer Peter Shaffer, both of whom are informative. Next, there is a one-hour, 2002 documentary in standard-def widescreen (1.85:1), “The Making of Amadeus,” which is highly entertaining. It includes interviews with the director, Forman; the producer, Saul Zaentz); the writer, Peter Shaffer; the stars, Hulce, Abraham, Berridge, and Vincent Schiavelli; the music conductor, Neville Marriner; and various other members of the crew. Together, these folks provide a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of preparing and shooting the movie.
The disc’s extras conclude with forty-six scene selections (although the forty-sixth selection, the end credits, is not on the disc menu); a widescreen theatrical trailer (SD, 1.85:1); English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian spoken languages; French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, and Swedish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired
The movie comes housed in a hardcover Digibook, which contains some thirty-eight color pages of pictures and text. Not only that, the Digibook also houses a bonus music CD compilation of eight Mozart selections, totaling over fifty-seven minutes, played by Marriner and the Academy. Plus, the set includes a third disc, a bonus digital copy of the movie (Windows Media-compatible only, not compatible with Apple Macintosh or iPod devices). However, the digital copy disc comes packaged separately from the Digibook, so you’ll have to figure out where to store it.