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HTF Blu-ray Review: Amadeus Director's Cut



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#1 of 35 Todd Erwin

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Posted February 24 2009 - 06:46 AM

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Amadeus Director’s Cut (Blu-ray)



Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 1984/2002
Rated: R
Film Length: 180 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish, German, Italian)
Subtitles: English (SDH), French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Swedish




US DVD Release Date: February 10, 2009


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In 1984, director Milos Forman and playwright Peter Shaffer brought the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to the big screen in Amadeus, and Warner Brothers has released the 2002 director’s cut to Blu-ray. Sadly, the original theatrical cut is not available on this release.

The story is told in flashbacks by Antonio Salieri (in an Oscar-winning performance by F. Murray Abraham) as part of a confession to a priest after attempting suicide. The focus of the story is on the rivalry between the mediocre Vienna Court Composer Salieri and the magnificent Mozart (Tom Hulce, in an Oscar-nominated performance). What torments Salieri the most is that such wonderful, inspired, and sublime music could come from such a vulgar, spoiled young man, which eventually drives Salieri mad.

Amadeus is beautiful in both its music and art design, and contains solid performances from each member of its then-unknown cast. In addition to Abraham and Hulce, be on the lookout for Jeffrey Jones as Emperor Joseph II, Elizabeth Berridge (cast after Meg Tilly had to bow out just prior to production due to an injury) as Mozart’s wife, Costanze, Roy Dotrice as Mozart’s father, Christine Ebersol as the object of Salieri’s secret affections, and a very young Cynthia Nixon as the Mozart’s housekeeper and Salieri’s spy.


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Amadeus has had a very bad record on home video, with most prior releases suffering from washed out colors, giving the film a dull, grey palette. These prior releases are what has kept me from watching this film in its entirety all these years.

The good news about this Blu-ray release is that Warner’s 1080p VC-1 encode is a vast improvement, with solid colors and deep blacks. The bad news is that it does appear that some DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) may have been applied, which does on a few occasions produce smearing and pasty-looking flesh tones, but I found them to be few and far between, and almost purposeful considering the makeup styles of the period. The DNR does not hamper detail in strands of hair, fabrics, etc., especially F. Murray Abraham’s complexion.

Considering the film was made in the early 1980s, when much of the film stock used during this period has since proven to be unstable, and that it was an independent production filmed and processed in Prague under Communist rule, this is probably the best Amadeus is going to look.


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Warner has provided both a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (encoded at 640 kbps) as well a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack for this edition of Amadeus, with the disc defaulting to the lossy Dolby Digital track. I find this a bit of a head-scratcher because the Dolby TrueHD track, by design, has a core 5.1 lossy soundtrack (in this case, also encoded at 640 kbps) to provide backwards compatibility with older systems, such as mine. Thus, I find it somewhat unnecessary to include the lossy Dolby Digital track. In an A/B comparison, I found the Dolby Digital track to be identical to the core track included on the Dolby TrueHD.

Amadeus is a very dialogue-driven movie, and for the most part is a very front-heavy mix. The exception is during musical passages, where the room fills with the sonic brilliance of Sir Neville Marriner’s arrangements of classical music by Mozart and Salieri. The dynamic range and deep bass are very impressive.


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It appears as though Warner has ported over all of the special features from the previous 2-disc DVD.

Commentary By Director Milos Forman and Writer Peter Shaffer – Forman and Shaffer discuss the making of this film, and pepper it with tidbits on how the stage play differs from the movie, trivia on the characters and actors, as well as other urban myths surrounding the lives of Mozart and Salieri. Although there are times of dead silence between the two, this is a very enlightening listen.

The Making of Amadeus – This one-hour documentary features interviews with all of the principals, including Forman, Shaffer, Tom Hulce, F. Murray Abraham, Elizabeth Berridge, and Jeffrey Jones. They all tell interesting and often amusing stories of making this film in Prague when it was still under Communist rule.

Warner Brothers has issued this Blu-ray release of Amadeus in its digi-book packaging, complete with a 35 page color insert of text and photos of the production. I have mixed feelings about the digi-book. While it looks classy at first, the corners of the cover have already become slightly bent, and a few of the pages are becoming bent, as well. The binding used in this design also makes it difficult to page through the book easily.

Warner has included a Special CD Compilation of 8 tracks of Mozart’s music that is featured in the movie. The disc is housed in the back of the digi-book as part of the packaging.

Also included is a Digital Copy of the film on DVD-Rom. Sadly, Warner has only included a Windows Media version that can only be played Windows-based computers and laptops, and Windows Plays For Sure portable devices. There is no option for iPods, iTunes, or Macs. Having recently shopped for a portable media device, I can safely say there are no current portable devices on the market (from a major manufacturer) that can play Windows Media video files with DRM protection.


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Amadeus came very close to a Highly Recommended, if it were not for the video transfer used on this release. Also, I found the lack of an iTunes option on the Digital Copy very disappointing. Still, this is not the major disappointment that many on the internet have made this disc out to be. It is not a great disc, but it is not a bad disc either.



This DVD was reviewed on the following home theater gear:
  • Toshiba 56HM66 DLP HDTV
  • Sony Playstation 3 (outputting to 1080i)
  • Yamaha HTR-5940 Home Theater Receiver (in 5.1 configuration)
  • Yamaha NS-AP2600 Home Cinema Speaker Package
  • Yamaha YST-SW010 subwoofer


#2 of 35 Scott Merryfield

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Posted February 24 2009 - 07:25 AM

Quote:
Warner has provided both a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (encoded at 640 kbps) as well a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack for this edition of Amadeus, with the disc defaulting to the lossy Dolby Digital track. I find this a bit of a head-scratcher because the Dolby TrueHD track, by design, has a core 5.1 lossy soundtrack (in this case, also encoded at 640 kbps) to provide backwards compatibility with older systems, such as mine. Thus, I find it somewhat unnecessary to include the lossy Dolby Digital track. In an A/B comparison, I found the Dolby Digital track to be identical to the core track included on the Dolby TrueHD.

Actually, that is incorrect. Dolby TrueHD does not contain a lossy 5.1 core. Instead, there is always a separate DD5.1 track present, although it is sometimes hidden from the menus.

DTS HD MA, on the other hand, does contain a lossy DTS 5.1 core.

#3 of 35 Todd Erwin

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Posted February 24 2009 - 08:34 AM

From Dolby's website:

Quote:
The coaxial or optical digital audio output enables 5.1-channel playback through A/V receivers and home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems equipped only with Dolby Digital decoding*. While you won’t realize the full high-definition capabilities of Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks, the sound quality can be better than that of standard-definition DVD, because your Dolby Digital receiver can take advantage of a higher 640 kbps core Dolby Digital signal on Blu-ray™ discs.


#4 of 35 Michael Reuben

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Posted February 24 2009 - 09:04 AM

Todd, we just went through this at enormous length in the Warner/TrueHD thread. Scott is correct, and that particular passage on Dolby's website uses the term "core" in a very misleading fashion, as is suggested by the footnote you omitted:

Quote:
*The player requires a Dolby Digital Compatible Output feature to enable the output of decoded Dolby TrueHD signals as a 640 kbps Dolby Digital bitstream.
Huh, one might well ask?

TrueHD is based on MLP coding, while DD is based on AC3. These are entirely different digital formats, and you can't extract a "core" of one from the other without a conversion. Hence the need for a DD "compatible output" on the player to get DD directly out of a TrueHD track. But, it's beside the point because, to maintain compatability, content providers always give a DD track, whether or not it's listed on the menu. Here's the explanation from Adam Barratt, our resident expert:

Quote:
There are only two tracks present: one TrueHD and a complementary Dolby Digital track for backward-compatibility. If the TrueHD track can't be processed by a player, the second track is used instead and the TrueHD bypassed entirely.

There is no 'core' legacy Dolby Digital track that can be extracted from 'within' a TrueHD stream. The technologies used by these two formats are fundamentally different and incompatible.

TrueHD doesn't use legacy lossy audio as a foundation (i.e. core plus extension) the way DTS-HD and Dolby Digital Plus do/can. There is simply nothing to extract. If a TrueHD track can't be processed by a player, it is ignored. The separate legacy track(s) that can be processed is/are used instead (PCM, DTS or, in most cases, Dolby Digital). The TrueHD track plays no part at all.

The lack of a legacy core to extract, together with the point made by Michael earlier that TrueHD compatibility isn't mandated in the Blu-ray spec while Dolby Digital is (among others), is why Warner (and others) include a completely separate Dolby Digital track on their discs. How or whether this track is accessed is up to the studio. Warner allows the track to be selected directly via the menu system. Sony instead hides the track and uses logic within the player to play it when required. Both methods still use same two separate soundtracks, however.

If Warner (or Sony etc.) really wanted to, they could include a TrueHD and a DTS-HD track together; or a TrueHD and a PCM soundtrack, or any combination that included a TrueHD soundtrack and a second soundtrack that could be processed by all Blu-ray players (Dolby Digital, DTS or PCM: the formats players are mandated to support) for compliance. They choose to use Dolby Digital because it offers the greatest compatibility for users with legacy equipment.

The processes used by TrueHD (and Dolby Digital Plus) are explained in more detail in Dolby's TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus White Paper.

Adam

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#5 of 35 Matt Butler

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Posted February 24 2009 - 09:34 AM

Ok guys,
Ive never seen Amadeus and I hear bitching here and other HT forums about the lack of the theatrical cut.

Is the theatrical cut better for some reason? Or are ther complaints more for wanting the option of both cuts? I would like to see this movie sometime and want to know which version to look for.

Thanks.
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#6 of 35 Todd Erwin

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Posted February 24 2009 - 10:15 AM

Michael,

Thanks for the clarification.

#7 of 35 JohnMor

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Posted February 24 2009 - 10:15 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Matt Butler
Ok guys,
Ive never seen Amadeus and I hear bitching here and other HT forums about the lack of the theatrical cut.

Is the theatrical cut better for some reason? Or are ther complaints more for wanting the option of both cuts? I would like to see this movie sometime and want to know which version to look for.

Thanks.

Having seen both versions several times, I think the Director's Cut is a better film. The additions add immeasurably IMO. But I see no reason not to include both in this day and age if so many people want it. Unless of course the director and/or producers prefers to "bury" the original, which I feel would be their right.

But the lack of the theatrical cut would never be a deal breaker for me on this. Quite frankly, I don't care if I ever see the theatrical cut again.

#8 of 35 Mike Frezon

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Posted February 25 2009 - 01:46 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Matt Butler
Ok guys,
Ive never seen Amadeus and I hear bitching here and other HT forums about the lack of the theatrical cut.

Is the theatrical cut better for some reason? Or are ther complaints more for wanting the option of both cuts? I would like to see this movie sometime and want to know which version to look for.


Matt: Until you've seen both, you'll never know which one you prefer.

I prefer the theatrical cut myself. The extended cut is interesting...but, for me, just serves to make the movie longer. There's no definitive answer to your question. Apples and oranges. (It should be noted, however, that Elizabeth Berridge "shines" in the footage of the extended cut.)

But John is definitely right that there's no reason both cuts shouldn't have been included on this release--and provide that very option so people could choose to watch the version they prefer--or both!

There's Jessie the yodeling cowgirl. Bullseye, he's Woody's horse. Pete the old prospector. And, Woody, the man himself.Of course, it's time for Woody's RoundUp. He's the very best! He's the rootinest, tootinest cowboy in the wild, wild west!


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#9 of 35 Todd Erwin

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Posted February 25 2009 - 02:55 AM

In doing my research for this review, I found that the theatrical cut was rated PG, while this Director's Cut received an R from the MPAA.

#10 of 35 Mike Frezon

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Posted February 25 2009 - 04:56 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Toddwrtr
In doing my research for this review, I found that the theatrical cut was rated PG, while this Director's Cut received an R from the MPAA.

I suspect that most of that difference is due to the footage I slyly referenced above of Miss Burredge. Posted Image

There's Jessie the yodeling cowgirl. Bullseye, he's Woody's horse. Pete the old prospector. And, Woody, the man himself.Of course, it's time for Woody's RoundUp. He's the very best! He's the rootinest, tootinest cowboy in the wild, wild west!


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#11 of 35 RDarrylR

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Posted February 25 2009 - 05:12 AM

Was that really enough to push it to an R? It wasn't much compared to what you see in most films these days.

#12 of 35 Mike Frezon

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Posted February 25 2009 - 05:24 AM

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Originally Posted by RDarrylR
Was that really enough to push it to an R? It wasn't much compared to what you see in most films these days.

I'm pretty sure that was the reason given at the time of the first release of the Extended Cut. And, IIRC, people were surprised at the change-in-rating based upon the change-in-content.

There's Jessie the yodeling cowgirl. Bullseye, he's Woody's horse. Pete the old prospector. And, Woody, the man himself.Of course, it's time for Woody's RoundUp. He's the very best! He's the rootinest, tootinest cowboy in the wild, wild west!


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#13 of 35 Greg_M

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Posted February 25 2009 - 06:26 AM

Her boobies get the "R" rating in a scene I could have done without - but I actually prefer the theaterical cut - after all it is the cut that won the Oscar. Some of the back stories were interesting but really do add to the lenght of an already long film.

#14 of 35 ManW_TheUncool

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Posted February 25 2009 - 10:50 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg_M
Her boobies get the "R" rating in a scene I could have done without - but I actually prefer the theaterical cut - after all it is the cut that won the Oscar. Some of the back stories were interesting but really do add to the lenght of an already long film.

Hmmm... I wonder. Are the cuts conveniently placed at chapter stops? Not the smoothest way to go of course, but maybe just pressing the chapter skip (or have a BD player that can be programmed for that Posted Image) would work, if that's the case.

Anyway, yeah, they really should've just included the theatrical cut via seamless branching. But I'm glad that the video quality is not nearly as bad as the original impression I got from RAH's thread now that I have it on order...

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#15 of 35 Rachael B

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Posted February 25 2009 - 12:14 PM

My copy should arrive in the Post tomorrow. It definitely will be the night's feature presentation. I'm not wild about the idea of an already long film increasing by 22 minutes. I viewed the reg-lar version on HD Net Movies last year. It looked fairly good there as best I recall. I hopr that the added footage doesn't stick out from the original footage like on some other extended versions of films.

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#16 of 35 Johnny Angell

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Posted March 08 2009 - 05:27 AM

I have only watched part of the film and I find it to be gorgeous. When the film is putting Mozart's music front and center it is wonderful to listen to.

I have watched the making of doc and foiund it quite good. At least 2 notches above your typical talking heads doc (though there are talking heads). The story of how EB got the Costanza role is very interesting.

One thing I wish they had covered (maybe they do in the commentary) is the creative decision behind Hulce's laugh. I have always enjoyed it but I think it was an unusual choice to make. Was that in the play?

I have always thought the Hulce didn't get enough credit for his performance. It was his bad luck (if having the title role in a great film can be bad luck) to be opposite an actor who knows he's got the role of a lifetime.
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#17 of 35 Rachael B

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Posted March 08 2009 - 06:24 AM

.....might be the best $14.99 I ever spent on a video disc...? The more footage seldom seemed like more but the little bits added up. The True audio was truly good. I almost wish they hadn't made the film longer....that's my only whining post.
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#18 of 35 Brian Borst

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Posted March 08 2009 - 09:27 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Angell
One thing I wish they had covered (maybe they do in the commentary) is the creative decision behind Hulce's laugh. I have always enjoyed it but I think it was an unusual choice to make. Was that in the play?

I have always thought the Hulce didn't get enough credit for his performance. It was his bad luck (if having the title role in a great film can be bad luck) to be opposite an actor who knows he's got the role of a lifetime.

Some letters were found that described Mozart's laugh as 'infectiously giddy' and 'the scraping on a chalkboard', so there's some truth to it. And I think the performance of F. Murray Abraham elevated Tom Hulce's as an actor as well. Both incredible performances.
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#19 of 35 Johnny Angell

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Posted March 08 2009 - 09:46 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Borst
Some letters were found that described Mozart's laugh as 'infectiously giddy' and 'the scraping on a chalkboard', so there's some truth to it.
Well, aren't those opposite reactions. One person's melody can be another's noise. Thanks for the info.
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#20 of 35 WillG

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Posted March 08 2009 - 09:49 AM

Quote:
Was that really enough to push it to an R? It wasn't much compared to what you see in most films these days.


I'm pretty sure that was the reason given at the time of the first release of the Extended Cut.

Personally, I think this a perfect example of the sheer inconsistant nature of the MPAA. A brief, non-expolitave, medium shot of a woman breasts knock Amadeus up to an R, yet a movie like Titanic that had more nudity, a sex scene, harsher language and some horrifically disturbing images can get a PG-13. I guess the only rationale could be that it was sort of a seduction scene, but still pretty tame.

I'm watching this for the first time in like 15 years or so. So I don't remember the theatrical cut as well as many of you guys. What else is different? Also, I can't help but notice that Hulce seems to play a pretty similar character in "Parenthood"
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