Amadeus: Director's Cut Page 1

F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Simon Callow, Roy Dotrice, Christine Ebersole, Jeffrey Jones, Charles Kay, Kenneth McMillan. Directed by Milos Forman. Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 (anamorphic). Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround 2.0. Two discs. 180 minutes. 1984. Warner Home Video 37464. R. $26.99.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was arguably the greatest musical genius who ever lived. A child prodigy who began composing at the age of five, he produced more great music in his not quite 36 years than most composers do in twice that span.

Nevertheless, a movie about Mozart would probably never have made it past the pitch stage had it not been based on Amadeus, Peter Shaffer's hit Broadway play. Costume dramas are a hard enough sell in Hollywood, but a costume drama about a classical composer—even one so undeniably famous—might well have been seen as box-office poison for the predominantly under-25 movie audience.

But the success of this 1984 film, not to mention its sweep of eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor (F. Murray Abraham), Best Director (Milos Forman), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Peter Shaffer), make it look, in hindsight, like a sure thing. Credit must go to a delightful script that combines drama, great music, and a sly humor that neatly counterbalances what is fundamentally a serious biography—though one that, in the time-honored movie tradition, takes significant liberties with the facts. And the gorgeous production values don't hurt.

While the film's depiction of the title character as 35 going on 10 didn't sit well with everyone, it suited the plot perfectly. The film sees Mozart through the eyes of the Austrian court composer Antonio Salieri (Abraham), who takes music seriously but isn't a great talent. He knows that he can never hope to match the inspired skill of Mozart, who quickly becomes the toast of Vienna. Salieri both admires Mozart's music and resents the fact that a person so otherwise unworthy (in his eyes) should possess such genius. Fired with envy, he plots Mozart's destruction.

Amadeus first appeared on DVD in 1997, soon after the format's introduction. Those who own that disc may now feel free to toss it, for this new version is superior in almost every respect. For starters, the early release was a "flipper"—that is, it was spread out over a two-sided disc that required a manual turnover halfway through. The new version is a dual-layer disc requiring no interruption. The extras are also improved, with a commentary by director Forman and screenwriter Shaffer and, on disc 2, a "Making of" documentary that is fascinating and wide-ranging despite a proliferation of talking heads. Missing, however, is the earlier version's isolated music track—the only reason you might want to keep it.

But fans of Amadeus will be most interested in the addition of 20 minutes of previously unseen footage. None of it is really necessary, but it adds to the film nevertheless. One extensive new sequence, showing Mozart attempting to teach piano to the daughter of a wealthy Viennese, emphasizes the important plot thread that Mozart was constantly short of cash. It also clarifies the scene in the original cut showing Mozart walking through the streets drinking from a bottle of wine.

Some will be disappointed that the new additions have changed the film's rating from PG to R (for brief nudity). This could have been avoided with seamless branching, giving the viewer the choice between the theatrical and director's cuts.

By far the most significant change from the first DVD, however, is this one's vastly better video transfer, taken from restored film elements. The old DVD looks almost fuzzy by comparison. There's still an occasional soft scene here and there, but overall, you'll like what you see. The sound is also excellent, though the 5.1-channel track appears to be essentially the same remastering used on the first release.

Altogether, this is a first-rate set that finally gives a great film the DVD version it has always deserved.