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Amadeus: Director's Cut

Warner Home Video

Starring Tom Hulce, F. Murray Abraham, and Elizabeth Berridge

Written by Peter Shaffer, from his stage play
Directed by Milos Forman

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Review by Dawn Taylor                    

"Make note of the new scenes in Amadeus!" implored my editor. "People are really going to want to know about the additional footage!"

Really. What people would those be, I wondered. Rabid Mozart freaks? Milos Forman fanatics? Webheads with "I love Tom Hulce" Internet shrines? I mean, Amadeus is a good movie. It may even be a great one. But honestly ... this isn't Apocalypse Now Redux.

However, it is an absolutely brilliant film. Radically adapted from Peter Shaffer's award-winning Broadway play, Amadeus manages something that movies about musicians rarely achieve — it doesn't stink. On the contrary, it manages to be hilariously funny, deeply moving, suspenseful, and romantic ... hell, Amadeus makes classical music sexy.

And it didn't need scenes added back into it, either.

*          *          *

Love him or hate him, one thing Milos Forman finesses with brilliance is casting. His decisions usually fly in the face of conventional Hollywood wisdom, yet he always manages to place actors who are eerily perfect for their parts — even when they're not the actors one would have imagined in the role. His decision to avoid established stars in the leading roles for Amadeus was a wise one; it allowed audiences to experience the characters and the story in a way they wouldn't have been able to through big-name actors.

Unfortunately, such seems to have put something of a curse on the cast, because the three primary actors have had to bear the substantial weight of their Amadeus characters for the rest of their careers. A respected Broadway actor/director, Hulce's film career has included some terrific smaller films, like Dominick and Eugene, Echo Park, and Slamdance — but he's never again had a role, or a film, even remotely as good as this one. F. Murray Abraham has acted in over 70 films, but to audiences he'll always be Salieri (a point slammed home in the comedy Last Action Hero when young Austin O'Brien warns Arnold Schwarzenegger, "Don't trust him — he's the guy who killed Mozart!"). And as for Elizabeth Berridge, who stepped in for an injured Meg Tilly as Mozart's wife, Constanze ... well, so far her highest profile role has been as the butch bus-station cop on John Larroquette's short-lived sitcom.

On the other hand, superb character actor Jeffrey Jones, who plays the Emperor, has continued a healthy and varied career, playing a wide variety of occasionally delightful characters (remember his turn as Criswell in Ed Wood?). There's a lesson here somewhere for actors, perhaps — be a good actor, certainly. And try for roles in good films. But beware of big, indelible roles in great movies, because you'll be Salieri for the rest of your life.

*          *          *

The "Director's Cut" version of Amadeus has 22 more minutes added to the running time. Why? Is it purely a marketing thing? Even listening to the excellent commentary track with Forman and scenarist Peter Shaffer, it's never clear what made the filmmakers do this, other than they just happened to have the footage lying around. Forman notes when scenes have been added, but doesn't really go into detail about why he wanted them added. He doesn't seem to have been dissatisfied with the original version at all, in fact, so it's a puzzler — and Shaffer, who already went through the torturous process of collaborating with the fractious director on the screen adaptation of his play 15 years earlier, doesn't offer much in the way of opinion, either.

Furthermore, what's been restored doesn't improve the film at all — and indeed, how could it? Amadeus is close to a perfect film, with nary a misstep in its entire two-and-a-half-hours-plus. So really, the added elements just emphasize points we already got the first time around. There's a few more scenes of Salieri conniving, and a couple more of Salieri and Mozart together (which only serve to make Mozart look even more clueless, actually weakening his character). There's a scene involving the down-on-his-luck Mozart attempting to give a lesson to the daughter of a wealthy man with a pack of distracting dogs, illustrating his ego/dignity even in the face of abject poverty. And there's a lot of extensions of scenes that didn't need extending. Overall, the additional material doesn't harm the film, not really, but it doesn't add anything, either. Frankly, I'd rather have the original theatrical version in a nice two-disc set and forego this "director's cut" entirely. Or at least have the additional footage available via seamless branching. As it is, the theatrical cut of Amadeus remains available on DVD only via Warner's original "flipper" disc from 1997.

That said, the digital transfer of Amadeus on this new edition is a beauty — rich and crisp with amazing depth. This is a beautiful film, with phenomenal outdoor scenes of 18th-century architecture (Prague stood in for Vienna in both the exterior and most interior scenes), indoor scenes lit by candlelight, snowy late-night exteriors ... all of it looks gorgeous here, in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1). And it sounds great, too. With the music playing as much of a role in Amadeus as any of the actors, it's wonderful to hear Mozart's masterpieces booming out in Dolby Digital 5.1 (or, if you choose, Dolby 2.0 Surround) without sacrificing dialogue. The audio mix is as good as one could ask for.

Disc One offers the feature film with a commentary track by Forman and Shaffer (it's scene-specific and very informative, if a little stiff — one gets the feeling that Forman and Shaffer never had what you'd call a buddy-buddy relationship), as well as cast-and-crew notes. Disc Two offers the theatrical trailer and the hour-long featurette The Making of Amadeus; as "making-of" features go, this one is very good, with lots of behind-the-scenes anecdotes, including a little cattiness — Shaffer calls his time at Forman's house working on the script "going to prison"; Forman says he cast Abraham because the actor's ego made him remarkably like Salieri in real life.

— Dawn Taylor

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