Lost in the living room

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 March, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 March, 1994, 12:00am

IF this evening's big films prove one thing it is that what is excellent on the big screen is often only average when compacted for the small screen. Amadeus (Pearl, 9.30 pm) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (World, 9.30 pm) are two of the finest cinema productions of Hollywood's modern era, but both lose much of their power, scope and vision when forced through a small glass tube into a living room. Like a fat lady in a tight dress, something has got to give, usually the cinematography.

Amadeus, directed with great panache by Milos Forman, got an Oscar nomination for its cinematography and won seven others, including Best Picture; 2001 picked up an Oscar for Best Visual Effects, when it was released in 1968 (it seems like an eternity ago). So both films have a lot to lose on television, and lose it they do.

Amadeus is less about the genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and more about the would-be genius Salieri - a memorable performance by F. Murray Abraham - whose music never rose much above the mediocre. Mozart, meanwhile, had composed a dozen or so minuets by the time he was five. It is amazing what children can do when you take away their Nintendo games.

Do not forget that Amadeus is not strictly fact, although Peter Shaffer, who adapted the screenplay from his own play, was first to admit it. The masked stranger who commissioned the Requiem Mass (available on CD in all good record shops) was not sent by Salieri, but by Count Franz von Valsegg, an amateur musician who ordered works from professionals and performed them under his own name.

The circumstances of Mozart's death are not explained in the film, but he died of heart failure resulting from attacks of rheumatic fever in his youth. He died unknown, penniless and was buried in a pauper's grave in Vienna that has never been located.

JOHN Lennon, who was famous when he was alive and became more so when he died, said of 2001: A Space Odyssey that it ought to be shown in a temple 24 hours a day. It is still cited as the most influential film of the last 25 years, although no one is exactly sure why, because no one really understands it.

Director Stanley Kubrick said he was delighted by the confusion it caused. He wanted to leave questions unanswered to pique his audience's interest. The re-birth of Dullea at the end is thought to signify something important about man's next step forward, but like everything in 2001 that is open to debate.

All the effects that make films so mind-boggling today were first tried out for 2001. The ''location'' photography of the moon pre-dated Neil Armstrong's ''giant leap for mankind'' by more than a year, but still got it exactly right.

The only thing about Kubrick's masterpiece that looks dated is the size of the effete computer HAL's memory. We now know it would fit in a teacup.

BACK on Earth, Judge Adam Biel is pontificating again in LA Law (World, 1.40 am), while Rollins, whose memory would fit in a vessel a great deal smaller than a teacup, is unhappy with the progress he is making with his overpaid therapist.

MORE back-slapping in the run-up to the Oscars, this time in the form of The 20th Annual People's Choice Awards (Star Plus, midnight). The awards honour American television shows and the recipients are selected by polling viewers.

LIFE in China is changing as fast as Lorraine Hahn's hairstyle. In The Pearl Report (Pearl, 7.20 pm), Hahn introduces a report about how much it is changing.

There is news on the trend in China for stealing luxury cruisers from Hong Kong and turning them into casinos or ferries, and we meet executives who train their brains by walking through fire. If only Salieri had known.