Details At A Glance

Category Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) No
Rating Other Trailer(s) 1
Running Time 121 minutes Commentary Tracks None
RSDL/Flipper No/No Other Extras None
Region 4    
Distributor Columbia Tristar    
RRP $34.95    

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement Yes Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
English (MPEG 5.1)
English (MPEG 2.0 surround-encoded)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1    
Macrovision Yes    
Subtitles English 

Plot Synopsis

    Philadelphia was the first major Hollywood movie to broach the subject of AIDS and discrimination based on AIDS or homosexuality. Its content may seem a little dated and overly preachy now, but it needs to be viewed in the context of 1993, which is when it was made, which is when AIDS remained a somewhat taboo subject. It still does, to a lesser extent in 1998. In 1993, it was commonly assumed that you could catch AIDS by using the same utensils as someone who was HIV positive, or by shaking their hand, or by kissing or hugging them.

    Philadelphia stars Tom Hanks in his Academy Award winning role of Andrew Beckett, a young, up-and-coming Philadelphian lawyer who, unbeknownst to his workmates, is both homosexual and HIV positive. Andrew is made a senior associate at his law firm, and given the firm's prize case, a copyright infringement case. Simultaneously, one of the partners, who had previously worked with an HIV-positive woman, notes a lesion on Andrew's forehead which he recognizes as a Kaposi's sarcoma, a lesion commonly associated with AIDS.

    Andrew prepares the case, but is unable to be at work on the day it is due. The case mysteriously disappears, but reappears just before the deadline expires. As a purported result of this, Andrew is fired for incompetence. He is convinced that this has been set up to get rid of him as a result of his firm realizing he has AIDS.

    Andrew consults many lawyers with regards to launching a wrongful dismissal suit, but no one wants to take his case on. Eventually, he comes to Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), who initially rejects the case, but later accepts it when he sees Andrew being discriminated against in a law library. In this movie, Joe Miller is representative of the ordinary man in the street in regards to his opinions and attitudes. Joe makes it clear that he does not like homosexuals, but he has taken the case because an anti-discrimination law has been broken. One of the best scenes in the movie is when Andy leaves Joe's office for the first time. Joe is a lawyer who will take on anything ("you're the TV guy"), but rejects Andy's case. The look of total isolation and despair on Andy's face as he leaves Joe's office is heartbreaking and will bring a lump to your throat.

    We next meet Andrew's excruciatingly politically-correct family, who are all very supportive of Andrew and his partner, Miguel Alvarez (Antonio Banderas). They give their blessing to the legal action. Antonio Banderas is wholly unconvincing as Andy's lover. During the few close contact scenes between Andy and Miguel, the awkward body language indicates that neither Tom nor Antonio are comfortable with these scenes. Nothing beyond a hug is shown, presumably much to the actors' relief.

    Next, we enter the courtroom. The defendants are being represented by a woman (a miscast and unconvincing Mary Steenbergen) and a black assistant. During the progression of the courtcase, we also follow the changing attitude of Joe Miller, from a out-and-out homophobe through to a realization that everyone is simply human regardless of their lifestyle choices.

    Andy gets progressively sicker and sicker through the course of the trial, and collapses towards the end of the trial, necessitating his admission to hospital. He wins the case, and a $5 million dollar settlement, just before he passes away, once again forcing us to endure the excruciating presence of his appallingly PC family. There is one touching scene here, with Andy's younger brother saying goodbye to him, but unable to speak, and simply breaking down and crying. This is a little tarnished by the actress playing his mother, whom we see trying to suppress a smirk in the background.

    The movie closes with Andy's wake, where they are playing tapes of his childhood, which we zoom in on. Incidentally, the tapes are shown on a 16:9 TV at 16:9, not stretched, which makes for a convincing zoom in to the TV.

Transfer Quality


    This is a superb DVD transfer. It is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced.

    The movie was razor sharp at all times, except when the cinematography dictated otherwise. Shadow detail was excellent with clearly defined shadow detail without a trace of noise.

    The colour is clear throughout, and perfectly saturated throughout.

    No MPEG artefacts were seen.  There were a few print artefacts seen, more so than I am used to seeing in a Columbia Tristar release. These were a minor distraction only, however.


    There are several audio tracks on this DVD. The default audio is MPEG 2.0 channel, surround encoded. Also present are a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (which I listened to) and an MPEG 5.1 soundtrack, all in English.

    Dialogue was almost always clear and completely intelligible, and the only time it competed slightly with the music was during the opera scene. Even then, the dialogue was not difficult to understand. There were a few instances of momentary audio dropout but these did not last more than a fraction of a second. Of greater concern was the level of hiss present in the surround channels during the final hospital scenes, which was sufficiently loud to be distracting.

    The music was generally mellow, and suited the movie very well. I felt the best music was reserved for the end of the movie, during the wake and end credits.

    The surround channels were rarely used during the first part of the movie, except for the occasional atmospheric sound effect and slightly for the music. Within the courtroom, the surrounds were much more active, creating an enveloping soundfield which drew you into the on-screen action.

    The .1 channel did not get much of a workout except to support the music on the odd occasion.


    There are no extras on this disc except for the standard Columbia Tristar teaser trailer, which on this disc was presented non-16:9 enhanced and with only a MPEG soundtrack.


    Philadelphia was a chequered movie. There were many good points, such as Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington's acting, and there were several bad points, such as the miscasting of Antonio Banderas as Tom's lover, the miscasting of Mary Steenbergen as the defence attorney, and the excruciatingly politically-correct family. I enjoyed it to a point, and I can see why Tom Hanks won a Best Actor Academy Award for his role, but I felt that the movie tended to ram its message home too bluntly, which was to its detriment.

    The video quality is very good, and would have scored a reference quality mark if there were a few less artefacts visible. It is certainly up there with the best of the Columbia Tristar releases.

    The audio quality is just average - nothing special, but nothing particularly wrong with it either.

Ratings (out of 5)

Extras nil

Michael Demtschyna
22nd September 1998

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-505, using S-Video output
Display Loewe Art-95 95cm direct view CRT in 16:9 mode, via the S-Video input. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Denon AVD-2000 Dolby Digital AddOn Decoder, used as a standalone processor. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Amplification 2 x EA Playmaster 100W per channel stereo amplifiers for Left, Right, Left Rear and Right Rear; Philips 360 50W per channel stereo amplifier for Centre and Subwoofer
Speakers Philips S2000 speakers for Left, Right; Polk Audio CS-100 Centre Speaker; Apex AS-123 speakers for Left Rear and Right Rear; Yamaha B100-115SE subwoofer