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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Moscow on the Hudson (1983)

"I'm defecting! I'm defecting!"
- Vladimir (Robin Williams)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: November 27, 2001

Stars: Robin Williams
Other Stars: Alejandro Rey, Maria Conchita Alonso
Director: Paul Mazursky

MPAA Rating: R for (language, sexual situations, nudity)
Run Time: 01h:57m:00s
Release Date: November 27, 2001
UPC: 043396065369
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Robin Williams loves any role that lets him use an accent. Take a look at his resume. Mork and Mindy. Weird accent? Check. Aladdin? The Birdcage? Fern Gully? All feature Williams doing funny voices. With Moscow on the Hudson, I was expecting more of the same, namely, Williams doing two hours of thick-Russian accented shtick. Surprisingly, though, there's just as much drama as comedy in the film, and little of the humor that remains can be attributed to the usual over the top Williams antics. Of course, being surprised by a movie is often nice, and this one has some good things going for it. It's unbalanced at times, switching from broad satire to slapstick, to angst, but winds up nevertheless a heartfelt drama/romantic comedy about not taking anything for granted (hey, no one said the message had to be original).

Vladimir (Williams) is a performer in a Russian circus. One of his friends tells him of plans to defect to America while the group is visiting New York. Vladimir is reluctant to listen to such far-fetched ideas; the KGB has a tendency to institutionalize those with such rebellious intentions. But once he arrives in America, he is overcome by the sense of freedom. After a madcap chase by the KGB through Bloomingdale's, he manages to attract the attention of the media and law enforcement and is granted political asylum. The rest of the story features his acclimation to America, and his relationship with a fellow immigrant, an Italian woman named Lucia (Maria Conchita Alonso). He's taken with New York City, entranced by the freedom America offers. But he's also shocked by the coldness of many Americans, the way they take their freedom for granted.

Williams is in fine form as Vladimir. He keeps his overbearing qualities in check for the most part, and underplays his Russian accent. He actually learned to speak Russian for the role (the first 20 minutes is entirely in Russian, with subtitles). The rest of the cast is excellent as well, and Maria Conchita Alonso, an actress that has dropped off the radar in recent years, does some very fine work (and puts up with several scenes of superfluous nudity, and being groped by a shirtless and oddly hairy Williams).

Paul Mazursky, directing from a script he co-wrote, seems to have trouble deciding on a consistent tone. The early portions, set in Russia, are very serious and realistic, as Vladimir deals with the oppression of living under Communist rule. But when the film transitions to New York, it suddenly becomes almost farcical, with Williams crawling around on the floor of a department store to escape KGB agents dressed in expensive "decadent" American bathrobes. Then, as Vladimir begins to date Lucia, it becomes your standard romantic comedy, before switching to drama towards the end as Vlad struggles with the sometimes hard realities of freedom. Despite these radical shifts in tone, however, it's never uninteresting; it just feels a bit schizophrenic at times.

In the end, Moscow on the Hudson is really a love-letter to America. The unevenness almost works in its favor (it's as varied as New York's multi-cultured population). As one extremely unsubtle scene towards the end illustrates, despite the hardships of life is a "capitalist regime," we are all Americans, whatever our country of origin, and that, at least, is something.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: This transfer looks fine, for the most part. Colors are muted, and the entire picture has a somewhat overcast, dingy look. Edge enhancement is visible in a few scenes, but not a major problem. Artifacting and aliasing is mildly apparent on some busy shots of the cityscape. Black level is only fair, and shadow detail could be better, but both are acceptable. Fine detail is ok, but many scenes appear a bit soft. The print used was in good condition, with only a few noticeable lines here and there.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Moscow on the Hudson has a rare 4.0 mix, and the extra enhancements seem to be used almost solely for the score and ambient noise of the city. Dialogue driven comedies don't demand much in the way of flashy audio, and the mix sounds fine in that respect. Dialogue is good for the most part, but a few scenes suffer from obvious ADR. The music often seems a bit high in the mix, and has a slight tendency to sound a bit harsh and unsupported (the score might've benefited from the added LFE of a 5.1 mix). Overall, though, this suits the material fine.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Sleepless in Seattle, It Could Happen to You
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Paul Mazursky
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Director Mazursky contributes a rather dry commentary track that covers mostly production stories and the history of the project. Fans will no doubt appreciate many of his stories, but he seems to have come prepared to talk about certain things, and the result is rather rehearsed and sometimes dull. It's not a bad track, just an average one.

Also included are bonus trailers for It Could Happen to You and Sleepless in Seattle. There is no trailer for Moscow on the Hudson.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

An entertaining but somewhat uneven comedy, Moscow on the Hudson feels particularly appropriate today. What better time to remember the privileges and responsibilities of being an American?


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