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Tom Stoppard
Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Richard Dreyfuss, Iain Glen
Tom Stoppard

Two minor characters from the play Hamlet stumble around unaware of their scripted lives and unable to deviate from them.
Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 118 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 1/12/2016

• Interviews with Writer/Director Tom Stoppard
• Interviews with Actors Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Richard Dreyfuss


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead [Blu-Ray] (1990)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 7, 2016)

For an unusual riff on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, we go to 1990’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. In the original play, Rosencrantz (Gary Oldman) and Guildenstern (Tim Roth) function as Hamlet’s childhood friends who consult with him in a couple of brief scenes.

In Dead, however, they come to the fore – sort of. After a series of perplexing events – such as a ridiculously long streak of coin flips come up “heads” every time – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern slowly start to realize that they don’t exist outside of the play and they lack identity or purpose. They go through an existential journey punctuated by their occasional appearances in Hamlet.

Writer/director Tom Stoppard adapted the movie from his own 1966 play, and Dead’s roots become a major issue. The material seems much better suited for the stage and never fits the film format in a satisfying manner.

Put simply, Dead doesn’t offer an especially cinematic experience. Stoppard struggles to fill all the settings and spaces, which leads to an oddly turgid experience.

Don’t get me wrong: Dead offers a terrific premise, and it occasionally explores its notions in a satisfying manner. The notion of a story that focuses on minor characters – ones who don’t understand their place in the universe – and that allows them to comprehend their own lack of depth seems intriguing, and parts of the movie work well.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of those moments come early in Dead, and the tale loses steam as it goes. The material on display rarely manages to rise above the promise of its concept, so we’re left with a slow, borderline interminable exploration of… not much.

The construction of the tale harms it. If the leads interacted with Hamlet more often, we could see better conflict and development. However, the movie spreads out events so much that we often forget Hamlet exists – we find ourselves stuck with R&G on their own, and tedium results.

All of this feels like a shame, as Dead sports so much potential. As mentioned, I like the basic premise, and with folks like Oldman, Roth and Richard Dreyfuss on board, a lot of talent shows up here.

They can’t elevate the often tedious material, though. Perhaps a much shorter version of Dead would’ve been more satisfying – or maybe one with more life and vivacity. As it stands, Dead plods too much of the time and lacks the energy needed to succeed. Stoppard later won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love - that’s a more satisfying exploration of similar dramatic territory.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus B

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The image had its ups and downs.

Sharpness was mostly fine. The majority of the film showed reasonably good clarity, though a few soft spots occurred. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and edge enhancement remained absent.

Source flaws became the biggest distraction here. While not heavy, I saw small specks on a consistent basis. These could have been more prominent, but they still showed up more often than I’d like.

I didn’t anticipate a vivid palette from Dead, and the colors followed suit. Despite those expectations, I thought the hues looked perfectly fine. They remained appropriately subdued but still demonstrated solid clarity and delineation. Blacks were dark and dense, while shadows showed reasonable smoothness and definition. A few overly thick scenes occurred, but most appeared fairly clear. The transfer was generally positive but it remained a mixed bag.

Don’t expect a lot from the low-key DTS-HD MA.2.0 soundtrack of Dead, though it suited the material well enough. The soundfield appeared somewhat restricted. The forward speakers offered a decent spectrum in which we heard ambient audio from the sides. It remained gentle at most times, though some useful sound could pop up here or there.

However, I thought things tended to be a little too “speaker-specfic”, as a few elements were too localized for my liking. The surrounds mainly provided reinforcement of the forward speakers. Music and some effects appeared from the rears but this was usually a front-oriented soundtrack.

The quality was reasonably positive. Dialogue could be a little wooden, but the lines were usually accurate enough. Effects were clear and clean without any distortion, and they also demonstrated reasonable dimensionality. Through the film, the music appeared well rendered. Nothing much happened here, but the audio was acceptable.

In terms of extras, the Blu-ray includes a series of interviews. First we find a new chat with writer/director Tom Stoppard. Shot in 2015, this 55-minute, 37-second chat offers Stoppard’s thoughts about the source play and its adaptation for the screen, directing the movie, current thoughts about the film, cast and performances, and other aspects of his career.

If you want to learn a lot about Dead, this interview won’t prove to be especially helpful, as it largely concentrates on other topics. However, Stoppard gives us a good take on his work and motives, and we do learn a decent amount about Dead. The chat remains involving and interesting.

We also find four interviews recorded for a 2005 DVD. These come from writer/director Tom Stoppard (59:09) as well as actors Gary Oldman (58:27), Tim Roth (32:56) and Richard Dreyfuss (45:30). Across these, we hear about the source play and its adaptation for the screen, story and characters, cast and performances, various production thoughts and notes about other aspects of their careers.

Stoppard’s 2005 interview bears a lot of similarities with his 2015 chat. Of the two, the older piece offers a much better discussion of Dead itself. Both are enjoyable, but I think the 2005 discussion seems more focused and informative.

As for the actor interviews, they resemble the 2015 Stoppard conversation in that they mainly focus on general aspects of the participants’ careers. This means they briefly discuss Dead, but not to a substantial degree.

All three of the actor interviews provide interesting information, and they’re unusually long for Blu-ray bonus features. I think that’s good and bad. On the positive side, I appreciate the depth of the discussions, as they provide a lot more information than one would expect.

In the negative vein, though, the chats can feel a bit loose and scattershot at times. Oldman’s interview sags the most, but all of them could benefit from a little editing/tightening.

Still, I find interesting material in all three interviews. Oldman’s chat can be slow-going, partly because the actor doesn’t provide an especially dynamic personality. Roth and Dreyfuss seem more enthusiastic, and their energy helps carry their discussions. Expect ups and downs through all these interviews, but I think they merit viewings.

With a clever premise and fine talent behind it, I hoped that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead would provide a delightful tale. While it musters occasional entertainment, the film seems too thin and slow-paced to offer a consistent experience. The Blu-ray brings us erratic but acceptable picture and audio along with a fine collection of interviews. Perhaps Dead worked as a play, but as a movie, it becomes a bore.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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