Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)

by | Jul 13, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)

Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Tim Roth, Gary Oldman
Written & Directed by: Tom Stoppard
Studio: Brandenburg Prod/Image Entertainment
Video: 1.85:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 5.1 or 2.0, English
Extras: 2nd DVD = In-depth interviews with Richard Dreyfuss, Tom Stoppard, Gary Oldman, Tim Roth
Length: 118 minutes
Rating: ****

In the interview on the second disc of extras in this set, Tom Stoppard
talks about the many dumb ideas people suggest to him for a new play,
but this was one that resonated with him.  The idea was to take
the pair of very minor characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and put them
front and center – occasionally presenting us the dialog they and other
characters have in Hamlet – but turning them into satellites revolving
around Hamlet’s primary characters. It is as though one is watching the
play Hamlet thru these two hapless characters. When the “real” Hamlet
players occasionally come on the scene Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
sort of freeze and stand around observing the proceedings.
Intellectually stimulating playwright Stoppard has fun with this
outrageous pair and often turns them into a short of Shakespearean Mutt
and Jeff – alternating low humor with an almost Beckett-like obsession
with death, fate, chance and so forth. Says one of them (part of the
humor is a constant confusion of which one is which): “Eternity is a
terrible thought. I mean, where’s it going to end?”  Their dialog
is free of the encumbrances of standard Shakespearean speech.

Stoppard’s inventive original play won awards and this was his first
directing role. The extras reveal that he originally wanted Sean
Connery for the part Richard Dreyfuss took, but Connery saw a bigger
paycheck in The Hunt for Red October. Dreyfuss mentions in his
interview that when Stoppard proposed the role to him he thought it was
a big mistake since it was so different from anything he had
done.  But though all the main actors are superb, he emerges as
the  most interesting to watch. He also observes that most stage
productions of the play portray Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as
threatening or semi-dangerous and their death at the end seems
justified; he feels that are merely “schmoos” – innocents who happened
to get invited to the court in Denmark to spy on Hamlet because they
had been his college chums.

The production was filmed in the former Yugoslavia and the “castle”
setting is perfect for the drama.  A number of scenes serve to
take us away from the castle to open things up and avoid the feeling
with many filmed versions of stage plays that we are stuck on the
stage. Cinematography is superb and the transfer is excellent. 
Some of the soundtrack music is modern folk guitar-picking rather than
medieval in origin, but it seems to fit this mix of reality and
fantasy.  Not much use is made of the clean and detailed DTS 5.1
surround field, but dialog is always front and center. Only in the
concluding section does the film become confusing  and fail to tie
things up smoothly – probably Stoppard’s deliberate intention in this
nonlinear screenplay.  By the way, you don’t have to be familiar
with Hamlet to appreciate this unusual filmic adventure.

– John Sunier


Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure
Logo Apollo's Fire
Logo Crystal Records Sidebar 300 ms
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01