The Name of the Rose Review

The wise and scholarly Franciscan monk, William of Baskerville (Sean Connery), arrives with his young apprentice, Adso (Christian Slater), at a prestigious abbey in northern Italy in advance of a debate between representatives of the Pope and the Franciscan order regarding the Church's wealth. However, they discover that a series of horrific murders is in progress at the abbey, and the Abbot (Michael Lonsdale) entrusts William with the task of getting to the bottom of it. The clergy believe the murders to have been perpetrated by the Devil, but William, who is significantly ahead of the times compared to his brethren, suspects mortal misdeeds. It soon becomes apparent that those being killed off have all come into a contact with a mysterious book, but before William can get to the bottom of the mystery, the Inquisition is called in, led by Bernardo Gui (F. Murray Abraham), a nasty piece of word with a penchant for using torture to extract confessions, and a man whom William has encountered in the past. Matters are further complicated when young Adso falls in love with a local peasant girl (Valentina Vargas) - a girl accused by Gui of witchcraft and condemned to be burnt at the stake...

Umberto Eco's 1984 novel Il Nome Della Rosa is probably the most famous giallo outside Italy. (The word giallo refers to a specific type of pulp thriller that became extremely popular in Italy in the written form in the 1930s and 40s and on film in the 1960s and 70s. Giallo mainstays include black-cloaked killers, convoluted plots, drawn-out stalk sequences and kills, and motives often rooted in past trauma. For more information about these tales, check out KinoEye's introduction to the genre.) A French-German-Italian collaboration shot in various locations throughout Europe, its lavish production values and the presence of Sean Connery in the cast mean that it is often mistaken for a Hollywood production. Set amid the strife that engulfed the Church in the 13th century, The Name of the Rose plays true to its backdrop and ends up coming across as a legitimate piece of hisotrical drama, although most of the events and characters are fabricated, and those that are based on real individuals have had their histories altered somewhat. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud is clearly a stickler for detail, and as a result the film's setting feels completely legitimate and true to a 13th century abbey.

Sean Connery carries much of the film with his charming performance as William of Baskerville. William is not a perfect man: he has his own individual quirks and foibles, but he means well, and he is a good deal more open to the rational explanations that his fellow clergymen seem oblivious to. He is not above criticizing the Church and its laws, and one gets the sense that he is a man trapped in the wrong time period. Although she only features in a handful of scenes, Valentina Vargas also makes a strong impression as the unnamed girl that Adso falls in love with. Her animalistic portrayal has a raw energy that is completely believable, and she conveys the required emotions admirably with hardly any dialogue. Christian Slater's performance as Adso is a little irritating, since he spends most of the film looking wide-eyed and slack-jawed. Certainly the performance is true to the naïve character he is playing, and Slater was only 15 at the time, but it's unsubtle and clashes quite severely with Connery's measured performance. Indeed, subtlety does not seem to be high on the cards of many of the actors, since a lot of the secondary characters are crippled by acting that borders on histrionic and would probably have been more at home on the stage than in a movie. The fact that so many of the personalities are essentially one-note caricatures at times hurts the otherwise powerful mood of the film, which is undeniably bleak. I would also argue that the infrequent voice-over narration, coming from an older and wiser Adso, is unneccessary and often becomes something of a distraction.

A number of Federico Fellini's preferred crew worked on the movie, including his production designer, Dante Ferretti, and cinematographer, Toninio Delli Colli. The film's sets are lavish in the extreme, especially the large abbey itself, which was built from scratch and looks completely accurate with regard to the time period in which the film it set. The shots are carefully designed to milk the grandeur of the settings to the full extent, and as a result the film is blessed with a look that belies its relatively small budget (by Hollywood standards) of $20 million.

With a pace that at times seems to plod along as slowly as possible, The Name of the Rose makes for a rather long two hours' viewing, but it is thoroughly atmospheric throughout and the story remains engaging, making the languid tempo something of a positive because it allows the audience to bask in the authenticity of the setting. The whodunit is also well-constructed, engaging and, better yet, makes complete sense. Overall, while Annaud cannot claim to have revolutionised the genre, he has certainly succeeded in delivering a solid mystery that, for those who do not demand the latest in MTV editing techniques and brisk pacing, should be a very rewarding experience.

DVD Presentation

This new release of The Name of the Rose treats the film to an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer (although the packaging actually states the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1). This is an excellent transfer that falls just shy of perfection due to some areas in which the bit rate could have been improved. Sharpness and detail, especially in the close-ups, are exemplary, with the individual wrinkles and hairs on Sean Connerys's face leaping from the screen. A high level of contrast results in deep, inky blacks and bright whites. The colour palette alternates between a very desaturated look, especially for the interiors, and a warm, orange-biased look for scenes that have a fire-based light source. The transfer is nicely grainy, in keeping with the source materials, showing that Warner have not subjected it to unneccessary noise reduction or filtering. As previously stated, the only problem with this transfer is its bit rate: in a handful of scenes, especially those that prominently feature smoke and fog, the image tends to look a little crushed. Overall, however, this is a superb effort from Warner.

In terms of audio, the main track on display is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. An English Dolby Surround 2.0 track is listed on the packaging, but the disc itself features a French track instead. Initially I smelled a rat, assuming that the 5.1 track was a remix affair, included at the expense of the original stereo recording. However, in his commentary, Jean-Jacques Annaud allayed my fears by pointing out that the 70mm prints of the film featured a 6-track audio mix that he himself had approved, and that he hoped it would be used for the DVD which, I assume, is what ended up happening. The film is nearly 20 years old, and is mainly dialogue-focused, so it doesn't feature the kind of split-surround effects that you could expect from, say, the latest action movie, but the sound stage has depth and the audio is always clear. The rears are used for a handful of ambient sound effects and to back up the score.

The majority of the film was post-dubbed, although, in most cases, by the same actors who portrayed the characters on-screen. (Annaud points out that this necessary evil was instigated by the nature of the set in which most of the film was shot, as the "live" soundtrack was filled with creaks and cracks that often drowned out the dialogue.) As a result, there are some noticeable inconsistencies in the lip sync, especially early in the film, but this is not a fault of the DVD.

Warner has put together a handsome collection of extras. The meatiest of the bonus features, by far, is an audio commentary featuring director Jean-Jacques Annaud (or "JJ", as he announces himself), who delivers anecdotes with panache and frequently lays into F. Murray Abraham who, by all accounts, behaved like a big drama queen throughout the shoot. There are a handful of patches of silence, but by and large Annaud keeps going for the duration of the film and delivers information thick and fast, despite English not being his native language.

An additional commentary is provided in French, also featuring Annaud, but for some baffling reason, no-one has bothered to provide subtitles, rendering it incomprehensible for viewers unable to understand fluent French. My French is of a reasonable standard but it is far from perfect, and as a result I cannot claim to have understood any more than half of the commentary, but what I did understand appeared to be, more or less, a translation of the same points raised in the English commentary. There are some differences, and in general he seems to say more in the French commentary than the English one (or at least use more words to say the same things), but it is incredibly frustrating that this track was not subtitled.

Also included is a 40-minute documentary shot for German television entitled The Abbey of Crime: Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. Featuring a wealth of interviews and behind the scenes footage, this documentary is very interesting if a little drawn-out. The narration is in German, and English subtitles are included, although they are not enabled by default.

The package is rounded off with a photo video journey, in which Annaud spends a good 16 minutes looking at various behind the scenes photographs and reminiscing about the experience, and the original theatrical trailer.


This DVD release gives The Name of the Rose an excellent presentation that falls just shy of perfection. The extras are solid in quality and, while I would have preferred for English subtitles to have been provided for the French audio commentary, it does seem that all the requisite information is provided in the English commentary anyway. This DVD, therefore, gets a strong "thumbs up" and should not disappoint fans of the film.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 11:50:54

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