Friday, 27 January 2012

"The Name Of The Rose" on BLU RAY. A Review Of The 1986 Film Now Reissued On A 2011 BLU RAY.

"…The Step Between Ecstatic Vision And Sinful Frenzy…Is All Too Brief…"


French Director Jean-Jacques Annaud had his work cut out for him. First he had to hire BAFTA-winning writer Andrew Birkin along with three other top scriptwriters to do a 'Pamplifest' of "Il Nome Della Rose" – a 500-page medieval whodunit written in Italian by Historian and Scholar Umberto Eco. Then after four years of design prep, Annaud had an entire Benedictine Abbey built to scale on hills outside of Rome in the winter of 1985. So come the opening minutes of "The Name Of The Rose" - as William of Baskerville and his novice Adso of Melk (Sean Connery and a 16-year old Christian Slater) dismount from their nags and have their hands washed inside the huge wooden gates of that fourteenth century structure - you can 'see' that Annaud spent his 17 million dollar budget wisely…

Right from the word go you are immersed in their world. The camera pans up to vertigo-inducing battlements, down to a vast courtyard, over to vestibules and quadrangle arches festooned with ecclesiastical masonry. There is little of comfort here and the only earth dug up is not for vegetables but fresh graves. Everything else is filth and grime – mud – snow – animal faeces. Then once inside - the chilling austerity continues. Stone floors, hard wooden pews and incense swinging censers at mealtime. There are marble altars with hidden latches, crypts with mounted skulls and passageways alive with droves of really fat rats. There’s even a Scriptorium tower beside the Abbey where books are laboured on by hand for years - and a secretive library above it all that is accessible only through a wooden labyrinth…

As if this isn’t enough – then there’s the look of the inmates. It feels like Annaud sent out an all-points bulletin to hire 30 of the ugliest actors in the world. These monks, scribes and translators are like the grotesque gargoyles that loom over everything on the elevated pillars. Some of them are fat – some giggling and maniacal – others are toothless (many are all three). They all wear coarse grey cassocks and sport severe tonsure haircuts. Others have large facial warts or the scars of self-flagellation on their backs – punishment for sins of the flesh (and we’re not talking about chorus girls here). Even the medical infirmary is a place of terror - with jars of dark substances that look more like torture potions than medicines and soothing poultices. This is how the fourteenth century would have looked - and felt – and it is completely believable.

It helps too to have a fantastically well-chosen cast… Principal in this is Sean Connery as a Franciscan Monk who uses sextants, magnifying glasses and his considerable intellect to solve ‘conundrums’ in the year of our not-so-enlightened Lord 1327. Other grotesques include William Hickey as the prophecy spouting Brother Ubertino, the veteran Italian actor Feodor Chaliapin Jr. as the ‘venerable’ Jorge – a blind spiritual leader who rants about ‘laughter’ deforming faces and making men look like monkeys. And best of all is the simpleton hunchback Salvatore (a stunning turn by “Hellboy” leading man Ron Perlman) who sticks his tongue out at people and babbles in all languages and none…

The story sees William of Baskerville brought in by a wily Abbot seeking answers and discretion (a superbly cast Michael Lonsdale). William is to investigate monks dying of what appear to be 'unnatural forces'. As more bodies succumb to murders that begin to look like signs from the Bible (a vat of pig’s blood and a scented bathtub are assigned to the Blood and Water predictions of the Apocalypse) - the Holy Inquisition is eventually summoned. But God’s mercy on Earth is the dreaded Bernardo Gui (a deliciously cruel F. Murray Abraham) who is the very personification of man’s twisted inhumanity when corrupted by power. Brother William is now in a race against time – he knows from bitter past experience that Bernardo Gui will come to convenient explanations involving 'devils in their midst'. And with some tortured confessions – Gui will sacrifice three unfortunates to the burning stake (including Adso’s girl) because he knows this will calm the spiritually panicking monks.

But the film belongs to Connery. Relishing a properly meaty role and well-written script (especially when it’s so closely linked with his favourite subject of education) – he gives his William just the right amount of Sherlock Holmes genius but with that touch of condescending arrogance too. William is driven – and like Holmes - has an almost dismissive disdain for life. It’s as if solving the puzzle is everything – certainly more important than stopping the monster from killing his next victim. But more than this - William also suspects that nothing 'supernatural' is taking place – that someone in the Abbey is reluctant to unleash knowledge and ideas on the ordinary people – especially those written down in "...spiritually dangerous books..." And on it goes to a showdown in the labyrinth of the Scriptorium – and a peasant girl in the mist who haunts Adso into his old age (the only earthly love he has ever known)…

Words matter in this film – so the script rises to it. In an argument that William has with the permanently vexed Jorge about 'laughter as a weapon' – their sparring in front of the other monks is the stuff of brilliance. When Adso encounters the beguiling and beautiful 'girl' (played by a gorgeous Valentina Vargas) – he confides in his master about women and love. William’s response is both comical and wonderful. When William hears the hunchback Salvatore utter the word "Penitenziagite" – he knows he was once a heretic. It’s the war cry of the Dolcinites – an order of monks who believed in the poverty of Christ – but wanted all men to follow in the same (something the Church wasn’t too keen on). So the Dolcinites slaughtered the wealthy and for good measure all the corrupt fat priests too. William's explanation to Adso of how religion can warp the mind is both humane and intelligent (the dialogue from it titles this review).

PICTURE QUALITY – there have been poor reviews of a German issue on Blu Ray – but this July 2011 copy is a USA release on Warner Brothers which is REGION FREE and will therefore play on all machines (if you type in the barcode number 883929180080 into the SEARCH bar on Amazon – it will direct to the correct version).

The picture quality is a VAST IMPROVEMENT on everything that has gone before. It absolutely ‘isn’t perfect’ by any means - but it is beautiful in many places – something the DVD issues notoriously failed to deliver on. There are so many great moments where the clarity is shocking now – Connery looks out the window at a fresh grave being picked by a crow – food chucked out the sleuth at the back of the Abbey and allowed to roll down to the clambering peasants below (“another generous donation to the poor from the church…”). Even the night sequences when they’re scurrying around the desolate courtyard areas are superbly clear. There are times when blocking and some speckling appear (fog engulfing the Abbey) – but it’s rare. This is the BEST the print’s ever been and the stunning/sinister score by JAMES HORNER has also been given an upgrade so it rattles out through your speakers with real force. The ‘Extras’ of the 2DVD set are all here too.

"The Name Of The Rose" is the very definition of a 'cult' movie - and like "The Big Lebowski" and "Brazil" - quotes from it litter the net.
It blew me away when I first saw it and it's been in my top ten ever since. So if you're a fan, you should buy this BLU RAY version - and if you're new to it, then dig in.

And remember – when a man is found in a monastery stable with a witch, a black cat and a cockerel – it doesn’t necessarily mean he isn't a nice person…

BLU RAY Specifications:
VIDEO: 1080p High Definition 16x9 1.85:1
AUDIO: DTS-HD Master Audio, English 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 2.0 and Spanish 1.0
SPOKEN LANGUAGES: English, French, Italian, Castellano, Czech (Cesky), Hungarian (Magyar), Polish
SUBTITLES: English (For The Hearing Impaired), French, Italian (For The Hearing Impaired), Castellano, Dutch, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Czech (Cesky), Danish (Dansk), Finnish (Suomi), Hungarian (Magyar), Norwegian (Norsk), Polish, Portuguese, Swedish (Svenska)

2 x Feature Length Commentaries by Director JEAN-JACQUES ANNAUD – one in English and the other in French (with English subtitles)
"The Abbey Of Crime – Umberto Eco's The Name Of The Rose" – A Detailed Making Of In German and French with subtitles (40 minutes)
Photo Video Journey with Jean-Jacques Annaud (10 minutes)
Theatrical Trailer

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