Stephen Fry & the Gutenberg Press (2008)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 18-May-2011

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary None
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 2008
Running Time 56:00
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Patrick McGrady

Madman Entertainment
Starring Stephen Fry
Barbara Rupp
Cornelia Schneider
Eva Hanebutt-Benz
Alan May
Martin Andrews
John Man
Stan Nelson
Roberto Mazzucchelli
Helmut Rohlfing
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $24.95 Music None Given

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     It was an inspired choice to send Stephen Fry on a journey to unearth the history of the printed word. After all Fry, who is described on the back of the DVD case as "wordsmith and national treasure", is synonymous with the written culture.

     Stephen Fry and the Gutenberg Press is the story of the man and the creation that changed the world forever. The man himself, Johannes Gutenberg, was born around 1400 in medieval Europe but, somewhat surprisingly, very little is known about his life. Even less is known about the actual construction of the Gutenberg Press, believed to be the world's first printing press. Once Gutenberg had premiered his creation the world was changed forever. From a planet where books were hand written at enormous cost, the printed word rapidly became affordable and available to the masses and both reading and writing flourished.Fry argues that this invention, more than anything else, led to the Renaissance.

     In light of the mystery surrounding the man and his invention Stephen Fry has two journeys to undertake. One is to find out a little more about the life of Johannes Gutenberg and the second is to try to emulate and recreate the famed press itself. Part one of the journey sees Fry do what he does best, travel around foreign lands interacting with the people and providing a witty commentary. He gets a chance to travel through the Rhineland and speak to a number of experts in the history of printing as well as trying his hand at creating paper the old way. However, he stopped short of recreating the Gutenberg Bible in one of its most distinctive forms, which is using calf skin! The other part of the journey sees Fry team up with some practically minded printing enthusiasts to try to recreate the Gutenberg press. That isn't an easy task. There is no known image of the actual press and Fry's team need to work backwards from the Bible to try to replicate the machine.

     This is a fascinating if somewhat lightweight documentary which, at 56 min, neither leaves us wanting more nor outstaying its welcome. Documentary lovers and Fry'o'philes will greatly enjoy the journey. Even those who don't worship the man will be moved by the moment when the newly created press turns out its first pristine page.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


     Stephen Fry and the Gutenberg Press was no doubt shot on digital video. It is presented at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio which is likely to be consistent with the original aspect ratio. It is 16x9 enhanced.

     This production, for the BBC, is consistent with the quality of other BBC documentary productions. The flesh tones are accurate and the colours clear and free from bleeding. There are no glaring flaws in the technical presentation of the show. There is some slight digital noise and the picture itself could be sharper. However, overall this is a perfectly acceptable documentary. There are no compression problems despite the fact that the film is on a single layered DVD.

     There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     The sound for Stephen Fry and the Gutenberg Press is English Dolby Digital 2.0 running at 224 Kb/s. It is perfectly suited for this documentary which contains only commentary, interview material and music. The interviews are rendered clearly and are easy to understand including those interviewees who have strong accents. Naturally, Stephen Fry’s commentary is rendered beautifully. The music for the show is uncredited, suggesting stock BBC music. Even so it is used appropriately throughout.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are no extras.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

   This is an All Region DVD.


     Stephen Fry and the Gutenberg Press is compelling throughout and will be enjoyed by anyone who has an interest in history and the written word. Interestingly, the show was known in the UK as The Machine That Made Us. No doubt the growing popularity of Stephen Fry has helped sell the show resulting in his name being larger than the words Gutenberg Press on the front of the DVD. That's not a complaint from me. Anything that gets people watching historical programs like this is justifiable.

     The sound and visual quality are consistent with other BBC programmes, neither excellent nor bad. It is perfectly acceptable. The lack of extras is no surprise.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDCambridge 650BD (All Regions), using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-VW80 Projector on 110" Screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer SC-LX 81 7.1
SpeakersAaron ATS-5 7.1

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add) NONE