Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)

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

Released 16-Aug-2001

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Main Menu Introduction
Scene Selection Animation
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1990
Running Time 112
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Tom Stoppard
Odyssey Distributors
Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Gary Oldman
Tim Roth
Richard Dreyfuss
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $32.95 Music Brian Gulland
Stanley Myers
Graham Preskett

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Screen, not known whether Pan & Scan or Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown 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

    Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a brilliantly funny and somewhat quirky film. Tom Stoppard is a highly respected British playwright whose works are studied at many great institutes of learning. He is probably best known in the film community for the delightful Shakespeare in Love, of which he was the co-writer. The cover of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead credits him as the writer/director of Shakespeare in Love which leaves me a little confused as I thought John Madden was the director.

    Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was a play written by Tom Stoppard in 1967 in the style of what some call "the theatre of the absurd". Tom Stoppard then wrote the screenplay and had his directing debut bringing us this film. As you can gather, this film is very much his own work from start to finish.

    This film is a lovely combination of a couple of different types of British humour. There are some beautifully subtle moments and dialogue, intermixed with scenes that can only be described as "Monty Pythonesque". It is interesting to note that the original play was written before the advent of the Flying Circus.

    There are moments in the history of comedy where, as you are watching or listening to a comedy sequence, you realise that you are listening to something new. Not something derived from existing comedy, but the creation of humour itself. An example of this would be the famous "who's on first". There is a moment like this in the film - the sequence based on a game called "questions" is one of the best pieces of verbal comedy that I have heard in a long time.

    However, there is more than comedy to this film. It sets out to explore the lives of two minor characters in a play, and the effect that being minor characters has on their lives. This leads to some very poignant moments. In fact, there are many levels in this movie and I will be watching it many times before I understand some parts of it. I unfortunately have not seen the play, so I cannot compare it to the film, but I will now be keeping my eyes out for a chance to see it.

    The acting in this film is superlative. Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Richard Dreyfuss bring their characters to life, give them depth, handle the comedy timing perfectly and draw you into their world with great skill. The 'real' minor characters also bring home fine performances.

    The basic plot is based around two minor characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Rosencrantz (Gary Oldman) and Guildenstern (Tim Roth). The story of Hamlet is told from their perspective. The original scenes from Hamlet that contain these characters are played as written, but once the spotlight of the main Hamlet story moves on, we examine what happens between the scenes. Then suddenly the original story is back and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are are suddenly 'back in character' and locked into dialogue they don't really understand. Why they don't understand this dialogue is a key element of the film.

    Imagine waking up one day with all your memories gone, and at regular intervals you interact with a group of people that appear to know all about you but of which you know very little. Further to this, they seem to expect certain things from you, but you are not very sure what. The information that you are given is very sparse. Why? Because you are a 'minor character' and minor characters are never really given much information, their stories are never fully told, and their motivations are all left out. The film explores the confusion and feelings this leads to through the dialogue of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It will help the viewer if they know the story of Hamlet.

    There are many other aspects of this film but I am running out of room in this review to go into them all, so I will wrap up in the summary below.

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

Transfer Quality


    The video transfer is less than perfect, exhibiting many unfortunate artefacts. There is an earlier laserdisc release of this film with the same specifications as this transfer, so the same source material may well been used for both transfers.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced. I was unable to discover the original aspect ratio for this film, however, it was obviously not shot in 1.33:1 and has been Panned and Scanned.

    The sharpness of this transfer varies from acceptable to bad. A comparison of the long shot at 21:44 which is very soft and the close up at 21:54 will give an example of both ends of the scale. Shadow detail is surprisingly good throughout and contains ample detail. Low level noise is not a problem.

    The colour in this transfer is quite muted. Skin tones are good (where MPEG artefacts don't interfere) and I think the quiet colours are part of the atmosphere created by the director. I saw no technical problems with the colour.

    It is in looking at the MPEG artefacts in this transfer where things start to look bad. There is some subtle and some not-so-subtle examples of macro-blocking throughout this transfer. In particular, anywhere where there is movement starts to break up, exhibiting both macro-blocking and posterization, such as the girl's face at 20:25. There is also evidence of edge enhancement clearly visible at 3:31. These problems are made worse by a reasonable amount of telecine wobble, causing the entire image to move and leading to severe blocking and Gibb's effect. Single stepping though the scene at 20:55 is an education in these effects. There are very few film artefacts in this transfer with only a few white specs showing very occasionally.

    There are no subtitles on this disc.

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


    Considering that this film is heavily based on its dialogue, it is with relief that I report that the audio track is far better than the video.

    There is only one audio track on this disc and it is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack with surround encoding.    

    The dialogue was clear throughout the film and easy to understand with no audio sync problems.

    There will be no release of a soundtrack CD for this film - for the majority of the time there was no music at all. The music that was present consisted of some short musical clips played in a couple of scenes along with music that was intrinsic to the film, such as where someone was playing a flute or there was a musical group within the scene.

    The surrounds were used sparingly, and for a movie like this appropriately.

     The subwoofer received some redirected bass and supplied a good solid foundation to the soundtrack where appropriate without calling undue attention to itself.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are no extras on this disc.

R4 vs R1

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

    There does not appear to be a Region 1 version of this disc.


    You have probably picked up by now that I love this film. The interplay between the two main characters is great and then further enriched by the interaction with the director of the theatrical company within the film (Richard Dreyfuss).

    I am saddened that I cannot tell everyone to run out and watch this disc because of the fairly ordinary Pan and Scan transfer afforded the movie, although I come very close to saying that the content transcends the medium in this case and that you should watch it despite the transfer.

    The video quality is poor.

    The audio quality is good, particularly the all-important dialogue.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Terry McCracken (read my bio)
Tuesday, August 14, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic A-350A, using S-Video output
DisplaySony 1252Q CRT Projector, 254cm custom built 1.0 gain screen. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationSony STR GA-8ES
SpeakersB&W DM305 (mains); CC3 (centre); S100 (surrounds); custom Adire Audio Tempest with Redgum plate amp (subwoofer)

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Gavin T

Comments (Add)
OAR and other stuff - Bran (my bio, or something very like it)