Rob Roy

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Details At A Glance

Category Historical Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 2.35:1, non-16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1995 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 133:06  Other Extras None
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (72:07)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Selection then Menu
Region 2, 4 Director Michael Caton-Jones

Warner Home Video
Starring Liam Neeson
Jessica Lange
John Hurt
Tim Roth
Eric Stoltz
Case Amaray
RRP $34.95 Music Carter Burwell

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448 Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448 Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    "At the dawn of the 1700's, famine, disease, and the greed of great Noblemen were changing Scotland forever. With many emigrating to the Americas [and Australia, damn them], the centuries-old Clan system was slowly being extinguished. This story symbolizes the attempt of the individual to withstand these processes and, even in defeat, retain respect and honour." In a nutshell, I think this description of history sums up everything that I feel is wrong with Australia. There's no sense of honour, pride, might, or even kinship - instead, what we have is apathy, sloth, and ignorance. In fact, it is my estimation that if John Howard were currently living in the year 1713, as men like Robert Roy McGregor (Liam Neeson) were, he'd stay in government for all of two minutes. So why am I telling you this much about something totally irrelevant to the film? Well, actually, it is very relevant to the film - because of that famous Australian apathy, MGM have apparently decided that they can foist an inferior version of it upon us. I'll get to this in my comments about the video transfer, but suffice to say for now that distribution deals are extinguished over things like this.

    Anyway, for those who want the plot, here goes. The film begins with the aforementioned description of the state of affairs in Scotland at the turn of the Eighteenth Century, and then with a beautiful, wide-angle shot of the Scottish highlands. For roughly eleven minutes, we get a brief glimpse of life among the clans in a bygone era, and we see the first glimpse of the capitalist, commercial society that was destined to replace it. There are the British nobles, whose coffers are so full that they can afford to argue about how much money they will take from each other for what. Leading this unsavoury bunch is James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose (John Hurt). Then there's his rather unscrupulous lieutenant Cunningham (Tim Roth), who just happens to be quite a fine swordsman. On the other side, we have McGregor himself, and his clan which includes such people as his friend McDonald (Eric Stoltz) and his wife Mary (Jessica Lange). McGregor, faced with the increasing poverty of his clan, decides to borrow a thousand pounds to buy cattle in the hopes of selling it later for a profit. Of course, Cunnigham has other ideas, and he soon murders McDonald, sending the body to the bottom of the sea. When Graham comes asking what happened to his money, that's where the real fun begins...

    As stories about the tragic history of the clans go, Rob Roy is an interesting piece of work. It presents quite a likeable protagonist in the shape of Robert Roy McGregor, especially as portrayed by Liam Neeson. Even Eric Stoltz is better than his usual self in this film, and I was almost sad to see him go so early on in the proceeedings. Tim Roth gives an excellent performance as the vile antagonist Cunningham, and does well with what little space to breathe he has. However, this is certainly Neeson's show, through and through.

Transfer Quality


    I was so looking forward to sitting down and watching another exhibition of Scotland's natural beauty rendered in digital. I am sorely disappointed because of MGM's lack of consideration for the DVD collector, especially the Scottish DVD collector. The film is presented at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is not 16:9 enhanced. Artefacts are surprisingly rare in spite of this fact, but when they do come, they are quite hideous to behold. At one point in the film, approximately 40:07 to be somewhat precise, there appears to be a major loss of luminance that could have been the result of someone twiddling the gamma knob at just the wrong moment. However, it is hard to judge whether most of the problems I noticed with the video quality were deliberate results of certain artistic shots or the result of bad encoding. The most prominent example of this would be the loss of definition in some backgrounds.

    Thankfully, the sharpness of this film is more than reasonable. Even in scenes where most of the sets were obscured by fog, it was fairly easy to make out exactly who was doing what. The shadow detail is also quite reasonable, with nighttime scenes quite clear and easy to make out. From this, I can conclude that the original film stock was kept in very good condition. Even the low-level noise is thankfully absent to a degree that defies the lack of enhancement. Colour was what you'd expect from a film shot on location in the wilderness of Scotland. It's just such a major pity that the shots were not 16x9 enhanced because they could have been that little bit better. MPEG artefacts are surprisingly rare, although I am not quite sure whether the loss of background detail in some scenes is a bona fide artefact or just the director's intention. For the time being, however, I will defer to the book of good filmmaking which states thusly: when making a film with such natural beauty in the background as the Highlands or the Fjords, the background must be at least half as clear as the actual subjects of the shot. Film artefacts and film-to-video artefacts were almost non-existent, except for the usual loss of definition in the credits.

    This disc is an RSDL disc, with the layer change between Chapters 16 and 17, at 72:07. The layer change is well-placed, given the alternatives. Overall, this is one of the better layer changes I have seen with recent discs, although it is still quite noticeable.


    Well, just be assured that whatever the video quality lacks, the audio quality doesn't miss out on. The sound is quite powerful and well-mixed on this DVD, with all the sounds on the table given plenty of room to breathe. Liam Neeson does a wonderful job of impersonating a Scottish accent throughout the film, although it does seem a little forced at times. All in all, the sword sound effects didn't come out quite as well as I'd like, but the gunshots were perfect. The audio is offered in a choice of languages, all rendered in Dolby Digital 5.1: English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish. Hearing men trying to impersonate a Scottish warlord in a language other than English is even more amusing than hearing an Irishman trying to speak with a Scotsman's accent. In any case, I listened to the English dialogue, while taking a quick peek at the Spanish dialogue for good measure.

    The dialogue was very clear and easy to follow at all points. Words were occasionally muttered here and there that fell below the level of easy listening, but these could be ignored because the story made just as much sense without them. Sure, it is somewhat annoying when you have to go back a few seconds to make out what is being said, but be comforted by the fact that when this does occur, most of the dialogue is mere window-dressing. The balance with creating the voices of the characters was tipped more in favour of ease of listening than authenticity, and if you want to understand the difference, compare the dialogue in this film to that of Trainspotting. In any case, audio sync was not a problem with this disc, at least not enough to warrant any close inspections.

    Carter Burwell's score music added a lot to this film, especially in the authenticity department. There appears to have been a lot of work and research done into this score, although many of the pieces of music are simply taken from stock sources and thus have questionable relevance to the onscreen action. A custom made score, as was done for Braveheart, would have suited the film a little better. However, the music suits the overall feel of the film quite well in spite of its lack of specificity to any character or event.

    The surround channels got a reasonable amount of use to support the special effects and music. Overall, sound was evenly distributed through the speakers, although background sounds such as the crashing of waves and the rustling of grass tended to get lost in the mix. The subwoofer was mainly used to support the music and gunshot sounds, although its use was generally quite evenly distributed through the film.


    The presence of a solitary theatrical trailer raises this disc above the level of such releases as Starship Troopers in this arena. Just.


    The menu is presented over a collage of shots from the film, and looks pretty reasonable although it doesn't appear to be 16x9 enhanced.

Theatrical Trailer

    The theatrical trailer is the same one that was featured on the Version B release of the Windows 95 CD in Australia. It appears that more care was taken with the presentation of this trailer than that of the actual film, as it does not have any apparent artefacts at all.

R4 vs R1

    As is so often the case, the Region 1 version has all the important things that the Region 4 version lacks.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     16x9 Enhancement vs the use of the RSDL format is a real tough call. In my view, both at once would be preferable because one would want the MPEG compression doing the least amount of work possible for a film with photography like this in it. However, in the end, the Region 1 version just barely wins out because of the enhancement.


    Rob Roy is another great tale about the plight of another UK nation that England has grown fat from the plight of. It is every bit the great film that Braveheart, which came out but a few months later, was.

    The video quality is pretty damned impressive, given the lack of 16x9 enhancement.

    The audio quality is wonderful, and a shining example of how sound should be put together for film.

    The extras... well, I wouldn't care them non-existent, but I wouldn't call them particularly helpful either. An audio commentary by Liam Neeson and Michael Caton-Jones, or at least some kind of featurette on who Robert Roy McGregor was, would have been much appreciated.

Ratings (out of 5)

© Dean McIntosh
26th January, 2000
Review Equipment
DVD Grundig GDV 100 D, using composite output
Display Samsung CS-823AMF, 16:9 mode/4:3 mode
Audio Decoder Built In
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Sharp CP-303A Back Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer