The Name of the Rose

The Name of the Rose (1986)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Sean Connery, F. Murray Abraham, Ron Perlman
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Photo Video Journey, Trailer

"The Name Of The Rose" is a dark murder mystery set in a monastery in Italy during the 14th century. It is a film of European origin and thus, hardly surprising, it has a very different flair than Hollywood productions. Instead of the glossy, highly romanticized appearance that American productions usually take, the film instead provides us with a gritty, edgy atmosphere and characters that appear utterly authentic.

The story revolves around William of Baskerville (Sean Connery) and his young apprentice Adso (Christian Slater), two Franciscan monks, as they visit a North-Italian monastery for a gathering and discussion of theological topics of the utmost importance. But the event is overshadowed by the death of one of the monastery's youngest Brothers. With no other explanation immediately at hand, everyone believes it was the doing of the Devil – everyone but William, that is.

To avoid calling in the inquisitor, the abbot asks Baskerville for help, hoping — against his own conviction — that theirmight be a logical explanation.

But even before Baskerville can make his first steps, another one of the brethren dies – this time leaving clear evidence of murder. In his investigations, William soon learns that the monastery seems to be shrouded in a dark secret that no ones wants to admit to, and with every new day, it seems, another body piles up.

Unwilling to believe William's rational deductions, the abbot is eventually calling the inquisitor Bernardo Gui (F. Murray Abraham) to find the one ridden by the devil, committing these murders, and put an end to the mystery.

But Baskerville and Gui have a history, as the two collided vehemently when Baskerville opposed the inquisitor's fanatic, unfounded views. And once again, Baskerville is in complete disagreement with the inquisitor's so-called findings. Will he be able to solve the murders before the High Inquisitor arbitrarily burns someone innocent at the stake?

Like a good Sherlock Holmes story, "The Name Of The Rose" is filled with little clues and wonderful deductions that are not immediately evident but reveal themselves as the plot progresses. It makes "The Name Of The Rose" a great guess-along film as the mystery slowly unravels. The highlight of the film is, of course, the entrance of the inquisitor, masterfully played by F. Murray Abraham, whose fanatic ignorance must make every thinking man sick. Without even the slightest grasp on reality, his presence increases the suspense of the film immensely as time is running out for William Baskerville and Adso to solve the case. Sean Connery gives a suave performance as William of Baskerville and is wonderful to watch, as ever, as he pieces together the puzzle under the admiring eyes of his apprentice – a 16-year old Christian Slater.

Warner Home Video is presenting "The Name Of The Rose" in its original 1.85:1 widescreen format on this release in a 1080p high definition transfer. The image is generally clean and mostly without grain. The movie's cinematography is deliberately dark with incredibly deep shadows to heighten the brooding atmosphere of the monastery and the lack of most artificial lighting in the 14th century. Unfortunately it is evident in this high definition transfer, that the image is not always properly focused. In a number of shots you will notice that the background is actually focused, reveling in full detail, while the characters acting in the foreground are somewhat blurry and soft. This is a production issue of the original film and has nothing to do with the Blu-Ray transfer, though the high definition transfer brings out this shortcoming much more than the DVD version did.

In terms of the transfer itself, the disc restores the film's atmosphere perfectly, as we see gaping black hallways and countless dark nooks in each of which the answer to the mystery – or death — could await. The Blu-Ray Disc renders these blacks absolutely solid and without problems.

The DVD contains a DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio track that is making good use of the surround channels. Not aggressive by any means, the surround field is mostly used for ambient effects to give scope and size to the images and locations, and to heighten the suspense level ever so slightly with various subtle effects. Dialogues are very clear and are never drowned out. "The Name Of The Rose" features a score by James Horner that perfectly suits the film's purpose and oftentimes appears almost understated but extremely effective.

Warner Home Video has also added a few extras to this release, including a commentary track by director Jean-Jacques Annaud, in which he goes into great detail about the production of the film, as well as some historical aspects of the story. Annaud is very conversational in his tone, which adds to the commentary, making it a very exciting and informative excursion into the realms of making this particular movie.

The commentary track is nicely complemented by a "Photo Video Journey," a featurette in which Annaud takes various behind-the-scenes photos from the production of the movie and tells the stories surrounding these moments. Once again, Annaud's conversational manner makes this a great addition as he recalls some great moments and memories.

The promo featurette "The Abbey Of Crime" is a documentary that was produced originally to promote the film when it launched in theaters. It does contain some insight but is for the most part, really just a promo reel that is supposed to get you excited to see the film – which it does, I admit.

I've always considered "The Name Of The Rose" a very under-appreciated film that never seems to have found its audience. Perhaps its because of the slow, deliberate way the story builds, maybe it is because especially US-audiences have no direct affinity to a 14th century culture – though they should be more than familiar with religious fanatics. All I can do is tell you that this is a film that is well worth exploring, and the pay-off as the mystery comes to a conclusion is more than making up for the movie's slow exposition. Highly recommended viewing!