At the center of 'The Name of the Rose' lays an elaborate, labyrinthine murder mystery within a Benedictine monastery, where its inhabitants harbor many dark secrets. On the case is Sean Connery as the Franciscan monk William of Baskerville, a Sherlock Holmes for the 14th Century, with a mysterious past of his own. The members of this highly-regarded abbey already determined the deaths of their monastic brothers as the work of the Satan and judged them as signs for the end of times. William, on the other hand, takes a more scientific and academic approach to solving the riddle. But he is stopped at nearly every turn, slowly revealing a greater underlying concern in this intriguing drama that touches on issues of blind, misguided faith and empirical knowledge.
Based on Umberto Eco's novel of the same name, William is accompanied by his adolescent apprentice, a very young Christian Slater, always scuttling behind Connery like an inexperienced, cassock-wearing Watson. The two become unwittingly entangled in a rather suspenseful thriller about internal parish politics and discussions on the social virtues of comedy. With beautiful but very dreary photography by Tonino Delli Colli ('Once Upon a Time in the West,' 'Life is Beautiful'), the two medieval sleuths are immersed in an atmospheric world filled with gloomy shadows and surrounded by some of the most fearsome-looking monks around. Ron Perlman's impressive imitation of Quasimodo is only a taste of the devilish weirdness taking place within the walls of this monastery.
Working from a script that required five writers, director Jean-Jacques Annaud ('The Lover,' 'Seven Years in Tibet') does what he can to bring Eco's fascinating, erudite tale to the big screen. Though a heavily condensed version, the film still manages to touch on the dense book's more substantial interests. As a microcosm of supposed civilized society, the monks are susceptible to rash judgments based on superstition when confronted by fear and panic. At the same time, deduction and logical reasoning are frowned upon, even viewed as heretical by a few. Annaud also shows the disparaging class difference between those preaching the faith and the underprivileged they profess to service. There's a great scene where representatives of the Pope justify their lifestyle by claiming Jesus carried a heavy purse.
Much like William arriving to this particular abbey for a conference on Church theology, the film, too, attempts to create open discussion on what best serves humanity. How well Annaud succeeds in inspiring debate will undoubtedly depend on each viewer, since the filmmakers consciously never probe or explore the matter too deeply. They only allude to the issues in small glimpses of monastery life. And even if they wanted to go further, would they still arrive at the same ambiguous conclusion as Eco? If that rather unsatisfying ending is at all frustrating, it's precisely the point. Even though the scientific method was able to crack the mystery, it does not come out on top. Those with the power to write history remain in their position while the real things of value are remembered in name and memory only, which is what the title alludes to.
Again, enjoying 'The Name of the Rose' this deeply is a matter of preference. The film still works terrifically as a mystery thriller set in medieval Italy, but it also offers an intelligent plot where science and faith try to coexist. One aspect of the narrative which has lingered after so many years is the passage from Ecclesiastes 1:18 read by one of the monks during a private prayer. It's a verse with a great deal of truth, viewed here as a secular meaning where William seems to suffer the most sorrow for his knowledge. While at the center of the film is a complicated murder investigation, the heart of the plot seems to lay in that particular passage.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video brings 'The Name of the Rose' to Blu-ray on Region Free, BD50 disc inside a blue eco-case. At startup, the disc goes straight to the main menu with the standard menu selection.
'The Name of the Rose' finds its way unto Blu-ray with a great-looking AVC-encoded video, even though it's not the sort of material to show off one's display.
The film has never been much of looker, with an incredibly drab and dreary color palette, and the high-def picture stays true to Tonino Delli Colli's photography, showing a drained, lifeless aesthetic with primaries that are still rendered accurately. Contrast is also quite subdued to further emphasize the gloom, yet clarity and resolution are never at a loss. Black levels are clean and surprisingly deep with strong shadow delineation.
The image displays a thick grain structure that's accentuated during the many poorly-lit interiors. It's consistent and never intrusive, providing the transfer with an appreciably film-like appeal. Fine object and textural details are very well-defined and distinct, exposing a great deal of minute information in and around the monastery's architecture. Facial complexions are appropriate to the movie's climate and reveal many trivial blemishes, smudges and wrinkles in the faces of actors.
A great presentation overall for a very enjoyable mystery thriller.
The disc arrives with an excellent, front-heavy DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack with imaging that's inviting and highly engaging.
The soundstage comes with a great sense of space and presence while channel separation provides terrific, expansive balance and dimension. Dialogue reproduction is, for the most part, cleanly delivered and intelligible, except for a couple of mumbled whispers very early on in the movie. Acoustics and dynamics are precise and distinct with discrete off-screen effects exhibiting convincing directionality. The lossless mix also shows an appreciable and satisfying low-end which adds a bit of depth to the music and the few moments of action.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable high-rez stereo presentation for a dialogue-driven mystery drama.
All special features have been ported over from the DVD release.
'The Name of the Rose' is an intriguing murder mystery set in a 14th century monastery and starring Sean Connery, Christian Slater, Ron Perlman, and F. Murray Abraham. Based on the novel by Umberto Eco, director Jean-Jacques Annaud touches on some of the concerns explored by the book, namely the match between superstition, faith, empirical knowledge and the scientific method. The Blu-ray arrives with a very good video presentation and strong audio. Supplements are the same as the previous DVD release, but it's very good material nonetheless, making this a great purchase for fans of the film.