Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is a very strange movie. It helps to understand a little bit about it’s background before sitting down to watch it. The film is based on a play from the 60s written by Tom Stoppard. Stoppard also wrote and directed the film adaptation and to this date, it is the only film he’s directed.
The idea begins Rosencrantz is pretty simple. Anyone who knows Hamlet knows that the two titular characters play very minor roles in the Shakespeare original. In Stoppard’s play/film, he presents us with the idea: what happens to these two friends of Hamlet when they aren’t on stage?
The credits list Gary Oldman as Rosencrantz and Tim Roth as Guildenstern, but truth be told, neither is sure who they really are. Even their friend Hamlet can seem to be able to tell them apart. Opening with two riding horses, they aren’t sure where they came from or where they are going, just knowing that they’ve been summoned, but they don’t know why. Rosencrantz finds a coin on the road and begins flipping it, with the coin landing on heads every time. From there the two confused friends begin to wax philosophically about everything that crosses their path.
That is a bulk of the film. Oldman and Roth throwing Stoppard’s clever word play at one another. The film has a little bit of a Monty Python feel to it. The film also feels as if Terry Gilliam might have directed it with certain moments reminding me of Time Bandits or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. (It’s also worth noting that Stoppard wrote Gilliam’s Brazil.)
There are two other noteworthy actors in the film. The first is Richard Dreyfuss who plays the lead Player in a troop of traveling actors. He attempts to help our main characters understand their place in Hamlet’s story, but they’re just a little too slow to pick up on it. The other is a very young Iain Glen who plays Hamlet. Watching the film you probably won’t recognize him right away, but he’ll look familiar, though you can’t quite place him. Then you look him up and realize he plays Jorah Mormont on Game of Thrones.
Rosencrantz isn’t the most exciting film. Had Gilliam directed it, I’m sure he could have brought a certain visual style to the film; sadly he didn’t. Being that it is based on a stage play, the focus of the film is the dialog and the clever banter that the two leads throw at one another. That and the interesting way that the film weaves in and out of the original Hamlet. The way they two tie directly into the untimely fate of Polonius is particularly funny.
If you’re not a fan of Shakespeare or awkward 90s indie films, then Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead might not be for you. However, if you’re a huge fan of either Tim Roth or Gary Oldman, then you might enjoy this strange little journey that they take you on.
The film is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio. This film has the classic look of an early 90s indie film and it is well presented here.
Extras include: a bunch of interviews: A new Tom Stoppard interview for the 25th anniversary edition (55 min.) as well as some classic interviews including another one with Tom Stoppard (59 min.), Gary Oldman (58 min.), Tim Roth (33 min.), and Richard Dreyfuss (45 min.).
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead probably makes a better play than a film, but there is still a lot to enjoy here. It certainly helps if you’re a big fan of Hamlet, Tom Stoppard or either of the leads, but even if you’re not, you’re sure never to see another film like this one.
RLJ Entertainment presents Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Written and Directed by Tom Stoppard. Based on a Play by Tom Stoppard. Inspired by Hamlet by William Shakespeare. Starring: Tim Roth, Gary Oldman, and Richard Dreyfuss. Running time: 118 min. Rating: PG. Released on DVD: January 12, 2016.
Tags: gary oldman, Richard Dreyfuss, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Shakespeare, Tim Roth, Tom Stoppard