Something of a Gothic mystery-thriller, The Name of the Rose is for labyrinth-lovers. A centerpiece sequence finds the film's heroes literally lost in a labyrinthine library, a metaphor for the winding paths of the murder investigation (and intellectual rescue mission) that leads them there. Working from Umberto Eco's 1980 novel, Jean-Jacques Annaud crafts a thoughtful and entertaining murder mystery predicated on intellectual debate (and much more palatable than offspring like The Da Vinci Code).
Sean Connery stars as William of Baskerville, a Franciscan monk who, in 1327, travels to a remote Benedictine abbey in Northern Italy to participate in a theological debate. When he arrives with his teenage novice Adso (Christian Slater), he notes the recent death of a monk under suspicious circumstances and agrees to look into the matter. The matter is not easily resolved, as a series of murders makes clear someone is willing to kill to contain the ideas within a forbidden book. The search for the book and the murderer turns out to be treacherous for reasons that supercede even murder: Adso's purity is threatened by a sexually entrancing peasant girl (Valentina Vargas) and William is forced to tangle with a face from the past when Holy Inquisitor Bernardo Gui (F. Murray Abraham) arrives and recognizes a prime opportunity to capitalize on the murders and build his fearsome reputation (Gui's presence injects an element of historical fiction).
The Name of the Rose makes no bones about William of Baskerville being a medieval version of Sherlock Holmes (from his name to the line "My dear Adso, it's elementary), crossed with forward thinkers like William of Ockham. Connery plays him with a circumspect twinkle, giving the film a useful thread of humor that—along with Slater's guileless naiveté—counterbalances the harshness of the time and place and circumstances. Despite four credited screenwriters (Andrew Birkin, Gérard Brach, Howard Franklin, and Alain Godard), The Name of the Rose never feels compromised, thanks to Annaud's total commitment to the material; he also shows good taste in hiring the likes of production designer Dante Ferretti, cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli, and composer James Horner. William of Baskerville makes a winning hero in no small part because he represents a respect for intellectual freedom and a disdain for pernicious superstition, his own faith notwithstanding: he treasures nothing so much as truth and knowledge, artfully rendered.
The Name of the Rose makes its Blu-ray debut in a spiffy special edition from Warner. Anyone who's seen the film knows it's supposed to look grotty, an intention this hi-def transfer honors while also tightening up detail (including shadow detail) and improving color representation. Film grain remains happily intact, and compression artifacts are banished. The atmospheric, lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix ably recreates the theatrical aural effect with some humble separation and a boost to musical fidelity.
The disc comes with two commentaries by director Jean-Jacques Annaud, the first of which (in English) the filmmaker has confessed is not so hot, while the second (in French) was recorded years later and is better prepared. It's very cool that Warner has provided both tracks; fans of the film will no doubt want to plumb both.
Also here are the fine German making-of doc "The Abbey of Crime: Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose" (43:26, SD), the video retrospective "Photo Video Journey with Director Jean-Jacques Annaud" (16:06, SD), and the film's "Theatrical Trailer" (2:10, SD).
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