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Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, directed and adapted by Tom Stoppard from his stage play, takes Shakespeare's Hamlet and turns it inside out, placing Elsinore's ZIP code not far from Beckett's Waiting for Godot. This 1990 film follows two bit-part nobodies from Shakespeare's tragedy. They have been summoned to Elsinore, where the king orders them to spy on Prince Hamlet for reasons they cannot comprehend. Played with colorless deadpan by Gary Oldman and Tim Roth, these clueless pawns are now Stoppard's doomed leads. When they're not intersecting the events of Hamlet, they're pondering the implications and limitations of their incomprehensibly stage-managed — and unalterably predestined — roles. On the road they meet an itinerant theater troupe led by the flamboyant Player (Richard Dreyfuss), an eloquent rogue who's more clued in to R & G's circumstances than they could ever hope to be.

Some plays can't help but lose too much in translation to film. On stage, the sprightly teleological riffs and bebop dialogue delight as ends in themselves. Here they're leaden and compromised. Stoppard's stint as a one-time-only director provides its own disappointments. The three leads deliver a few well-turned moments, but as a whole it's uninspired and only spottily entertaining or provocative, two characters in search of an auteur.

*          *          *

Image Entertainment's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead receives a two-disc Special Edition treatment. Disc One hold a faultless print and transfer (1.85:1 anamorphic) with DD 2.0 stereo and DD 5.1. audio options. Disc Two holds fine new bonuses produced for this DVD edition, namely four meaty interviews with the author and actors. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Mark Bourne

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