Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actor: Kenneth Branagh
Director: Kenneth Branagh
"Hamlet has the kind of power, energy and excitement that movies can truly exploit," actor/director Kenneth Branagh says. In this first full-text film of William Shakespeare's play ? shot on 65mm film and exhibited in Pana... more »
For anything so o'erdone is from the purpose of playing
Yorick17 | 07/22/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The long and the short of it: Kenneth Branagh's four-hour uncut Hamlet is a brilliant concept that is derailed by its own good intentions. To his credit, Branagh does an admirable job of presenting each and every scene in the order which it was written (or at least compiled.) The actor/director/adaptor-for-the-screen/what-have-you surrounds himself with what may be the finest and most distinguished Shakespearean ensemble cast ever assembled, though many of this fine group are pitiably underused (Dame Judi Dench and Sir John Gielgud as the Hecuba and Priam of the Player's monologue spring to mind.) Blenheim Palace, the film's Elsinore, is almost jaw-droppingly beautiful, and Alexandra Byrne's costumes are equally lush. But where Hamlet falters, it falters enough to render the film almost unwatchable. Director Branagh's decision to do "the whole Hamlet" is ambitious and perhaps even inspired in an ironic sort of way. But it becomes evident from even the first few minutes that Branagh takes his idea far beyond respect and admiration for the Bard--it's almost holy reverence. I like to imagine Branagh assembling his cast and crew on the first day of production and telling them (to quote an extremely different movie): "Guys...we're on a mission from God."
Unfortunately for the viewer, Branagh decides to equate the Ultimate Tragedy with ULTIMATE DRAMA. This means that in the opening scene of the play (which to some degree should set the tone for the rest of the film,) there is not the commonplace, though admittedly tense, changing-of-the-guard scene between Francisco and Barnardo. No, no, to make sure that we feel the DRAMA and IMPORTANCE of the film, poor Barnardo is quite literally jumped by his replacement. This scene (remember, the first scene of the entire play) concludes with a come-on-he's-not-that-spry Jack Lemmon fiercely hoisting a javelin at the not-scary Ghost of Hamlet's father, who is promptly rendered even less scary when one realizes that the curiously motorized movement of the figure is oddly reminiscent of those cardboard cutouts Macaulay Culkin taped to his train set to scare away the burglars in Home Alone. Patrick Doyle's hopelessly intrusive score does not alleviate matters. Quite some beginning, eh?
When the film isn't being melodramatic--which it frequently is, especially in Hamlet's scene with the Ghost, where apparently it's thought to add atmosphere to show the same shot over and over of the earth cracking into pieces and steam billowing from the fissure. A disappointingly overwrought Brian Blessed doesn't help either--it's being stage-y. Which would be fine...if this was a stage production. Consider the court scene at the beginning. The long shot of Claudius and Gertrude (apparently coming straight from their wedding) processing down the aisle with hundreds of courtiers and dignitaries rising to their feet and observing would be absolutely magnificent in a theater (no, I don't mean a movie theater)---you'd actually feel as if you were part of the royal court of Denmark. On screen, it just feels...excessive. One place where I did really admire the use of long shots, however, was when characters were in the middle of monologues. The lack of quick cuts and other editing tricks really lets you focus on the words and the expressions of the actor saying them. You could definitely tell that these are incredible actors who aren't just reading off of cue cards.
Which brings us to the acting. As I said, most of the ensemble cast is brilliant; there are precious few wrong turns (Jack Lemmon, maybe.) Derek Jacobi and Julie Christie (finally, an age-appropriate Gertrude!) play their roles better than any other film King and Queen. Claudius is likable enough initially, and Gertrude is both doting and slightly clueless. It was also nice to see Branagh steer away from the incest theme so common to previous versions. Richard Briers as Polonius nicely does a more sinister version of his Leonato in Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing; he is neither too nasty nor too comic. Kate Winslet's Ophelia is equally good; her portrayal is sensitive without being as innocent as Jean Simmons in Olivier's production. Unlike some other viewers, I don't object to the decision to have her in a straitjacket during her mad scene. Among the rest of the cast, Charlton Heston and Robin Williams have great dramatic and comic turns as the Player and Osric, respectively, and come off especially well. Alas, poor Yorick, that leaves Branagh. Kenneth Branagh is not a bad actor. Unfortunately, that does not mean he is a good Hamlet. Branagh was terrific as the earnest and intense Henry V (also self-directed) and the bickering yet good-hearted Benedick in Much Ado (also also self-directed.) What he lacks, and what his performance so badly cries out for, is subtlety. His Hamlet does not come across as a deeply troubled man in his twenties, but rather as a petulant, emo teenager. He seems to be perpetually either screwing up his expressive face and screaming his lines or blankly whispering them as if they were the word of God--again, it's Hamlet, not St. Hamlet.
So after five acts, four hours, and more than 4,000 lines, we end up with what may unequivocally be termed a Very Silly Finale. We are shocked, not by the sudden violence of it all, but by the magical properties of Hamlet's SuperSword, which goes zinging across Blenheim Palace like a rocket-propelled grenade to land squarely in Claudius' back. Hmm, seems Laertes wasn't the only one skirting the fencing rules when he selected his foil. And I can say that I was positively stunned when dear Ken didn't start belting a few bars of Andrew Lloyd Webber when he cut that chandelier down (hey, melodrama is melodrama, right?) Finally, militarily correct or no, when Mr. Branagh made the shot of his dead self in the crucifixion pose, I don't think he was trying to impress us with his historical accuracy. St. Hamlet or St. Kenneth? Maybe I was wrong all along.
Adventure Fan | 08/30/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"1080p or not 1080p. That is the question. I saw this last on VHS. Holy balls of awesome. This blu-ray is like seeing the movie again for the first time. I have a bias. This is my favorite movie version of Hamlet. This version is the reason I started Rash & Bloody Deeds Productions, and directed Hamlet at university. I'm not going to review the film. Just the blu-ray. If you don't own a 70mm print of this, this blu-ray is the best way to experience these performances. The inky blacks, the depth of blood, the deepness of the resolution. I watched this on 50" plasma. I wish I had a 150" projector/screen to absorb all the detail encoded in the picture. I haven't seen too many reviews of this blu-ray. I wanted to kick in a 5-star vote, both for video and audio. The clarity of the speech by the Player King. And I loved the commentary."
Robin Simmons | Palm Springs area, CA United States | 09/06/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"William Shakespeare is proving himself a damn fine screenwriter who continues to dazzle us with his extraordinary wordsmithing and deep understanding of human ambition and foibles. Kenneth Branagh stars as Hamlet. He also adapted and directed this beautifully realized version that's set in the 19th century world. Quite different from Lawrence Olivier's 1944 film, this 1996 version of the timeless tale of sex, murder, ghosts, corruption and revenge is set in lavishly mirrored, gilded interiors. Along with Branagh, the cast includes, Julie Christie, Kate Winslett, Derek Jacobi, Billy Crystal, Jack Lemmon, Robin Williams, Charlton Heston and others. Shot in 65mm film and exhibited in Panavision Super 70, the glory of the ravishing hi-def disc is a site to behold. This is the definitive film adaptation of Shakespeare's longest (4 hours), and perhaps greatest, play. "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." Thankfully for us."
"The Serpent that Rules"
F. S. L'hoir | Irvine, CA | 04/17/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"One of the main reasons for watching Kenneth Branagh's production of Hamlet is to see Derek Jacobi's remarkable portrayal of yet another Claudius--in this case the venomous usurper of Denmark's throne. Jacobi makes this often-forgettable part his own, to such an extent that he practically runs away with the show; and in Branagh's stellar cast, which includes Julie Christie as Gertrude, Kate Winslet as Ophelia, and Branagh as Hamlet, this is no mean feat. The dynamics between Claudius and Gertrude as their relationship subtly deteriorates during the course of the play are fascinating. Far from being one-dimensional, Jacobi's portrayal of Claudius is as vital as it is nuanced, and one finds oneself waiting for his entrance with great anticipation.
Kenneth Branagh's Shakespeare productions are always innovative in respect to interpretation, settings, and cast. For example, he makes the subtext of the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia explicit in such a way that elucidates the rather salty lyrics of the songs in her mad scene. Most of Branagh's innovations work in this production with its opulent Edwardian costumes and mirrored sets, which make use of the exterior of Blenheim Palace as a background. While the manufactured snow sets a wintry mood for Shakespeare's metaphor for the sickness of the State, one must suspend one's disbelief when it comes to Ophelia's drowning with "fantastic garlands . . . of crow-flowers nettles, daisies" and other "weedy trophies," since Shakespeare's "weeping brook" as Branagh presents the mise-en-scene would have been frozen solid (But in an otherwise excellent production, who cares about such picky details?). One wonders, however, whether the rose-petals with which Branagh showers the actors in the court scene, as well as in "Much Ado About Nothing" and "As You Like It," are to be regarded as a signature, or as a cliche? The third time around, they are no longer an innovation. And although the swinging chandelier in the fencing scene seems rather Zorro-ish, since the scene calls for spectacle, why not?
Branagh always takes chances in his casting, and in most cases in "Hamlet", they pay off. Billy Crystal plays a delightful comic-relief gravedigger along with Simon Russell Beale, and Robin Williams in his role as Osric serves a similar purpose in relieving the tension before the duel; Rosemary Harris and Charlton Heston are convincing as the player Queen and King; and Jack Lemmon's appearance as a guard is charitably short. Richard Attenborough brings outstanding dignity to his brief appearance as the British Ambassador, and I was blown away by the glimpse of Judy Dench as the grief-stricken Hecuba and John Gielgud as the dying Priam in the vignette about the Trojan War. Branagh's imaginative use of sundry theatrical luminaries both contributes texture to the play and adds interest to what might otherwise be a very long evening, since he presents Shakespeare's play almost in its entirety.
The diction of the actors is superb, and the English subtitles ensure that every word of Shakespeare's text in this two disc-production will be understood. There is a lot to enjoy in Kenneth Branagh's highly inventive production of "Hamlet: Prince of Denmark.""