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I'd put off viewing this version of "Hamlet" for a long time, because
I'd heard that they'd turned this most cerebral of plays into an
"action movie", but I ended up quite liking it.
I should begin by saying that I approve of ALL interpretations, because each choice reflects different possibilities all of which are supportable by the text; no one vision can encompass every potentiality inherent in the play. And the text per se, of course, will always exist in absolute form despite the number of hands that manipulate it.
All productions (except Branagh's) cut certain elements as a sacrifice to tighter (though narrower) focus. And the use of film rather than stage allows (even necessitates) different types of dramatic development. Films unfold at a different pace than stage plays. Zefirelli's adaptations WORK as film-making, without detracting from (or unnecessarily supplementing) Shakespeare's language. For instance, the little "prologue" scene showing the internment of the dead king. It is original to the movie, and yet the dialogue is still from the play; it doesn't misrepresent anything about the characters in its new context. And perhaps most importantly, it "works" in the movie that the director is making. But on to the substantive comment...
Mel Gibson was, in my opinion, too old to be Hamlet (making Glenn Close, by extension, too young to be Gertrude), but the issue of Hamlet's age has always been a problem. He's 30 in the text (this version leaves out that calculation), but that makes some of his relationships (with Ophelia, for instance) seem a little... immature. And yet if he's portrayed too young, his depth of thought is almost impossibly precocious. But I thought he was convincing nonetheless, particularly in expressing something that I've found central to my understanding of the play but I all too rarely see dealt with in Hamlet's portrayal, which is this:
Hamlet IS quite mad. 'Tis true: 'tis true 'tis pity, and pity 'tis 'tis true. From his first meeting with the ghost onwards, he is profoundly disturbed. It is irony that he then puts an 'antic disposition' on, because he has in actuality gone quite 'round the bend.
Mel Gibson not only gives the first convincing portrayal of Hamlet's "pretended" madness that I've seen, but he also shows us the desperation of the character in his quiet moments. Hamlet is not, as Olivier posited in his 1948 version, merely "a man who could not make up his mind." Gibson's Hamlet spends much of the film alternating between mania-induced impulsiveness and paralyzing inability to act. The Dane is not merely melancholy, he is certifiably manic-depressive. (Claudius, I believe, sees this.)
Over all, I believe that this would be a good introduction to the story of Hamlet for those who otherwise would have had no contact with it, although as I said it can then be supplemented by other adaptations (and of course there's no substitute for, ultimately, reading the text).
Zeferelli, although cut some seemingly vital parts to the play, made it his
own, and created a beautiful tribute to Shakespeare. I am sure if the Bard
had a camera, he would have filmed and wrote the screenplay somewhat the
Mel Gibson has portrayed Hamlet in the most true-to-human nature as anyone ever has. His brooding and depressing personality is realistic. Gibson doesn't allow the madness to overcome him. He is passionate, powerful and the epitome of the son who has gone through hell over his father's death and incestuous marriage of his mother. His performance brings tears to my eyes.
Glenn Close is amazing; her motherly attitude and sincerity toward Hamlet is so much that one sometimes cannot feel anger towards her. Close gives life to Gertrude that no one has been able to before or after. She is a real character, with traits both despicable and kind.
The other performances are astounding, especially when it comes to Helena Bonham-Carter's moment of lunacy in Ophelia. Her reaction to her father's death is so convincing and terribly sad that I cry at merely seeing her.
The interpretation of the story is a perfect one that required surely a great amount of thought and reading of the very play. Zeferelli interprets it so well, that it flows like real life. Every aspect comes together to form a very real event.
Zeferelli is a master filmmaker, and I highly suggest this film to anyone who has ever marveled at the human spirit portrayed through film, and literature as well.
Mel Gibson explained how Hamlet was shot out of sequence. He lamented the film cut the 4 hour play in half and how it is more suited to the stage. He confessed it only "seemed" like he played Hamlet. But it was his portrayal of the confused Dane which made me respect him as an actor. I cared nothing for Mad Max or his previous work. Hamlet is a beautiful film. The grays and browns of the middle ages contrast nicely with the colorful Glenn Close as Gertrude. Hamlet was directed by Franco Zefferelli who did Romeo and Juliet 22 years earlier. I found this remarkable. We are told the themes of Hamlet are revenge, madness and procrastination. Its overwhelming concern is death in all its forms: murder, suicide and natural causes. "To be or not to be." In the graveyard, Hamlet contemplates the skull of a court jester he knew as a child. Shakespeare's greatest play asks life's biggest questions. Why must we die? What is the point of life if we must die? Is there life after death? Heaven? Hell? Biblical thinking pervades the play. There was little science in either mideval Denmark or Elizabethan England. Mel Gibson brought an energy to his role not seen before. His facial expressions show his mental state. Helena Bonham Carter renders a distracted Ophelia.
I have to admit I really like this film. Zefferelli is an unappreciated
master: he knows how to stage a crowd (essential to his Romeo and Juliet),
and move people; how to frame and light a sequence so it flows. He has a
fine sense of color and its movement. Moreover, this Hamlet has the very
best set, and also to my mind the best Gertrude.
What he has done is focus on the story. He's chopped and dropped and rearranged to create a story that makes sense. It moves and moves well from beginning to end. But.
But the problem is that Shakespeare's play is not at all about the story. That's just the skeleton on which some life altering metaphoric structure is built. Now all gone. You'll need Branagh for that, but his story doesn't flow effortlessly as this does.
Result: If you want Hamlet, seek him elsewhere. If you want a similar, masterful piece of filmwork, look here. The language is fittingly conversational not stentorian, so that the players can manage it. Just as well.
Ophelia is very pretty, and in her greatly reduced role does well. Her start-double take-astonishment-puzzlement after the play within the play is a moment which will last in your mind. This is an actress to watch.
Trivia: The incidental Osric here is the wonderful Mercutio in Zefferelli's much earlier Romeo and Juliet around whom the whole play revolves. The First Player (incidental in this version) is the excellent Friar in the other (macho thug MTV) Romeo + Juliet around whom that whole version revolves. Curious.
Hamlet Movie Review
The movie "Hamlet," released in January 18, 1991, shows director Franco Zeffirelli's selections of Shakespeare's original Hamlet and reflects one intriguing possibility of the text. There are various interpretations of each character and the story; however, no one vision can adequately encompass every perspective of the play. The text, of course, will always exist in permanent form and it is up to the individual's interpretation to make the story their own. Zeffirelli did a terrific job at directing such a complex story into a film easily understood by viewers.
In most translations from books to movies, producers sacrifice certain elements to narrow the focus and make the film unique to his style. The use of film techniques, compared to the Victorian stage plays, allows different dramatic developments in the story. Thus, the movie unfolds at a different pace than stage play, creating a whole new dynamic between scene transitioning. Christopher de Vore's skill as a screenwriter accurately portrays the characters without detracting from Shakespeare's language. For example, the prologue in the beginning of the movie demonstrates the enthrallment of Hamlet Senior as a ghost. Retaining the originality to the dialogue in the text, the movie is still unique to the director's vision. Most importantly, the director's interpretation of the story works well in developing the depth of each character without creating a new twist in the story of "Hamlet." Although he cut some essential parts from the play, Zeffirelli employed his own style and created an amazing tribute to Shakespeare. He edited parts of the movie and rearranged it to create a story that would make sense to contemporary audiences. Through this, he gives in an apparent life to the play which moves well from beginning to end.
Shakespeare's play is not at all about the story. The story is just the outer armor on which some life altering metaphoric structure is built around. For example, Hamlet Junior bellows, "Tis true: 'tis true 'tis pity, and pity 'tis true." From Hamlet Junior's first meeting with Hamlet Senior's ghost, he is profoundly disturbed and begins to question his mentality and judgment of reality. Ironically, he pretends to be crazy to conceal his true plans to kill his uncle Claudius. Zeffirelli has a fine sense of coloring in each scene with movement between light and dark, and good and evil. Zeffirelli focuses on the characters and allows them lead the storyline without compromising the text's originality.
One complaint is that Mel Gibson seemed to be too old for the role of Hamlet, thereby making Glenn Close too young to be Gertrude. The issue of Hamlet's age has always been a problem. According to the text, he is supposed to be in his thirties; however, that makes some of his relationships with Ophelia, for instance, seem pedophiliac. Yet, if Hamlet is portrayed too young, the depth of his thought is almost impossible to imagine. I thought he was a good actor; particularly in reciting the Shakespearean lines is something I have found most important to my understanding of the story. His passion clearly portrays a son who has gone through madness over his father's death, contemplation of murdering his uncle, and the incestuous marriage of his mother. Gibson not only gives a convincing depiction of Hamlet's cloak of madness, but also shows us the desperation of the character in his quiet moments as Hamlet is not a man who could not make up his mind, but rather, one who riddled with uncertainty. Thus, Gibson spends much of the film alternating between mania-induced impulsiveness and paralyzing inability to function with sanity. Glenn Close is amazing as she portrays Gertrude as a real character, with traits both shameful and empathetic. Helena Bonham-Carter's performance is astounding as well, especially her moment of lunacy as Ophelia in reacting to the death of her father, Polonius. The cast of characters in this version of Hamlet was more than enough to bring Shakespeare's stage theater alive on screen.
Overall, I believe that this is a good foundation to understanding the language of Hamlet further, and would be supplemented with the Shakespearean text. I commend Zeferelli as a master filmmaker for his directing skills. I would promote this acclaimed film to anyone who has ever marveled at Shakespearean language and would like to watch a film literature as well.
This film was my first introduction to the story of Hamlet, and though condensed and simplified it did a magnificent job. I was only 11, but it made me fall madly in love with Hamlet. After reading it, it quickly became my favorite Shakespeare play. I love how clear and defined the film is, while still having the essence of Shakespeare's intent. The acting is so intense, yet believable. I love the interpretation of the era, and how the delivery of the lines made them so easy to grasp without losing the authenticity. The play is really long and repetitive, so I think this movie did a fantastic job of really getting the meat. In some other Shakespeare film adaptations I've seen the lines are stale and rehearsed, and it really shocks me that someone could accuse these actors of being out of touch with the dialog. I found it to be quite the opposite. So many of the scenes are just so juicy. They really capture the story's power and depth. Plus, I'm really into that period, so I found it difficult to get into Branagh's film, no matter how good it was, *and* I really can't stand to watch Kenneth Branaugh. He really irritates me because I feel like he uses this same set of annoying expressions for every couple phrases. Huge apologies to all those out there who worship him. It's just how I feel. This version is just more my cup of tea in so many ways.
Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, Helena Bonham Carter make this a great version of Hamlet. The camerawork is very intimate- especially the scene where Hamlet confronts his mother in the bedroom. I could almost feel their breath, and when Hamlet holds the skull of Yorick. I wanted to check this one out because a new Hamlet with Ethan Hawke is coming out this summer. This was a very energetic version of Hamlet- I think I understood the Danes madness with Gibson's interpretation.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
And vice versa.
Hamlet is, to me, the greatest work in the English language. It dares us to look at the truth of our own mortality and at the same time consider right vs wrong.
Branagh's choice was to present the entire play, Zefirelli chose to compress it for the screen. Each choice has its merits. I like Branagh's version too and I think it's a mistake to compare the 2 versions or add a comparison to Olivier either. Judge each on its own merits.
Looking at this film, Mel Gibson is simply great. His Hamlet is obviously someone with a zest for life and a sense of humor who is completely stunned by the events at the opening of the film and thrown even more off kilter by his father's ghost. All I can say is, I love the way he plays it. The other players are excellent as well. I've never particularly liked Glenn Close's looks, but she's a great actress. Helena is my favorite Ophelia ever. And Alan Bates is superb.
I've never quite accepted the theory that Hamlet can't make up his mind. Just reading the play one sees Hamlet go from a thirst for blood to messing around with a fencing match because Claudius placed a bet on it. How to explain this? What we are seeing is a bright, brilliant mind going through a nervous breakdown and then regaining sanity.
You HAVE TO understand, too, that Hamlet can't just go stick a sword in his popular uncle and say his father's ghost told him to do it. Pay attention and it's clear that he needs more than just the word of the ghost and this limits his choices. After the visit from his father's ghost Hamlet seems to be not just feigning madness but literally out of his mind, he's not in control. Hamlet tells us that one reason not to commit suicide is that God has outlawed that choice. If Hamlet accepts that from God, how can he commit murder, even if his father's ghost tells him to? Hamlet's "antic disposition" at the Mousetrap is not an act. And Gibson's Hamlet really is off his rocker when he rails at his mother and accidentally kills Polonius. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are victims of this madness as well.
The Hamlet who comes back from England isn't charging back to Denmark for revenge, is he? He hardly mentions it. To me, at this point Hamlet HAS made up his mind. He has resigned himself to the fact that he does not want to be a killer and he is going to take things a day at a time. Gibson plays it with this sense of resignation. He still has his intelligence and sense of humor, he's regained control of himself. He is swept into the duel with Laertes willy-nilly, there is no more strategy for killing the king. He's almost beginning to enjoy life again as the duel starts. He even tells Laertes that he was crazy when Polonius was killed and says it wasn't the real Hamlet who did that. It's not until Gertrude is poisoned and Laertes tells Hamlet he is doomed that he explodes with rage again and doubly kills Claudius. His father's murder isn't the reason for this act, it's rage at Claudius for the deaths of Getrude, Laertes, and Hamlet himself.
Hamlet's fatal flaw isn't indecision, it's his humanity, intelligence, and his conscience. That's the human being that Shakespeare created and Gibson brings to life.
What a joy this adaptation is! Its main virtues are a fine performance
from Mel Gibson as Hamlet; a script that makes full use of the movie
medium while giving Shakespeare sufficient scope to enrich and
entertain us with his people and his words; two great performances from
Alan Bates as Claudius and Paul Scofield as the Ghost; two good
performances from Nathaniel Parker as Laertes and Glenn Close as
Gertrude; and a fine music score from Ennio Morricone that anticipates
and amplifies our emotions.
First, my criticisms. In directing his actors, Franco Zefferelli makes two big mistakes, one interesting and one painful. The interesting mistake: Ian Holm changes Polonius from a doddering old man to someone evil-minded and fully possessed of his wits. When this Polonius babbles about plays that are "pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral" he is being deliberately comic. One scene demonstrates the badness of this choice. We have no idea why this sharp-witted, not-very-old man is prating to the king and queen instead of coming to the point about Hamlet's madness. (Then again, Richard Briers gives us a smart Polonius in Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet," and there it worked.) The painful mistake: Helena Bonham-Carter changes Ophelia from a meek victim to a strong-willed, independent-minded young woman. The director and actress probably thought they were being good little feminists, but the idea is psychologically and dramatically disastrous. Bonham-Carter's Ophelia could never go mad. And even if she could, her crass new self is no longer sharply contrasted with a meek former self. This Ophelia seems fully capable of being earthy and vulgar even before she loses her mind. This blunts the effect of the mad scenes which in themselves are beautifully presented and played.
Now the praise. Gibson reads Shakespeare's words skillfully and is bettered in this regard only by Bates and Scofield; his readings convey the words' music and meaning: at long last I understand the line, "What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven." He also reveals one aspect of Hamlet that I see when I read the play. Hamlet is never more dangerous, or off-putting, than when he's clowning. The melancholy Hamlet attracts me and the joking Hamlet repels me. Gibson's Hamlet does the same.
Shakespeare never suffers from the artful cutting and rearrangement of his text. This script is especially clever. Among many nice surprises was hearing Hamlet deliver his "Get thee to a nunnery" speech to Ophelia as they sit in the audience before the play. Even better are the dozens of little touches that only a movie can provide. I loved how the camera showed Hamlet and Polonius spy on scenes that in most productions take place out of their sights. But the script and direction are also a shade too restless. The camera shots and the scenery change rapidly as characters dart from one place to another. Once or twice the movie should have paused and let us luxuriate in the language. The perfect opportunity would have been the "To be or not to be" speech; but Gibson and Zefferelli make it a scene of high drama. I craved the usual Hamlet who stops and tells us what he thinks because he wants to overhear himself.
The idea of Hamlet and Gertrude lusting for each other works surprisingly well. Most post-Freudian productions present this notion, but I don't think it's in the play. The interview in the bed chamber is Polonius' idea, not Hamlet's or Gertrude's. And even Hamlet's most piquant behavior, including his condemnation of his mother's sex life, is consistent with that of a son outraged by his mother's betrayal of his father; but it's inconsistent with that of a jealous son. Surely a jealous son wouldn't dither over killing Claudius. But the script shears off those inconsistencies, and the actors make it work. I could see it in Hamlet's eyes the moment he's alone with the ghost: "Oh, God, let it not find out that I want my mother."
Mel Gibson and Franco Zeffirelli's adaptation of Hamlet has filled some of
the gaps left by Shakespeare. This version of the classic story is
thoroughly watchable. Gibson is perfect as Hamlet the Prince of Denmark, and
he is well supported by Glenn Close (Gertrude), Alan Bates (Claudius), Ian
Holm (Polonius) and Helena Bonham Carter (Ophelia). However, after already
seeing Kenneth Branagh's 4-hour long version, I was left a little let down.
Although this version was only 2 hours 20 minutes approximately, it was more
boring in parts than Branagh's was. And no one can beat Kate Winslet as
Ophelia, though Bonham Carter performed the lunatic scenes extremely
The acting, as is aboveforementioned, is the highlight of this version. You can see the emotions boiling over on Gibson's face, and Close gives Gertrude's nature a remarkable realism as both a worried mother and a lustful lover. Bates is the best Claudius I have ever seen, and Holm displays in Polonius what makes him such a great actor.
This Hamlet has an extremely good set design that complements the mood of each scene perfectly. The castle has a great look to it, both inside and outside.
The costumes, particularly those worn by Close, are excellent. They really highlight the mood and temprament of her character perfectly. On top of this, all of the costumes worn by the players (actors in Hamlet's play) in colour and shape symbolise the message that Hamlet was trying to get across.
Technically, this film is very well put together. The shots are each able to complement the action in that shot. Sound effects, especially in the ghost apparitions, as well as the lighting and juxtapositioning, set the moody feel of the film.
Of course, one cannot escape comparing this to Branagh's masterpiece, though in its own right is is a great version of Shakespeare's play that, through its star power and easier-to-follow storyline, should attract the younger audiences that saw Baz Lurmann's 'Romeo + Juliet', '10 Things I Hate About You' and will possibly see the upcoming 'O'. ***1/2 out of *****.
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