The RSC puts a modern spin on Shakespeare's Hamlet in this filmed-for-television version of their stage production. The Prince of Denmark seeks vengeance after his father is murdered and his mother marries the murderer.
New York, 2000. A specter in the guise of the newly-dead CEO of Denmark Corporation appears to Hamlet, tells of murder most foul, demands revenge, and identifies the killer as Claudius, the new head of Denmark, Hamlet's uncle and now step-father. Hamlet must determine if the ghost is truly his father, and if Claudius did the deed. To buy time, Hamlet feigns madness; to catch his uncle's conscience, he invites him to watch a film he's made that shows a tale of murder. Finally convinced of Claudius's guilt, Hamlet must avenge his father. Claudius now knows Hamlet is a threat and even uses Ophelia, Hamlet's love, in his own plots against the young man. Murder will out? Written by
Either Almereyda or the Miramax really missed the boat with this one.
Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Sam Shepard, Diane Venora, Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, Karl Geary; directed by Michael Almereyda, loosely based on the play by the Immortal William Shakespeare This is not your father's Hamlet, and really not your Hamlet either.
Set in modern day New York City, this adaptation by director Michael Almereyda attempts to blend the all time classic with a modern day lifestyle, while retaining the traditional speech and lines of the play. Unintentionally comical for those familiar with the piece, it actually is able to combine the two worlds of twentieth century New York and sixteenth century Denmark quite well.
However this is also the movies downfall, as only with a working knowledge of the classic are you able to understand the modern work, otherwise it is completely incoherent, with vital cogs of the plot missing.
Denmark is no longer a country but now a corporation, Cladius (MacLachlan) not a King, but now a CEO. Computers and video are now the norm, as this is how the movie begins. Polonius (Murray) is both the best character and also probably miscast, as he would have done much better in a cameo as the gravedigger, a scene that is deleted entirely! This gem and other scenes were deleted in order to pare down the length of the film, while attempting to preserve all major known lines. Yet, as earlier mentioned, for those who do not have a strong background in the classical work, you will be quickly lost. The so-called 'fluff' that the producers thought Shakespeare used actually made the tale so brilliant, relevant, and understandable. The modern work is none of these, only an ancillary piece for those with a vast Hamlet knowledge.
The major scenes are also greatly adapted to fit the environment, mostly to no effect. Most of the movie occurs in high-rise apartments or board rooms, giving it an awkward type of feel. With Hamlet (Hawke) and Ophelia (Stiles) being constantly watched in a city such as New York, i thought I was observing a Mafia film, as indeed that is what the Denmark corporation felt like, killing of Old Hamlet and all. Maybe that adaptation could've been a better fit, for the reduced length also makes the piece less-watchable, and much more bland with none of the intrigue. The murder of Polonius in the laundromat, Old Hamlet being seen on a security camera, and Ophelia committing suicide in a Guggenheim fountain just does not have the same feel, something is definitely missing.
In all this film likely misses both it's core audience and lacks the mass-market appeal that it was trying for. If a full four-hour version was released word-for-word of the original work, it would likely be a cult classic, as it has the makings of a strong work. In all honesty, how can such a great work like Hamlet be lacking if shown in its entirety? In the attempt for a higher box-office, the two hour version has no soul. If you find yourself in Blockbuster and face the same question as Hamlet, of whether this version is 'To be or not to be' showing on your TV that night, most likely it is not to be. However, if you are a teenage girl and enjoy looking at Ethan Hawke, or a Shakespeare aficionado who wishes to laugh at some unintentional humor, this could be the ticket. A shame that more did not come out of such a great cast, interesting premise, and mother of all base material in Shakespeare. Either Almereyda or the Miramax really missed the boat with this one.
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