MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5)
Kenneth Branagh as HAMLET
Derek Jacobi as CLAUDIUS
Julie Christie as GERTRUDE
Richard Briers as POLONIUS
Michael Maloney as LAERTES
Kate Winslet as OPHELIA
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
BY KEVIN CARR
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
In 1996, Kenneth Branagh directed and starred in the first (and only) screen adaptation of “Hamlet” that included the full text, yielding a four-hour film of the classic Shakespearean play. Set in the Victorian era, this brightly-lit version of the play was filmed in 70mm, being the last full-length feature to have done so. The story follows a brooding son of a murdered king who struggles with the knowledge that his uncle had killed his father for the throne.
WHAT I LIKED
It is impossible to have any long-term exposure to television and movies without having some of Shakespeare seep into your brain, even if you’re avoiding the actual performances of the plays. From “Star Trek” and Mel Brooks to “The Lion King” and “Sons of Anarchy,” the works of William Shakespeare provide inspiration to characters and storylines.
While “Hamlet” has never been my favorite Shakespeare play, I can appreciate it and respect the hell out of it. In this sense, any respectable filmgoer should make a point to sit through the full version of the story at least one time in his or her life, if for no other reason than to encounter the long list of idioms that our language has drawn from the page.
After watching this, I can say that I do like the Zeffirelli version of the story better, and not just because it is shorter. Zeffirelli’s version is more visceral and less elegant, but that doesn’t mean that Branagh’s choices were bad ones.
In fact, Branagh has directed a strikingly different film version than anyone else would have thought. From the vibrant production design to the almost too-brightly lit sets, there’s a simultaneous warmth and chill about this adaptation. It is wholly a new take on “Hamlet,” and with a cast filled with entertaining cameos, it’s one of the few must-see movies out there.
Finally, because the film was originated on 70mm, it is a gorgeous looking Blu-ray transfer, almost like looking through a window rather than at a hi-def screen. With home theater presentation as crisp as it is today, the beauty of the large format really comes through.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
Of course, I have to mention the extended running time as a down-side to the film. Sure, it’s necessary for the full Shakespeare production, but it is a chore at times. There’s a reason the play is often edited down. After all, it was written for audiences more than 400 years ago, and the expectation of an Elizabethan theatrical audience is far different from that of the modern cinematic one, for better or for worse.
Another drawback is Kenneth Branagh in the lead role. Sure, he’s competent as an actor, but he seems a bit too burdened with the acting and directing of the film. At times, he could have used another director reeling him in a bit and smoothing his acting out. For a film like his adaptation of “Much Ado About Nothing,” he thrived in a smaller role within an ensemble cast, but with the entirety of “Hamlet” on his shoulders, he doesn’t always live up to the performance of his co-stars, like Derek Jacobi.
This Blu-ray is part of the series of releases from Warner Bros. which includes a book packaging, making a sturdy and unique way of presenting the disc. This book includes a look at the cast, the legacy of the play and some fun trivia.
Features on the disc include an informative introduction by Kenneth Branagh as well as the trailer, the Cannes sizzle reel and a 30-minute look at the production of “Hamlet” in film (all of which seem to play a good portion of the “To Be or Not To Be” speech, so you should get your fill of that). There is also a commentary to the film featuring Branagh and Shakespeare scholar Russell Jackson.
WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
People who feel incomplete without a full-text version of “Hamlet.”