Personal Favorite Review: Hamlet (1996)

Four hours of Shakespeare. What more could you ask for?

  • If you were to ask me what my favorite movie adaptation of a classic novel is, I’d probably say Kenneth Branagh’s version of Hamlet. The guy seems to be in his element when doing Shakespeare plays, and this four-hour long epic basically captures everything great about the original source whilst adding just the right amount of visual flourishes to work on its own as a feature-length film.
  • There’s not really much point in describing the plot to you guys because it’s pretty much the same as the play, and who doesn’t know the plot of that? And anyone who does know the plot can probably understand why this movie is as long as it is. Attempts to condense the story haven’t exactly been met with rave reviews in the past, so I’m really glad the producers gave the okay for an unabridged adaptation. Plus, if you need to take a break, there is an intermission about two and a half hours in.
  • I do like how in addition to being the director, Branagh actually plays Hamlet in this film. It really can’t be easy to be the center of attention both in front and behind the camera, but man he does a great job at it, although I can understand the criticisms that his portrayal is a bit over-the-top.

Hey there Hamlet. Can I call you Ham? Or maybe Let?

  • And I also love the other characters as well. Claudius, Ophelia, Horatio, and such are very well-cast and characterized, even if sometimes you see the actors more than the characters with some of them (Kate Winslet, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams). Claudius is obviously the bad guy who you want to see die and all, but I do like how he’s portrayed as a very troubled man with real emotions, especially when you contrast him with the more cartoonish portrayal of our lead character.
  • Admittedly I’m not very good at understanding the dialogue in this film even with subtitles because it’s mostly word-for-word what’s in the original play and I’m bad at digesting that sort of old-school theatricality. As such, I’ve had to rely on my memory of major events in the play to understand exactly what was going on. Or just use Wikipedia.
  • However, while the dialogue and plot remains the same as the original, the setting and costume designs are definitely not from that era. Unlike Titus, it all takes place in one historical setting, but I’m not really sure what you call it other than it takes place in the 1800s. Nevertheless, it really complements the story well, and any fan of cinematography/movie-making will definitely slobber at all the visual candy in front of them.

The only fight scene in the movie is at the very end, and it is well worth the wait

  • Like I even need to say much more about Hamlet. If you love the play (and who doesn’t?) then you’ll love this movie. It wastes none of its 246 minutes, always dedicating it to the strong characterization and craft twists/turns to the revenge formula that make the original story timeless in many people’s eyes.
  • While you might want to take a break once in a while, you’ll most likely come back to finish it before too long. Well-written, epic to look at, powerfully acted, and based on some of the best source material from one of the greatest historical writers. What more could you ask for?

Minor Quips

  • Keep in mind I haven’t watched any of The Hollow Crown or Akira Kurosawa’s Ran as of yet.
  • Shame this movie wasn’t a financial success. Actually, have there been any Shakespeare adaptations that have become popular amongst the mainstream crowd?

2 responses to “Personal Favorite Review: Hamlet (1996)

  1. You definitely should watch The Hollow Crown, especially Richard II. Great production values and acting. Ran is great as well, it’s my favourite Kurosawa film. I like it more than 7 samurai due to the great usage of color. It’s kind of depressing how most modern Hollywood films look worse than a 30 year old relic.

    Seriously, how come so many modern Hollywood and Japan film makers seem to forget how to make a vibrant, beautifully colored film? Now there are so many bland special effect crap (*cough marvel cough * ), or shaky cam, or color-coded by genre (aka most horror films). Even Kenneth Branagh’s Thor looks kind of bland. Thankfully, there’s still a few good Hollywood directors. On Japan’s side…..I haven’t really found any that can measure up to Kurosawa in term of visual.

    • Even Kenneth Branagh’s Thor looks kind of bland.

      Haven’t really liked any of Branagh’s films since Hamlet. Thor and Jack Ryan were as generic as they looked. Cinderella was definitely trying, but that was a pretty meh movie as well.

      On Japan’s side…..I haven’t really found any that can measure up to Kurosawa in term of visual.

      Only Japanese director I keep up with is Sion Sono, and while his films are colorful, they’re not exactly subtle.

      Seriously, how come so many modern Hollywood and Japan film makers seem to forget how to make a vibrant, beautifully colored film?

      I’m guessing it’s less that they forgot and more that the system is against them. Kinda like how all those animators in Shirobako want to make it big, but are forced to do the next light novel because that’s how bad the industry is.

      Especially with Disney. The difference between their animated stuff and their live-action stuff is just so disparate. I look at the newest trailer for Beauty and the Beast and sigh at how wooden it comes across as.

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