Friday, September 9, 2011

Hamlet- Kenneth Branaugh (1996)


Kenneth Branaugh, who recently had his biggest popular hit with the Shakespearean tinged Thor, made the eclectic and wildly uneven full version of Hamlet.

How full is full? The film runs just over four hours and contains every bit of known dialog.Branaugh wanted to record the entire play for posterity. No film version had ever come close to getting it all on film. The trouble was that no one was going to pony up and pay for a version that ran over four hours long. Branaugh solved his money problems by coming up with two solutions.

First he said that if the producers would let him film the whole play the way he wanted it, he would chop out an hour and a half and make a more manageable version that ran some where around two and a half hours. The idea was that this shorter version would play smaller cities and would go out to schools. To the best of my knowledge this shorter version was prepared but I don’t remember ever hearing that the film ever screened. I know when I saw the film when it first played the only option was the full version, and that’s the version that I’ve only seen on TV and home video.

The second solution was the “stunt casting” of numerous name actors (Jack Lemmon, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, among others) to play some of the smaller roles. It’s a hit or miss prospect with some of the wide ranging accents slightly distracting from the matters at hand (Brooklyn is not in Denmark the last I checked). On the other hand you get things moments like Charlton Heston tearing down the house with his performance as the Lead Player.

I really like the film a great deal. It makes much of the film much more accessible than some of the more traditional versions. Frankly the atypical versions such as this and the Mel Gibson version play better to me than the say the Olivier one.

No, it is not perfect. The performances are all over the place, the film rambles on and on and on with some sections in desperate need of trimming and some have argued that Branaugh’s rearrangement of some of the action (Get thee to a nunnery is near the very beginning) gives some people fits, but for the most part the film is a masterpiece of cinematic art. It’s a film that over comes all of it’s flaws to become something greater and over whelming.

On some level I think the film works simply because it beats the audience into submission…but in a good way.

Definitely worth a look see. Even if you don’t like Shakespeare you will probably find something in this behemoth that you can connect to which is something that you can’t say about many other Shakespearean adaptions.

2 comments:

  1. I really like this version, though it is long. I like your analogy of it beating the audience into submission! It seems to me to be a stellar cast with everyone you could ever want in a Shakespeare production. Apart from Jack Lemmon, I thought he was terrible.

    I have also enjoyed the Mel Gibson version, though it's hardly a classic. Have you seen the modern David Tennant version, with Patrick Stewart as Claudius? It is very good, Tennant does Hamlet going crazy very well.

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  2. Tennant's version is tomorrow's movie.
    You do understand now why I trust your opinion as much as I do...

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