Shakespeare is not one of my favorite writers. His work is undoubtably influential and his prose is regarded as the best to come to page yet; but I find myself not really wanting to read anything he's written. Sure, in school I was forced to read Shakespeare and like most kids, I really didn't care for it. The 1996 film adaptation of Twelfth Night or What You Will opened my eyes to what film could do for Shakespeare. Not only did I understand what was happening because of the ease with which the actors conveyed the bard's lines, but I genuinely enjoyed the movie. I was hoping for the same kind of experience with "Hamlet".
"Hamlet" begins telling us that one particular vice in a man could outweigh all his virtues. Then we are told that "this is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind". Immediately, we are taken to a fog encased tower, which guards are patrolling. For two nights in a row they have seen a ghost or spirit in the fog and they want a new pair of eyes to confirm it. They bring Horatio, a friend of Hamlet to see the ghost. Right on time, with a witchy precision, the ghost shows up and Horatio recognizes it as the late king, Hamlet's father. The ghost looks like it wants to talk to someone and the vanishes. Horatio and company decide that it's best to tell Hamlet about their midnight visitor.
Hamlet's uncle has married his mother right after the king died. When Hamlet goes out to see the ghost that Horatio and the others tell him about, the ghost of his father speaks to him and tell him that Hamlet's uncle killed the king.
Swearing loyalty and revenge to the ghost, Hamlet gets poisoned with revenge.
Ultimately, what it boils down to is: everyone wants to kill Hamlet. They were too subtle with the Shakespearean language so by the time I figured out that everyone hated Hamlet, I was confused of their motives.
Laurence Olivier plays Hamlet, which is entirely convenient because he directs the picture too. I felt that he needed to go a little deeper into the inner turmoil of the character, because I don't think Hamlet was supposed to come off as a little posh with a temper.
The fair Ophelia has enough crazy to go around for everyone else, but I wanted a deeper emotion to her hysteria. She goes crazy at the death of her father and the failed love between her and Hamlet, but the movie has her carrying around in a "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" fashion. She hums and sings pretty songs and then quietly fades from the story with no real emotional impact to her departure.
The use of fog in the beginning of the film is a little heavy handed. It's hard to even see through all the low lying clouds, but it does create a great moodiness to the picture. The spiritualism and fantasy of the first few scenes then fades and is rarely seen again. Even in later scenes when Hamlet tried to make his mother see the ghost of his father, it's not really believable.
While the film itself is well-done, the acting drags it out. There is no natural cadence to the actor's lines like there was in "Twelfth Night" so I was getting every other sentence's meaning. This is tacked on to the fact that each character takes long "dramatic" pauses that nullify what the scene is trying to accomplish and allow all real meaning to slip away.
Take the famous "To be or not to be" scene. There was no way that I was convinced of the struggle that Hamlet was going through.
If you're going to attempt to pull off Shakespeare, you better do it right. I am, however, looking forward to Joss Whedon's version of "Much Ado About Nothing".
There was a sense of relief when the end rolled around. Poor Hamlet certainly has seen better days and in the end I'm not sure what he couldn't make up his mind about.
Score: 2 stars out of 4
Posted by Micah Jones