Hamlet (1996) (PG-13)

"Hamlet" is officially the longest movie that I've ever seen. Throwing all caution to the wind, Kenneth Branagh drives this film over the daunting four-hour mark. But does it deserve to be as long as it is, or is it just pretentious?
The only other film version of the Shakespeare play that I had seen was the 1948 Laurence Olivier version which I did not love. But the older movie certainly has it abridgments, editing out Rosencrantz and Guildenstern completely; much to the anger of the hard-core bard fans.
To those of you who are enormous Shakespeare lovers, look no further, this is the movie for you. For everyone else, you might want to look elsewhere.
For what "Hamlet" is, you simply have to admire the tenacity of Branagh and his team of film makers.
The movie begins as did the 1948 film, with the apparition of a ghost and the madness that ensues afterward. Regrettably, what I was thinking all during what was supposed to be a frightening opening scene was "Hey, is that Jack Lemmon? That is Jack Lemmon! I didn't know he did Shakespeare. That's weird! Okay focus!" Yes indeed, the cast that makes random cameos (Hey, Robin Williams!) distracts from the actual plot and the emotion of the film (What? Richard Attenborough—where did you come from?).
The ghost is the father of Hamlet, hell-bent of revenge and determined to make his son just as obsessed as he is. After two nights of appearing to some guards (Jack Lemmon playing one of them), one of Hamlet's friends witnesses the ghost and tells Hamlet about it.
Meanwhile the incestuous nature of a royal family has plagued Hamlet's kin. His mother has married her brother-in-law after the passing of her husband (ghost man, for those who are curious).  Hamlet has no trouble feeling the anger of his father's ghost and swears allegiance to the wispy remnant of his dad.
What Branagh's "Hamlet" does that Olivier's "Hamlet" doesn't, is portray the madness of the character. Kenneth Branagh is sometimes over-the-top as the iconic main character. He's surrounded by a huge cast that includes Julie Christie, Derek Jacobi, Jack Lemmon (yes, I was surprised too), Rufus Sewell, Timothy Spall, Robin Williams, Kate Winslet, Charlton Heston, Rosemary Harris, Judi Dench (in an incredibly short cameo), and Nicholas Farrell (a Shakespeare regular, the best actor of the movie).
The 1996 "Hamlet" is very true to the play, determined to give each and every character all their lines with all the emotion tacked on to it. With this movie being as long as it is, it begins to be overkill with every character screaming and crying within five minutes of the other one.
Kate Winslet disappoints as Ophelia, she's really not that great in this movie.
Also, every scene drags on too long. Take for instance a scene where two men plot Hamlet's demise: it goes on for close to twenty minutes.
I have to admit that "Hamlet" is ambitious...boring, but ambitious. You have to admire its guts.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

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