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Winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor, Sir Laurence Olivier's Hamlet continues to be the most compelling version of Shakespeare's beloved tragedy. Olivier is at his most inspired-both as director and as the melancholy Dane himself-as he breathes new life into the words of one of the world's greatest dramatists. Criterion is proud to present Hamlet in a luminous black-and-white digital transfer.
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Top Customer Reviews
Without question, in his day Olivier was considered *the* quintessential Hamlet; the actor who owned the role like none before and few, if any, afterwards; not least because of this movie and his participation in the 1937 Helsingor (= Elsinore) staging.Read more ›
But the film didn’t strike me as truly exceptional. This could be in part because I saw it shortly after watching the David Tennant film, which is so human and naturalistic; the Olivier doesn’t really compete. It also has some touches of the mid-century acting style that seem a little over the top today. William Walton’s overwrought score seems ill-suited to the play to me. The soliloquies are delivered unexceptionably but unexceptionally. Jean Simmons (as Ophelia) is a good actress, but she’s made to look and act like a fairy princess here, and when she cries, as she does quite often, she sounds uncannily like a baby.
Having said that, the Polonius is great, and I liked the Ghost as well, especially the way his voice is treated. The sword-fighting looked good to me, though the exchange of rapiers is inauthentic. Overall, a solid but standard production.
The only reason I wouldn't give this play 5 stars as I do the Branaugh and Burton versions is because of the large cuts made to the text. While I certainly understand wanting to make some cuts, particularly in a play this long, some of the cuts are just too drastic. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are gone...completely. A few of Hamlet's key soliloquies, such as "Oh what a rogue and peasant slave am I..." and "what a creature is man...", are also completely gone. Some of these soliloquies are key to understanding Hamlet's character. Again, I understand why directors may want to make SOME cuts. Branaugh's four hour movie may be too long for some viewers (not for a bard addict like me). Burton's version at just over 3 hours is an excellent example of a version in which cuts were made where key soliloquies and characters were not eliminated.
Still, despite that complaint, this is still an excellent production of Hamlet and I would reccommend it to anyone who appreciates superb acting.
The word "masterpiece" is thrown around far too often these days, but for years I have heard that this version of "Hamlet" is Olivier's masterpiece. Recently I had the opportunity to see this masterpiece and for the first time I saw Olivier at work. I was impressed with what I saw. To the modern ear, Shakespearean language can sound awkward and archaic, but with Olivier, much of the dialogue sounded like easy conversation.
I once heard "Hamlet" described as the most structurally perfect play, that every action stems directly from something else in the play and that every action happened in that particular way because it had to, that there was no other way for the actions to work out. I am not enough of a Shakespeare scholar to be able to really speak to this, but I do know that when done well, "Hamlet" is a fascinating play, and a fascinating film. Olivier succeeded at doing this play well.
The story is one that is well known. Hamlet (Laurence Olivier) is a prince of Denmark. His father had died a month prior, and Queen Gertrude (Eileen Herlie) married the dead king's brother, Claudius (Basil Sydney). Hamlet has been brooding, unable to accept either his father's death or his mother's rather quick remarriage. This continues until Hamlet sees the ghost of his father, who tells him that he was murdered, and that the murderer is now sitting on the throne of Denmark. As a character said early in the film, "something is rotten in the state of Denmark." Hamlet must avenge his father, but in such a way that he can get away with it. As he begins to plot, he pretends to be mad (crazy), so that his excesses can be excused away. So begins the story.
This is an impressive movie, from the acting to the set design.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
I appreciated very much the Criterion version of this masterpiece as well as the subtitles to help us understand the language of Shakespeare.Published 15 months ago by Chantal LaRue
Lawrence Olivier's rendition of the imfamous Dane is quite good, I enjoyed the movie very much!Published 18 months ago by geo
Unfortunately, I can't view this DVD: it's in the wrong format, even though I am almost sure I checked this before I bought it. Read morePublished on Feb. 16 2011 by Paula Sperdakos
This review is for the Criterion Collection DVD edition of the film.
In this release Olivier's second adaptation of a Shakespeare play, Olivier again plays the title role. Read more
With those words spoken with a maniacal glare, Lawrence Olivier had my complete attention. He is both director and the lead in this classic version of the celebrated play. Read morePublished on April 27 2004 by D. Knouse
This used to be the definitive "Hamlet," but I fear it has become quite dated with its painfully obvious Freudian interpretation of the characters and their... Read morePublished on Feb. 5 2004 by Daniel S. Russell
I watched this with pure pleasure, enjoying every minute of it. Although Laurence Olivier at forty had been criticized (rightly) as too old for the part of Hamlet, the soliloquy:... Read morePublished on Dec 31 2003
Criterion laserdiscs used to be top of the line. Their transfers were solid and their committment to extra features very compelling. Read morePublished on Oct. 25 2003 by Nix Pix