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4.2 out of 5 stars
Hamlet
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on May 10, 2003
Olivier's Hamlet has worthwhile parts, but also some very awkward and stagey moments that make it hard to watch for the modern viewer.
For example, he does some of the soliloquies as voice-overs, which means the *picture* can be just a close-up of him staring off into space or striking poses - for minutes! Also, he tends to build volume and fever over the course of certain speeches to end up YELLING at the end, and whenever possible climbing something and jumping off too, all with no apparent correlation to the words involved! Maybe this Hamlet's frustrated ambition is up there at the dreadful summit of the beetling cliff.
Of the supporting cast, I think the Gertrude is strongest, although not very completely person-ized. Ophelia provides no equal match for the queen's sexual magnetism, Claudius is a fine bloated drunken tyrant, Polonius is very silly and doddery.
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on May 27, 2003
There have been many film Hamlets and Sir Laurence, even after he won the Academy Award for his performance here, felt that he was far from ideal. But every Hamlet makes for a different show. Olivier is a frantic Hamlet, energetic even in his melancholy, and he gives a great show. With gorgeous black-and-white cinematography that brings to life the castle Elsinore and great supporting performances, this is one classic that is never dull.
Criterion as usual does a fantastic job. The picture and sound quality of this disc are top notch. My only complaint is that the disc contains no extras. Even the Henry V Criterion had a nice commentary track by a film historian. Because the cinematography is so luminous, however, I'm willing to overlook it. Some probably prefer Branagh's Hamlet, but until it comes out on DVD, one has no excuse not to own Olivier's.
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on August 5, 2001
William Shakespeares's Hamlet is a perfect little play that needs no explaining here. This is a very good film version although it, for the most part, never escapes appearing somewhat stagy on film and never uses the camera (other than in its wonderful use of hallways and doorways) to escape the confines of the stage. This version, as to some extent they all do, rests on the performance of the man in the lead. And in this, Laurence Olivier, does a superb job with only the occasional embarassing missteps. The rest of the cast is generally also of high quality with a only a couple who would be ranked as adequate (notably, Jean Simmons' Ophelia and Peter Cushing distracting as a screaming queen and not the kind with a actual crown). This version still stands up to any of the more recent filmed versions and is a fine addition to any collection.
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on June 19, 2001
A wonderfully Freudian interpretation of the Shakespeare tragedy (check out Gertrude's bed for example), the production wonderfully captures the psychological tension of Shakespeare's words. Yes, Olivier is a wonderful Hamlet, but is he portrayed in the way Olivier the DIRECTOR states at the opening, that being a man who could not make up his mind? Olivier's Hamlet is quite assertive and daring, a swashbuckler in the most cinematic sense (the pirate ship scene or the breakneck dive from the stairs to kill Claudius can be used as support for this idea). Unfortunately the performances surrounding Olivier are not as strong... check out Richard Burton's stage performance on DVD for a wonderful cast production. One question: why aren't they releasing Olivier's Richard III (1955)on DVD?? England seems to get the best treatment.
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on June 24, 2003
A few weeks ago I felt like watching a classic movie. The movie rental store offered a wide selection of classics but I remembered Hamlet with Sir Laurence Olivier from many years ago. So, Hamlet it was.
As I stated earlier, I saw this production of Hamlet before. Also, I saw many other outstanding productions of Hamlet performed by top actors from many countries. I thought I knew Hamlet in details and did not really know why I rented it again. But, let me tell you, Sir Laurence Olivier knew and felt Hamlet better than anyone else. He did not play the role, he lived it. It was so good that I watched it twice in the same day and once more next day for the good measure.
If you have seen it, you should see it again and, if you nave not, you must see it.
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This was the first film I was taken to see, at age 5. I loved it then, love it now. Filmed in Denmark, it's a stylish work of art. The sets and cinematography are fabulous, and it boasts a superb score by Sir William Walton.
The magnificent Olivier gives us the most poetic and melancholy Hamlet on film...the way he uses his eyes in this performance is extraordinary, and very moving. Jean Simmons is a delicate and beautiful Ophelia, I like Eileen Herlie's Gertrude, and Norman Woodland's graceful Horatio is outstanding.
Though the Zeffirelli/Gibson version is perhaps my favorite, and Branagh's ever so long uncut version stunning, this one shouldn't be missed...it's the classic of all classics...riveting even for a child of 5 !
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on March 30, 2001
I would be the last to criticize an actor who has done so much fine work as Olivier if I didn't feel it was absolutely necessary. His direction of the cast (he left the cinematographic direction to another) is sensitive and perfectly realizes his rearranged text. However, his own performance varies between subtle, intelligent, gripping readings of the lines and the same wildly over-the-top arms-windmilling scenery-chewing that Hamlet warns the Players against presenting! Still, judged as a film, this is a masterpiece. I only wish Olivier had been as good at directing himself as he was at directing the rest of the cast. His Hamlet is, in its way, a masterpiece, but a slightly flawed one.
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The great Sir Laurence Olivier, lauded by film critics as a the quintessential Shakespearian thesbian, fails to give any of his inspiration to Hamlet. "This is the story of a man who could not make up his mind," the narration at the beginning of the film states. And so the rest of the film fulfills this prediction. The real anguish and pain inspired from Hamlet's father's untimely death do not manage to inspire any viewer sympathy with the troubled youth. Later versions of Hamlet, surprisingly, the Mel Gibson version, imbued Hamlet's character with much more passion and much more charisma.
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on May 30, 2004
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. Unlike the previous film, this one is in black and white,
It follows the story of a Danish prince bent on avenging the murder of his father by his uncle.
I would assume that most people know the plot so that is all I will say about it,
The DVD has no special features which is not normal for a Criterion release.
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on October 19, 2003
the text is butchered worse than elsewhere. And Olivier is just not the best Hamlet. The thunder during the tobeornotobe soliloquy that accomponies "ay theres the rub" and him shouting that line(?) are just plain corny and yuck. Branaghs a much better blonde and makes this film completely obsolete and useless.
I also never like seeing that soliloquy come AFTER the fight with Ophelia, as it does here. The H+Gertrude exchange is a little sexier than most, and I like it.
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