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5.0 out of 5 stars The play's the thing.
"Hamlet belongs into the theater," says Mel Gibson, the star of the tragedy's 1990 adaptation by Franco Zeffirelli, in an interview on that movie's DVD. And while primarily expressing regret over a lacking opportunity to explore the role's complexities by nightly slipping into the prince's skin on stage, he also has a point regarding any screen adaptation's validity: the...
Published on May 4 2005 by Themis-Athena
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unviewable
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. I would suggest that every effort possible be made to signal when a DVD is viewable in North America, or elsewhere.
Published on Feb. 16 2011 by Paula Sperdakos
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4.0 out of 5 stars Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are... nowhere to be found...,
This review is from: Hamlet (DVD)
If Kenneth Branagh is considered the ultimate Shakespeare interpreter post-Viet Nam war, Then the pre-war title usually falls to Sir Laurence Olivier. His HAMLET is one for the textbooks... Well, abridged textbooks, for this is a cut and paste job (like many stage productions of HAMLET). Several scenes and characters, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are never even mentioned in the film. These shorter adaptations often result in 'hammier' performances, as there is more to accomplish with less time and text.
But, I am in no way a 'Shakespeare' purist. I believe if Shakespeare were alive today and making films, he would cut his material as well.
The film does look beautiful in crisp black and white. There are ornate backgrounds and settings but occasionally, the film finds just as much power with a plain black background. This gives the performer a real sense of 'at one' with the audience. Olivier does offer an intriguing line reading, but his performance lacks the youthful restlessness that drives the character.
With a nice musical score and supporting characters that have since fallen to obscurity, this is an extremely worthy telling and warrants plenty of study... The DVD is preserved in its full screen setting.
3.0 out of 5 stars A Stunning Disappointment,
This review is from: Hamlet (DVD)
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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Olivier's performance is a benchmark!,
By A Customer
Laurence Olivier has to be said to have been and still is the person whom has best depicted the haunted prince of Denmark otherwise known as Hamlet. He richly deserved the academy award for his performance in this movie, i.e., Hamlet VHS ~ Laurence Olivier and in a way set a benchmark for other actors to meet in order to fully be accepted as interpretors and actors of Shakespearean plays.Simply put it, his performance is Awesome. Highly Recommended.
4.0 out of 5 stars Some wonderful performances in a Stage-Bound Version,
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.
5.0 out of 5 stars how my love of film began...,
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 !
4.0 out of 5 stars Hamlet the Swashbuckler,
This review is from: Hamlet (DVD)
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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Olivier IS Hamlet!,
Many people have tried to play Hamlet - some with great results, others have not. But one thing is certain, Sir Laurence Olivier is the quintessential Prince of Denmark!
In 1948, Olivier brought to the screen William Shakespeare's classic play HAMLET to the big screen. Though it isn't the entire play (go see Kenneth Branaugh's 1996 version of the complete text of HAMLET), it is still considered a great depiction of the angst-filled prince and his decisions involving the murder of his father by his own brother, the new king of Denmark.
The evil King Claudius, played by Basil Sydney, is the man who murdered his brother and married his brother's wife Queen Gertrude, played by Eileen Herlie. Claudius has poisoned his brother, as he was sleeping in the orchard, by pouring the hemlock through his ear. Months later, Claudius marries Gertrude and Hamlet returns home to find things have changed around Denmark. One night, while on guard duty, the guards discover that the ghost of the late king is still haunting the castle. They tell Hamlet of this, who meets with the spirit of his father, who tells him that his brother had poisoned him! Hamlet stages several bouts of lunacy in order to draw Claudius out with the help of a band of actors staging the actual murder scene. Thrown in the mix is the elderly advisor, Polonius (Felix Aylmer), his son Laertes (Terence Morgan), and his daughter Ophelia, played with wonderful innocence by Jean Simmons (Best Supporting Actress nominee).
In the end, everyone dies! Ophelia drowns after learning that her father was killed by Hamlet, her lover; Gertrude drinks a cup of poison meant for Hamlet; Hamlet kills Laertes in a duel; Hamlet then murders his Claudius, and is too murdered by a poisoned sword created by conspirators Claudius and Laertes. It is a sad, tragic story that was brought with much poignancy and a little humor, thrown in with a bit of film noir!
Winner of 4 Academy Awards including: Best Picture - Laurence Olivier, producer; Best Actor - Laurence Olivier (also nominated for Best Director); Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (Black & White); and Best Costume Design (Black & White).
It may not be the complete HAMLET, but it certainly is the best version!
4.0 out of 5 stars Olivier is something of a let-down,
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.
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, but a lot is missing,
By A Customer
This review is from: Hamlet (DVD)
Laurence Olivier's Hamlet, at 153 minutes, is no popcorn flick. However, in order to get the film down to this rather long length, Olivier had to make significant cuts to the famous Shakespearean play. As a film that won four Oscars, this is (was) mainstream entertainment. Presenting Hamlet in its entirety (or even close to its entirety) under these circumstances was therefore an impossibility. Olivier's modifications come in three forms: small deletions from speeches and conversations, "streamlining" of main story lines, and cuts of entire subplots. The first, least drastic change, leads to the second, and finally the third, and greatest, of the changes. The cutting of lines has the least effect on the production's ability to tell the story. The removed lines are usually unnecessary and repetitive, and the transitions are smooth. Without a written version of the text in front of him, a viewer (unless he knows the play extraordinarily well) can rarely pick out where a line has been cut. A good example of this seamless cutting follows the ghost's exit in the bedroom scene. Hamlet's speech to the queen (Act III, scene iv, lines 144-159) is cut approximately in half, by cutting 2-3 lines from three different places. Such instances - cutting a line here, three lines there, etc. -- can be found throughout the production, but in order to locate them one must follow along with a written text. Rearranging parts of play adds to the continuity of storylines and makes the story itself easier to follow. Viewers familiar with Hamlet, however, will probably find these modifications more jarring. Most of the time this "streamlining" is logical. For instance, the meeting of Hamlet and Ophelia in the nunnery scene directly follows the planning of this meeting by the King, Queen, and Polonius, and Hamlet's "fishmonger" conversation with Polonius. In the play itself, this storyline is interrupted by the players' arrival, but in the Olivier production this event takes place after the unfolding of the nunnery scene. Once again these modifications take place throughout the play. The third, and most obvious modification that Olivier makes is the total removal of subplots, as well as other major events. These cuts have a great impact on the telling of the play. Cutting the Player's recitation of the fall of Troy causes Hamlet's soliloquy, "What a rogue and peasant slave am I..." to be cut. Olivier's decision to delete the character Fortinbras, has great consequences, because this necessitates cutting Hamlet's final soliloquy, "How all occasions do inform against me... ." The ending of the play is also altered by this choice. The deletion of two rather prominent characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, has the greatest effect on the play because the deletion or transplantation of several scenes results. The cuts of a line here and there can be viewed as creating a snowball effect that leads to the rearranging of scene, and the rearranging leads to the cuts of whole storylines and events. Most of the material that is cut by the minor deletions is repetitive, and these choices have little immediate effect. However, Shakespeare had a purpose in these repetitions, and that was to ensure that the audience could follow the play. By removing this repetition, one also makes the play considerably more difficult to understand. Olivier employs a logical solution -- that is, increasing the continuity of the story. This requires the rearranging that is so prevalent in his production. However, if one rearranges all of the critical scenes of Hamlet so that they unfold chronologically, then one is left with a considerable amount of unnecessary scenes and even storylines themselves. Therefore, Olivier's decision to cut these excess storylines again seems logical. A viewer familiar at Hamlet may at first find these modifications very uncomfortable, but when one analyzes what caused Olivier to make the decisions he did, these rather sweeping changes become perfectly acceptable.
4.0 out of 5 stars Olivier shines among questionable support,
Olivier, one of the great actors of his time, shines as Hamlet. Particularly in the soliloquies, he delivers the lines with true subtlety and understanding of their depth. Unlike Branagh, Olivier "o'ersteps not the modesty of nature" while playing, and portrays Hamlet as the complex, profoundly intellectual, and deeply perceptive and sensitive character that he is.
Olivier's direction is equally impressive. Camera movement is tasteful, and segues between scenes beautifully incorporate William Walton's lovely orchestral soundtrack.
My two major complaints are: First, the liberal cuts in the text (Olivier himself referred to his film as "an essay in Hamlet" rather than an actual rendering of the piece), and what I think is a lackluster average supporting cast.
Laertes in particular is so stiff and wimpy that you cannot detect even a trace of anger in him, even after his father has been murdered by Hamlet. Claudius too, while at once both graciously regal and yet conniving and depraved, is way too stiff and stale in his delivery in many scenes to seem like the "incestuous, adulterate beast" he is purported to be. The Queen and Ophelia I find to be average, each having some highlights and lowlights. (The confrontation scene between Hamlet and Gertrude after Claudius' soliloquy is a highlight for both actors) Polonius is the "foolish, prating knave" he should be, but again is one-dimensional and lacks any type of depth or subtlety. Horatio is fairly good on most counts here; his physical performance is at times arresting in its restrained intensity, although he comes across as rather dim-witted at times. Many of these criticisms can probably be chalked up to the changes in acting style through the years... we're used nowadays to seeing more emotion in a character, and this production is extremely formalistic and restrained.
I regard this film as a classic and have watched it many times. And while I used to adore it, it was the first Hamlet I ever saw, and after studying several other versions (Mel Gibson, Nicol Williamson, Branagh, Derek Jacobi) I feel more comfortable analyzing its strengths and weaknesses more objectively in comparison to the other versions. None of these versions is in my opinion without a few serious problems, but my favorite now is probably Jacobi's (BBC). It is almost complete in the text, and features fine acting across the board. BTW there is an incredible audio version of the complete text featuring Anton Lesser as Hamlet.
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Hamlet by Laurence Olivier (DVD - 2000)
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