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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

3.0 out of 5 stars overrated
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...
Published on Oct. 19 2003 by supastar

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5.0 out of 5 stars The classic Hamlet, Dec 27 2000
Josh Hitchens (Philadelphia, PA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Hamlet [Import] (VHS Tape)
I would have to say that this is one of the two best Hamlet's on film. This is known as the "traditional" Hamlet, and the other great is the recent modern take on the play with Ethan Hawke and Julia Stiles. Laurence Olivier plays a melancholy, intelligent, and loving Hamlet, well suited to the gloomy castle settings of Elsinore. Olivier was forty when he made this, but makes himself look twenty years younger. His Hamlet is never boring or overwrought, it is simply perfect. Eileen Herlie was 25 when cast as Gertrude. She graciously allowed herself to be made up to look older. Her performance is satisfactory, conveying the dueling emotions that she has for her son and Claudius well. There is a strong overtone of incest here, which is fine since I believe that to be a valid interpretation. Herlie's Gertrude is also strong-willed at times, knowingly drinking the poisoned cup to save her son. Basil Sydney as Claudius is excellent, although his is played as an overweight drunk. He has some fine moments and deserves credit for playing such a difficult role well. I like Felix Aylmer's performance as Polonius. He is played not as comic relief or as a doddering old man, but as an intelligent fool who is full of himself and enjoys throwing his weight around. Jean Simmon's interpretation of the tragic Ophelia is that she is a virginial woman who is somewhat dim-witted. Ophelia is not dim-witted, her destruction is caused by herself being used and stamped on by men, and not being allowed to fight back. At the end of the nunnery scene Ophelia is seen weeping on the stairts. Polonius comforts her a little, and then leaves her in desperation while he exits with Claudius. Her madness scenes and suicide are good and affecting. The overall atmosphere of this Hamlet is right. It is faithful to the play, and evokes an engrossing mood. My only large complaint is that Terence Morgan as Laertes looks too much like a football player than a courtier.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Not a masterpiece, but close!, Nov. 8 2000
This review is from: Hamlet [Import] (VHS Tape)
My only real complaint about this is that the director does not show Claudius' finest moment well. (4.5 when he quells Laertes' raid with pure courage and intelligence.) But aside from that, the movie is excellent. The scenery and effects are well done. Olivier is wonderful as usual. He portrays Hamlet's multiple dimensions very well. Claudius could have been done better, but it probably is not fair to compare this actor to the eventual Alan Bates' phenomenal and unsurpassed portrayal of Claudius. Laertes could have been more animated, but he does fairly well. Considering the limited resources back then, the ghost of Hamlet's father is done very well. (Sorrow as opposed to horror is emphasized.) Horatio is excellent in his secondary, but important role. Even the background noises and sound effects are done well. (The background of water in Hamlet's famous 'To be or not to be' soliloquy is a real artistic touch.) Even though my favorite version was Mel Gibson's, I think it is wrong to ignore this version.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great film by one of the greatest actors!, Sept. 10 2000
This review is from: Hamlet [Import] (VHS Tape)
This is, no doubt, the greatest adaptation of Hamlet! Olivier was a master in bringing Shakespeare's works to the screen and his acting is unsurpassed! Watch Henry V and Richard III to see what a genius Olivier was when it came to Shakespeare!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Reviewing this film is a trap, Aug. 10 2000
This review is from: Hamlet (DVD)
Consider this: Shakespearean films more than other films are dependent upon the director's translation of the text. HAMLET in particular has been adapted roughly 43 times in film. I'll say up front that this version is not my favorite interpretation, but I won't deny that it certainly set the standard back in its day.
For those unfamiliar with the play, Hamlet's father, the king of Denmark, has recently passed away and he resents the speed with which his mother, Queen Gertrude, remarried. It doesn't help that her new husband is the dead king's brother, Claudius. Soon an apparition who is the spirit of his father, the dead king, visits Hamlet. The ghost explains that Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, murdered him in his sleep and tells Hamlet to avenge his death. The remainder of the story primarily revolves around the Prince's struggle to stop thinking and start doing (exemplified by the famous "To be, or not to be" speech. Can Hamlet do what it takes to truly avenge his father's death?
Olivier and his much-celebrated interpretation of HAMLET are considered by many to be the best of all Shakespeare film adaptations -- it certainly bears the indelible stamp of its director/star's personality. Apparently, the Academy agreed rewarding it with Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Costume Design and among others. (Trivia: Olivier's direction was also nominated losing to John Huston for "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" in 1948).
Olivier's take on Shakespeare's story of madness and murder most foul is unmistakably cinematic -- he takes full advantage of the medium, avoiding the trap of merely filming a play as some Shakespeare adaptations do, with monologues delivered as internal thoughts heard in hushed voiceovers. He occasionally uses dizzying camerawork to show Hamlet's inner turmoil, a trick that could never have worked on stage. The setting, lighting, and cinematography are wondrous setting the somber and Gothic tone.
Some notable scenes for me include the sequence where the Ghost appears. Olivier uses sound and voice to create the disorientation that Hamlet and others feel when in the presence of the supernatural for a great creepy effect. Another arresting scene is when Laertes and Claudius are planning the murder of Hamlet. It starts with a close shot of the duo but slowly backs away, as if it wants to separate itself, and the audience, from the bloody deeds being discussed.
But there are many disappointing choices made. Substantial cuts were made to the text (forgivable if you realize he needed to cut a 4-hour play into at least 2 hours. The omission of the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (childhood friends of Hamlet who are ultimately killed because they were too loyal to Claudius, and not to the Prince) is unfortunate as they bring so much contrast and subtle texture to the play.
While I am a great fan of Olivier's, I strongly believe there were certain roles that were out of his range, Hamlet topping the list. (And I'm not even going to talk about the fact that 41 year old Olivier is playing a character who is in his mid to late twenties.) Olivier also insists on taking the Freudian approach with Hamlet and his mother Gertrude, an idea not really supported by the text suggesting that the real reason Hamlet is upset is not so much due to his father's murder, but that he should be with Gertrude, not Claudius. But the thing that nags at me most is that Hamlet is fundamentally a man of action, though a man of action who is aware that his actions have consequences. He is divided: determined to act, destructive when he does act, and consequently disconnected from his actions. But while Olivier lives well in the language and his rendering of the lines is a kind of dark poetry, his overall portrayal is mannered and brooding and almost petulant. It's a disappointing adaptation by an otherwise brilliant actor.
Now as a DVD, this release of HAMLET is by the superior Criterion Collection. Criterion DVD's are often considered to be state-of-the-art, and this one is no exception presenting a nicely restored film good quality and sound. A definite must for a film collector. Having said all that, I'll end my review this way: again, this is not my favorite version of HAMLET (go watch Branagh's, Zeffirelli's or even Mel Gibson's versions) but as a piece of cinematic history this is definitely a watchable film worth seeing for it's accomplishments and cinematography.
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Hamlet by Laurence Olivier (DVD - 2000)
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