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2.7 out of 5 stars85
2.7 out of 5 stars
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Showing 1-9 of 9 reviews(3 star).Show all reviews
on January 3, 2003
This Hamlet is set, not in Denmark, but in the Denmark Corporation, Manhattan, and Claudius is its new CEO (king), married to the late CEO's widow Gertrude. Hawke's Hamlet is a disaffected college kid, wearing a grungey chullo on his head and believably mixed up; full of rage, full of self-doubt. The rest of the cast ably supports Hawke, especially the intense Laertes played by Liev Schreiber and the smarmy Claudius by Kyle MacLachlan.
The sound and diction in this DVD are awful. And some of the scenes are so clumsy, you want to stick your hands into the screen and rearrange the actors (viz. the scene where Polonius helps Laertes to pack up and go to France.) But...if you give the film some time, and a good bit of latitude, it really comes off as a credible version of Hamlet. From the point where Polonius is killed to the end, this version of Hamlet is gripping and believable. If it weren't for some unevenly paced scenes (the death finale too fast, the scene between Claudius and Laertes after Polonius' death too slow) I'd give this more stars. As it is, it's worth watching. An interesting interpretation of Hamlet and I ended up admiring it.
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on July 29, 2002
There are problems with this film. While "Hamlet" the play is arguably the greatest drama ever penned, it is here done in a curiously understated and often "un-dramatic" style -- what is served by this approach? And when Shakespeare is performed by manifestly non-Shakespearian-quality actors, it leaves quite a bit to be desired, notwithstanding the occasional flashes of excellence (except that Bill Murray's flashes were very rare).
The cuts in the play, and other liberties taken, result in something of a disjointed and disappointing production. Cutting edge scholarship, which does NOT interpret the "To be or not to be" speech in the vein of suicidal ideation, is not here represented (VERY disappointing).
A glaring understatement is the unfortunate decision to present Sam Shepard's "Ghost" as not at all ghostly! Hamlet's equivocation mostly is to be viewed as a result of his uncertainty regarding the shadowy Ghost's credibility (In the Middle Ages, if not now, ghosts were viewed as mere goblins, unpossessed of the decedent's actual spirit. Hamlet understandably fears that he is being diabolically duped into performing unjustifiable murder.)
The unrelenting "product placement" throughout the film is not only distracting but downright annoying. It is said that when actors are filmed smoking, that what we have is an ad for smoking -- but when Marlboro packs are seen sitting on the table, well, that's an ad for Marlboro. This creeping commercialization will continue until theatre audiences decide that their only remedy is to "boo" every time "Pepsi" or "Marlboro" logos appear!
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on May 19, 2002
The concept was good: update 'Hamlet' for all those gen-x'ers out there to make it more accessible. The execution, however, leaves out great scenes (like the gravedigger's), and muddies the dialogue through the first third of the film (how high should I have to turn up the volume to hear Hawke?). I loved the style -- modern city, high tech gadgets, and slick music; however, if I hadn't known the story going in, I would have been completely lost. Liev Schrieber is excellent as Laertes, and Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Venora are good as Claudius and Gertrude (although Venora is short-changed in screen time); Bill Murray is wasted as Polonius, and Julia Stiles has some good moments (but not great) as Ophelia. Ethan Hawke doesn't seem to know how to play the lead: rebellious or moody? At some points, such as the beginning of the film and at the end, there's a great character trying to get out, but unfortunately, it can't. A much better version of the play is Kevin Kline's (where Venora played Ophelia).
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on April 19, 2002
If this had been my first exposure to Hamlet, I'm sure I wouldn't have had a clue as to what the play was about after seeing this updated version.
There's a lot of great talent in this film, but for a lot of them, this isn't their shining moment, and some seem acutely ill at ease with the bard's liquid phrases.
Liev Schreiber as Laertes is one of the exceptions. He rises like cream to the top, and seems very comfortable in the part. Also good is Diane Venora, looking gorgeous as Gertrude, and Sam Shepard is a wonderful Ghost.
Whoever decided that Hamlet should have a "grungy" look, carried it to an unpleasant extreme...and that woolen cap with the earflaps ! I realize this was done to make him look "unhinged", but it bothered me. This film loses a star, just for that hideous woolen cap.
Otherwise, the art direction is good, and the cinematography (John de Borman) is excellent, highlighting some great architecture (it also highlights a lot of "in your face" product placement).
Listen for Eartha Kitt's "buckle up" message, it's a welcome chuckle...and I like the funny Holloween ghost child !
This film is an interesting curiosity piece, but I recommend seeing the Zeffirelli/Gibson version afterwards, which is a film that gets better with each viewing, and would be in my "Top 10" list of all time favorites.
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on April 17, 2002
Any time a director brings Shakespeare to the modern day, I am willing to watch. This helps show the audience that the issues covered by the Bard of Avon are still relevant today. In this take on the tragedy, you will see Denmark Corporation rather than the country of Denmark. All else is a close parallel.
Hawke does well as portraying the brooding Hamlet. Unfortunately, he does not really excel past the brooding. For a role of this type, I would like to see a bit more range. Likewise, I do not see any range in the characters of Ophelia or Laertes. Bill Murray, who I feel should be an ideal Polonius, appears puzzled in playing the role seriously or comically. Sam Shepard is great as the ghost of Hamlet's father.
The setting of a corporation rather than the country is a good change. This does make it difficult because the original wording is kept. Words such as "prince," "liege," and "queen" do not seem to fit the setting. This is hard to overcome. Related to the words, for some reason everyone seems to want to speak softly (for introspection). This does make the film hard to listen to. At times you will feel like you are watching a foreign film.
Not all scenes are present. There is no "dagger I see before me," or "Alas, poor Yorick." Some scenes are altered, but I am not sure why. For instance, the guards who see the ghost first in the play are not all guards in the movie. Theoretically, this shouldn't be a problem, but I could not tell what Horatio's job was. Why was he in the corporate building at midnight looking at the monitors?
I would watch this as a counter to the other versions of Hamlet. I would not recommend this as your only viewing of Hamlet.
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on July 20, 2001
Modern adaptations/revisions of Shakespeare always remind me of circus bears. They'll wear a flowered dress, ride a unicycle, jump through flaming hoops, but the muzzle never comes off. While Almereyda's Hamlet put on a better show than most, it never felt dangerous, and that's a shame.
The basic problem is that the willingness to experiment and venture into risky territory seems confined by a deep-seated reverence for the Bard (I recall a scene in Pacino's Looking for Richard, an oustanding film by the way, which discussed the American fear of acting Shakespeare). Scenes that display fresh ideas seem rehearsed and thought out ahead of time. "OK, I'll tell you to look for Polonius in the other place and then you'll punch me." The acting itself becomes a set piece or an accessory. Rather than possessing the character and doing something completely unexpected, the innovation feels tired even as you're watching it for the first time. It's acting by committee. All the spontaneity has been storyboarded ahead of time and all that's left to do is jump rope without tripping.
That said, I very much wanted to love this film. Some of the ideas work extremely well and I found myself smiling as Hawke did such things as pick up a payphone to say one last thing to his mother while he dragged Polonius away. But the acting detracted greatly from all that was going on around the characters. Hawke was almost unvaryingly dull. And Stiles as Ophelia - it was like she was in another film. When she actually crossed her eyes during her great moment I thought I was watching the freebasing scene from Traffic.
If a modernization is to be done, it needs to be a complete reappraisal. I would love to see the set and design of this film combined with the acting and panache of My Own Private Idaho topped off by some daring editing and cinematography, something like Woo, or Wong Kar-Wai, or even Terry Gilliam. Use the camera, make some unexpected cuts. Make it truly modern. The camera work in this version was pedestrian and uninspiring and the musical score was so bad and inappropriate that it became a nuisance.
One last thought: the actors involved did do this film for scale and I have a lot of respect for that. But I wish they didn't have to make the sponsors so blatant. It made two great scenes impossible to take seriously: I'm surprised his father's ghost didn't stop to indulge in the cool, low calorie freshness of a Pepsi One. It will bring them back from the dead for just one more taste.
All in all, a valiant failure.
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on March 10, 2004
This version is an interesting idea, at best. Instead of recieving letters, in this modern-day world they receive faxes. Some of the dialogue is over the telephone or on cam-corder. Great ideas, all. But it just doesn't flow as well as I had hoped it would. There are better versions of the play out there, my personal favorite being the Mel Gibson version, but the Keneth Branagh version is also superior. Ethan Hawke is the typically introverted Hamlet struggling with unnerving circumstances. He acquits himself with integrity, as do many others in this cast. But there was a strange casting choice in this particular version. Bill Murray plays the character of Polonius. For the most part, he is surprisingly good; but there are moments when it seems he just wants to laugh at the absurdity of the language. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Shakespear. (...)
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on February 10, 2002
This movie is far, far better than I would have dared to expect -- and probably about as much as you can hope for from any film adaptation of Shakespeare. Almereyda's Hamlet is a competent and perhaps surprisingly intelligent version, but it lacks the staggering brilliance that characterizes the original. Just about everything that makes Hamlet Hamlet is missing. Clever and enjoyable as it may be, this is but a pale shadow of Hamlet, no more like Shakespeare's masterpiece than I to Hercules.

I tend to agree with Nabokov's Van Veen when it comes to Shakespeare: "A written play [is] intrinsically superior to the best performance of it, even if directed by the author himself." Whether or not that's ultimately true, this particular performance of Hamlet is a well-meaning disappointment.
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on October 26, 2002
This version of Hamlet is interesting but except for Kyle Maclachlan as Claudius, no one performance really sings. Ethan Hawke's Hamlet is such a little brat that I couldn't understand what Horatio saw in him. He simply didn't have the acting chops to pull this off. Bill Murray's performance was...interesting. He had trouble with the words but he still managed to show that Polonius was pompous, windy fool. This version tries hard but it has no heart and doesn't quite make the audience care. If you want to see a Hollywood treatment of Hamlet get Mel Gibson's version instead or better yet, just get Olivier's version and see the play at full strength.
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