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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Adaptation; Brit Cast Generally Outdoes American Cast
"Hamlet" is obviously the gold standard for actors -- pull off the melancholy Dane, and you've just about reached the top of your craft. Kenneth Branagh's turn as everyone's favorite soliloquist is an ambitious, bold, wonderful film that just misses the mark.
First, the high points (and there are many). By daring to film the entire (four hour!)...
Published on June 16 2004 by Scott Schiefelbein

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3.0 out of 5 stars Ken Russell does Shakespeare
Kenneth Branagh, in trying to set his Hamlet apart, creates a spectacle that belittles the drama of our favorite prince. From the inundation of flower petals to the mirrored court(and Branagh's dyed hair), this is over the top. While acting, or really just making speeches, Branagh never forgets he is a movie star, and doesn't become the character. It's a different take on...
Published on Jan. 7 2003 by Peanut Butter


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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Adaptation; Brit Cast Generally Outdoes American Cast, June 16 2004
By 
Scott Schiefelbein (Portland, Oregon United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Hamlet (VHS Tape)
"Hamlet" is obviously the gold standard for actors -- pull off the melancholy Dane, and you've just about reached the top of your craft. Kenneth Branagh's turn as everyone's favorite soliloquist is an ambitious, bold, wonderful film that just misses the mark.
First, the high points (and there are many). By daring to film the entire (four hour!) production, Branagh has paid both Shakespeare and his audience the ultimate compliment. As Branagh's characters spelled out in his comic gem, "A Midwinter's Tale," cutting "Hamlet" from its full four-hour length to a two-plus hour length is one of the most difficult editorial processes you'll ever try, but everyone does it because nobody stays in their seats for four hours anymore. By telling the "whole story," Branagh fleshes out minor characters and provides more context for the story (for example, Claudius has a more precarious political position than many truncated versions depict, and his negotiations with Laertes become more important).
Branagh's Hamlet is a bright, dynamic individual, full of rage and yet stymied by his ability to see more than one side of the situation. (As has been pointed out by wiser folks than I, if Hamlet and Othello were transposed, there wouldn't be any plays! Othello would have murdered Claudius in the first act, and Hamlet would have seen through Iago's plotting and outsmarted him.) He's a product of his home, which is a surprisingly well-lit, semi-modern location -- most productions cast Elsinore as a fairly gloomy place.
Showing off a buffness that was not present in his earlier films (in "Henry V," Branagh is comparatively doughy), Branagh nails the part. From his sheepish realization that he is overcoaching the players to his anguish over his realized inaction to his manipulation of Ophelia (a suitably tortured Kate Winslet), Branagh hits all the right notes and even pulls off the difficult fencing scene with Laertes. The rest of the British cast (Branagh veterans for the most part, including Derek Jacobi as Claudius -- Jacobi was considered the leading "Hamlet" of his era) is excellent. Watch for a nice Ghost scene -- the Ghost's fury and torment and Hamlet's horrified recognition that the Ghost is confirming his worst fears more than makes up for some second-rate special effects.
The look of the film is tremendous. Shot in 70mm (giving a richer, wider picture), "Hamlet" gives us a sprawling Elsinore Castle filled with a wonderfully dressed royalty. The centerpiece of Elsinore is an ingenious throne room filled with mirrors, conveniently allowing for spying under plausible circumstances for key scenes. But other scenes also appropriately take place in back rooms and on the edges of the domain. This is definitely a kingdom worth killing for (as is Gertrude, played by the perpetually ravishing Julie Christie).
"Hamlet" forces the director to make choices. Branagh has chosen to make Hamlet confrontational -- many of his lines that could be whispered asides to the audience are instead full-fledged roars to all and sundry. Some might quibble -- it worked for me.
There are only two weaknesses in the film. First, is the general weakness of the American cast. It's a sad fact that not every great actor is a great Shakespearean actor, and in an apparent attempt to make "Hamlet" more accessible by bringing in well-known Americans, some jarring results occur. Jack Lemmon, God bless him, sounds completely out of his depth in his cameo. Robin Williams, who has the acting chops to play Shakespeare, inexplicably makes his brief role as Osric as mincing as one of his stand-up comic homosexuality riffs. Billy Crystal acquits himself fairly well as the First Gravedigger by showing the restraint Williams eschews. The only American who triumphs in a cameo performance is Charlton Heston, who inhabits the role of the Player King with a nice balance of pomposity and humility.
By comparison, the Brits who have minor roles (including Sir John Gielgud as Priam, Sir Richard Attenborough as the English Ambassador, and Rufus Sewell as Fortinbras) show how the Shakespearean game is played, even in small roles.
The only other problem I had with the film is Hamlet's exit -- the Christ imagery was just too darn over the top. We're several decades removed from such obvious imagery (it may have worked for Paul Newman in "The Left Handed Gun," but now it provokes only rolling eyeballs).
"Hamlet" is truly a magnificent attempt to tell Shakespeare's most famous tale. Standing ovations to Branagh and friends for even attempting this unabridged version -- this was truly daring. I have not seen a better film adaptation of "Hamlet." The fact that it doesn't quite work to 5-star level (unlike, say, Ian McKellen's "Richard III") is no criticism whatsoever.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent teaching tool, May 7 2004
This review is from: Hamlet (VHS Tape)
I cannot add to the wonderful reviews for this film but I would like to tell of my personal experience with it.
I have a teen-age daughter who was struggling with English Lit. She hated reading (always had). She had to read various classics and was especially struggling with Hamlet. She could not understand it, but, plodded through it anyway. The cliff notes confused her. I came across this movie at the video rental place and decided to try it to see if it would help. After watching the video, she was so excited about the story of Hamlet that she immediately read it again, then watched the movie again. We both found the movie to be extremely true to the original writing. The greatest thing about this movie is that it gave my daughter the drive to read. FINALLY. I had given up on her ever being able to enjoy reading, now she would rather read than watch TV. I give all the credit to this movie. Now, if a movie comes out based on a book she always reads the book if she watches the movie.
The only criticism I have is that I WANT THIS ON DVD and it isn't available.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful version of Hamlet, Nov. 2 2009
By 
This review is from: Hamlet: Special Edition (DVD)
I admire Branaugh's boldness in making a completely uncut version of Hamlet at four hours long. This may be too long for some viewers, but I am a bard addict, so it works for me! This seems to be a controversial version of the film in that people either seem to love it or hate it. Count me among one of those who loves it.

Branaugh captures the complexities of Hamlet's character. He acts melancholy, manic, angry, and witty at all the right moments (in my opinion).

Some have criticized Kate Winslet as Ophelia, but I think she does a suprisingly good job. She really looks and sounds emotionally broken in her "mad" scenes.

I also really liked the choice of a vibrant and beautiful Elsinore. I think it represents the hypocrisy of Claudius, charming and attractive on the outside but corrupt and rotten on the inside. Not everything that is corrupt and dark in this world necessarily looks that way in terms of appearences.

Most importantly, this movie moved me: it struck my emotional nerves. I was saddened when Gertrude reported Ophelia's drowning, I laughed at Hamlet and the gravedigger's witty jokes, and I was angered by Claudius' machinations. When a movie, through the actors, is able to move me on an emotional level, I definitely admire it.

Matt
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Film, June 29 2004
By 
fra7299 "fra7299" (California, United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Hamlet (VHS Tape)
Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet" works so well on the big screen because the guy has a knack for Shakespeare, acting, directing, and knowing what "modern" audiences wanted out of a Shakespearean play. He takes the tale of Hamlet, prince of Denmark, and transports it to more of a modern setting (well, more modern than the 16th century). He assembles an all-star cast that includes Kate Winslett, Charlton Heston, Derek Jacobi, Billy Crystal, Jack Lemmon, Robin Williams among others in this adaptation of Shakespeare's classic.
Although 4 hours in length (mainly because every word in the play is inserted in the script), the stunning effect of the play is extraordinary. The backdrop for the ghost of Hamlet in the opening scene, the mirror used when Hamlet (Branaugh) is making his "To be or not to be" soliloquy, the palace in which Hamlet and Laertes fight, and the snowy landscape in which Fortenbras and his men arrive are all instances of using scenery and directing to update this version of the play.
Although the setting and interpretation of what Shakespeare intended are left in doubt, the movie itself is visually stunning and the acting is great. Although Branaugh hired a few American actors to take on some of Shakespeare's characters (for instance, Robin Williams plays Osric and Billy Crystal plays one of the gravediggers), there "American" accents are hardly noticed in the film.
As an educator, I also think this is a fantastic version to use as a resource for a study of the play. Because the dialogue is accurate to the play, it works well. Also, this version seemingly makes the work of Shakespeare easier to understand. (Although, as a warning, there is one scene with Winslet (Ophelia) and Branaugh (Hamlet) that is definitely "adult" in nature).
Overall, a great gamble by Branaugh to update Shakespeare's work into his own insight. There is also a few extras on the VHS version: interviews with many of the cast members as well as a behind the scenes about the movie.
Also recommended: Hamlet (Mel Gibson version)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, March 3 2004
By 
Loren Amsden (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Hamlet (VHS Tape)
I have "collected" Hamlets in the sense of seeing many stage and film versions for more than 30 years, from off-off-Broadway goofs to Laurence Olivier's and Branagh's so-called masterpieces. The fact is that the play is Shakespeare's most difficult in many respects. Most of the major characters are deluded, mad, or pretending to be deluded or mad. Even stating what the play is about has nearly exhausted the imagination of 20 generations.
There are things in this version I object to--most especially the handling of the duel and bloodbath at the end. It is over the top and physically unbelievable, detracting somewhat from the viewer's ability to feel for the characters involved. But having said that, all-in-all (and "all" of Hamlet is a lot!), this is the best production I have ever seen: complete,in the proper order, with excellent performances by Branagh and Winslet and ESPECIALLY Derek Jacobi as Claudius. When Claudius makes sense, the play makes sense, and while I have other favorite Hamlets and Ophelias and Polonius', there has NEVER been a Claudius so brilliantly portrayed. The production values are brilliant, the music fine, and the overall representation of Shakespeare's most haunting work unequaled.
So where is the DVD?!?!?
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5.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare is best when under the control of Branagh, Dec 24 2003
By 
Stacy E. Tadlock (Roscommon, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Hamlet (VHS Tape)
I have long been a fan of Shakespeare, I had classes both as a undergrad and graduate student, but I never got as much out of it as I did while watching Kenneth Branagh's adaptations of the Bard's work. His desire to let Shakespeare's words ring out is truly magnificent and a joy to behold every time I watch them. His adaptation of Hamlet is by far no exception, the cast, the cinematography, the incredible beauty of every scene written and played just like Shakespeare wrote them hundreds of years ago. It's like William was there in the director's chair next to Branagh's guiding him all the way. This full-text adaptation, for the first time, gives the viewer ALL the scene that the Bard wrote, in the order he wrote them without any substitutions or omissions, thus giving the best, most splendid view of Hamlet's world and why he acted the way he did and why others acted the way they did as well. This is the only movie I own more than one of, I own the full screen and the widescreen version, I couldn't resist it. Anything Shakespeare that Branagh touches turns into gold in the hands of a master. RUN, RUN TO GET THIS MOVIE, YOU WON'T BE SORRY!!!
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5.0 out of 5 stars 5 stars...but not perfect, Nov. 22 2003
By 
S. Hawkins "SMH" (New York, NY) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hamlet (VHS Tape)
I love Kenneth Branagh, and was especially hooked after watching Henry V. Here, with Hamlet, he doesn't succeed in creating the "definitive movie version" (as he did with Henry), but nevertheless creates a solid (and complete!) version that is easily the best out there thus far.
(...)
Anyways, as mentioned above, the movie has distinct flaws that may simply be quibbling. The death scene with Claudius is simply painful - Branagh throws a rapier like a dart and pegs Claudius in the back with it. Admittedly, the film is approached with an opera-like feel (suspension of disbelief is required), but dart-throwing rapier death is probably a bit much. Along the same lines, there is a bizarre blue screen moment that needed to be cut (Hamlet's decision to return to the castle). Also, the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia is made explicit through flashbacks, which while hot, is odd in relation to the play itself, which is filled with innuendo and ambiguity. Much more fun that way, I feel.
Okay, so they're quibbles. However, these are quibbles about key areas of the movie (such as the climax), so I think it merits pointing out. That aside, the acting is (mostly) brilliant, particularly on the part of Derek Jacobi. His Claudius is probably the best I've ever seen; almost outshines Hamlet.
This is a great movie. It's not everything I would have hoped for, but it's by far the best we have right now.
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5.0 out of 5 stars the only one you'll ever need, Oct. 19 2003
By 
This review is from: Hamlet (VHS Tape)
(i kind of like the ethan hawke)
but Branagh's Hamlet is the best. He makes Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, Mel Gibson and the rest look so shoddy. Simple things he does, like the way he says, "who" when Horatio tells him he's seen his father are gorgeous. I think they overdo the madness of Ophelia. I don't see that violence, though some of it is good. That's a hard part. Derek Jacobi's Claudius is great. He played a good Hamlet once, too. The scenery is great, doesn't try so hard, but ends up being timeless. Some of the flashbacks are a little annoying, a little bit too much dumbing down (showing the decrepit Norway for example), and the flashes to the sex between h+o are also... (I don't know the word), but weak.
Robin Williams sucks.
Charlton Heston ast the Player King is brillliant; the exchange between Hamlet and he are so good. The whole story of Pyrrhus is never done in films.
Keeping the whole text is great. I watched it over a few sittings. I keep wanting to go back to it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars We need a DVD!, May 1 2003
By 
This review is from: Hamlet (VHS Tape)
It is a crime that this version of Hamlet is not available on DVD. It is made for the medium. It is shot in 70mm and deserves to be shown letterboxed with high definition. On 2 videocassettes, and pan-and-scan, the film is unwieldy.
As for the actual movie, it will always prove indispensable to the Shakespearean tradition. Whatever problems you may have with the film, it is the only cinematic telling of the ENTIRE text. Sure, Olivier's version was great, but it was about half the text (he cuts out Rosencranz & Gidenstern!). I am also fond of the Mel Gibson version (Hamlet as action hero) but the text is SEVERELY edited in that film. The television versions are, by nature, very limited.
Seeing the whole text is an experience unlike any other (although I don't recommend it at one sitting). Plots and subplots that are lost in other versions are retained here. Branagh does a great job of directing, although he is over fond of a circling camera. He populates the film with moviestars, which is a hit-and-miss affair. Charlton Heston is perfect as the Player King. Robin Williams is able to convey the comedy of the fop Osric. On the down side, Billy Crystal is cast in the only other witty part of the film - the Gravedigger.
As for the principal performances, Derek Jacobi may be the definitive screen Claudius. Ironically, the performance people may have trouble with is Branagh's. Branagh's virtue is that he correctly sees Shakespeare primarily as entertainment. Hamlet the movie is an ambitious project that he intends to be enjoyed the same way people enjoy The Godfather. As a side-effect of this, sometimes he overdoes it. When Hamlet is being sardonic, he affects an obvious tone to make sure we GET the joke, where some subtlety might have been better. However, that is but a trifle here. When Hamlet goes into his soliloquies, I still get chills down my spine. In the main, his Hamlet is about as good a one we could hope for in this day and age.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A far different take on Shakespeare's Hamlet, but a good one, April 16 2003
By 
This review is from: Hamlet (VHS Tape)
This version of Hamlet is one of the few to incorporate the entire play, without any revision or abridgement. It is over four hours long, but worth every minute of it. Kenneth Branagh does a superb job directing here, and plays an impeccable Hamlet. The play is set in the 19th century, which allows for a very elaborate and glamorous backdrop to this classic play. Branagh's Hamlet is a bit darker, a bit more sinister than most of us are used to seeing, but this does the play well. Things only implied (such as the love affair between Hamlet and Ophelia) in the play are given full attention. Also, Branagh's version gives a far different impression of some of the main characters than I'm used to, especially Polonius and Ophelia herself.
This cast is star-studded, but all of the actors do very well in their parts. Kate Winslet is a wonderful Ophelia. Small parts by Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Charleton Heston, Jack Lemmon, and others add to rather than detract from the overall effect of the film. Overall, this is an excellent representation of this classic play. I highly recommend it.
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