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4.2 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Actors: Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, John Laurie, Esmond Knight, Anthony Quayle
  • Directors: Laurence Olivier
  • Writers: Laurence Olivier, William Shakespeare
  • Producers: Anthony Bushell, Herbert Smith, Reginald Beck
  • Format: Black & White, Closed-captioned, DVD-Video, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (US and Canada This DVD will probably NOT be viewable in other countries. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • MPAA Rating: UNRATED
  • Studio: Criterion
  • Release Date: Sept. 19 2000
  • Run Time: 155 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews
  • ASIN: 0780021312
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #24,028 in DVD (See Top 100 in DVD)
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Product Description

Winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor, Sir Laurence Olivier's Hamlet continues to be the most compelling version of Shakespeare's beloved tragedy. Olivier is at his most inspired-both as director and as the melancholy Dane himself-as he breathes new life into the words of one of the world's greatest dramatists. Criterion is proud to present Hamlet in a luminous black-and-white digital transfer.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
"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 many facets of Hamlet's character have, after all, been debated by literature's greatest minds since the Bard's very own time. For that reason, too, any newcomer is well-advised to first read the play - not see it on stage, nor watch any of the myriad movie versions - but keep an open mind and let the Bard's words speak for themselves. All these centuries later, Shakespeare alone still remains the one true authority on Hamlet's character; and while reading, too, necessarily creates an interpretation in the reader's mind that others may or may not agree with (as does any staging of the complete tragedy), the interpretative element is enhanced even more if this complex play is reduced to somewhat over half its length to comply with cinematic necessities. Nothing proves this better than Sir Laurence Olivier's 1948 movie, which won him Best Director and Best Actor Academy Awards, in addition to the film's Best Costume Design and Best Set Decoration honors.
Without question, in his day Olivier was considered *the* quintessential Hamlet; the actor who owned the role like none before and few, if any, afterwards; not least because of this movie and his participation in the 1937 Helsingor (= Elsinore) staging.
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Format: DVD
Sir Laurence Olivier’s 1948 film is very good, though it didn’t strike me as quite the masterpiece it’s often said to be. The acting is mostly strong and the lines are generally well delivered, and the way Olivier conveys Hamlet’s moods and sensibilities in a subtle and sensitive way throughout is probably the best thing about it. The general atmosphere and darkness are well captured.

But the film didn’t strike me as truly exceptional. This could be in part because I saw it shortly after watching the David Tennant film, which is so human and naturalistic; the Olivier doesn’t really compete. It also has some touches of the mid-century acting style that seem a little over the top today. William Walton’s overwrought score seems ill-suited to the play to me. The soliloquies are delivered unexceptionably but unexceptionally. Jean Simmons (as Ophelia) is a good actress, but she’s made to look and act like a fairy princess here, and when she cries, as she does quite often, she sounds uncannily like a baby.

Having said that, the Polonius is great, and I liked the Ghost as well, especially the way his voice is treated. The sword-fighting looked good to me, though the exchange of rapiers is inauthentic. Overall, a solid but standard production.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I have now seen Olivier's Shakesperean roles in As You Like It, Richard III, King Lear, and Hamlet. Other than Richard III, where he played a perfectly devilish Richard, this would be my favourite Olivier role. He captures the prince's intelligence, wit, and melancholy. The other actors offer solid performances too and the directing and choice of set (a very creepy, gloomy Elsinore) are also brilliant.

The only reason I wouldn't give this play 5 stars as I do the Branaugh and Burton versions is because of the large cuts made to the text. While I certainly understand wanting to make some cuts, particularly in a play this long, some of the cuts are just too drastic. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are gone...completely. A few of Hamlet's key soliloquies, such as "Oh what a rogue and peasant slave am I..." and "what a creature is man...", are also completely gone. Some of these soliloquies are key to understanding Hamlet's character. Again, I understand why directors may want to make SOME cuts. Branaugh's four hour movie may be too long for some viewers (not for a bard addict like me). Burton's version at just over 3 hours is an excellent example of a version in which cuts were made where key soliloquies and characters were not eliminated.

Still, despite that complaint, this is still an excellent production of Hamlet and I would reccommend it to anyone who appreciates superb acting.

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Format: DVD
A film by Laurence Olivier
The word "masterpiece" is thrown around far too often these days, but for years I have heard that this version of "Hamlet" is Olivier's masterpiece. Recently I had the opportunity to see this masterpiece and for the first time I saw Olivier at work. I was impressed with what I saw. To the modern ear, Shakespearean language can sound awkward and archaic, but with Olivier, much of the dialogue sounded like easy conversation.
I once heard "Hamlet" described as the most structurally perfect play, that every action stems directly from something else in the play and that every action happened in that particular way because it had to, that there was no other way for the actions to work out. I am not enough of a Shakespeare scholar to be able to really speak to this, but I do know that when done well, "Hamlet" is a fascinating play, and a fascinating film. Olivier succeeded at doing this play well.
The story is one that is well known. Hamlet (Laurence Olivier) is a prince of Denmark. His father had died a month prior, and Queen Gertrude (Eileen Herlie) married the dead king's brother, Claudius (Basil Sydney). Hamlet has been brooding, unable to accept either his father's death or his mother's rather quick remarriage. This continues until Hamlet sees the ghost of his father, who tells him that he was murdered, and that the murderer is now sitting on the throne of Denmark. As a character said early in the film, "something is rotten in the state of Denmark." Hamlet must avenge his father, but in such a way that he can get away with it. As he begins to plot, he pretends to be mad (crazy), so that his excesses can be excused away. So begins the story.
This is an impressive movie, from the acting to the set design.
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