Hamlet has been filmed and performed on stage numerous times. Often, when a movie is adapted from a play, there are several aspects which are adjusted or completely lost. This often depends on the director’s point of view as well as the casting director, the 1948 Laurence Olivier’s black-and-white version of Hamlet starting Laurence Olivier and Eileen Herlie, is a classic film that is generally considered to be one of the greatest movies of all time. The Olivier version is a story as merely the centerpiece in front of a roving camera.It has been accorded numerous honors, including four 1948 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Actor, Art Direction-Set Direction, and Costume Design.
In the year 2000, directed by Michael Almereyda, the newest version of Hamlet was released in theatres, this time starring popular actors Ethan Hawke and Julia Stiles, and set in the present day. The director takes a modern approach, retelling Shakespeare’s classic 400 year-old play in New York City. Here is the stylish Hamlet, the modern take of a timeless story with a backdrop of high art.Director and screenplay adaptor Almereyda has taken Shakespeare’s great tale of revenge, procrastination and mortality, and placed it in today’s slacker world. Despite critical acclaim, this version of Hamlet is unsuccessful during its brief theatrical run. Even in some very beautifully mannered scenes, there is a note of clumsiness indicating something is missing or doesn’t match about this far-reaching production that borders on sentimental giddiness.
The old-style English dialogue and the new visuals do not make for a coherent film.The visuals are spectacular and relevant while the dialogue seems to be from another planet. Almereyda’s slimmed-down, updated version of the Shakespearian tragedy with Hawke in the title role is stylish, funny, and smart but only up to a point. Olivier has complete artistic control over every aspect of his version of “Hamlet”, including casting, screenplay, sets, costumes, editing, and music, and of course he directs and played the title role. Hamlet is presented in a full frame, 1.
33:1 aspect ratio, and is photographed in glorious black-and-white.The look of this film is decidedly black, with deep shadows, fog, and an overall gothic feel that evokes notions of darkness, haunted evenings at a castle by the sea. The dialog is clearly delivered, which is absolutely essential when it comes to presenting Shakespeare. Olivier has shortened the play from 4 hours to 2 hours 35 minutes by drastically abridging Shakespeare’s text, even though this involved the cutting of significant characters (for example, Fortinbras, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern) and the elimination of important story elements (for example, Denmark’s conflict with Norway and the rebellion led by Laertes).
Olivier himself is very bright and intense, with a haunted look. The opening shots of swirling fog over an ancient castle set the mood; this Hamlet is of a tradition almost forgotten in our post-modern need to outfit pre-modern texts in more contemporary trappings. The omniscient director intones that we are about to see the story of “a man who could not make up his mind. ” Acting aside, though, Olivier’s direction of the film is inspired. This 1948 version is easily the most fluid of all versions. Every single member of the cast is inspired, led by Olivier in the greatest role of his life.This is the most poetic and lyrical version of the play bringing the beautiful verse to life without becoming too bogged down to understand.
The movie flows absolutely seamlessly from scene to scene. There’s no break or breather in-between; it’s not content to stop and pat itself on the back for getting through a scene. It just keeps moving. The camera creeps through the gloomy castle walls, climbing up staircases, and going in and out of windows. Olivier lets many scenes play out without cutting (or without seeming to cut).
He moves the camera around the room, getting a feel for the space and the physical relationships. He rarely wastes time on simple close-ups, however tempting that may have been. The sheer motion and momentum keeps it from feeling like a play.
Moreover, this Hamlet is based less in theater than it is on other film genres; the film noir and the ghost story. It’s a beautiful achievement. Hamlet (Ethan Hawke) is the sullen prince of Denmark, whose father has recently died, replaced by his uncle Claudius (Kyle MacLachlan) on both the throne and in the bed of his mother, Gertrude (Diane Venora).In Almereyda’s film, Denmark is supposed to be a corporation whose business is never actually revealed, and the King is really just the CEO. Young Hamlet is still visited by the ghost of his dead father (Sam Shepard), who reveals that he was poisoned by Claudius. Of course, this makes Hamlet revengeful to the point of insanity. The problem lies in the lack of texture. Almereyda has personally cut it down to well under two hours, and uses a large part of that running length for scenes without dialogue mostly to allow for his modernizations.
Not only the texture is gone, but even some treasured scenes are cut. It’s cut down to the most basic plotline, and has barely any comedic relief. Some characters, such as Fortinbras (Casey Affleck) and the gravedigger (Jeffrey Wright), are only seen. Well, Wright didn’t get a chance to sing a little of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” as he digs, but his famous “repartee” with Hamlet and Horatio (Karl Geary) is gone. Ethan Hawke makes for a well-tormented Prince Hamlet. His “To be or not to be…
” soliloquy is delivered while walking through the aisles of Blockbuster video store.Hamlet opens with a low-angle traveling shot through Times Square to Hamlet’s hasty trip to JFK in the company. Hamlet (a worthy Hawke), is a student film maker and son of the head of the Denmark Corporation.
Denmark is changed from being a country to the name of the multinational corporation that must endure the slings and arrows from the pen of William Shakespeare. Hamlet is a loner, who uses his hand-held video camera to capture everything of interest. He wears a toque and mopes around Hotel Elsinore with a genuine suspicion that something dark is brewing between his stepfather Claudius and his mother Gertrude.When his Dad is brutally murdered, barely two months pass before his mother gets hitched to the boss’ brother Claudius, the man suspected of the crime. All of this seems fine until the ghost of Hamlet’s father visits him in his apartment and tells him that something evil is going on.
Poor, confused Hamlet now doesn’t know if he’s just imagining the ghost, or if his father was actually betrayed by his own greedy brother. Hamlet is also toiling over his romance with beautiful photographer Ophelia (Julia Stiles), with whom he is forbidden to interact. Bill Murray is Polonious, Ophelia’s overprotective father and companion of Claudius.The complete notion of Bill Murray performance is alive with expression, and his lines are delivered with a light comic touch.
Despite hearing that Hawke was a disappointment as Hamlet, but at the same time he is very effective and convincing. One could feel his pain each time he is betrayed and it is very clear that as the film progresses, his character becomes more and more doomed for tragedy. Julia Stiles, as Hamlet’s illicit lover Ophelia, is not as successful in her performance. It seemed like her part was much less important than in other versions, maybe because Almereyda cut some scenes or ecause she put very little life into her role.
Either way, one can feel very little sympathy for her. Hamlet has made its way to home video on a DVD that contains great audio and video presentations, but also contains an inexcusable lack of extra features. It is rated R for violence (gunplay and a brief swordfight), graphic gore and brief glimpses of sexual imagery and nude artwork.
The film itself is a fantastic retelling of the Shakespearean classic, with the modern day setting giving the story a fresh feeling. Hamlet looks to be in his 20s, which is different from the 30 (or arguably, 17) year old in the play.Then there are all the differences a modern adaptation brings with it: guns instead of swords. Marcellus being a girl and dating Horatio and lots of chain smoking, business suits instead of armor. The element of fear is missing. Hamlet’s father appears as a ghost (Sam Shepard) who is simply not frightening, though Shepard is the only actor in this case who transmits Shakespearian depth.
The film is well photographed by John de Borman. It is perhaps a bit too well photographed as the images often become the star of the movie and are often distracting. Almereyda’s edits can be confusing for those not familiar with the play.An impressive moment in the film is Hamlet’s “To be or Not to be” soliloquy in the aisle of a Blockbuster Video store. Almereyda’s visuals are more than inventive and hold interest but do little to add cohesiveness to the story. The actors smoothly roll through the acts and do not drag things down with dramatic flair. Speakerphones, video, digital still photos, laptops, and cell phones are used as not only showpieces, but also as valid devices to communicate the play’s text.
This version doesn’t strike to the depths, but it has enough on its mind to make it one of the most interesting Shakespeare films.After demonstrating both of the movies on Hamlet, many differences and similarities can be found very easily. Olivier’s movie has more and better good qualities to it then Almereyda. Unfortunately Almereyda movie has more negative aspect. Michael Almereyda’s version of Hamlet is of the self-consciously postmodern variety.
There are plenty of satisfying scenes like which has liven up the movie but at some points, it feels like Almereyda takes the easy way out.Works Cited Boyce, Charles. Shakespeare: The Essential Reference to his Plays, His Poems, His Life And Times, and More. New York: Roundtable, 1990.
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