'Hamlet' (1996) - High-Def Digest Review - High-Def Digest Forums
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Old 09-01-2010, 10:30 AM
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Default 'Hamlet' (1996) - High-Def Digest Review

Michael Palmer has reviewed 'Hamlet' (1996). He says Kenneth Branagh's film is fantastic, even if it's not the absolute best Hamlet performance he's ever seen. This Blu-ray isn't perfect, but its a clear step up from the 2007 DVD. Fans should be very happy with a purchase, others must see this at least once!

Full review here:
http://bluray.highdefdigest.com/3120/hamlet_1996.html
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Old 09-01-2010, 11:18 AM
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Great review Mr. Palmer. I, too, love this film -- one of the finest screen adaptations of a Shakespeare play since Olivier or Kurosawa.

Of course, there are numerous other movie versions available ('The Lion King' and 'West Side Story' being strong favorites), but this is 'Hamlet' as it was meant to be performed.
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Old 09-01-2010, 11:55 AM
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Originally Posted by eNoize View Post
Great review Mr. Palmer. I, too, love this film -- one of the finest screen adaptations of a Shakespeare play since Olivier or Kurosawa.

Of course, there are numerous other movie versions available ('The Lion King' and 'West Side Story' being strong favorites), but this is 'Hamlet' as it was meant to be performed.
Call it sacrilege but i actually prefer the Franco Zeffirelli version with Mel Gibson which i have seen several times but i just cannot get into Branagh's edition.

Now obviously Mel's in the news right now for all the wrong reasons but if we can forget that for one moment and look back upon his acting then i think he was very good as Hamlet.

I take it they used a 35mm master to create the blu ray and did not scan in the 70mm print at 8k!
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Old 09-01-2010, 01:18 PM
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I wouldn't dispute Gibson's performance since he clearly knows how to portray a crazy person (no pun intended), but I also can't help that he often overplays the part as well, almost phony in a couple instances. Zeffirelli's 'Romeo & Juliet' is a classic and terrific film despite its strong appeal for attracting a mass audience by emphasizing more of the romance over the politics. But in his 'Hamlet,' he tries again for mass market appeal, particularly in the casting of popular actors at the time, and in doing so, he removes many important plot elements for the sake of time, which in my opinion ruins much of the text's emotional impact and intentions. Although I must say, I absolutely love Helena Bonham Carter's performance as Ophelia -- it's remarkable!

Personally, I love Branagh's performance because it's a return to the original text. Hamlet merely plays to the stereotypes of insanity, and he is not very good at it. Compare his crazy to Ophelia's genuine break from reality. The young Prince, as far as I see it, never truly goes crazy, a notion started by the Romantics. Instead, he grows mad and enraged by the endless hypocrisy, lies and deception of those around him. Sometimes, he is so furious by all this that he forgets he's only playing the part as in the scene with his mother in her chamber and his father's ghost suddenly appears to remind him. This is the reason why I love Branagh's Hamlet and his film adaptation, finally removing the ridiculous Oedipal complex started by Freud so long ago and which so many films have kept to. But Olivier's is the only acceptable version of this. This IS Shakespeare's Hamlet! (Just my opinion, of course. :wink

As for the PQ . . . After having recently watched it, yes, it does look as if they made this transfer from the best print available. It looks very much like the same master used for the 2007 DVD, which claimed to be from the original 70mm negative. The Blu-ray looks beautiful and ornate to be sure, but this doesn't look like what we'd expect from such pristine elements. It's not bad, but not great either. What they should have done is created a new master, at the very least a 4k scan, for this Blu-ray, not simply reuse what was readily available.
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Last edited by eNoize; 09-01-2010 at 01:29 PM.
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Old 09-01-2010, 01:47 PM
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Yeah, my guess this is WB reusing the 2007 master, which is good, but not great (and the trouble is that WB in particular has spoiled us with some amazing redone-for-Blu-ray masters for Oz, Wind, and North by Northwest).

Adaptation-wise, I could never really get into Zeffirelli films for whatever reason. My favorite adaptation ever, as noted in the review, is Branagh's HENRY V because it feels like a great *film* more than a great play (even though he adapted the plays opening from the stage to the sound stage and breaks the 4th wall). It's just so exciting and despite Olivier's amazing tracking shot (I heard they built literally train tracks for his so he could follow the charging horses), I think he tops Olivier, but that's probably just my preference for more naturalism than the 1940s/50s style of acting which feels more "look at my I'm doing Shakespeare" which Brando put an end to with his Lee Strasberg training.

Also a big fan of Luhrman's ROMEO + JULIET for giving it so much energy and I think directly translating the passion of young lovers in a kinetic, visual medium. Julie Taymor's TITUS is crazy on all levels -- I hope THE TEMPEST is good, but it's not one of my favorite plays.
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Old 09-01-2010, 01:54 PM
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I like this adaptation a lot, but part of me just can't get over the fact that Branagh wrote himself a sex scene in a play where no sex scene exists.

And I understand that the sexual history between Hamlet and Ophelia is left open to interpretation, but my view and the view of many other Shakespeare enthusiasts is that the play functions most successfully if you assume that Hamlet and Ophelia have not had sex.

I just find it kind of silly, like Branagh really just wanted to rub up nakedly against Kate Winslet and this was his excuse to be able to do it.
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Old 09-01-2010, 06:24 PM
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Originally Posted by eNoize View Post
Of course, there are numerous other movie versions available ('The Lion King' and 'West Side Story' being strong favorites), but this is 'Hamlet' as it was meant to be performed.
West Side Story is Romeo and Juliet, not Hamlet.
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Old 09-01-2010, 07:04 PM
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yes, I know.

the comment is a general reference to the numerous film versions of any Shakespeare play. I just worded the parenthetical portion wrong because I was typing quickly.
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Old 09-02-2010, 10:01 AM
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I like this adaptation a lot, but part of me just can't get over the fact that Branagh wrote himself a sex scene in a play where no sex scene exists.

And I understand that the sexual history between Hamlet and Ophelia is left open to interpretation, but my view and the view of many other Shakespeare enthusiasts is that the play functions most successfully if you assume that Hamlet and Ophelia have not had sex.

I just find it kind of silly, like Branagh really just wanted to rub up nakedly against Kate Winslet and this was his excuse to be able to do it.
I think it more likely that Branagh just wanted to show off his own body, as he did in Frankenstein. Branagh has always struck me as a tad narcissistic, and I think he managed to bring out some narcissism in Hamlet's character as well.

The thing that has often made Hamlet a tough role is that he apparently delays in exacting his revenge. Olivier simplified this dilemma by calling the play "the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind". I think Branagh to some degree shows us "the tragedy of a man in love with the sound of his own voice". I really think the Branagh's and Hamlet's narcissism are perfectly matched in this film performance.

I agree that he did go a bit far in showing the Hamlet/Ophelia relationship as sexual. However, it is a valid interpretation. Much is made of the warnings she receives from her father and brother about Hamlet "trifling with" her; so there may well have been something going on to elicit those warnings. that's the way Shakespeare is done, though. Some productions stress one idea and others another.
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Old 09-02-2010, 04:01 PM
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The thing that has often made Hamlet a tough role is that he apparently delays in exacting his revenge. Olivier simplified this dilemma by calling the play "the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind". I think Branagh to some degree shows us "the tragedy of a man in love with the sound of his own voice". I really think the Branagh's and Hamlet's narcissism are perfectly matched in this film performance..
I think there's a number of valid reasons for why Hamlet doesn't act, or cannot make up his mind, most notably that he isn't sure if the ghost is actually His Father, or in fact The (or A) Devil trying to trick him into hating his Uncle simply because he's unhappy about the quick marriage. Then of course, once he concludes that the Uncle is guilty, Hamlet's shipped off to England where his is supposed to be assassinated (which he survives off screen) via orders passed from Cluadius to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Think of it as when Scar sends the Hyenas after Simba to make sure he never returns; perhaps a live action HAMLET will someday do something similar.

I personally don't have a problem with visualizations of Ophelia/Hamlet. It's implied in the same way we never really SEE old Norway, or Prince Fortinbras this early. I'm just glad they didn't do anything weird with the Halmet/Gertrude scene. I personally don't think A) Gertrude was involved with Hamlet's Father's murder and B) that Hamlet has anything sexual with her, despite some interpretations. It's simply the relationship of any son who is forced to see his Mother remarry (especially so quickly).
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