by Greg Muskewitz
This newest version of "Hamlet," a mere three or four years since Kenneth Branagh's epic version, never should have happened. Miramax should have shot it dead in the water. I never wasted my time with "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" with DiCaprio and Danes a few years back, knowing locales had been updated to modern times, while it stayed spoken in the Elizabethan verse. If I had know this "Hamlet" was the same, I would have skipped it all together too; obviously, I did not know.Director, and also adaptor Michael Almereyda does move "Hamlet" to modern day New York with modern day inconveniences (hand held cameras, cell phones, Polaroid cameras, etc.). But then Almereyda kills it by keeping the dialogue in its Shakespearian verse. Ethan Hawke is Hamlet, and not a very good one, for what's the point of Hamlet is he's not mad, not feigning madness, and not filled with angst? He's on leave from film school (all dolled up trendily with yellow shades and a beanie, somehow forgetting he's white) to attend his mother's (Diane Venora) marriage to her brother-in-law (Kyle MacLachlan). "His lord" of course having poisoned the reigning king (Sam Sheperd), the CEO of Denmark Corporations. (They're also located out of the Hotel El Sinore.) "Melancholia" is arisen, Hamlet is requested to stay as Laertes (Liev Schrieber), son of Polonius (Bill Murray), brother of Ophelia (Julia Stiles), returns to France. It only becomes all the more plotting removing it out of it's fin de siecle.
"The additions are subtractions, and it is more austere then it originated."
Polonius is nosey where he shouldn't be, and interferes with the "tenders" Ophelia has received from Hamlet. It plods along, only more butchered than Zefferelli's version (though here, Fortinbras is at least mentioned) and with a soap opera mentality. Shakespeare's text is not only desecrated by the impropritousness of the usage and lack of utilizing the words effectively, but by the gradual downplay of the everyday hodgepodge shown. The lyric becomes boring, dull, dreary, and ultimately a nuisance. Almereyda keeps in tact the unnecessary, and plays with the important, putting it all out of order. The choppiness and bleakness is only a sign of pure amateurity.
At one point, Hamlet's scheme to catch Claudius (though never mentioned by name) is the "film/video," "The Mousetrap" which is a compellation of scenes edited together from a boat-load of Blockbuster rentals (anyone want to guess who will have it Guaranteed In Stock?). And any member knows, there's no more than five movies rented out at one time. Besides, the cashier looked deader than any Blockbuster employee I've ever seen. (Plus, I never realized "Gone with the Wind," Kubrick's "Lolita," and a host of others are "action" movies as displayed in their display.)
One conjecture I can offer for the horrible idea of keeping it in verse is the incapability of the actors themself, to perform it. The original performers were unable to do it realistically then, but at least had the rythmic patterns of the iambic pentameter down. And to put the lyric in today's time with today's people, only makes it even more stiff and rigid. No matter how convicingly "performed," of which really only Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Venora, Sam Sheperd, and at whim Julia Stiles and Liev Schrieber were capable of, everyone else floundered, flubbed, and fluttered. No matter how you look at it, there's no matching today's gestures with that dialogue --not a hand-movement, a twitch of the brow, or a crack of the lip.
The production design was nicely decored, a pleasing, if not a little overly dark and saturated look by cinematographer John de Borman, as well as an often decent score by Carter Burwell. However, the gaffer on this needs to be shot. I counted at least three separate scenes where the microphone dropped into the camera frame, and it was usually in multiples of two or three. Almereyda showed no style or finess, just a disregard and personal ignominy for the material he filmed.
Hawke, trying his damnedest to be cocky and toothful like a younger, nasaler Tom Cruise, failed. The beady-eyed MacLachlan looks out of shape, and it felt as if many were reading off of a TelePromTer. And Julia Stiles, taking only what they gave, as the camera graces her pale and cute face with a dab of flesh nose reminescent of of Millicent's in Evenlyn Waugh's short story "On Guard," can only take what she gets and skip, not run, with it. Her costuming is much more mod, much more exotic. All the rest --Murray, Steven Zahn, etc.-- even despite any pentameter they may think they're using, is even further subtractive. Any gambles Almereyda or anyone else took, lost.Final Verdict: F+
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originally posted: 07/30/00 06:20:49