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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 11.11%
Average: 19.44%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 2.78%

2 reviews, 24 user ratings

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Hamlet (1996)
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by Justin Helmer

"Wow...that's a bunch of movie."
5 stars

This movie is four hours long, and worth every second. That says quite a bit right there as many movies these days have a hard time padding themselves out enough to be worth the eighty or ninety minutes needed for full feature status. Four hours man, I’m telling you; theatrically Hamlet was shown with a fifteen-minute intermission. This also makes sense, not only does it give your butt a break, but it also gives you a few seconds to digest the story up until that point.

So, Kenneth Branagh’s place in modern filmmaking as ‘the guy who saved Shakespeare’ is safe. He has managed to do what no one else has in a major theatrical version, put the whole damn story up on the screen in a way that makes it worth your time. Ambitious might be too tame a word to describe the feat itself and the success of the eventual outcome.

The plot? Being that Hamlet is probably the most famous piece in the western world; I feel a little silly recounting it here. (Seriously, if you really aren’t familiar with at least the basics, unplug you computer right now and go pick up a book…right now. Go on.) Hamlet, (Branagh) the prince of Denmark, has a problem. His father (Brian Blessed) is dead, and apart from that, his mother (Julie Christie, who came out of retirement to play the role.) has gone off and married his uncle. His life gets even more complicated when daddy’s ghost shows up one night with some more bad news. The ghost tells Hamlet that his uncle killed him to get the crown and his wife. (Shakespeare really was the trashy pulp-novelist of his day.) This, apart from placing Hamlet in an awkward position at family gatherings, also obliges him to kill his uncle to avenge his father’s death.

As you can imagine, all of this causes Hamlet some emotional problems. He wasn’t crazy about his mom marrying his uncle in the first place, but now he begins to behave out-and-out crazily. The king noticing Hamlet’s sudden change begins to try to figure out exactly what it is that has his stepson behaving like the worlds biggest arse. First the king conspires with the father of Hamlet’s girlfriend (Richard Briers) to try to see if unrequited love might be the cause. Then he actually goes so far as to hire to schoolmates of Hamlet’s to be spies to try to learn what’s going on. As Hamlet’s behavior becomes more erratic the king (Derek Jacobi) becomes more and more convinced that he knows what happened, and sets out to remove him, because he is the only one who seems to suspect.

All of this is usually included in filmed versions of the story, and doubtlessly this is quite a bit of story for one movie. But there’s more. Aside from the familial goings on there is also a political aspect to the story that is ignored most of the time. Seems that Hamlets father put the smack down on the King of Norway a few years ago, taking some of his land and demanding taxes to boot. Now the prince of Norway is all grown up and looking to put a boot in Denmark’s ass to make right the wrongs that have been done to his people and his father. Admittedly, this is a b-plot as these things go, but leaving it in there; (aside from making the film longer) makes the themes resonate just a little more clearly.

The cast is filled with Branagh’s usual suspects, (Blessed, Briers) and rounded out with an impressive list of performers showing up to flex the old acting chops. When the likes of Richard Attenborough, Judi Dench, Chuck Heston (Crazy gun-nut that he is, the man can act…), and John Gielgud show up to do cameos, your movie has some acting cred. There is also another level of people who just wanted to be involved; Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, and Jack Lemmon all turn up.

Fathers and sons is what all of it boils down to. The expectations that children put on themselves to live up to their ‘duties’; and in no small way what happens when inevitably we are unable to live up to those ideals. In all of his running around being crazy, Hamlet manages to kill Ophelia’s (Kate Winslet) father, naturally when his son returns another blood-vow is sworn to revenge another father’s death. Taken together with Fortinbras (The previously mentioned ‘George W. Bush’ of Norway.) these three characters provide three different views of all that those duties can entail.

It might test your patience at times; this movie is going to take its time getting where it is going. I found it difficult from time to time, being part of the ‘no attention-span’ generation. However at no point is this movie ever boring. It’s just that it has to be big, and just that big to contain the spectacle needed to bring this all to life. Invest some time in this one and you won’t be disappointed.

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originally posted: 01/22/03 02:54:24
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User Comments

6/03/14 loop cracking adaptation of a classic 4 stars
5/24/12 Albert Thoug Branagh overacts a little in comparison to Olivier, his film of "Hamlet" is the best 5 stars
4/09/11 Annoymous Great Actors, but the film is too long 3 stars
2/18/09 Lari Best Hamlet to date - easy to present, easy to get 5 stars
1/31/09 Alex Full throttle excitement. A must for any bard fan! 5 stars
6/09/06 Nikki it was ok.. i had to study it for english grade 12. 3 stars
5/03/05 Christy I thought this movie was great and now I love shakespeare... 5 stars
9/11/04 DM Kenneth Branagh kicks Laurence Olivier in the balls 5 stars
7/01/04 Daveman A large extent of Shakespeare's message is truncated by Brannagh's overly lavish vision. 3 stars
12/22/03 john eye candy yes ...good actors, yes but not a good film 3 stars
2/20/03 Dave A very faithful and nice looking adaptaton is let down by wooden performances. 3 stars
2/11/03 Ubu the Ripper About 4 hours too long. Check out "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Henry V" for Branagh's best 3 stars
12/16/02 Sar Booooooooo! 1 stars
1/14/02 Petre Excellent 5 stars
7/03/01 The Stuff Kinda boring, yet fucking beautiful!!! 5 stars
4/09/01 Nadine Stefoff unbelieveably long, over-the-top acting, but the cinematography was masterful! 4 stars
3/15/01 Rael Stunning, ell-concieved and better than the Olivier version. 5 stars
8/21/00 movie chick the best of the hamlet movies 5 stars
5/30/00 todd Branagh is Olivier of today. 5 stars
5/12/00 D Quite possibly, one of the best films ever made. Everything is perfect, or close to it. 5 stars
3/08/00 Kyle Broflovski I might've liked it better if I wasn't on a caffeine binge at the time of viewing. 3 stars
6/12/99 Biscus Branagh's most powerful performance to date 4 stars
6/07/99 Elizaveta Goooo Kenneth Branagh and Kate Winslet! 5 stars
3/26/99 Ali The most compelling adaptation of Hamlet to date though a bit of a time commitment. 4 stars
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  25-Dec-1996 (PG-13)


  22-May-1997 (PG)

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