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Film Review - Hamlet
Kenneth Branagh has been unleashed again to spread the gospel of William Shakespeare's work. Hamlet is another masterpiece on his shelf. At just under four hours, many people groan at the idea of sitting through this film, but I think it is worth the effort.
The film, a fairly well translated piece, holds the audience through the performance because of the pacing of the movie. Hamlet starts at a moderate pace. We need this to have time to meet all of the characters, as well as get used to translating the older style of English to the modern language we speak and think.
Soon after we have met the principal characters, the pace quickens. The film moves faster and faster. The last shot before the intermission, at 2 hours and 14 minutes into the film, is at a point after most films have ended. We are only at the end of Act 2. In this shot, a long pull-back, Hamlet decides the final course of his life. He will have his revenge. His resolve is set. Meanwhile, in the background we see perhaps 10,000 enemy soldiers marching through his country. The shot is incredible. The background and perhaps the foreground are computer generated. When the lights come back on for intermission, you're very keyed up. You can't wait to find out what happens next; no matter that your bladder is screaming at you because you were a fool and bought a soda before the movie started. You have 10 minutes to get to the restroom!
The final 90 minutes after the intermission move like a bat out of hell. Again, the pace is quickening even more. The final scene, the sword fight scene, gets to the point. Other filmmakers have a habit of lengthening a sword fight on screen. Swords look cool on film, so they try to show us more. But most fencing duels are over very quickly. So is it here. There are three quick touches before the real all-out-let's-have-four-people-dead-when-we're-done fight begins.
Branagh took on a huge task and did far more than the minimum required to succeed. The great hall that is the setting of many scenes is lined with doors of mirrors. This is dangerous because any one of these mirrors could reflect the camera's own image back into the lens. That wasn't enough. Branagh taunts us by having his camera walk around the players in the scene, and never do you ever see the camera in the mirror. We couldn't believe what he was doing, we looked hard. It was flawless.
You'll also find a long laundry list of well-known actors in minor roles. Most notable is Billy Crystal as the grave digger. He plays this role incredibly well.
You do have to like Shakespeare to sit through four hours of it. However, this is such an incredible production, that film students who don't necessarily like the Bard will be watching this Hamlet for years. The Mel Gibson production of a few years ago is completely overshadowed by Branagh's work.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Released in 1996
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Reviewed by Mongo