So as I watched it and took in the glory of the Shakespearean word I had many thoughts and ideas that led me to write this blog. And though I could ramble for days they say that Brevity is the soul of wit therefore I will be brief.
Things I Liked:
Derek Jacobi. Mr. Jacobi is easily the best actor in the film. And why wouldn't a Shakespearean powerhouse excel in a Shakespearean film. Jacobi steals scenes when he is on screen and his ability to play with the text is captivating as he makes every word have meaning and purpose and even in moments when I was grabbing something from another room or glancing away from the screen briefly I could still understand everything he was saying. He is a true inspiration for someone who wishes to master the bard as I do.
The Bit Characters. Some of the best parts of the film were choices to include very talent actors in very small parts. Billy Crystal as the Gravedigger, Charlton Heston as the Player King, and Robin Williams as Osric the Page. Each of them shines in their brief time and Crystal especially excels as a fantastic Gravedigger showing he is a versatile and nimble comedian in heightened language as well as pedestrian.
The Plot. As much as one would thing the text being unabridged would drag the movie down and make it hard to get through, it in fact does the opposite. Having the entire text actually makes the story more accessible, it causes you to understand much more easily what is happening throughout the play and gives you more detail into characters and conflicts than may have been previously alluded to. I actually like the 4 and 1/2 hour cut of the play for those reasons and I a disappointing that modern audiences would probably never let this fly again on this grand of a scale.
Things I Didn't Like
Kenneth Branagh. Here is the thing that makes this movie hard to get through. Hamlet. More specifically Kenneth Branagh's portrayal of Hamlet. The way he plays Hamlet is filled with extreme emotions that detract from the power of the words he says. He shouts far to much and give his soliloquies a tone that screams "THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER". It's Hokey, It's overdone, It's unnecessary, and honestly it's dissapointing considering how good Branagh and Shakespeare can be together.
The Design. I honestly think the major part of this film I find offputting about this version of Hamlet is how grand Branagh tried to make everything. He knew it may be one of his only shots at doing it and so everything is over the top and grandiose and honestly, it loses moments as a result. It's power as a script is in the intimacy of Hamlet's thoughts and those are gone because everything is huge and momentous and this all goes back to the same source. Kenneth Branagh.
Overall. Hamlet has it's moments and many of the supporting players are fun to watch but the desire to be the greatest adaptation from Kenneth Branagh stifles the look, feel, and lead performance. It's focus is in the wrong place and as a result it is only a mediocre adaptation. Which is a shame because I really hoped for much more powerful, inspirational, and resonant take on the classic tragic character.
This movie would make the bard proud.
Boy, did I remember this hulking thing more fondly than I received it this time around. The performances are as fine as one would expect from an all-star ensemble cast such as this, many of whom had worked with director and star Branagh on other Shakespeare projects. Branagh, however, despite his extensive experience in film, seems to think he is still on a stage judging by his bombastic gestures and blustering line delivery. To watch him with no audio were to see a performance more suited to the opera than to the silver screen, which is rather disappointing when compared with his compelling 1989 big-screen debut as Henry V.
The movie is extremely well-lit, and while it does often work to the film's advantage by leaving nothing hidden to the eye and taking full advantage of a rich colour palette. However, the ćsthetic's strength turns out to be its greatest weakness. A dearth of shadow robs many scenes of a sense of realism and paranoia. If every single shot is equally pretty, the visual aspect of cinematic storytelling is lost, along with the justification for adapting the full text of the play to the screen: with little variation in the visual texture and sound quality (each voice is perfectly crystal-clear and pristinely equalized) one loses interest in the actual experience of seeing the film and has no reason to sit for four hours listening to a literary masterpiece that could have been much more enjoyable without any picture at all (I highly recommend the Arkangel audio dramatizations of the Bard's complete works.)
The sets and movements are just as grand and gaudy as Branagh's performance, the entrances and exits a mixed bag ranging from tense and gripping to awkward and cartoonish. The scenes are presented exactly in the order in which they are set down in the play, so the staging is quite by-the-book and for the most part predictable. The film's visuals all blur together after the two-hour mark, and one is left wondering why one is still sitting while other more worthwhile activities are readily available options. The film ultimately holds no visual interest on a cinematic level despite the odd shot of a topless Kate Winslet (way to name draw, Ken) and an absurd bit of swashbuckling at the end. It seems that Branagh learned the hard way that to adapt a written work for the big screen one must add some level of visual interest for the non-Shakespeare scholar to justify the runtime of a full-text production. Without a reason to watch a film, one might as well listen to a full-text audio dramatization. Branagh's Shakespeare films are intended to bring the Bard into the mainstream Hollywood consciousness, but this overlong, overlit, overstuffed, overwrought behemoth hasn't enough cinematic merit to justify its existence.