Hamlet - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Hamlet Reviews

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½ February 16, 2015
Let me begin by saying that I love Hamlet. I have since the fifth grade when I read a Calvin and Hobbes Sunday strip in which Calvin's questionable-looking dinner came to life and performed the first half of the troubled Danish prince's soliloquy from Act I Scene ii. In recent years my appreciation for Shakespeare has blossomed and led me to seek different interpretations of his work, and few of his plays have been adapted so often and with such diverse results as Hamlet. I recently revisited Kenneth Branagh's 1996 screen version, and my thoughts on it are as follows:

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 ęsthetic'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.
January 29, 2015
Branagh's direction and performance make this a fantastic version of Bard's tale. Full review later.
November 19, 2014
A 4 hour long movie about Shakespeare's play Hamlet! What's not to like? Everything if you hate dialog ridden movies, but nothing if a fan you are. It is a masterpiece. Strong performances all over! Kenneth Branagh is simply mesmerizing! His Hamlet is amazing. Every word that comes out of his mouth is emotional and powerful! It is a pleasure seeing an actor do such an excellent job at portraying a character. A lot of people are still not happy this movie is 4 hours long, but every minute is important in this movie. It is as reading the book. As every single page was transeffered onto the big screen with every little detail, and every bit of emotion. It is a movie worth seeing, not only for it's quality, but for it's cultural meaning.
½ September 24, 2014
This is not, as advertised, William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" but Kenneth Branagh's, and it shows in every painful way you can imagine. That means pomp and pretension as no other widely accepted actor or filmmaker could ever get away with--Derek Jacobi's performance as a space opera star trying to break into Shakespeare on that episode of "Frasier" leaps to mind. (Ironically, Jacobi is in this "Hamlet.") It means Branagh strutting before a camera he controls, making sure he has ample time to say his thousands of lines while other actors are obviously rushing through theirs. It means an unfortunate over-arching stylistic choice, moving the setting from medieval times to an opulent Victorian palace for no apparent reason other than peacock-like pageantry. But most of all, it means sheer excruciating boredom, and this, one of the greatest dramas ever written, deserves more than to end up someone's vanity project. Some vanity projects, like "Under the Cherry Moon," are at least tolerable. But then, "Under the Cherry Moon" isn't four hours long. "Hamlet" doesn't feel like four hours, either--more like twelve.
½ September 9, 2014
This is an epic film that clocks in at just over 4hrs, but is never boring. The film was shot on 70mm and has a grandness to it, both in terms of the visuals, but also the cast and acting. I originally saw it in theatres, and have been wanting to rewatch it for ages, and I'm glad I waited as it looks stunning on Blu-ray. The whole cast is excellent. This is a must watch!
½ August 29, 2014
This version of Hamlet is overrated, and the fault lies with the director Kenneth Branagh. He has a great script to work with, but he takes too many over-the-top liberties. He directs it like it is a play, it was originally a play, but he is not making a play here he is making a movie, and I don't think you understand that. He doesn't need to worry about conveying subtle nuances to the people in the back row.
This is best demonstrated in two scenes of the movie. One of those scenes is the play that Hamlet puts on for the king. Rather than simply speaking with those sitting around him, (Ophilia, the king and queen) he runs around the entire theater screaming at everyone. He even runs onto the stage during the play. The King barely notices the big reveal, because he's too busy watching Hamlet run around the theater as if he were training for a marathon, it is the epitome of ridiculous.
The other scene that outlines the absurdity of Kenneth's directing is with Ophilia. In order to show the audience that Ophilia has gone mad he puts her in a straight jacket and matching hat. It is as if he doesn't believe that the audience can pick up on her madness without those extreme visual aids. It is simply demeaning to the audience.
This movie got in the 90s on Rotten Tomatoes with both critics and audiences; it is the perfect example of the emperor's new clothes syndrome. Because it is Shakespeare and because it is old everyone is too afraid to say that it's not great.
August 29, 2014
it was alright extremely long although
August 16, 2014
A spectacle of grandiose proportions. However, it was hard for me to cope with a Hamlet so far afield of the waxing poetic college student I always imagined him to be.
August 10, 2014
Excessive but wonderfully filmed and (mostly) brilliantly acted. Richard Briers portrayal of Polonius is the finest I have ever seen.
August 1, 2014
The first unabridged adaptation of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" is yet the finest adaptation of the play that we have ever come to know. Don't be put off by the 4-hour length, since the film wastes none of it at all.
½ June 26, 2014
A wonderful 19th century version of Hamlet. Long but worth sitting through.
June 21, 2014
oh Branagh. You have a wonderful style, and comprehensive structure, but you're pretentious as shit.
June 15, 2014
A Shakespeare adaptation doesn't get much better than this. Despite some awkward casting, Branagh's version of Hamlet does everything right. Great acting, awesome cinematography, and the film captures the sweeping emotion the play was originally going for.
May 19, 2014
Fantastic film. Very closely-resembles the play. Kenneth is a fantastic director and he directed/played Hamlet well. I loved the movie.
May 18, 2014
Simply put, this is an outstanding film on every level. Every character and performance is rich and deep with meaning and emotion. Given that this is Hamlet in its entirety, not a minute of screen time is wasted. Every actor, no matter how large or small the role, makes their moment(s) memorable. Kudos to Kenneth Branagh for delivering the gold standard in Shakespeare adaptations.
April 26, 2014
First off, this movie is FOUR HOURS long [HOW did I miss that?]. Second, it barely seems that long. I wasn't expecting to enjoy this movie as much as I did. Even with the language being just like the book, it was still engaging and visually it is just stunning.
Glad I got to see this one.
½ March 26, 2014
Delicately and passionately directed and performed.
January 29, 2014
One of the best play to screen movies of all time. Almost word for word to the book, Kenneth Branagh plays the young prince Hamlet of Denmark perfectly. Every actor does a stunning performance. A must watch. Worth four hours to watch you ask? Oh yes, totally worth it.
January 26, 2014
There's so many memorable quotes in this drama, and it well executed by the most stunning performers. Well done.
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