Olivier’s Hamlet

March 21, 2006

They didn’t have this at my local big-chain video store. I rented it at CineFile, which is apparently LA’s very small answer to Reel in Berkeley or Scarecrow in Seattle. Not nearly the size of either of those, but a similar feel. Also in the Shakespeare section were Strange Brew and a porno version of Hamlet. As a dedicated blogger, I might be compelled to review each of those here soon. No sign of The Lion King, though.

I was surprised by what a mess this movie turned out to be. The script was cut to pieces, which would have been interesting and even useful for me if there had been any apparent rhyme or reason to what was cut what was kept. Fortinbras is gone — which is fine — but so are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The Player’s speech is gone, and so “rogue and peasant slave” is gone as well. The advice to the Players is in there, but the dialogue in the play-within-a-play is all cut.

The strangest thing about this movie, though, is its treatment of Ophelia (Jean Simmons). She’s batshit crazy from the very beginning. At first I thought I liked it; it certainly sets up the mad scene. But this took it so far that it was impossible to really care much about her. Are we really meant to understand that Hamlet didn’t come to her chamber, his doublet all unbrac’d, and that she just imagined or hallucinated that whole encounter?

Other high points: Peter Cushing mincing around as Osric. ‘To be or not to be’ on the edge of a cliff AND with a dagger — two options for suicide instead of just the one. Endless repeated shots of twisty staircases, apparently symbolic of insanity.

In the end, not a lot for me to take away from this one. Still ahead: Branagh, Gibson, Ethan Hawke, Campbell Scott, Kevin Kline if I can find it. And maybe the hosers from Elsinore Brewery.

If anyone knows where I can find any others, especially videos of really good stage productions, let me know.

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