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Hamlet

3.1 out of 5 stars 167 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Hot Hollywood star Ethan Hawke (TRAINING DAY) is joined by Julia Stiles (10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU) and Bill Murray (LOST IN TRANSLATION) in a hip, thoroughly contemporary adaptation of William Shakespeare's epic story of passion, betrayal, and revenge! The president of the Denmark Corporation is dead ... and already his wife is remarried to the man suspected of his murder! Nobody is more troubled than her son, Hamlet (Hawke). Now, after this hostile takeover, trust is impossible, passion is on the rise, and revenge is in the air! Also featuring Kyle MacLachlan (ONE NIGHT STAND), Liev Schreiber (SCREAM 3), Diane Venora (THE INSIDER), and Sam Shepard (THE PELICAN BRIEF) in an outstanding ensemble -- the power of Shakespeare's timeless words is matched by the stunningly modern look and feel of this widely acclaimed, highly entertaining big-screen event!

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Perhaps the least important thing about this latest film version of Shakespeare's masterpiece is its setting in modern-day New York. Yes, such locales as the Guggenheim Museum are used wittily; answering machines and faxes are logically worked into the plot; and it was both inspired and entirely appropriate to make the prince of Denmark a moody, introspective filmmaker whose avant-garde collages provide the context for some of his famous monologues. All of which would be so much pleasantly humorous eye-candy if it didn't come hand in hand with a sympathy for and understanding of this remarkable cast of characters. For that, ultimately, is what makes Michael Almereyda's Hamlet such a delight to watch. Forget that the immortal rumination on suicide is placed in a Blockbuster Video aisle and notice instead how Ethan Hawke's own youthful, callow arrogance makes Hamlet's vacillations believable. And how the comical but infantilizing way Bill Murray's Polonius dotes upon his daughter Ophelia (Julia Stiles)--and her mute acceptance of his attentions--lead her to thoughts of a watery grave even before her bout of madness. And also notice how much Claudius truly does love Gertrude (when gazing at her, Kyle MacLachlan's face relaxes from its usual plasticity) and how Sam Shepard's ghost is less vengeful or tortured than stiffened by remorse. These are the shining moments of invention in Almereyda's bold updating of the play, and they are why this will be a film to watch and enjoy long after its setting has made it as much a period piece as Olivier's adaptation, with its broodingly lit castle, or Branagh's, with its gleaming 19th-century court. --Bruce Reid

Special Features

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Product Details

  • Actors: Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Venora, Sam Shepard, Bill Murray
  • Directors: Michael Almereyda
  • Writers: Michael Almereyda, William Shakespeare
  • Producers: Amy Hobby, Andrew Fierberg, Callum Greene, Jason Blum, John Sloss
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    R
    Restricted
  • Studio: Miramax
  • DVD Release Date: April 17, 2001
  • Run Time: 112 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (167 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00004Z4RP
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,215 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Hamlet" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael Goldman on October 18, 2001
Format: VHS Tape
I am a great fan of Hamlet, having seen at least 5 film versions, studied it in college and done a few scenes in acting class. This transposition to modern corporate NYC works very, very well. The Ophelia interpretation was the best I have ever seen. It was passionate, youthful and very believeable, putting me in tears in some points and making a lot of sense with her "father, PLEASE!" looks as doting Polonius (Bill Murray) patronizes her. Bill Murray did his early farewell to his son perectly - a father giving some last minute banal advice to cover his sorrow at his son's departure. The scene where Hamlet confronts mom in her bedroom and kills Polonius is very effectively done and makes more sense than most I have seen. There are a host of other modernizations that serve to bring out some areas really well. The play within a play becomes a film montage within a film montage, but that works well with Ethan Hawke's interpretation of Hamlet as a brooding college kid.
On the negative side, there is quite a lot of dialogue cut, and some of your favorite scenes may be missing, but it generally makes sense. The only exception is the final scene where a modern sword fight ends in death by gunfire, and Laertes blurts out an 'I forgive you' to Hamlet which makes you wonder 'why?'
Get this version for emotive content and interpretation. Get the Branagh version for completeness, the Gibson version for a more traditional (and well done) take.
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Format: DVD
Working from the assumption that no modern interpretation of Hamlet can be 'perfect,' the best I think we can hope for is that each interpretation gets a few things right; but that, taken together, all other interpretations can only be an accesory to the original text. This Hawke version gets a few things right, and more things wrong.

Pros:

-I like Murray's Polonius. Polonius is, in many ways, a perversely sympathetic character, and Murray's depiction of a tired man and a loving father seems about right.

-Hawke does a passably good job with the monologues, especially 'to be' etc. As a lot of reviews seem to note, this monologue is delivered in a Borders video store, which I think worked pretty well. You have that sense of contrast between the lofty sentiment and the prosaic surroundings.

-At first, Stiles seems ideally suited for an Ophelia. Her constantly opaque, distracted expression and monotone delivery work well - while she's still sane.

-I like this interpretation of the ghost. You can see a certain amount of ambivalence in the way it threatens and terrifies Hamlet, rather than just appealing to his sympathies. The actor also does a fairly good job.

Cons:

-The film tends to butcher the language which should be its foundation. Way too many lines are delivered offscreen as the camera is panning around (a problem in a lot of modern Shakespeares), and visual effect displaces the words. A lot of important lines are also delivered without the proper emphasis. You wonder if the director is even familiar with the time-honored practice of having the camera focus on the character who is speaking.

-Two crucial scenes, Ophelia's death and the final duel, are just plain butchered.
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Format: DVD
I don't blame people for not liking this version of Hamlet. I, myself, went to see it as a joke. I didn't expect to love it as much as I did. This version spoke to me more than any other film version I've ever seen. Almost every bit of updating seemed organic to the story (the dueling scene aside). The families are so modern in their dysfunctions, in their inabilities to relate to one another, and Hamlet's detached attitude is completely pertinent to young adults today. And delivering the "To be or not to be" speech in the action aisle of a Blockbuster Video? Come on, that's brilliant! Even if you must fault Michael Almereyda for his choices, at least give him credit for having a take on the story. Franco Zeffereli's was fine, but about as safe as you can make it. Kenneth Branagh's was an excuse for elaborate sets and costumes, with absolutely no interpretation or real feeling. Almereyda obviously feels close to this story, and he goes out on a limb to express his vision. I think he does it beautifully. This is not a pale and heartless updating (Baz Luhrman?). It comes from a very personal place, and therefore should be open to varying opinions. But please give Michael Almereyda credit for having a vision. It's more than many Shakespeare buffs can boast.
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Format: DVD
This is certainly an ambitious and for the most part, at least, a very well thought out and well executed version of the play. Particularly given the endless times it's been performed and reinvented, and that Hawke isn't overly impressive in the title role, it is surprisingly successful. For my money the only real glitches are a couple of casting errors, one larger -- Murray as Polonius tries but just can't get it, as good and likable as he may be -- and one not very large -- the completely flat performance of Thurman (presumably related to then Hawke significant other Uma) as Guildenstern. But there are more than enough casting and subsequent performance triumphs to well outweigh those, from MacLachlan's interesting Claudius to Shepard's presence as Hamlet's father to the modern fragility of Stiles as Ophelia all the way down to Zahn, whose Rosencrantz must have not only the best physical entrance of about any Rosencrantz in history but who also carries through nicely on the occasions when only his voice is heard. But maybe the real gem is Schreiber, whose Laertes is so good that you wonder if the final result wouldn't have been even better if he and Hawke had traded roles (although in a situation reminiscent of Brandauer and Redford in Out of Africa, it's hard to imagine that suggestion going over commercially with production heads).

Apart from all this, and of course the play itself and its ideas the language of it, which have obviously proved superb over the test of time, you have to give the makers credit for not just dropping the story into Manhattan in the year 2000 but also for genuinely and creatively following through on that with a commitment to work in especially the various media with which we communicate today.
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