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William Shakespeare's Hamlet (Two-Disc Special Edition)

4.5 out of 5 stars 781 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Hamlet: (1996) Special Edition (Dbl DVD)

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It's the greatest work of literature, but nobody had ever filmed Hamlet uncut--until Kenneth Branagh went about the task for his lavish 1996 production. The result is a sumptuous, star-studded version that scores a palpable hit on its avowed goal: to make the text as clear and urgent as possible. Branagh himself plays the melancholy son of the Danish court, caught in a famous muddle about whether to seek revenge against his royal father's presumed slayer… the man who now sits on the throne and shares the bed of Hamlet's mother. (Or, as the song "That's Entertainment" summarizes the plot: "A ghost and a prince meet / And everyone winds up mincemeat.") As a director, Branagh (who shot the movie in 70 mm.) uses the vast, cold interiors of a vaguely 19th-century manor to gorgeous effect; the story might scurry down this hallway, into that back chamber, or sprawl out into the enormous main room. With its endless collection of mirrors, the place is as big and empty as Citizen Kane's Xanadu.

That all works; what doesn't work is Branagh's tendency to over-direct the big dramatic moments. He indulges in quick cutting and flashbacks as though to fend off the audience's objections to the four-hour running time, and the style sometimes looks like wasted energy. The experienced Shakespearians in the cast come off nicely; Derek Jacobi's Claudius, Richard Briers' Polonius, and Michael Maloney's Laertes are just terrific. Julie Christie is a suitably attractive Gertrude, and Kate Winslet makes the most of Ophelia's mad scenes. Branagh's habit of folding in unexpected American performers is on the mark, too: Billy Crystal is surprisingly good as the Gravedigger, Robin Williams predictably camps up Osric, and Charlton Heston is an inspired choice as the grandiloquent Player King. The biggest irony here is that Branagh himself is not quite spot-on as Hamlet. Of course he speaks the lines beautifully, but Branagh's screen personality radiates certainty and clarity of vision; there's little of the doubt that might make him Hamlet-esque. Still, tremendous credit for fending off slings and arrows to get the movie made. --Robert Horton


Special Features

  • Introduction by Kenneth Branagh
  • Commentary by Kenneth Branagh and Shakespeare scholar Russell Jackson
  • New digital transfer from original 70mm elements
  • Soundtrack remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1
  • "To Be on Camera: A History with Hamlet" featurette
  • 1996 Cannes Film Festival promo
  • Shakespeare movies trailer gallery

Product Details

  • Actors: Kenneth Branagh, Julie Christie, Billy Crystal, Gérard Depardieu, Kate Winslet
  • Directors: Kenneth Branagh
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Original recording remastered, Special Edition, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.20:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    PG-13
    Parental Guidance Suggested
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: August 14, 2007
  • Run Time: 242 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (781 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00005JLCI
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,082 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "William Shakespeare's Hamlet (Two-Disc Special Edition)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Barry C. Chow on October 11, 2004
Format: DVD
There is a moment at the start of this film when Hamlet, until then holding himself rigidly erect through sheer force of will, seizes a moment of privacy and literally deflates with exhaustion and despair. In itself, this perfect gesture would mark Branagh's portrayal a masterful work. But what follows raises his performance to the sublime: He embarks on the "O that this too too sullied flesh would melt, /Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew..." soliloquy not with Burton's anger, Olivier's melancholy or Gibson's bitterness, but with an exhalation that embodies the emotion most genuine given the circumstances: overwhelming grief. This is a perfect note, and what follows shows an understanding of the play's mental and emotional landscape that puts other portrayals to shame.

I have seen many performances of Hamlet, but I have never seen one as perfectly pitched as this. Branagh's Hamlet is strong, resourceful, thoughtful and restrained. Branagh purposely rejects the psychological poses that other actors find so hard to resist. After all, Hamlet and Richard III are the two Shakespearean plays that afford actors the most range. It's hard playing the Dane on a leash when one can go wild with existential abandon and not only dodge the charge of overacting, but actually attribute such excess to the character. There are few meatier roles in the repertoire that simultaneously offer the actor such depth on the one hand and such leeway on the other.

For me, such moderation exemplifies Branagh's devotion to Shakespeare. It must have been tempting for a man of his talents to show off. But to forego such gestures, to offer in its stead restraint, is to put service before self.

For, of course, Hamlet is restrained. His very life depends on it.
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Format: VHS Tape
Part of the genius of Branagh's interpretation of Hamlet is in the use of the techniques of the cinema to enhance the production. Branagh has not condensed the acts like some mass market soup, as was done in Olivier's 1948 Oscar-winning production, or in, say, Zeffirelli's 1989 Hamlet lite starring Mel Gibson (both excellent, though, within their scope), but has kept every word while directing our understanding so that even those only casually familiar with the play might follow the intent and purpose with discernment. Recall that for Shakespeare--the ultimate actor's playwright who wrote with precious few stage directions--interpretation was left to the direction and the actors, an open invitation that Branagh rightly accepts.

The use of flashback scenes of things implied, such as the amorous union of Ophelia and her Lord Hamlet abed, or of a vast expanse of snow darkened with distant soldiers to represent the threat of Fortinbras' army from without, and especially the vivid remembrance in the mind's eye of the new king's dastardly deed of murder most foul, helps us all to more keenly appreciate just what it is that torments Hamlet's soul. I also liked the intense closeups. How they would have bemused and delighted an Elizabethan audience.

Branagh's ambitious Hamlet is also one of the most accessible and entertaining, yet without the faintest hint of any dumbing down or abbreviation. A play is to divert, to entertain, to allow us to identify with others whose trials and tribulations are so like our own. And so first the playwright seeks to engage his audience, and only then, by happenstance and indirection, to inspire and to inform. Shakespeare did this unconsciously, we might say.
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By A Customer on December 28, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
Phenominal acting by Kenneth Branagh makes this film both entertaining and a fine addition to anyone's library, be they a Shakespeare afficionado or simply looking to enjoy a good film. This is a refreshing switch from the stereotypically stale rap such a wonderful playwright is encumbered with. While it does take some time to watch, this is not necessarily a bad thing. As a result, there are always new things to discover with susequent viewings. Admittedly, the language itself is a barrier at first. For me, it is much more difficult to comprehend without the text before me. But, once realization dawns, I would say it is well worth the wait. Currently, my favorite part is when Hamlet tells his uncle to go to hell on the first tape. The delivery is subtle enough to elude most on the first pass, myself included. While this is not a line unique to this film, as the text exists in others, it is a high point for me. Kenneth Branagh makes the film, though. Accolades are also due equally noteworthy actor Charleton Heston for a brief but inspiring appearance. I am eagerly awaiting this title to emerge on DVD, as I hope many others are too. Perhaps a public outcry would prompt the distributor to arrange its (hopefully forthcoming) release.
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Format: VHS Tape
This is one monumental piece of filmmaking. To the dectractors, for whom it was probably too long for their MTV attention spans, I can only say, go back to Britney Spears and save your comments for something you know something about. I'm sorry, but these responses really get me ticked in this instance. This is the "full" text, as written. Every word is a gem. Every scene is necessary for a full apprecition and understanding of Shakespeare's scope and genius. I didn't detect a dull moment or a lapse in directorial love and care for the duration of the film. Even Robin Williams, who I find annoying of late, was perfectly cast. The cameos, supporting roles, and stars all shone equally. This film is a triumph on Branagh's part, even better than his masterful Henry V. He's followed in Olivier's footsteps and even superseded him in many respects. I didn't for a moment doubt any of his choices, either as actor or director. For me, this is the definitive Shakespeare recording of the modern era. Enough said.
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