After reading Hamlet for the first time with fellow blogger Hamlette's read-along, I was very excited to win this DVD in her giveaway, and have finally watched it!
|This poster though... is beautiful.|
The most obvious thing about this adaptation is it's modernization. I always have, and imagine always will enjoy modernization's of stories. They appeal to me; I'm not exactly sure why, but they do. I get a kick out of seeing the way small (and some larger) things are tweaked to fit the new era the story is set in. This movie is no exception. However, I was very early struck by the idea that this film should have actually been futuristic. Maybe it's because the year 2000 unfortunately thought it was futuristic though it was quickly proved otherwise. (Or, maybe it was just because I liked Ethan Hawke in Gattaca so much.) The tone of the film was very suppressed and understated, which is often found in science fiction dramas, and some things, like the architecture of the Hotel Elsinore, was beautifully modern. But then there were some obvious thing that are easily dated to the 2000's -- Hamlet's knitted hat, and yellow sunglasses, the women's hairstyles, and Ophelia's costumes -- all date the film, and ruin the ageless effect.
The next thing that left an impression was the tone -- like I said, very similar to a sci-fi drama, and I often do really love that kind of tone. Here I appreciated it, but often wished to be given more. But the characters usually delivered their lines with such repressed emotion that I couldn't tell any more what they were thinking any more than I could while reading.
|... why did he need to be in a Blockbuster?|
One of the things that excited me most about watching film adaptations of Hamlet was that I wanted to see what other people's interpretations of the story looked like. This one didn't give me as much to chew on as I expected, and most of the things left open to interpretation in the original script were also left open here. Like, when Hamlet accuses his mother of murder, I was sure she was innocent; but when she asks the king to pardon her after drinking the wine, she seems definitely guilty. Which is it? I suppose the filmmakers want us to decide, but I wanted to be convinced.
Hamlet himself took most of the change that the heavy tone created, and was almost nothing like the Hamlet I imagined. I enjoy Ethan Hawke's work, and there no one who does the kind of character he does here like he does -- the inner passion that you can see boiling under his stony face -- but he spends the movie in that state, brooding, silent, angry. Not utilizing the outward fire, or the wit, or the liveliness that Hamlet had in my mind's eye. Hawke speaks very deliberately always, and in monotones, and when he'd monologue to himself, I could never grasp the depth or the meaning behind what he was saying.
|Not to say it was a bad character, but just, I thought, a bad adaptation of a character.|
The best, I thought, was the king, Claudius. Kyle MacLachlan came across well through more simple, honest, easy to understand line delivery, and a natural theatricality. Horatio (Karl Geary) was more of a side character than I wanted. My impression of him from the book was that he was the noble character that witnesses everything (sort of like Nick Carraway of The Great Gatsby), so the story is more or less through his eyes. There wasn't anything to dislike about Geary's performance, so I wanted to see more of him. Liev Schreiber I enjoyed, but I had less preconceived notions about Laertes, and I am biased toward liking Schreiber.
I didn't particularly like Julia Stiles' Ophelia. I am currently not sure if I really like Ophelia at all, but while Stiles' lines were said convincingly, I never felt much for her. Well, I never felt much for any of the characters -- a side effect of the tone. Everyone else -- The Queen (Diane Venora), Polonius (Bill Murray), Rosencrantz (Steve Zahn) and Guildenstern (Dechen Thurman), were all not very impressive, but honestly, as far as my liking as appreciating characters goes, they all were none of them very high, or very low.
|I wish I could put a photo of Liev Schreiber here, but alas, I could not find a single good one.|
Before I actually sat down and watched this, I was kinda worried that I wouldn't feel qualified to judge it. I'm certainly a relative newbie to Shakespeare's Hamlet. So I was rather surprised when I immediately began to noticed things that I liked and didn't like about this adaptation. I wouldn't be surprised if after watching more adaptations my opinions on this one change slightly, and I definitely judge it more from the standpoint of understanding film than understanding Hamlet. But I suppose that's just it -- Hamlet, no matter how overwhelming and complicated on page, is still a film once it's put on film. And this one strikes a square balance between good and bad, by having some qualities that I really liked, and some that were disappointing.
As a film, it was engaging and enjoyable, and successfully made to suit a certain style. As an adaptation, it wasn't what I would hope for; though I'd imagine it was the adaptation someone would hope for. The coolest thing, I found, is that seeing this brought me to a full understanding, that I know what I want to see in a Hamlet adaptation, even if this isn't it. And that makes me even more excited for all the other Hamlet's I will see it the future. I doubt it will be my favorite once I have the luxury of multiples to pick from, but I am more than glad to have taken the journey.