Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Hamlet (2000)

This review is Spoiler-free.

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.

becomes the first film version of Hamlet I've seen. The turn-of-the-21st-century Hamlet adapted and directed by is modernized to fit the day -- Denmark is a company; Elsinore is a hotel; and everyone certainly dresses like it's the year 2000. But Shakespeare's script is still used almost exclusively. The king has been murdered by his brother for his "throne" and for his wife, and the prince, Hamlet, is out for revenge.

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. came across well through more simple, honest, easy to understand line delivery, and a natural theatricality. Horatio () 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. I enjoyed, but I had less preconceived notions about Laertes, and I am biased toward liking Schreiber.

I didn't particularly like ' 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 (), Polonius (), Rosencrantz () and Guildenstern (), 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.


  1. I'm so glad you didn't hate it! :-D

    Seriously, though, this is a good review! I think part of why I like this version so very much is that it IS restrained -- I've seen some Hamlets that are just too frenetic, too wild and whirling, and I like that Hamlet here is the picture of depression. Detached, remote, numb. He really brings out the character as seeing everything as "weary, stale, and flat." But if you're hoping for a more vibrant Hamlet, then yes, I can see how he would be disappointing. You should try Kenneth Branagh's version! Much brighter Hamlet.

    Liev Schreiber is the best Laertes I have ever seen. Ever ever ever. He's the only Laertes that I can actually love the way I want to love him, the only one that really brings out the affection between Laertes and Ophelia and makes it feel real.

    (Oh, and I love that Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech takes place in a Blockbuster! Partly because I used to spend hours wandering video store aisles, just reading the backs of the cases and trying to decide what to rent. But remember how we talked about the play contrasting "being" versus "seeming," and play-acting versus reality? Where better to contemplate being versus not being than at a store surrounded by movies, which are each their own little artificial reality and full of people playacting? Plus, of course, Hamlet is a film student in this, an aspiring filmmaker, so he'd naturally hang out there.)

    Oh, and I think at the end, Gertrude is asking Claudius to pardon her for killing herself and thwarting (she hopes) his plan to poison her son. Not for having any hand in the killing of King Hamlet. I feel like she's totally just doing this as a desperate attempt to save her son, and as a way out of what she's realized is a marriage with a murderer.

    Okay, I'm going to stop here!

    1. Hehe, yeah, I really didn't, but I do hope to like some others a lot more! ;) Thanks Hamlette!

      Yeah, I'm sure some versions would go tot far the other way for me too, but once I find the right balance that I'm looking for, I think I'll be able to appreciate the the more extreme sides better. I do like Hawke so I can see myself cozying up to his version more someday -- I just need to sample some others first! ;) I definitely want to see the Branagh one. I also own the Tennant one, so that's next up, and I found the Gibson on Netflix.

      I believe it. Liev Schreiber always seems to be the best person for whatever job he does. :D I'm looking forward to comparing his Laertes with others' now.

      Okay, that makes sense now. I honestly didn't even think of that when I was watching it, but it is a very neat idea. And I think I'm having a hard time grasping the concept of that theme. Like, I understand it, and know it exists, but I'm still waiting for it to actually "click" in my mind -- you know what I mean? So instead of being intrigued by that scene I just was thinking about how Blockbusters don't exist anymore. XP

      Yeah, okay, I just assumed that the only way she could know there was poison in the cup is if she really did know more about his murderous nature beforehand than she'd let on. But I suppose she could have figured it out. Up until then I was definitely convinced of her goodness.

      Haha, I know, I understand the temptation to go on and on! You know so much about all this, I'm sure you had ton of thoughts! Thanks for the great comment -- I'm glad to have a few things a bit more cleared up. :)

    2. I think that Gertrude noticed how Claudius was trying to push Hamlet to drink, which was odd behavior, and then she coupled that with all the suspicions she'd had since Hamlet told her about his father's murder, and it all clicked for her and she realized Claudius had poisoned the wine. So she tried to save her son the only way she could think of.

      I miss video stores :-(

    3. Yeah, that's definitely plausible. Thanks for the explanation!

      Haha, I don't think I was old enough to really appreciate them until after they became obsolete. I do have fond and vivid memories of them though. I liked looking at the covers. :D

    4. I owe a great deal of my extensive movie knowledge to the habit I had from the age of about 12+ of just reading the back of every single movie that interested me. In the video store, at Walmart, at Suncoast, at Media Play -- anywhere they sold movies, I'd read the backs. And that's why I often know so-and-so was in such-and-such movie, even though I've never seen it.

    5. Nice. I wasn't much of a reader (or even a big movie fan) when I frequented video stores, but I was mesmerized by the artistic cover art. I remember seeing the Silence of the Lambs cover for the first time like it was yesterday!

    6. I remember being a little kid, like 7, and furtively looking at the cover of Raiders of the Lost Ark and imagining what a movie with that kind of exciting cover might be like :-) It was my guilty pleasure -- trying to spot it when we walked through the tiny video store to the family section where we usually rented movies.

    7. Oh my gosh, I think there was a cover that I always HAD to look at too, but I can't remember what it was!

      Woah, hey, maybe that's why the Blockbuster scene in this movie bothered me -- they didn't have any covers in there! :P

    8. You know, that does look pretty weird, now that you mention it.

      I can still remember exactly where my favorite movies were located in that tiny little video store, the first one I was ever in. Probably one of the first to exist, given it was the early 1980s and we had to rent a VCR too, to watch the movies with, because they were too expensive to own yet.

    9. That's probably why I spent that whole scene thinking "this is weird." But I guess they did it on purpose.

      Wow, nice. And you had to rent a VCR every time you rented a movie? Dang. I didn't exist back then -- all we had to do was drive into town every time we wanted to rent something, which is strange enough now as it is!

    10. Yup, we rented a VCR. Came in this big black, hard-sided case with grey foam inside, and they always smelled like cigarette smoke. I was fascinated by those cases, and I loved watching my dad hook the VCR up to the TV. This was like 1987 or so, and we didn't get our own VCR until 1992, though I had friends who had them before that. Now I can't imagine living without a DVD player/VCR!

      And yeah, now it's like, "Oh, I'll just watch this on Amazon or Hulu," or "Oh, I'll rent that from Redbox when I buy groceries." Different world.

  2. This is one of very few Hamlet adaptations that I haven't seen. And I resisted seeing it because I suspected I wouldn't like it. Which is kind of now confirmed. If you ever decide to try another version, Derek Jacobi's version from the 1980s is awesome, as is Laurence Olivier's from the 1940s. Mel Gibson and Kenneth Branaugh both tried their hands at performing Hamlet and neither quite hit the mark, at least for me. The same goes with David Tennant. The scene where Claudius is praying and Hamlet talks himself out of killing him? Well, during that entire scene Tennant is wearing a skewed party hat in the shape of a crown. I couldn't hear a word he was saying because all I wanted to do was straighten that hat!

    1. I certainly don't regret seeing it for one second, but it does seem like the kind of adaptation that wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. I do want to see more (I'd love to try and see all of them!), and actually Tennant is next on my list. Thanks for the suggestions, I'll keep my eye out for those too. :) It's funny how things like that can be so distracting, isn't it? I didn't listen to Ethan Hawke's whole "to be" speech just because the Blockbuster setting was distracting me!