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This review appears direct to the web courtesy of THE CINEMA LASER.



Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s HAMLET ($70) is without doubt one of the finest cinematic achievements of the Bard’s work. Branagh makes HAMLET living, breathing Shakespeare, and not just an artfully filmed play. The characters in this HAMLET aren’t merely characters, but real people. I have to admit that I was totally enthralled by this motion picture. Years from now, they will look back on this HAMLET as one of the great masterworks of the cinema. Unlike previous adaptations of HAMLET, Branagh has wisely decided against the judicious cuts to the text that have been employed in previous film versions of HAMLET, making this version the longest at a whopping four hours and two minutes. For the first time film audiences get to experience a complete representation of the story. This full version of HAMLET allows each character to be fully fleshed out, giving the audience a complete understanding of the characters and their motivations.

For those who have never experienced HAMLET, the plot centers on the royal court of Denmark, and yes, there truly is something rotten in the state of Denmark. After the death of Hamlet’s father and his mother’s quick marriage to his uncle, his father’s ghost visits Prince Hamlet. The ghost of the King informs Hamlet that his spirit cannot rest until his murderer is brought to justice, and names the new king, Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius as the culprit. This revelation sets in motion Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, and the destruction of the royal court of Denmark. Kenneth Branagh himself takes on the title role, playing Hamlet with a ferocity and vulnerability, which makes the character very human and not the passive object of pity as he is often portrayed. Branagh seems to like to cast Derek Jacobi in his productions and his performance gives the villainous Claudius some semblance of humanity. Julie Christie makes for a beautiful and noble Gertrude who is torn between her love for her son and her new husband. Brian Blessed is rarely seen in American films, which is a shame since his performance as the ghost of King Hamlet is mesmerizing. Kate Winslet’s performance as Ophelia is one of the most powerful; her descent into madness proves to be one of the film’s most tragic aspects. Charlton Heston provides one of the finest performances of his career as the Player King. Almost every role in this HAMLET is played to perfection. Jack Lemon’s performance was somewhat short of the mark. The cast of HAMLET also includes Richard Briers, Michael Maloney, Nicholas Farrell, Rosemary Harris, Rufus Sewell, Billy Crystal, Gérard Depardieu, Robin Williams, John Mills, John Gielgud, Judi Dench and Richard Attenborough.

Columbia TriStar Home Video has given HAMLET an absolutely gorgeous Letterboxed transfer. Alex Thomson’s cinematography truly is majestic and the transfer does credit to his work. HAMLET was one of the few films produced in the 70mm format, which has an aspect ratio of 2.20:1. The Laserdisc would appear as if it were mastered from a 35mm-reduction element, since its aspect ratio is 2.35:1. The transfer clearly displays its 70mm lineage, with a razor sharp image that maintains its integrity even in difficult lighting situations. Additionally, colors are richly saturated and reproduce beautifully. The digitally encoded Dolby Surround soundtrack has a very impressive mix for a Shakespearean drama, one that is certain to give your subwoofer a workout. The Sony DADC pressing was quite clean, and side five of the Laserdisc is presented in CAV, allowing one to dissect the film’s climax. The three-platter set comes packaged in a very handsome box. Note: since HAMLET is a Castle Rock production, many of you will notice the indisputable markings of Warner Home Video on the discs and packaging, however this Laserdisc remains a Columbia TriStar Home Video release.

HAMLET is truly one of the greatest achievements in Shakespearean cinema. The Letterboxed Laserdisc edition is about the best way to enjoy this marvelous film at home. Absolutely recommended!


Laserdisc reviews are Copyright © 1997 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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