Monday, April 23, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mr. Shakespeare.

In honour of this very special occasion,Coffee, coffee, and more coffee is holding a Shakespeare on Film blogathon. My contribution to this will be…

Top 5 Cinematic Hamlets.

05. Ethan Hawke in the 2000 Michael Almereyda version.
Mr. Hawke does a fantastic job in the role, giving us the moody, confused, lovesick, and ultimately self-destructive adolescent that Shakespeare intended. His performance fits the contemporary style of the movie’s perfectly. Quite fine too. :P

04. Derek Jacobi in the 1980 Rodney Bennett version.
An actor who has appeared in many Shakespeare adaptations, including playing Claudius in Branagh’s 1996 version, Derek Jacobi captures the true essence of the character, from the beginning to the brutal climax. His experience of Shakespeare shows through, and, through him, Hamlet is a dreamer, a plotter, a voyeur in the corrupt court of Denmark. He makes the four hour epic worth the watch.

03. Kenneth Branagh in the 1996 self-directed version.
Probably my favourite cinematic version of the play, and, in my opinion, the truest to the original source. Some have dubbed his performance Hammy, but I think he played out his character exactly as Shakespeare intended, with the audience continually second guessing his supposed madness. His sharp, irresistible performance is one of a kind, and manages to stand out in a supporting cast that boasts the likes Judi Dench, Julie Christie, Helena Bonham Carter and Jack Lemmon.

02. Simba in The Lion King.
Yes, really, The Lion King. The Hamlet influences are clear, think about it! And Simba was such an influential movie character to me ever since I was little, that I just had to list him. In The Lion King, the role of the young prince whose father is murdered is embodied in the rookie form of Simba, whose naiveté procures him more than his fair share of hardships and troubles. But watching his trials and tribulations are an utter delight for the audience, and I adore every second of this movie. Although much of entertainment make it appear like nothing but a Disney singalong, if we probe deeply enough, we can find connections to some of the greatest literature of all time. Can you feel the love?


01. Laurence Olivier in the 1948 self-directed version.
The pace is slow, at times it feels stiff and artificial, the woman who plays Ophelia is a joke, but this movie has to be seen, if only for Olivier’s master class in acting. As the man who cannot make up his mind, his subtle acting brings to his role a deep understanding of his character's inner struggles and dilemmas, both moral and practical. Through him, Hamlet is every bit the enigma we read about: dignified and noble, reserved and mistrustful, emotional and ruthless, and deeply, deeply frustrated. And his soliloquies shall blow you away. Already an international star from his turn in Henry V, he won an Oscar for his work here, but didn’t bother to turn up to collect it. Probably because his performance surpassed any awards; it truly is that good.

So, hope the Bard has a good one.


Anonymous said...

oh My! Now that I think of it, The Lion King does bear many resemblances to Hamlet!

Thanks for pointing that out, Emma

Catherine said...

Wowzer! How did I miss the Hamlet allusions in The Lion King? wtf?!? Awesome, I love that film even more.

Shannon said...

I had no idea the parallels existed between Hamlet and The Lion King - how interesting! I did always see the parellels with Hamlet and Strange Brew though!

J.D. Judge said...

How can you not see the "Hamlet" in it? A young prince's father, the King, is killed by his uncle, and he is the only one who actually knows. The Uncle rules over the land until the young prince confronts him. I think one of the major differences is that only Scar dies, instead of most of the cast (I believe, I got most of my "Hamlet" knowledge from The Simpsons.) I know, I know.

Damian said...

They were originally intending to have more overt references to Hamlet in The Lion King. As they were writing the script they actually had several quotes from Hamlet (Scar saying "Good night, sweet prince" before tossing Mufasa to his death) but realized that the film was becoming just an "animal version of Hamlet," so they decided to keep it more subtle.

While I completely agree with you, Emma, on Branagh's Hamlet (both his performance the film, which I think is about as close one can get to doing a "definitive" film version) as well as Derek Jacobi's portrayal (excellent), I must confess that I have never really been a big fan of Ethan Hawke's Hamlet (neither the film nor his performance). I also tend to think (and I know this is blaspheme) that Olivier, while a brilliant actor, made a great film but did not necessarily play a great Hamlet in that film. To quote his own line, his is a Hamlet about which "I cannot make up my mind." Sometimes I think he's fine, other times I find his characterization (like Hawke's) extremely lacking. It's not that I think he did a bad job. Not at all. I just find it a little overrated (as is Richard Burton's Hamlet). For their time I have no doubt their performances were incredible, but I do not think they have aged well. Of course, both Burton and Olivier were superior to Maximilian Schell or Nicol Williamson (ugh!).

Personally speaking, my favorite Hamlet is actually Campbell Scott in the Made-for-TV Hallmark version (which he also co-directed). Now There was an actor who hit all the various, and at times contradictory, elements of Hamlet's personality without sacrificing any one at the expense of the others. His was a very "balanced" Hamlet, an approach which I happen to prefer (and which I also tried to achieve in my own performance of the character). I also feel that Mel Gibson's take on Hamlet, while not great, is a bit under-appreciated. Oh, and Kevin Kline did a pretty good job too.

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