"Thus open the gates of paradise."

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Hamlet

06 Apr 2002

Director Michael Almereyda makes cool films in my estimation. He did the black and white vampire flick "Nadja" a couple of years back, it being one of the best films I saw at the Toronto Film Festival that season. He did a great short film called "The Rocking Horse Winner" in 1997. Both films are superb examples of storytelling on screen. Both feature scenes shot in PixelVision, a nasty camcorder technology developed (and subsequently abandoned) by Fisher Price in the 1980s. Very funky indeed.

And so to "Hamlet." This is a modern dress version of the Shakespeare play set in New York city. The CEO and King of the Denmark Corporation (Sam Shepard) has died, his wife (Diane Verona) has hastily married the King's brother (Kyle MacLachlan), and it is up to our friend Hamlet (Ethan Hawke) to drive the story to point where everyone who is marked for death dies.

It's not a bad effort -- the dialog is judiciously pruned to bring it in in only 121 minutes. The play-within-a-play is trimmed down to a minimal video-within-a-movie, and the grave digging scene is hacked to a spare line or two. Which is plenty, really. In this version, Hamlet is a film student returned from school on news of his father's death. This gives him an excuse to tote a camcorder, and for us to see events the way Hamlet wants us to see them, on tape. It's a clever device which works for the most part.

Best bits: Bill Murray as Polonius. He's really got it in him. Last year it was "The Cradle Will Rock." Now this. Murray could have a decent career outside of comedy if he wanted it. And of course it's always nice to see Kyle MacLachlan in something decent. He's been in so much doo lately ("The Trigger Effect", "The Flintstones", and "Showgirls" to scrape the nadir.)

And like every other version of "Hamlet" I've seen, it has made me want to see "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" again.

Related Links

Hamlet (IMDB)
Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead (IMDB)