The Melancholy Dane: This Time It's Personal

on August 04, 2008 by Steve Simels

Headed to my local Hell Octaplex over the weekend to catch up with the latest crop of Summer Blockbusters and while there I had had a strange thought: Apparently I have now sat through the intermittently amusing trailer for the forthcoming (August 22) Steve Coogan comedy Hamlet 2 somewhere in the vicinity of four thousand times. Okay, maybe five or six times. In any case, it got me pondering some of the more memorable screen adaptations of Hamlet 1.



The Mummy III


Not as good as Richard III, but the scene where the guy gets vomited on by a yak is actually worthy of Shakespeare.



Swing Vote


Frank Capra lives. Plus: It's official! Kevin Costner is no longer an asshole!! Also: Major Kira from Deep Space Nine gets to slap Dennis Hopper in the puss.


But I digress.


hamlet (russian).jpg


Anyway, Shakespeare's most famous tragedy is also one of the most often filmed, beginning with a 1900 snippet starring Sarah Bernhardt in drag. For my money, though, there are three that really stand out. The most cinematic (it's actually filmed on location at some moldy old castle overlooking the sea) is the 1964 Russian version, which is adapted by Boris Pasternak of all people, and features a gorgeous score by Dimitri Shostakovich. By far the oddest is the 1961 German TV Hamlet, Prinz von Dänemark starring Maximillian Schell, a dubbed farago in which Schell delivers all the famous speeches in an English version that's badly translated from a bad German rendering of the original Elizabethan [not for nothing was this one skewered by the gang at Mystery Science Theater, and you should order it immediately.]

Hands down the most interesting, however, is Ethan Hawke's grunge version from 2000, about which some brilliant critic whose initials are S.S. had the following to say...


"By no means the best Hamlet ever filmed, but probably the shortest, Michael Almereyda's artsy, modern-day take on Shakespeare's most popular play has an interesting look, several sensational performances (notably from Kyle MacLachlan and Liev Schreiber) and in general works far better than it has any right to."


...and you can read the rest here.

I actually really love this one, which has all sorts of felicitous little touches around the edges. The ghost of Hamlet's father, for example (a scary Sam Shepherd) disappears into a soda machine rather than a parapet, and Hawke as Hamlet leaves the "Get thee to a nunnery" speech on Ophelia's answering machine. Plus Bill Murray as Polonius is, frankly, genius casting.

Here's my favorite scene, though -- "To be or not to be" delivered in the action movie aisle of a Manhattan Blockbuster Video store. (That's the action movie aisle, in case you missed the irony).

As for Coogan's sequel, I'm reserving judgement, although I confess I'm intrigued by the possibility of a third installment -- Hamlet 3: Electric Boogaloo!


Tags: Hamlet 2, The Mummy III, Richard III, Hamlet, Bill Murray, Sam Shepherd, Liev Schreiber, Kyle MacLachlan

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