DISCLAIMER. PLEASE READ: These are just MY OPINIONS. I am in no way saying that anyone else’s opinions are wrong or right. I just wanted to put mine up and have an excuse to think/write about Hamlet. I am not a brilliant film critic, n or Shakespearean critic (as you will figure out right away) nor do I pretend to be one. So with all humility I did my best to compare and contrast these four films. Please don’t flame me if I say anything that makes you angry.
First a brief summary of my impressions of each, then a character/scene comparison of all four.
Branagh: Brilliant, perfect, the Hamlet to which all others must inevitably be compared. Outstanding acting, cinematography, imagery, directing, and the screenplay was perfect. Wonderful music, and great interpretations of all the characters. Hamlet was exciting, funny, brooding, angry, sublime, and beautifully indifferent at the end. In other words he represented the full range of moods shapes and forms of emotion that Hamlet should. He felt like a full fleshed out larger-than-life entity. An actual full text version so the full glory of Hamlet could really be seen in film form. I'll detail the rest of the casts performance later.
Olivier: Ugh. This is a real boring piece of crap. I really expected this to be the definitive Hamlet, but it really wasn't. Directing was so-so. Neither brilliant or disastrous. The script was adapted very strangely and poorly. It makes the plot difficult to follow/comprehend and at times just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Terrible acting for the most part, Ophelia is spectacular and Gertrude is very good. Decent interpretations of the characters for the most part. Except for Hamlet that is. Definitely the most boring of the Hamlets, yes even more so than Hawke. CRAP.
Zeffirelli: Probably the worst one. This is REAL bad. REAL BAD. Abysmal directing, script is adapted horribly, the actors feel like they haven't ever read the script the whole way through, and the characters are interpreted in one of three ways: Cartoonish caricatures, confusing inconsistent messes that never feel like one character, or "controversial" new interpretations that don't line up with the text. Horrible music, horrible everything.
Almereyda: Unbelievably stupid. Unbelievably. Artsy-fartsy crap that doesn't make the slightest bit of sense half the time. I'm not against modern adaptations of Shakespeare, but this film would be grounds for thinking that it should never be done again. Horrible acting, so-so directing, terrible adaption of the script, confusing and pointless imagery, and lets not mention the INTENSE boredom factor of Monsieur Hawke's Hamlet. Such a bad hamlet it blows me away. It's biggest redeeming factor is Bill Murray (Who thought I'd ever say that?) Who does an AMAZING job as Polonius.
Anyway those are the opening synopses. Here's character by character:
Hamlet: (From best to worst) Branagh, Olivier, Gibson, Hawke.
Now to explain this rating. Branagh as I already mentioned is the only one of these four who actually does a good job, he is terrific. He is everything Hamlet should be. Olivier is miserably boring. Hamlet should HAVE emotion. He is a profound character, not just a sleepy guy who's dad died. But at least he is more consistent at least then Gibson. Gibson's Hamlet is ALL over the place. He never felt like a consistent character and instead felt like this weird mopey guy who would occasionally freak out about something. It honestly seemed that before each scene Zeffirelli told Gibson "Okay, in this scene you're..um...let's try mad!" it felt that random. I wasn't watching a character evolve, I was watching a character that was inconsistent from start to finish. Gibson also seemed like he didn't understand half the words he was using when he spoke. It was always hard to not laugh at him when he was speaking. Hawke was miserable. The most consistent of the four I suppose, BECAUSE HE NEVER CHANGES EMOTION. He is constantly "bummed out" the whole time. This is an appropriate emotion for act one thereabouts but it needs to change A LITTLE OCCASIONALLY. He spends the entire movie just mumbling his lines in his monotone little murmur seeming to pay little or no attention to what these words may mean at all. Hamlet should (at the appropriate and consistent times Mel!) portray a wide range of emotions, happiness, silliness, sarcasm, bitterness, depression, anger, violence, and gentle control(Branagh did this spectacularly), As opposed to just "feeling down" the whole damn movie. There’s honestly not much more to say then that. I wish I could explain better just how good Branagh does, it’s so amazing and wonderful.
Claudius: (Best to worst) Jacobi, Sydney, Bates, MacLachlan.
Derek Jacobi gives the perfect balanced Claudius. He is clearly evil, and we feel a revulsion towards him. But also, he is simple and somewhat likable. We feel a bit of connection with Claudius, he feels human and because of this we can feel a bit of the struggle Hamlet may have to face, but more importantly is, like I said, we can feel a connection to him. Because he is portrayed as a human, and a compelling villain. I'll be honest, I don't remember to much the performance of Basil Sydney in Olivier's version, but what I do remember was that it was unimpressive. Neither horrific or wonderful. Not exactly what you want in a villain. However, Bates and MacLachlan are unforgettable in their badness. I had a very hard time deciding which one did a worse job. Bates is a ridiculous cartoon villain. The quintessential super villain bad guy who is very hard to take seriously. How can you take a villain seriously if they behave more like Lex Luthor than a real usurper of the throne? MacLachlan I ultimately decide is worse, simply because he felt non-existent. Honestly, his acting was so bland and un-inspired that I honestly would just forget he was there. Then I'd just look at him and think " Oh, YOU'RE Claudius?!" He didn't feel like an incestuous dog who usurped his brother's throne, married his wife and stole his kingdom. He felt like some businessman who accidentally ran over his neighbor's foot with his car and has to pay a moderate hospital bill.
Gertrude (Best to worst) Christie, Herlie, Close, Venora.
Julie Christie is great. She plays that enigmatic character that is Gertrude, who after Hamlet is one of the most difficult to interpret characters in the play. How much does she know? Is she an innocent woman who has been manipulated by her brother in-law? Or is she a whore and co-conspirator in her husband's murder? Christie strikes that perfect balance between seeming like a "wretched queen" who is marrying way too soon and doesn't seem to care enough about her son or widowed husband, and a compassionate woman who has been abused. It is easy to agree with Hamlet's anger with her, and with his love for her. Which is really difficult to pull off...As we will see... Eileen Herlie (Olivier) did a very good job in my opinion. She felt very real and unique, less wretched and more likable then the others but it was a very interesting and enjoyable to watch interpretation. As I said here Gertrude is more benevolent then most and because of this she and Hamlet get along rather well, and at times it seems too well but it never seriously detracts and her Gertrude is one of the highlights of the film. My one complaint about the interpretation (director's fault not Herlie’s) of her is that at the end the direction was meant to imply that she drank the poisoned cup knowingly, I didn't like this add-on. Close is strange. Probably the most“ wretched” of them all, as in WAY too happy all the time. What really bothered me about her performance is that I KNOW Glenn Close is a great actress. But I only really saw it in this performance in the "closet" scene. Which was good because of her performance, her crying and screaming was really good. But the creepiness of that scene is hard to top. I hate Oedipal interpretations, and that was TOO much for me. I hated this interpretation of Gertrude because of it. The relationship she had with Hamlet for the remaining two acts was Uber-creepy. Venora was boring and terrible. big surprise. Not a lot to say about her, because like MacLachlan she felt non-existent. The one thing I can say about all four of them is that they all did well in the closet scene, which is probably the most important Gertrude scene in the whole play.
Polonius (Best to Worst) Briers, Murray, Holm, Aylmer.
This list seems misleading so let me clear something up, the first three are all REALLY good. the only one that is actually bad is Felix Aylmer. He is just very un-polonius like. He felt more like a drugged up Santa Claus or something to that effect. Briers is wonderful, I adore him. Murray is absolutely spectacular, I was completely surprised by that too, but he is unbelievably good as Polonius. Holm is good, but definitely my least favorite of the three (sorry Lain!). Not much to say here, for the most part great Poloniuses all around!
Ophelia (Best to Worst)Winslet, Simmons, Stiles=Carter.
Winslet and Simmons are both great. Kate Winslet strikes the perfect Ophelia, a weak girl who loves Hamlet but isn't strong enough to fight her family. We feel disappointed in her, but at the same time we are moved for her plight constantly. She is meek and frightened at all the right times, and she always feels consistent. Her character evolves very well throughout, moving naturally from happiness to confusion, to sadness, and to a perfect madness at the end. Simmons is also quite good, she comes off as very innocent which makes her very emotional and well-acted breakdowns all the more powerful. Her Ophelia in combination with Herlie's Gertrude are the saving graces of Olivier's Hamlet. I decided Julia Stiles and Helena Bonham Carter are tied because they are both so awful in their own unique ways. Stiles felt very un-powerful. I know that is a very weird phrase but it really seemed to fit. She seems distracted and boring as opposed to a scared or manipulated girl. For the most part though she just didn’t stand out. She didn't feel there. Like many others in the Almereyda version she was just unimpressive and unnoticeable. Mostly due to her poor ability as an actress. While going for subtlety she ended up just being boring as hell. And her madness was awful. She was angry not insane, and that isn't right. The one attempt on her part to actually go insane was her CROSSING HER EYES. How stupid is that?! Carter is another story. The interpretation of her was awful. absolutely awful. It wasn't consistent with the text at all! A strong Ophelia would be one thing, but instead we have this rough and tough royal bitch feminazi Ophelia who seems to not give a shit about her father, and barely notice Hamlet. Why then is she so upset when one of them dies from the other one's hand? If she loves Hamlet, which clearly she does at the start why is she so enthusiastic and good at being mean to him in the "get thee to a nunnery scene"? Her interpretation is neither exciting or dynamic but instead just non-sensical and beyond annoying.
Horatio (Best to worst) Farell, Wooland, Geary, Dillane.
Okay, the most important part about Horatio is that he needs to be Hamlet's best (and only) friend. Hamlet’s confidant that he can always trust and rely on. Farell (Branagh) does this. The rest...all suck. Wooland (Olivier) was so-so, but unimpressive for the most part. Geary (Almereyda) was awful. Besides that he was a lackluster best friend to say the least, his acting was terrible. Just terrible. This is a superficial point but I'm going to say it anyway, his voice was SO annoying. It sounded like he just came back from the dentist. Dillane (Zeffirelli) felt like he just didn't give a rat's ass about Hamlet., which sucks.
Laertes (best to worst) Maloney = Schrieber, Morgan =Parker.
Not a lot to say here. Both Maloney (Branagh) and Schrieber (Almereyda) were real great. Like REAL great. Both Morgan (Olivier) and Parker (Zeffirelli) were pretty blah. Really, I don't have a lot to say there.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Best to worst) To make my life simpler I'm just going to list the version they're from. Branagh, Almereyda, Zeffirelli.
They are wonderful in Branagh, and Almereyda almost beat them to be honest. It was very close. Mostly because I ADORE Steve Zahn's Rosencrantz. It is outstanding. They are very bad and blah in Zeffirelli, and they aren't even in the Olivier version.
Fortinbras Branagh, Almereyda.
Branagh's was very good. Almereyda's was practically non-existent. And Fortinbras was literally non-existent in Olivier and Zeffirelli's version. :-D
The Ghost (Best to worst) Branagh = Olivier, Zeffirelli, Almereyda.
Acting wise and "scary factor" wise Branagh and Olivier are both equal. Both did this extremely well. They made the Ghost very scary and imposing. Zeffirelli's ghost was real good too. Good acting and the way he was so cast in shadow was super neat. Almereyda's ghost was a good actor, but not very scary.
I'm not going to bother rating all of the classic smaller roles in Hamlet (Gravedigger, player king, marcellus etc.) Here's some classic scenes and how they were treated.
"O That this too, too solid flesh..." (Best to worst)Branagh, Zeffirelli, Olivier, Almereyda
Branagh made this soliloquy my favorite. He is so upset in it, as opposed to just bummed out like most of the rest. It's a gut-wrenching soliloquy given gut-wrenching treatment, and I loved it. Gibson did a pretty good job with it, Olivier was pretty blah, but still much better then Hawke's mumbling.
"Get thee to nunnery!" (Best to worst) Branagh, Olivier, Almereyda, Zeffirelli.
Branagh is superb. Both he and Winslet make this scene both exciting and heart-breaking for us. Olivier and Simmons do a very good job with this scene as well. Hawke and Stiles both equally wreck this one. Also the way Almereyda breaks it up (the answering machine thing) is very annoying. But Zeffirelli arranges it even worse, making it very confusing and the lines are completely without momentum. Not to mention Carter's "bitch-Ophelia" is terribly annoying. Gibson handles his lines decently in this scene, which makes it a little more tolerable.
"To be or not to be" (best to worst) Branagh, Olivier, Almereyda.
Branagh's is great. Olivier's is pretty good. Hawke's is terrible. The gun in the mouth thing is so stupid. The delivery was terrible and un-inspired. The only thing I liked about it was that he delivered it in the "action" aisle in blockbuster. I didn't really like the fact that he said it in blockbuster, but putting it in the action section was great. I don't even remember Gibsons, so I didn't list it. O_O Guess it was really forgettable huh?
"The Mouse trap" (best to worst) Branagh, Olivier, Zeffirelli, Almereyda.
Branagh's was great, Charlton Heston ROCKED as a player king. Zeffirelli's so-so. Nothing to get excited about. He re-arranged some of Ophelia's lines which I really didn't like. I don't really remember Olivier's, If I remember correctly all they did was the dumb show. Which annoys me. Almereyda’s was the worst though. Getting rid of all that beautiful dialogue in place of a retarded and pointless series of images.
Duel. (Best to worst) Branagh, Olivier, Zeffirelli, Almereyda.
Basically, this is my most childish ranking, it's on how exciting the duel was for me. XD Also how well it sticks to the feeling of the scene in the play. Branagh is great, as usual. Olivier's is very exciting as well. Zeffirelli's is TERRIBLE. The way Gibson is making an ass of himself is awful. Almereyda's takes the cake though. Why would they be fencing in the year 2000? Not to mention the pressing question of “where does the gun fit in?!”
The “crazy bitch.” (Best to worst) Branagh, Zeffirelli = Olivier, Almereyda.
Alright, Winslet does a great job going nuts. Some top notch insanity there, actually sings all of the songs in a nice crazy voice and everything. She genuinely feels fucking nuts. I don’t remember what Simmons does, but I had a relatively good impression of it. Carter did relatively well, it still didn’t seem plausible with Zeffirelli’s interpretation of her that she would be upset enough about Polonius or Hamlet to go nuts, but whatever. I already mentioned in detail how poorly Stiles did.
Branagh: All of act V. My favorite act, and he handles it so well. If not that, then the first soliloquy. Very hard to pick a best for this one. :-D
Olivier: Get thee to a nunnery.
Zeffirelli: The closet scene. as gross as it was, it was one of the few truly emotional parts of the movie.
Almereyda: Any Polonius scene. XD
Branagh: the Chandelier thing at the end. *sigh* what is up with that?
Olivier: "The play is the thing, wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king!"
Zeffirelli: Winking at Gertrude during the duel.
Almereyda: When hamlet pokes his head around the corner to say "except my life." (It was VERY hard to pick a worst moment for this one. :-D)
Best directing. (Best to worst) Branagh, Olivier, Almereyda, Zeffirelli.
Best adapted screenplay. (From best to worst) Branagh, Olivier, Zeffirelli = Almereyda.
It was obvious why I gave that to Branagh, it had the full text. Olivier did a relatively crappy job, but still not as bad as the rest. Zeffirelli and Almereyda were both equally awful in their own unique ways so I tied them.
Best overall? (Best to worst) Branagh, Olivier, Zeffirelli, Almereyda.
I almost tied Zeffirelli and Almereyda, so it's very close.
Yeah, so there you go, and yes, it did take me along time to write this. As any true Shakespeare nerd would know however, I had a great deal of fun writing it too. So it’s all good. XD Also posted to wordslikewind