Friday, August 14, 2009

Short Stab at Movie Reviewing

Among movie versions of Shakespeare's Hamlet, I prefer the one starring Mel Gibson over that starring Kenneth Branagh. Both men are excellent actors -- that's not at all the problem, if there is one -- and they are surrounded by other excellent actors in an excellent play.

In the 1996 version (with KB as screenwriter, director, and lead actor) , the entire play is presented, which can be fascinating or boring, depending on how interested I am at the time in the baseness of human nature or in listening to a lot of speechifying. The first time I saw it, I watched every second. The next time? I wandered back into the living room whenever the VHS tape arrived at the good parts.

On the other hand, in the 1990 version with MG (directed by Franco Zeffirelli, screenplay by him and Christopher De Vore), the makers stuck to the core story. Forget any sideline matters, or that stuff about an army marching on Denmark: This film's about the murder. So what if the play has been rearranged a bit? The changes make for a smoother, tighter, more easily understood story, one that I've watched many times.

One wonders if Mr. Shakespeare added side stories because he had a certain number of actors to accommodate, or because he needed to provide activity onstage while the primary actors changed costumes, or while sets were being switched, et cetera. I love his work, but Shakespeare loved his ink, and sometimes I mentally edit out unnecessarily lines while reading. One of these days, I just might write an adaptation of my own.

Note: It may not have worked in all areas, but the version starring Ethan Hawke is interesting, since it moves the story from the Middle Ages to a modern city. The central story of Hamlet is so strong, it can survive just about whatever contortions are forced upon it.

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