by Jef Burnham
Film Monthly Home
Short Takes (Archived)
Small Screen Monthly
Behind the Scenes
New on DVD
Books on Film
What's Hot at the Movies This Week
The most I can say for first-time screenwriter/director Alexander Fodor’s film adaptation of this Shakespearean classic is that it started with a great script. What a boring, incoherent mess Fodor has made of a masterpiece. By comparison, the Ethan Hawke version of Hamlet is cinematic perfection. Even Strange Brew, the 1983 vehicle for the SCTV characters Bob and Doug McKenzie, manages to capture the spirit of The Bard better than this incomprehensible waste of 130 minutes. The failure of the film stems from inadequate filmmaking and indefensibly poor decision-making on the part of the heads of this production, so I won’t be attacking the performances in this review. Even though there were some very good performances, it would be unfair to the actors whose work suffered as a result of the illogical re-envisioning.
We all recall the scene in Hamlet where Ophelia found her dead sister and screamed at her corpse, “F***ing whore! F***!” don’t we? Don’t we? Right, because that never happened. And this is the least striking change in Fodor’s adaptation. He takes so many liberties, I dare say that the average viewer would be dumbfounded. Having read the play three times and seen a handful of film adaptations, I think I have a pretty strong grasp of the play. Still, I could barely make any sense of this thing.
The film opens with Ophelia shooting up and having a seizure while The Ghost watches. Later, the actors who come to Elsinore, who appear to be members of some sort of German cult, possibly cast a spell on Hamlet, turning him into a child for a period of time. The gravedigger gets blown up by a landmine. The Ghost keeps popping up randomly, licking his lips, and then beats Hamlet’s ass before telling him of Claudius’ crimes. If Hamlet’s father’s ghost beats the crap out of him before asking Hamlet to avenge him, I dare say the Prince would be slightly averse to the task. Also, Rosencrantz or Guildenstern, I’m not sure which (you’ll recognize him as the one who may be morphing into a toad as he speaks), keeps rubbing himself suggestively with this green stick in the first scene they appear in.
Fodor neglected to omit lines that completely contradicted everything they were doing. For instance, Ophelia complains about Hamlet’s bodkin or something and how he was not wearing a hat, but we only ever see him in jeans and T-shirts, not period attire. Again with Ophelia, though Polonius is replaced here by the female “Polonia,” Ophelia mourns Polonia’s death by screaming, “He is dead! He is buried,” and so forth. That’s just a question of pronouns, though. But the most blatant incident of self-contradiction is that when referring to the play “…wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king,” they are watching a movie! Would it have been that big a deal for Fodor to make it a play? We have plays in modern society. It really is not that big a stretch for royals to enjoy a bit of theatre. At least in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) when they talk of swords, Luhrmann had the decency to make the brand names of the guns be types of blades.
The cinematography is characterized by jerky camera movements and backgrounds so bright that they create hotspots that envelop half the actors’ faces. The only time this doesn’t happen is when they are outside (though they’re still flushed out) and in closets where it is so dark you cannot see half the actors’ faces.
There were only two things I actually like in this hack-job of a movie, which are the title sequence and what they did with Horatio. The title sequence has a really cool song playing, and it introduces you to all the characters by showing you the face of the actor who will be playing them alongside the names. However, Fodor immediately ruined that, as in the first scene that follows, they idiotically freeze-frame each of the main characters to reiterate who they are.
The one thing they managed not to sully was the success of Horatio. By casting a woman as Horatio, they created a wonderful romantic subtext, complicating the Hamlet/Ophelia relationship. It also allowed for an interesting twist on Hamlet’s death scene, since his girlfriend was already dead from an overdose of yellow stuff and he had no one to kiss farewell.
Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic living in Chicago.
Got a problem? E-mail us at email@example.com