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Hamlet (2000)

September 4th, 2007 · 6 Comments

“Miramax is brilliant at publicizing its successes, but it’s even more brilliant at burying its failures,” said Dennis Rice, their former president of marketing. Miramax Films was notorious for test screening its movies – often in malls in New Jersey – and barely releasing the ones that scored poorly. Some went straight to video, even those with major stars. Here’s a look at some of the studio’s B-sides, bombs and greatest misses.

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In New York City of the year 2000, Hamlet (Ethan Hawke) returns from college following the death of his father, king and CEO of the Denmark Corporation. His mother Gertrude (Diane Venora) has hastily married the king’s brother, Claudius (Kyle MacLachlan) and Hamlet – who sulks around in a Peruvian cap and tapes himself on digital video – suspects foul play.

Living with his family in the Elsinore Hotel, Hamlet is notified by a security guard that his father was spotted in an elevator. Hamlet confronts the Ghost (Sam Shepard) and is informed that the King was poisoned by Claudius. Ophelia (Julia Stiles) makes overtures to see Hamlet, but is advised by her brother Laertes (Liev Schreiber) that Hamlet will one day be king, and she cannot get involved.

Polonius (Bill Murray), advisor to the new king, informs him that Hamlet has been acting strangely. Claudius employs two of Hamlet’s friends from school, Rosencrantz (Steve Zahn) and Guildenstern (Dechen Thurman) to gain Hamlet’s trust to find out what he knows.

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Hamlet makes an avant garde video titled The Mousetrap and with the help of his friend Horatio, plans to screen it for his family, to “catch the conscience of the king.” When Claudius reacts visibly to a display of poison and murder, Hamlet knows the ghost speaks the truth, and plans his revenge.

Directed by Michael Almereyda, who adapted the script from William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet was produced for less than $2 million. According to Hawke, everyone worked for free in order to retain creative control. Despite being released in May, the film performed well in New York and L.A., but failed to draw crowds when it expanded to 64 screens nationwide. Without support from its distributor – Miramax – it quietly disappeared.

There’s uniformly strong work among almost everyone in the cast, but what kills this experiment is its extremely low budget, and Ethan Hawke in the title role. Almereyda never demonstrates any aptitude to make Hamlet relevant in a modern setting. Hawke has yet to give a performance where I haven’t thought, “There’s a guy giving a performance,” and doesn’t possess much dexterity for Shakespeare.

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“Measure for measure, I liked this Hamlet more than the Mel Gibson version, less than the Kenneth Branagh version, and about the same as the famous 1948 Laurence Olivier version,” writes Jeffrey Anderson at Combustible Celluloid.

Dan Jardine at Apollo Movie Guide says, “Visually and kinetically, the film is a washed out and dispassionate variation on Baz Luhrman’s intriguing … Romeo+Juliet. Despite the New York setting, Almereyda fails to take advantage of the wealth of visual resources at his disposal.”

“The major Hamlets are Olivier, [Richard] Burton, [Derek] Jacobi, [Kevin] Kline, and Branagh,” writes Alan Vanneman at Bright Lights Film Journal. He calls the Hawke version, “a serious, and seriously unsuccessful, attempt to re-imagine the play.”

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Based on play · Father/son relationship · Museums and galleries · Paranoia · Sword fight

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dan Schneider // Sep 5, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    I found your website a while back whilst looking up some film info. Was wondering if you’d wanna broaden your base and contribute some film reviews/essays to my all film subsite Cinemension ?
    I run a popular arts site, and have decided to look for potential other contributors, to also broaden my range. We could exchange links, and having some pieces elsewhere cannot hurt. I like the fact that you state opinions, and do not descend into film theory masturbabble. That’s too often missing online.

  • 2 Janell // Sep 19, 2007 at 11:31 pm

    This was more painful to watch than Nicole Kidman writhing on the floor in Moulin Rouge which was the only movie I ever wanted to walk out on and I saw 13 Ghosts in the theater. Moulin Rouge did get better the second time around.
    Anyway, this was a desperate attempt at a modern day take on Shakespeare. Just because Hawke has long greasy hair does not make him a brooding Hamlet. I didn’t even watch the whole movie on cable. Stick to Branagh’s Hamlet and even Lurhman’s Romeo + Juliet for modern Shakespeare.

  • 3 mofo // Nov 23, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    it was stupid

  • 4 paramore // Jun 26, 2008 at 5:13 am

    weird and random. o___O?

  • 5 Patrice // Nov 30, 2008 at 11:41 am

    The scene in Blockbuster was pure genius.

  • 6 Loyde Reed // Jun 2, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    personally, i found the movie to be mediocre and boring. all the soliloquies were placed in wrong order, cut down, or spread out in various pieces. my main annoyance was that i didn’t hate polonius in the movie as much as i did the original writings, he even walked out of the closet after being shot in the head, not possible. product placement wasn’t horrible, but the shelf of clearly market “blockbuster” video cases clearly screams product placement. it was a feeble attempt at modernizing a brilliant play, it had potential but failed, even in the final scene it was stripped of the last dignity when laertes pulled a gun, then got shot with it. 4/10

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