Hamlet (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Hey kids, let's put on a show. I'm tired of those silly musical reviews - let's do Hamlet. Don't we have some costumes left over from when we did Fargo?


Wrong. Sorry kids, I know to be or not to be is the question, but in terms of making this movie, the correct answer was "not to be". 

Where were all those critics who shit on Battlefield Earth when this came out?

Well, I have to say that this is certainly the funniest version of Hamlet I've ever seen. I laughed out loud during this movie more than in There's Something About Mary. Ethan Hawke's Hamlet in this movie is actually funnier than Schwartzenegger's in "The Last Action Hero". Great stuff. I didn't realize Hamlet was such a funny, funny play.  


 I can only hope that Ethan Hawke's Hamlet will be the harbinger of a zany new 21st century look at that stodgy old fuddy-duddy, Shakespeare. Spike Lee is already talking to Pauly Shore about doing Othello in Blackface, with Chris Klein as the evil conniving Iago. Adam Sandler's King Lear can't be far behind, nor Jason Biggs' MacBeth. Biggs already has the Fargo hat from that other movie.

Announcer's voice: "Sylvester Stallone IS Prospero. 'Yo, Miranda-a-a-a-'"

Or, better still, why not a wacky claymation Hamlet, like Chicken Run? All of the violence at the end could involve splattering the clay, like Sluggo and Mr. Hand always did to Mr Bill. OOOOOOO0-nooooooooooooooooo!

Oh, hell, why stop there. Why not do Hamlet with household appliances? Hamlet's mom is a "motherboard", Hamlet is a modem who comes from the factory to find that his father, a Pentium Pro 200, has been replaced by his uncle, a Pentium 4, and he's now using his dad's old motherboard. 

Imagine the concept they started with: take the director of that noted intellectual endeavor, Twister, and let him remake the most intellectual play in the English language, starring Ethan Hawke. Now that I think about it, I suppose that makes some sense. Hamlet himself is an excessively constricted self-important poseur, and Ethan certainly seems to have the basic credentials for the role. 

I'll tell you how bad this was. At one time actress Julia Stiles mispronounces the word "importune".  I don't blame her, she's just a kid. You don't expect a 19 year old high school student, even a Columbia-bound published author, to have that great a command of Shakespeare or the subtleties of the language. But you would think if you were filming Hamlet that you would have someone on the set who knew something about Shakespeare, and could have said "hey, Julia, you can pronounce it im-POR-chin or im-por-TYOON, but you should use im-POR-chin in this context, because that's how iambic pentameter works - it has this certain rhythm to it that you try to maintain. At any rate, im-por-TOON, rhyming with cartoon, will not do." But no-o-o. I'm guessing that nobody in the cast or Crew had ever seen Hamlet performed before except Liev Schreiber, and that many of the cast members could not correctly identify the author of the original four hour version. (This one runs under two hours, but I believe that must be a mistake on the box. I think it's closer to two WEEKS long.)

And call me nutty, but I would have told the actors what the lines meant before they delivered them. That may have helped their readings. Well, except in the case of Bill Murray. He knew what the lines meant. It's just that he's Bill Murray.

They really made a mistake putting Schreiber in this film as Laertes. Hawke didn't seem too bad in comparison to Julia Stiles and Kyle Maclachlan and Bill Murray, but every time Schreiber showed up he performed with remarkable skill, and just plain showed how bad the rest of the cast stunk it up. Schreiber's scene at Ophelia's grave was remarkably real. (Actually, to be fair,  I thought Sam Shepherd was OK as the ghost. He wasn't great with the language, but he really brought a credible presence to the role. And Diane Venora did an unusual spin on Gertrude, but it was interesting.)

Anyway, Shakespeare's melancholy Dane is now a melancholy New Yorker with a self-conscious Crispin-Glover-as-Andy-Warhol artiness, wearing a hat only slightly sillier than the one Frances McDormand wore in Fargo.

 I think some of the ideas were clever. "Get thee to a nunnery" is a message on a telephone answering machine. The ghost is seen on a security camera. The play-within-a-play is actually a movie. Denmark is The Denmark Corporation. Polonius spied on Hamlet by having Ophelia wear a wire. "To be or not to be" is spoken in a Blockbuster Video. Hamlet does fly in a Lear jet. A news announcer reads the final lines off a teleprompter.

The sad thing: expect more crap like this. They are expecting a writer's strike, and Shakespeare is in the public domain.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two stars. Apollo 61/100, Berardinelli 2/4

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 41% positive overall, 40% from the top critics.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.2, Apollo users 51/100. 
  • With their dollars ... it was made for 2 million, took in two million domestically. It was never on as many as 100 screens. In order to keep the budget so low, everyone must have worked for free. Most of them were overpaid.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is an E. If you don't like Shakespeare, you don't want to watch it. If you love Shakespeare, you REALLY don't want to watch it. 

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