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Would Shakespeare be rolling over in his grave if he saw this modern day interpretation? Initially I thought so, but Director Michael Almereyda’s screen adaptation has been able to successfully re-introduce Shakespeare’s Hamlet in a way one would never have imagined before! I wish I could have put a face to a name in such an extraordinary, memorable way while reading Hamlet for the first time!

The plot is simple. Hamlet’s father (The King of Denmark) dies. Hamlet’s mother (Gertrude) re-marries Hamlet’s Uncle (Claudius - the King’s brother) within a month. Hamlet suspects foul play and is determined to avenge his father’s death. Set in present day New York City, the story starts to unfold right from the beginning. Unfortunately, the background noise of the city almost totally drowns out the initial dialogue. I found the story (with its frequent twists and turns) a little difficult to understand what exactly was going on. We are also treated to an almost haunting view of the twin towers in a variety of scenes that follow. However, with time and patience, the pieces of the puzzle eventually fall into place. This is one of those movies that you cannot decide if you like it or not until you hear Hamlet’s last soliloquy. Personally, I would have liked to see the story end with Hamlet’s famous words "To be or not to be" so that people would be left to ponder some of life’s unanswered questions. We are asked, "What is a man's life?". If we take a broad view of what Shakespeare might have meant, we can construe this to mean, what is a man to be or not? I would encourage people to view this DVD, not as the work of Shakespeare, but as the interpretation it was meant to be.

Hamlet (2000)

Without giving too much away (because I would recommend seeing it), Hamlet’s father (Sam Shepard) visits Hamlet after his death to reveal the way in which he met his untimely death. I enjoyed Sam Shepard’s performance and he was a very believable character who, I had to keep reminding myself, was indeed dead! As a father continuing to depart his wisdom (even in death), Hamlet’s father urges him not to seek revenge because “revenge is the foulest deed of all”. Hamlet’s interpretation of what his father was trying to impart is another thing!
Julia Stiles (Ophelia) gives a stunning performance that gets better and better as the story progresses. Ophelia plays the love torn object of Hamlet’s affection (or lack of as the case might be!). Ophelia’s father, Polonius, played by Bill Murray) tries to tell his daughter that Hamlet is not for her, but based on what she feels, do you think she will listen to experience and because it is what her father says? When her father is killed (in a very unlikely circumstance), Ophelia becomes distraught with her loss and I especially enjoyed (while not basking on her emotional state) her recollection of special memories she shared with her father with various flowers and herbs, “Rosemary is for Remembrance”, “Pansies are for Thoughts” etc. We are made to feel the depth of her loss when she remarks, “I think I see my father in my mind’s eye!” I would welcome seeing her in future movies as she continues to develop in her craft!

Bill Murray deserves a mention as well. I must admit, I mentally had him stereotyped for his roles in Ghostbusters and Stripes, but with his delivery of speech and emotions behind his words one quickly forgets that he is Bill Murray the actor, and fills the character role of Polonius extremely well. Liev Schreiber (Laertes) plays Ophelia’s supportive brother. I must admit I mistook his role initially to be one of a boyfriend and not that of a brother. One soon realizes he is only trying to be protective of his sister. Hamlet sets out on the road of revenge and even goes as far as to create a movie that he feels will expose his father’s murderer. While one starts to get the feeling that Hamlet is “losing the plot mentally” as the story continues, here is where the true depth of Hamlet’s anguish, depression, passion is felt. Isn’t it said that the borderline of genius is insanity? Well, Hamlet would certainly be a text book case in point!

What would Hamlet be without our favorite quirky characters of Rosencrantz and Horatio? As the pressure and evidence starts to mount against Claudius, so introduces more human vices such as greed and betrayal. Rosencrantz and Horatio are set out to pretend like they are really Hamlet’s mates, yet they are only puppets to the new King! Hamlet finally has the courage and determination to confront his mother and make her repent for her ways of sharing an incestuous bed with Hamlet’s Uncle so soon after his father’s death! Unfortunately for Hamlet, things go terribly wrong and he is now driven to the brink suicide. Is there really justice in the world today? One is only left to imagine what one would do had they been in the same shoes as Hamlet?

Hamlet (2000)

Kyle MacLachlan as Claudius plays an interesting “good-guy/bad-guy persona”. One can only imagine how they would feel if their mother married so soon after their father’s death. One can feel that it would be bad enough if it were a stranger, but to be one’s Uncle? It seems life has pushed Hamlet almost to the breaking point and one would not be surprised if he decided to simply end his life. While Ethan Hawke plays the role well, I personally would have preferred to see an actor like John Malkovich especially when it comes to seeking revenge! For those of you who enjoy duels to the end, there is a quite interesting sequence. Always expect the unexpected I always say!

The film is presented in Widescreen 1:85:1. Unless one is trying to critique this DVD chapter by chapter, there are no major flaws. However, some of the indoor scenes  are fair to middling, as I would say. The indoor scenes are dark and on some occasions the picture is quite grainy. My biggest gripe would definitely be the background noise that I felt took away from the DVD.

While the DVD was presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 (with English subtitles for the hearing-impaired), I personally found the audio quality totally inconsistent. The dialogue was at times difficult to understand, the music so much advanced in sound for the viewer’s listening. I personally enjoyed the dark, deep music of Carter Burwell and feel that the accolades given to him by Michael Almereyda are well founded. Carter Burwell researched far and wide for various forms of music throughout the world in order to accomplish what Michael Almereyda had envisioned.

Surround use is quite good, mainly for ambient effects such as traffic. On the whole there's nothing remarkable about the disc's audio, so it's only an average soundtrack. Also included is a Dolby 2.0 track for those not so well equipped.

All we get with this release is the theatrical trailer which I enjoyed and felt set up what the viewer was going to see. While I enjoyed the excitement trying to be created by the trailer, I was disappointed this was the only Special Feature on the DVD.

Hamlet (2000)

“To one's own self be true.” If nothing else, I believe the moral of this convoluted story is simply this! I could not help but smile when I realized that John Lennon’s words were part of Hamlet’s closing thoughts, "let it be". That is the way I would like the viewer to enjoy this DVD. Just "Let It Be!"