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Big Brother sneaks into see Miramax's modernizing of HAMLET

Hey folks, Harry here with the first look at Miramax's latest foray into SHAKESPEARE... which... personally if you ask me, has been the biggest mistake that Harvey has made with running Miramax. It seems that Miramax is not as actively pursuing the 'independents' and is instead focusing on producing an entire cinematic rendering of the Bard's creations. Now I love Shakespeare, but... Is Miramax settling in? Or is Harvey just dissatisfied with the Independents from the last 2 years of festivals? It just seems to me, that SONY CLASSICS, USA FILMS and ARTISAN have seemed to more than muscle their way into being the coolest of Indie Distributors. Hopefully, they have a lot of secret weapons coming at us.

This is Big Brother. okay, so tonight at the Tribeca Screening Room, Miramax held what I assume was an early screening of their new Ethan Hawke Hamlet. I assume its an early screening because I haven't heard a thing about it anywhere. The film is an update of the classic Shakespeare tragedy in the style of Romeo and Juliet, but not nearly as bad as Ten Things I Hate About You. It's got Ethan Hawke as Hamlet, Julia Stiles as Ophelia, Kyle McLahlan as Claudius, Sam Shepard as King Hamlet, Steve Zahn as Rosencrantz, Bill Murray as Polonius, Liev Shrieber as Laertes, Casey Affleck as Fortinbras, and Geoffrey Wright was supposed to be the Gravedigger, but it appears he was cut out.

I'll spare talking about how the film begins, becuase we all pretty much know the story. I will say that this is nowhere near as severe an adaptation as Julie Taymor's Titus, although it sure could have used some of that film's energy. I prefer that to this, only because the magnificent visuals in that film and the superb acting elevated a lame play to greatness. Here the "super trendy" updates are for the about half very interesting, and half overly clever. Hamlet is a tortured pretty boy wearing the ensemble from the suit section of every issue of Details magazine. Julia Stiles' Ophelia is one of those new wave hippie/long skirt chicks, who develops photographs in her trendy soho home. The local of Denmark has been changed to the Denmark Corporation, where the CEO has been murdered and the company taken over by his brother Claudius. Everyone lives in the Hotel Elsinore, where much of the action takes place, unless its on the street by flowing fountains or under giant NY Statues. These characters spend a heck of a lot of time in Times Square, and a few more interesting locales around the city would have been nice, besides everyone knows real city dwellers scarcely go there. The cinematography is one very notable standout of the movie, as is the great use of sound mixing throughout.

It kind of upsets me that when this film comes out people will think that it's a rip off of what they did in Baz Luhrman's Romeo and Juliet, but it isn't. They're have been numerous attempts to modernize Shakespeare or to move it to a different locale - MacBeth on Wall Street, Merry Wives of Windsor in the Wild West. The only difference is that until recently, these updates were never made into films. The idea is certainly a good one, as updating the film theoretically could serve to make the story and dialogue more accessible and understandable to new audiences, but this film seems to lack a certain power and presence and passion that the Kenneth Branagh Hamlet had, and no update of the past few years can really even come close to touching the superb retelling of Richard III in Germany.

The acting for the most part is solid however. Ethan Hawke is excellent, along with Julia Stiles. I was upset however, that Bill Murrray's performance I found less than believable.

Overall this film probably won't do much business anyway, since it lacks the romance and the dicaprio that made Romeo and Juliet a hit, and most moviegoers probably won't want to spend the outrageous nine fifty for this experience, but its actually a decent film. I found that the first hour was really very exciting and smoothly paced, and despite its' flaws its definitely worth seeing. I'm curious to see what others think of it, and how the press will react to it. Remember, to thine own self be true.

Big Brother

Readers Talkback
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  • Feb. 3, 2000, 5:02 a.m. CST

    Frailty, thy name is woman

    by Ericsgoldmonkey

    Ethan Hawke as Hamlet? Hawke is a dog, and not a very entertaining one either. Not the sort one would even experiment on to test shampoos, quite useless.Bill Murray 'though - fantastic actor. You'd want to experiment on him if he was a dog. But he isn't.All for the best really.

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 5:04 a.m. CST

    I liked "Ten Things I Hate About You."

    by Cereal Killer

    I don't know why but I really get into these teenager movies even though I'm in my mid-thirties. Maybe I'm looking for the next "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." Saw "Down to You" last week in a near-empty theatre. Strange thing was that of the six people in the theatre, not one was a teenager. We were all at least 35 and up to 65. Weird. Anyway, an attempt to update "Hamlet" for the teenage crowd sounds iffy. I'll probably see it anyway even though I hate Ethan Hawk. Julia Stiles is the least attractive of the recent spate of teen starlets. Her mouth is especially unattractive and she's too young to have such discolored teeth.

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 9:03 a.m. CST

    Kyle McLachlan?

    by twindaggerturkey

    I always pictured Claudius as this creepy old man. The Branagh Hamlet sucked, by the way.

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 9:31 a.m. CST

    The Bard Way

    by Kraven

    Shakespeare is such a strong source material that it doesn't matter whether you dilute it. There have been as many stylizations of the Dane as actors who played Sherlock Holmes. The only proble,, it seems to me, is that a LOT of American actors cannot speak blank verse properly (some can: the Kevins Kline and Spacey, Pacino, a bunch more older guys) but you cannot haul some bunch of clothes horses off a daytime soap or most network shows and have them start reciting all over the shop without making them look foolish and my ears hurting. Shakespeare has always been a litmus test of acting. All these "teen" Shakespeare movies are art aspiring to the condition of muzak. I wish the producers of these movies would save some of the cash they splurge on the soundtrack and spend a little more on acting coaches.

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 10:14 a.m. CST


    by darthpsychotic

    this cunt julie stiles makes me makes my prostate inflamed. skank spice stiles here is also starring in another shakespeared movie: othello called 'O'. she plays the white skank desmona to mekhi phifer's othello (black guy with the bald headed MR POTATO HEAD LOOK, long haired headbangers rule , right harry?). I read an interview where skank spice here said this teen cast high school version of othello would important in bring together the races. Oh it gets better, skank spice also said since she grew up in california with 60's type parents she was afaid if george w. bush got elected he would outlaw abortion. Just what we need from these kevin williamson movie-types : political advice. It's time like these that make me wanna move from florida back to my home state of michigan and join the militia, helping the alanta olympic bomber eric rudolf elude the goverment for another few years. ByTheWay, i'm american indian and pro-choice so save your verbal flatuence.

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 10:56 a.m. CST

    Brannagh's Hamlet was the last word.

    by riskebiz

    Why on earth do we need another Hamlet on film? Brannagh's will never be surpassed. I can't even watch any other version now because they pale in comparrison. When is that coming out on DVD?

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 11 a.m. CST

    o horrible, horrible, most horrible

    by Millamant

    I saw this movie at Sundance, and it was awful. After just seeing Liev Schriber (who in the movie palys Laertes) as Hamlet on stage, this movie stood in terrible contrast. All soliloquies done as voice-over narration - no acting required! Cutting the gravedigger scene -- dumb, and so obviously cut (after going to the trouble of showing a shot of the gravedigger's head while in mid grave-dig!) that it stood out like a sore thumb. Ethan Hawke -- affectless but pretty. Julia Stiles -- affectless but pretty. The updated setting adds nothing to our understanding of the play (unlike Romeo + Juliet, which I thought did a great job of opening up doors to folks who might not ordinarily read the thing). I thought this was really bad, and predict instant box office demise.

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 11:08 a.m. CST

    Lion King is the best Hamlet movie ever made.

    by Alex Rogan

    Hamlet always seemed to me like some unfinished script that got fished out of the Bard's garbage can when he wasn't looking.

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 11:23 a.m. CST

    "Strange Brew" the best Hamlet adaptation, eh?

    by GrampaMeat

    That's just the way it is, ya buncha hosers.

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 11:59 a.m. CST

    Strange Brew

    by Goose42

    I agree with Grampa...forget Branagh, forget Ethan Hawke...get me the McKenzie Brothers and their take on Hamlet any day. It's surprisingly pretty faithful as an adaptation, except of course adding a brewery, hockey and a gigantic Rick Moranis after drinking all the beer.

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 12:22 p.m. CST

    Been there, done that

    by Mockingbird Girl

    Hey, I'm all for new versions of the Bard's plays. But this sounds like a bad reworking of the 1987 film HAMLET GOES BUSINESS, a similarly modernized version of the play in which Hamlet inherits a seat on the board of the company his father controlled, but then has doubts about the way he died. As for Branagh's HAMLET, I found it to be an excessively long exercise in narcissism, with some particularly atrocious casting choices thrown in (Jack Lemmon, anyone?).

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 12:25 p.m. CST

    Yes, Darth, there is a Bard

    by Millamant

    As for your question about the text, Darth, they do use the actual text of the play, but it is so unbelievably shredded that they (in addition to cutting the gravedigger scene) somehow decided it would be okay to excise any reference to the fact that Hamlet is feigning madness. As a result, Hamlet just seems irrational and goofy, rather than a man with a plan (flawed, of course) to avenge the murder of his father.

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 1:09 p.m. CST

    I'll see it

    by Everett Robert

    but only becasue of Steve Zahn and Bill Murray two terrific comic actors, although I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks Julia Styles is ugly, and she is giving poltical advice to teenagers, good god what is the world coming too, everey actor out there, except Charlton Heston who I'm afraid of*smile*should shut the HELL UP about poltics and focus on their craft.

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 1:15 p.m. CST

    our boy kenneth

    by RipReaver

    Brannagh's Hamlet was incredible, yeah jack lemmonm was misplaced, but overall that was one of the best things ive ever seen. beautifully filmed and acted. heston was wonderful, brannagh was wonderful. nuff said

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 1:16 p.m. CST

    The best modernisation of a Shakespeare play was not Romeo and J

    by gingeracrockford

    Ian McKellens Richard the third was far superior without a doubt.I dont think half of the cast knew what their lines meant in Romeo and Juliet esp Mercutio who was rapping Shakespeare (shudder)

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 2:25 p.m. CST

    Understanding Hamlet

    by Grayson

    I studied Hamlet in high school and college, and I just began to understand the play after watching Brannagh's version. The damn thing is so long and complicated that it's just hard to get a handle on the story in its entirety. I can't imagine that modernizing it, changing the language and removing crucial scenes is going to do the original play justice or make it any easier to understand. Of course, I guess if Hollywood wants to combine Hamlet with the Hudsucker Proxy, that's up to them. I'll probably go see it out of curiosity, and that probably makes me a sucker.

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 3:31 p.m. CST

    the moderization of Romeo & Juliet.....

    by PipsOrcle

    ...Was pathetic! I mean, absolutely none of the people in that film could do Shakespeare. The script was essentially putting the story into a 90's setting and just having the cast say the lines directly from the book. I mean, the whole movie was just so laughable! The problem with this, is that you don't have films these days that have a modern take on Shakspeare say lines from the book! The story should remain. The types of characters should remain. The issues should remain as well. But people should behave and talk differently. It's on thing to adapt Shakespeare into the time period which it was originally written, but it's another to completely change around the setting of the story. The dialog and behavior of the cast in a modernized version of a Shakespeare play should fit the setting of which the film is taking place. Also, get people that understand and can act Shakespeare!

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 4:03 p.m. CST

    Billy Shakes

    by Mean Ween

    My personal favorite is Orson Welles' Macbeth. It's dark and dreary and foggy and creepy. I like Branaugh's stuff... but what the hell got into his head that made him cast Keanu in Much Ado. I heard that he actually had to feed Neo's lines to him WHILE THEY WERE SHOOTING. I liked Branaugh's Hamlet... except for the fact that he peppered it with all of these celebrity cameos.

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 4:24 p.m. CST

    10 Things I Hate About You Was Not Bad!

    by Drath

    Who is this idiot? That Romeo and Juliet POS is good, but 10TIHAY is bad? What Shit! 10TIHAY did the sensable thing and just used the plot with updated dialogue. I don't care if you've lumped it in with every other teen movie, it was good! It earns extra points for realizing that the Bard's language is out of place in the modern world. Unless you want to do some kind of wacky SCI-FI/Fantasy/Revisionist History settings, it's just stupid to set it in a modern world. Follow Sir Ian's idea for Richard III if you want to be innovative. He didn't take away from the actual text and story. R+J was just, "ooh, how will they get away with THAT line in a modern setting." R+J's only inspired move was to use the TV news anchor woman at the beginning. After that, they turned into the crappy Spawn credits unbound! And calling your gun a "sword" because that's the brand name? They should have called it SUCK CITY!

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 4:28 p.m. CST

    Branough sux!

    by OldWrinkleyMan

    Mel Gibson in Hamlet ruled! 'nough said!

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 4:53 p.m. CST

    Mona Lisa on Velvet

    by usagi

    Hmmm....I don't know if it is art, but I like it.

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 5:50 p.m. CST

    Some notes

    by Alessan

    First of all, Branagh's Henry V is the best Bard on film - better than anything Olivier ever did (you can flame me for that, but they better be INFORMED flames). 1996's Romeo and Juliet was also quite good. It captured the spirit of the play, most of the dialougue was handled correctly, and the casting was decent (and I think that this DiCaprio Hatred thing has run its course. TITANIC came and went two years ago, for crissakes). As for this new Hamlet ... nah. No gravediggers, the prince is really insane, and why no mention of Gertrude? Is her characer reduced as well. Then, pray, you may counteth me out.

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 5:55 p.m. CST

    The best modern adaptation of Shakespeare...

    by Loki Trickster

    was the episode of "Moonlighting" based on "The Taming of the Shrew", because it managed to keep the essence and humor of the original Shakespeare story and adapt it into the completely believable characters from the show. At least, that's my personal impression. I also thought that Luhrman's R and J was a mostly successful noble effort, as was Brannagh's "Hamlet" you know where my sympathies lie. -Loki

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 6:43 p.m. CST

    Looking For Shakespeare

    by Shrevie

    Well, I love Shakespeare in the movies and even though I think the casting here sounds ridiculous (how much more pretentious can Ethan Hawke possibly get?), I hope it turns out well. I loved Luhrmann's R & J. It may not have been perfect, but it was so passionate, it was as if nobody had ever told the story before. That's how it should always be. I do agree Branaugh's Henry V is the best Shakespeare movie yet. His Hamlet's length may have been accurate, but it should never FEEL long. Ralph Fiennes' Hamlet on Broadway a couple years ago was the most exhilerating I've been lucky enough to see. It was nearly four hours but felt no more than two. And I was standing. I mean Lawrence of Arabia flies by, doesn't it? And Fiennes never sounded like he was DOING "SHAKESPEARE". It was very real and conversational the way it should be. This is still people talking, it's not about reciting poetry. BTW, nobody's mentioned Al Pacino's BRILLIANT labor of love, "Looking For Richard" which combines several wonderful films in one. It's part Shakespeare documentary, part behind-the-scenes of an actor's life, and finally a full dramatic presentation of Richard III(starring the great Al himself along with Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, Estelle Parsons and more) which for my money is better than the very fine McKellen version. If anyone hasn't seen it, do yourselves a favor. It's incredibly entertaining, funny, thrilling, and well-acted (except the unfortunate Winona "Dudd" Ryder). This film is a gift to any Pacino fan, any Shakespeare fan and most of all to anyone who can't understand a damn word. And the rest is silence.

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 6:47 p.m. CST

    Oh, I forgot...

    by Shrevie

    I loved the Moonlighting "Taming of the Shrew". I still have it on tape. It's fantastic. Blows the Richard Burton-Liz Taylor away.

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 8:08 p.m. CST

    shakespeare in film

    by tigerbeat

    the best film version of shakespeare? it's a tie: branagh's "much ado about nothing" (go easy on the keanu rips.....he was barely in it) and ian mckellan's "richard III" both rip-roaring flicks with fantastic acting. baz luhrmann's "r&j" was huge fun...i'm not a dicaprio-hater...but they guy really could not wrap his mouth around the text and neither could claire danes....but paul sorvino, pete postlethwait and john leguizamo ROCKED!!! only "run lola run" rivals that flick for bottled adreneline. after sitting through 4 hours of branagh's hamlet, i'm not really sure we need more. besides, after derek jacobi tore the roof off of claudius does the world REALLY need kyle maclachlan's take on it?

  • Still, I dug Hamlet, I thought it was the coolest play of Shakespere I read. The final scene in Act 3 is a fuckin' orgy of poisoned swords, stabbings, revelations, accidental deaths, and more stabbings. EVERYBODY fuckin' dies at the end. Though I wonder if they'll turn the poisoned swords bit into poisoned bullets or something. . .

  • Feb. 3, 2000, 11:11 p.m. CST

    Sci-Fi, fantasy,bullshit type shakespere

    by Everett Robert

    the modern or post modern setting can work well in Shakespere. I played King Duncan in a version of MacBeth that was set in the future we kept the orignial dialouge but used females in traditonal male parts(soilders, etc) simply because we didn't have the male actors to do it any other way, people were confused but more confused by the language then anything else, when I rented the new version of Summer night's dream and the gal at the counter said it sucked because she couldn't understand what was being said

  • Feb. 4, 2000, 12:52 a.m. CST

    The Best Bard on Tape is....

    by Vladimer

    Branaugh's Henry V. His hamlet is exciting as well (although he did have those silly batman brestplates for the fight scene, and NO PADDING under his arms! if he got stabbed there,, man that's a mistake no trained fighter would.... anyway) The Tamor Titus was mesmorising, and verry close to her stage verson in 1994 i think. personally i cannot wait to see branaugh's love's labors lost. and i feel the more shakespeare out there the better! and lets have someone throw in a film verson of ben johnoson's volpone, or marlowe's the jew of malta! or webstors duchuss of malfi!! come on people cast these for me!

  • Feb. 4, 2000, 2:25 a.m. CST

    Branagh's Hamlet could also be considered a modernization

    by Niiiice

    The look and feel, and especially the "castle" were striking of the 1700s, not the mideival setting of Shakespeare's original.

  • Feb. 4, 2000, 2:30 a.m. CST

    Idiots! It's NOT Shakespeare without Shakespeare's dialogue!

    by Niiiice

    Are any of you familiar with the theater? If so, you'll realize that taking a play out of its original context and setting and "modernizing" it or transporting it to another time and place is nothing new, and the point is to make a statement with the DIALOGUE and WORDS of the original author about whatever new context the play has been brought into. The purpose is to bring new light and different meanings for the dialogue as it applies to this new context. Simply "modernizing" a play with updated dialogue loses that effect! It's still the same play, just dumbed down so today's audiences can access it.

  • Feb. 4, 2000, 2:41 a.m. CST

    Best Hamlet

    by tv`snick

    The best Hamlet "adaptation" is surely Tom Stoppard's movie AND play, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstren Are Dead." It explains the point of drama, the point of Hamlet, and the point of life. And it's funny as fuck.

  • Feb. 4, 2000, 12:41 p.m. CST

    Re: Gertrude

    by Millamant

    Alessan asks about Gertrude. She's still in the movie, played by Diane Venora (who has actually played Hamlet herself on stage, and just finished playing a very different take on Gertrude on stage in NYC). She's fine -- kind of plays her as a semi-drunk trophy wife. Nothing hugely special about it, though.

  • Feb. 4, 2000, 2:47 p.m. CST

    Just my 2 cents

    by curley

    Man, was Brannagh's (sp.??) Hamlet overrated - and I think that the weakest link was Brannagh, himself. Did noone else think that his portrayal of despair/madness seemed trite and silly? Usually I think he's great, but boy, was I disappointed. I've also been surprised that noone has mentioned Othello with Lawrence Fishburne. An excellent screen Shakespeare if I've ever seen one. Mr. Brannagh was great as Iago in that one.

  • Feb. 4, 2000, 9:58 p.m. CST

    Niiiiice, you damn Rudd...

    by YoungIchabod

    Branagh's Hamlet was set in the 19th century. They had a train for cryin' out loud. Anyway, I do agree with you that taking a Shakespeare plot and changing the characters, settings, etc. is not Shakespeare any more...but remember that Shakespeare, albeit it a great dialogue writer, was not so hot at making his own plots...almost all of his plays are based on earlier material. Read up on the "Ur-Hamlet" if you want. Anyway, I guess my point is that good stuff can be made from modernizations of older stories. Shakespeare modernized tons of traditional fables and tales, and the result was fantastic. So maybe someone who modernizes Shakespeare can produce something as equally groundbreaking. What's life like without a little experimentation?