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Hamlet: Branagh Vs Gibson Essay, Research Paper

I am not a big fan of the 1990 movie version of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, starring Mel Gibson. I feel that while it stands alone as a very well made movie and contains great acting performances throughout, I think that it strays too far from the original text and layout of the play. The omissions and transposing makes the play weaker, and while it is a great screenplay, it fails in comparison to Shakespeare’s original work.

The three things which bother me the most are the omission of Fortinbras and the handling of the, “To be or not to be…” soliloquy and the “Get thee to a nunnery…” scene, and Hamlet’s Oedipus complex.

Omitting the subplot of Fortinbras took away the whole political aspect of the piece. It also weakened the ending. I understand that director Franco Zeffirelli wanted to keep the movie at a reasonable length, but I feel that his omissions took away a lot of the power of the original version. Maybe I am just a purist, but I much prefer the 1996 Kenneth Branagh version, even if some of the acting was weaker in it. But I would rather sit through four hours and see the whole play than sit through two and half and see a butchering of the text. I did not like that some of the long speeches were cut down and that some character said lines written for others.

I absolutely love the writing that takes us from the most famous speech ever written to the scene between Hamlet and Ophelia. The intensity of the “To be or not to be…” soliloquy into the “Get thee to a nunnery…” scene is my favorite transition ever written and I think they totally blew it in this film. I felt they through away the Hamlet/Ophelia scene and turned something beautiful into something boring. The only thing that makes it work is the great acting performances of Mel Gibson and Helena-Bonham Carter. Carter is superb as Ophelia, much better than Kate Winslet, who was great in the Branagh version. I was pleasantly shocked at the performance, especially the scene where goes insane after finding out her father is dead.

That is something else that greatly bothers me. I don’t like the way Gibson was directed to play the scene in which he kills Polonius. He doesn’t even play it like he cares that he did it. That also makes Hamlet seem like a man who does not have a mind. I read somewhere once that Gibson felt the same thing about the scene. Ian Holm gives a very fine performance as Polonius. Alan Bates also shines as Claudius. He gives such a fine performance in the role.

I am not a big fan of Glenn Close, but she was wonderful as Queen Gertrude. I just don’t agree with Oedipus story line. I don’t feel that the original text calls for it to be so played out. Shakespeare hints at incestual activities in a lot of his plays, including between Tybalt and his aunt in Romeo & Juliet. But I don’t feel it should be taken so literally. It made Hamlet seem as though he really was completely insane. That, to me, keeps the whole play from working. But again, as a movie, it works.

Mel Gibson gives a very fine performance as the tragic hero. The only times which he falters, it is due to the directing and re-writing by Zeffirelli. Gibson gives a much more true-to-life and honest performance than say Branagh or even Olivier did. He did a truly amazing job. Nathaniel Parker and Stephen Dillane did nicely as Laertes and Horatio. I would have liked to see more from the grave-digger scene. It didn’t have the comic relief that Billy Crystal’s performance in the Branagh version possessed.

Considering all the problems I have with it, the movie itself is spectacular. I have a very biased opinion, being that I know the script so well. Speaking of it as a screenplay and film, it is extremely well done. Zefferelli brings a flow of reality to the story and turns it into a fine film. The casting was perfect for his version and one scene in particular was great, the scene with Hamlet and Ophelia in the courtyard. I like that scene a lot. Gibson and Bonham-Carter are wonderful. I would just prefer to see the true version, over an adapted version. That is just my opinion.


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