When it comes to comparing different types of media, there can be distinct characteristics between one other, whether it is based on novels, films, plays, etc. The media is very open to many aspects and many people have been interested on how directors interpret the same source. In general movies sometimes leave or add small details that can change the story’s plot, where one may view it as a good or bad thing. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, there have been quite a lot of adaptations to the play – mainly movies. This play consists of a variety of emotions and drama, making viewers interested to see how the directors have visualized the plot and scenes, especially when there are multiple versions where each one is different. Out of the few known movies, two shared similarities, but have many differences: Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet in 1996 and Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet in 2000. Both of these movies had added and left out some scenes that were originally scripted from the play as well as coming up with different uses of cinematography.
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For Kenneth Branagh being the director and playing the role of Hamlet, one of the unique features about this version is the plot itself. The setting took place during the medieval times in the 19th century. This movie used all of Shakespeare’s text, making the movie last for approximately four hours long. The relationship between Hamlet and his father Claudius (played by Derek Jacobi) shows much more emotion than other adaptations of Hamlet, clearly expressing their emotions verbally and physically. This version is indeed to be vibrant, fresh, and pleasing to the eye. As the movie progresses to Gertrude (played by Julie Christie) and Claudius’s wedding, the camera focuses directly at the whole scene, sliding from corner to corner, making an amazing panorama look. During Hamlet’s first soliloquy, he is in a large room where he stands all alone. This is significant to how he feels with his mother’s marriage to his Claudius and his emotions shows that he is alone with his father Old Hamlet gone. This is an easy way to determine that everyone but Hamlet has moved on with their lives. Another key fact about this scene is the way Hamlet behaves when he approaches to the mirrors. While hamlet begins his “To be or not to be” speech, he begins walking towards the mirror. At the same time the camera slowly zooms in, leaving everything out but Hamlet’s appearance of him holding the dagger. The captured scenery makes this scene much more affectionate. Another captivating scene was where Hamlet kills Polonius in Gertrude’s room. The image was viewed as a long-angle shot, making reflections of Hamlet and Gertrude on Polonius’s blood. As a result, these scenes were much more effective. The moment where the camera fades the edges and focuses on Hamlet’s face really captures one’s attention. Usually directors visualize Hamlet’s main setting to be in a dark environment. Kenneth took another approach and upgraded the setting to a luxurious castle, with brighter lighting, adding fine details with rich gold moldings along the walls and the large spacious rooms. Out of all the other Hamlet movies, this version was seen to have the least amount of furniture on set. Branagh directed the camera more on the characters than the scenery. With the great stage setting that turns the castle to an elegant atmosphere, the signs of death/misery would not be found right away. Death would be mentioned by the characters themselves rather than making a scene where it is obvious to recognize that they are acting abnormally. Certain lighting was adjusted to make scenes darker to show signs of melancholy. The character’s costume itself (during Gertrude and Claudius’ wedding Hamlet is seen from behind and is wearing pure black) is a great example of interpreting an alternative way to show how colours give out powerful imageries. The captured setting where Hamlet stands alone in the room is breath taking. Certain scenes in the movie progressed a bit slower than the other versions; however the use of long shot framing had made the view impressive throughout. One of the elements that Branagh used in the film is mirrors. This is one of the key components that Hamlet uses frequently in the movie. He is seen taking glimpses of himself on the mirrors, not just in a particular room but everywhere in the castle. On the other hand, no movie is perfect. One of the negative things that people would criticize about would be the length of the movie. There are people who are not fans of Shakespeare who would not be willing to watch a four hour movie where they might not understand (language barrier) except for looking at how the characters interact with each other. Kenneth Branagh not only chose characters that were talented, but selected older actors/actresses.
Known to be the latest version of Hamlet, Michael Almereyda has created something for sure is far different than the other adaptations of the play. The movie was produced in 2000 and is compressed to a shorter length of time than Branagh’s Hamlet. Situated in the center of New York City, the two rulers are no longer countries; instead they are changed to business corporations. The roles of the characters have been changed to business positions (from King Claudius of Denmark to Claudius CEO of Denmark Corporation, who is played by Kyle MacLachlan). Since the movie is based on the 21st century, there had to be a change of props used in the play. Guns are the replacements of swords and other components had been changed to technological devices such as televisions, phones, pictures, etc. The director’s choice of setting in this version of Hamlet was appropriate where technology is used most common today. During the opening scene of the movie, it begins with a low angle perspective, showing the tall buildings making the city more thrilling. The scene where the ghost appears is located inside an old dark, empty building where the Old Hamlet was spotted on the security camera by Horatio, Bernardo, and Marcellus (interestingly enough Amlereyeda decides to replace Marcellus with a female that is also Horatio’s girlfriend). In addition to the scene changes, Hamlet uses an airplane as his transportation to leave Denmark instead of a boat. As Gertrude and Claudius begin walking outside, the camera slides to Hamlet where he is seen from his back walking with sunglasses on. Almereyda has directed a unique way of expressing Hamlet’s melancholy. From our view of the camera, it begins moving sideways from the bright white walls and the large windows to the dark area where the Hamlet is sitting on his desk. Michael took another approach to how Hamlet behaves when he is alone discussing his thoughts and feelings to himself. The audio plays low background music and plays his voice while he is sitting, starring at the videos of his father. As Hamlet replays the image of his father on screen, the camera slowly zooms in towards the screen in black and white. Hamlet tends to pause most of the videos that he sees, thinking about the memorable moments with his father. As the camera remains in the same spot, the shots were constantly alternating between Hamlet and the screen. Instead of the typical scene where Hamlet is inside the castle (or in this case, in his apartment), his “To be or not to be” speech begins inside a Blockbuster Video store, where he walks around the aisles glancing over the action movies on the shelves. He talks in a calm voice rather than loud and being greatly emotional. For the first half of the soliloquy, Ethan’s voice is recorded in a slow, deep voice; however he begins talking for the second half. Despite of how the camera angles were changing constantly in the film, clips of the homemade videos that Hamlet made always repeated throughout the movie. One other interesting approach that was made was when Claudius began reciting his speech to the crowd. As the camera focuses on Hamlet, the camera makes a zoom towards Gertrude, fading the edges so it can focus on her, a great symbolism to let viewers know that she has his attention. This particular movie lacks the emotion that Hamlet should be feeling. Ethan Hawke’s acting was not interesting. He tends to mumble his lines, which made it sound like a monotone voice. Despite his low enthusiasm, Hawke doesn’t show much movement in the movie other than walking or running. Claudius and Gertrude (who is played by Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Venora) did show some strong emotion of making their characters more exciting and captivating. In comparison, the characters appearances seem to be younger than how Kenneth Branagh believes what they looked like, with Kyle MacLachlan being clean-cut and fancy while Derek Jacobi having facial hair and big, as many people today are attempting to look younger. Polonius and Ophelia were not engaged in this movie. Michael Almereyda has kept the ideal scene where Hamlet and Laertes fought in the fencing match. He locates the fencing field on the rooftops of a building, which is the only scene that was kept the same from the other Hamlet movies. For a movie that is set in the 21st century, there should have been something better to represent this scene in a more suitable way. With all of these audio remixes and editing, it seems as Hamlet didn’t have to talk much, yet he is one of the protagonist in the movie. In terms of the movie’s plot, set design, and choreography, this version of Hamlet seems to be more realistic than being as a play. People would see this movie as something that could potentially happen in today’s society; however the movie did seem to look not as affectionate as the other versions.
In conclusion, both of these films have different versions of Hamlet. Both directors had used different music, costumes, setting, lighting, etc. From the two movies, it was clear to determine which version of Hamlet was most successful. Kenneth Branagh’s version of Hamlet was not quite different to the older versions of Hamlet. As the director of the movie, he seems more motivated and energized from playing Hamlet. He was more into detail with props where people would consider the ideal setting for Shakespearian’s plays. His idea of not removing any lines from the original text is a very difficult task to imagine, but Kenneth Branagh has managed to make his movie more enjoyable by interpreting enthusiastic characters and creating great sceneries. Overall, Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet was least successful. His interpretation of the movie was to make Hamlet more modern. The movie does have some positive features but for most of the parts it was poor. The plot was more understandable for today’s viewers since the movie is set at present time, yet combining Shakespearian text does not suit with the film. Ethan did not seem to be engaged with his character of ‘crazy’ Hamlet at all, Polonius and Ophelia were not interesting, being that they were not motivated and were seen to be “dead”. In Hamlet, many of us would imagine the play involving lots of dramatic events and emotions. The setting in Branagh’s Hamlet was much brighter, bigger, and vibrant, as well as the fine detail that were seen from every angle of the castle, which makes nothing in this movie look out of date. Kenneth Branagh was able to use all of those themes, elements and motifs in his film, making it very successful as a whole; therefore his version was most successful.
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