CAPSULE: First-time film director Alexander tells a much-shortened version of the Shakespeare play that lives or dies on its extreme style. It dies. "Startlingly original" is not necessarily a good thing, particularly when it is at the cost of good storytelling. This film is an exercise in style lacking in substance that for me falls very flat. Rating: low 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
One does not judge a new film version of HAMLET by the same standards as typical theatrical films. First of all, the IMDB lists sixty-three film versions and about sixty more that seem to be variations and satires, such as THE FIFTEEN-MINUTE HAMLET and HAMLET GOES BUSINESS. By this point the story has very little surprise value. Just bringing HAMLET to the screen more or less as it was played at the Globe Theater has lost its appeal and novelty. You measure a screen version of Shakespeare by how the filmmakers have tweaked the story and whether the tweaks make it interesting. In 1995 Ian McKellen made his film version of RICHARD III. He did not, however, go the Royal Shakespeare Company route of setting it in 15th Century England with 15th Century English dress. Instead he moved it to 1930s England. It had 1930s dress and it was intentionally transformed by the visuals into an alternate history of an attempted Fascist takeover of Britain. The text was Shakespeare, but the story, or at least the setting, was fresh and new. The viewer heard Shakespeare's words, but they had new meaning because they related to a world that the viewer had some feeling for. The 1999 TITUS had visuals created by the great Julie Taymor. And the feud beyond all reason had Anthony Hopkins playing Titus Andronicus and bringing it some of the same values he put into Hannibal Lector. These were good film versions of Shakespeare. Kenneth Branagh's HAMLET was overloaded with star power and had lavish sets. For me that was not enough, so I consider this a less successful version. But the point is when it comes to reviewing Shakespeare on film one critiques the sizzle and generally ignores the steak.
So what kind of sizzle did Alexander Fodor bring to FODOR'S HAMLET? First, who is this Alexander Fodor who puts his name above the title of what is probably considered Shakespeare's greatest play? He is not a veteran director. At least as far as the information I have seen about him and his film he is something of a man of mystery. The press kit I was sent said nothing about him. The IMDB says that he is a director, writer, and actor with one film to his credit under each of these hats. And that film is FODOR'S HAMLET. He was an associate producer for the film EAT THIS NEW YORK. Apparently the film itself is his claim to the fame that allows him to put his name above Shakespeare's title. So is the film an argument for his manifest genius? Well, it certainly is different from what has been done before. Is it better? Well, I would say 'no' and that it did not do a lot for me.
First and foremost are the visuals. Most of the film is shot was a wide-open lens with luminescent background. What does that mean? Well, picture HAMLET being done in the heart of the same star where Dave Bowman met his future at the end of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. The oppressive background light distorts all colors. Occasionally the background goes black and the characters are carved out of darkness instead. But the furnishings look like they are from a contemporary London loft and generally from around London. The characters are dressed in street dress: sweatshirts, T-shirts, and casual wear. The lines are from Shakespeare and with diction a little less formal than the Olivier standard would give them. The words are spoken over the background of a pounding rock musical score or just weird music. There are long interludes of silence, which means that most of the original play did not make the cut, though the original plot is there--sort of. Hovering over most of the play is the ghost of Hamlet's father in a full-length coat that looks like a cloak from a bygone era. He gets Hamlet's attention by invisibly bopping him on the mouth, drawing blood. Now that is a direct approach for a ghost.
There have been other changes to the play without changing the words. Women play the roles of Horatio and Polonius (now renamed Polonia). Hamlet's soliloquy is spoken into a tape recorder. For whom it is recorded I have no idea. But then the logic of the story is unimportant here. It is the sizzle and not the steak, remember. In fact if you actually were unfamiliar with the story, this film would not do much to make it any clearer. Telling the story is not of major importance.
Diction is all-important. Modern diction is what makes MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING more entertaining for me than the classic Olivier production. Some of the line readings are done in such a natural style. Much of the rest sounds like first time line readings. The viewer is startled when this character or that is suddenly vehement without warning, but it does not change other characters' tone. The actors sound like they are not talking to each other and reacting to each other. It is as if each recorded his lines separately from the others or is just reading the lines from a script with a predetermined presentation.
Perhaps it is good to name this vanity piece FODOR'S HAMLET so it is not confused with Shakespeare's. If this were not a supposed adaptation of the Shakespeare play I do not think a film made in this style would get any attention. In any case *L*E*E*P*E*R*'*S* REACTION to FODOR'S HAMLET is that Shakespeare came out the loser on this one. I rate FODOR'S HAMLET a low 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0992971/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper