Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” Hamlet tells his friend in the world’s most famous play. But do those things include Hamlet eventually delivering his (and Shakespeare’s) best-known monologue — questioning whether “To be or not to be” — while standing in the midst of the “Action” aisle at Blockbuster Video? Alack, there are many, many things for the pure of heart and the closed of mind to despise about the shiny, streamlined, and thoroughly modern Miramax adaptation of “Hamlet.” Classicists may be offended from the start, when it becomes obvious that chunks of the play have been excised or rearranged. Or maybe it will come later, when this Hamlet, Ethan Hawke, is seen moping around Manhattan cradling a video camera and wearing a Peruvian wool cap. But for the Judge, he is just glad that “Hamlet” stayed around D.C. for a few weeks longer. The Judge had wanted to review the film a fortnight ago, but then Life intervened and “Hamlet” was back-burnered. Luckily for the Judge, the movie will be showing (albeit at the cryptlike art theater at Dupont Circle) for at least a few more days. And that meant that the Judge didn’t have to go review “Big Momma’s House.” The Judge ain’t putting it mildly when he says, “Whew!” “Big Momma’s House” made the Judge’s stomach hurt right from the trailer. It’s one of those “hilarity ensues” movies. You know: Hilarity ensues when Martin Lawrence puts on a 300-pound fat suit. Or when Jackie Chan goes West. Or when Jim Carrey becomes an Italian opera singer. Or a midget and a transvestite open a hotel in the South Pacific. Or when the survivors of a plane crash in the Andes have to eat each other to survive. One of those. So, thank the stars for the new “Hamlet,” which, in its own way, is set in its own “Big Momma’s House.” The concept is winningly simple: Transport the play to New York City, the year 2000. The CEO of the Denmark Corp. is dead. His wife, Gertrude, has married the CEO’s brother. The two live in the “Hotel Elsinore” in the dark, steel heart of the city. When we first meet Hamlet, he is attending a press conference, where his uncle, Claudius, is holding a “USA Today” aloft proclaiming that the company has beaten back Fortinbras’ takeover bid. Already, based on your tastes and your upbringing, you are either thrilled or disturbed. Since the Judge is the victim of a public education, his sensibilities never developed deeply enough so as to be bothered that most of Hamlet’s soliloquies come via a video diary. Or that the ghost of his father (Sam Shepard) appears first in front of a Pepsi machine. But the play is the thing, as someone once said. Maybe it was even Shakespeare. This “Hamlet” is relatively intact. The language is pure Elizabethan, even if Hamlet and his g.f. Ophelia (Julia Stiles) rendezvous in a TriBeca walk-up. And even if Ophelia’s father, Polonius, is played by Bill Murray as a world-weary, smooth-talking corporate vice president. Before you know it, Hamlet is renting videos at Blockbuster while wondering whether just to go ahead and off himself. (And he probably isn’t the first person standing in a Blockbuster to think that.) At first, it all seems a bit jarring. And made worse by the fact that the actors play their characters straight-ahead, with an American right-here, right-now attitude. Murray seems to be tossing off his lines as if he were the grown-up version of his character in “Stripes” or “Caddyshack.” Kyle MacLachlan, as Claudius, delivers another variation of his “distracted anchorman” persona so cultivated in movies like “Blue Velvet.” Hawke’s performance, in fact, is the key to the movie. Here he is, again stuck in his whiny, circa-1994, “Reality Bites” mode, brooding and moaning through the movie, dressed in black Italian suits, his eyes hidden behind yellow-tinted sunglasses. His Hamlet is the spoiled rich kid who would like to be a man of action, but can’t leave his expensive toys long enough to do it. He seems small, futile. A Hamlet swept along by circumstances. And it’s right. Liev Schreiber, as a fiery Laertes, blows everyone else off the map. Schreiber is so commanding, so Shakespearean, that he almost seems oddly wrong in the film. But he invests his character with so much integrity that you wouldn’t want anyone else. And when Steve Zahn, so effective as a small-brained doper in movies like “Out of Sight,” shows up as a slacker Rosencrantz, shouting at Hamlet over the throbbing pulse of a downtown dance club, you realize that this “Hamlet” is nearing brilliance. From his arrival, the plot proceeds apace. The use of technology enhances, rather than detracts, from the play. Hamlet’s “play-within-a-play” — the means by which he hopes to expose Claudius’ plot — is a short film. And it is the kind of lousy short subject made by a narcissistic artsy poseur like Hamlet. He dispatches messages to his family (from “England”) with a fax. His method for dealing with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern involves a PowerBook. And his rant to Ophelia (“Get thee to a nunnery!”) comes over her answering machine. New York City serves as a welcome added character in the film. The colors are vibrant and the settings are spectacular. News of the Denmark Corp. is displayed at Times Square. Ophelia loses her mind — and tosses Polaroids about — at a maddingly spinning Guggenheim Museum. It all works splendidly, and in the course of it, you realize something else. Transplanting “Hamlet” to modern Manhattan hasn’t diluted the spirit of the play. On the contrary. By stripping the work of its dramatic court-and-castle shell, the soul, the heart, of it is laid bare. This “Hamlet” is slighter, quieter, and less dramatic. It is also more touching. Judge Dread presides over the unkindest court of all: The Court of Public Opinion. He once played a walking tree in the Tremont Elementary School version of “MacBeth.”

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.