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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Literature > Shakespeare > Play > British > Large Frame Format > Hamlet (1996/Warner Bros. Blu-ray)

Hamlet (1996/Warner Bros. Blu-ray)

 

Picture: B+†††† Sound: B†††† Extras: B-†††† Film: B

 

 

Like Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier before him, Kenneth Branagh has directed more feature films based on the work of William Shakespeare than any other filmmaker in his time, which is still now.I have at least liked his films of classics by The Bard, but the one standout without any doubt is his underrated 1996 version of Hamlet finally making its long-awaited debut on Blu-ray.Shot in large-frame 65mm negative, it is one of the greatest of all Shakespeare films, despite some minor inconsistencies and the unevenness of past Branagh adaptations were finally worked out and away by the time he made this epic production.

 

As the title character, his Prince of Denmark has returned to a house divided and then some, as his uncle has murdered his father and married his mother!And thatís just the beginning of the betrayal and insanity.In this version that Branagh saved for what is his biggest and best directing effort to date, he secured the services of what has to be one of the top all-star casts of the 1990s including longtime collaborator Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, Brian Blessed, Richard Attenborough, Judi Dench, Kate Winslet, Gerard Depardieu, Angela Douglas, John Gielgud, Charlton Heston, Rosemary Harris, Jack Lemmon, John Mills, Michael Maloney, Rufus Sewell, Timothy Spall, Andrew Schofield, David Yip, Billy Crystal and Robin Williams among the talents who all pulled this off.

 

Yet, the film was not the huge hit it should have been critically or commercially when it was released and the reason why included the transferring of rights through a merger of companies (Columbia handled Castle Rock, the producing company owned by Turner Entertainment at that point, but Warner Bros. was acquiring Turner at the time resulting in the film not getting the 100% push it deserved despite first rate promotion in the launch).Critics did not defend it and push it enough, but worst of all, not enough 70mm screenings were done of the film and most have not seen how great this version can look and play out at its best and as a full-length version of the original play.This is the superior 242 minutes-long version and is the only way to see this.

 

So why does this work so well so often?It may seem long at times, but just when it might go astray, it kicks in again, showing Branagh meticulously adding the next important moment to the story.Also, the few times Shakespeare has been made in large-frame film formats, the work has made for great filmmaking and storytelling because the source material lends itself to the big screen as much as any source you can imagine, which is why Olivierís Richard III (shot in VistaVision) remains one of the greatest Shakespeare films ever made.The large frame opens up the possibilities of The Bardís work unexplored and if we are lucky, this will not be the last such film adaptation.

 

The idea is to bring his work alive and never has Branagh succeeded more at that than he does on Hamlet, and this is from the man responsible for more Shakespeare films (good ones) in the last 50 years than any other filmmaker.This is as definite as any version we will ever see and still beats the several attempts to update the tale to modern times, most of which usually fail.

 

 

The 1080p 2.20 X 1 digital High Definition image is a long-awaited release and was shot entirely in 65mm negative in the Panavision Super 70 (the modern version of Panavision Super 70) format with its large, great cameras still being used for visual effects and some special shooting on a yearly basis.It is expensive, but worth it as you see every frame go by.The transfer here should be a homerun and usually looks amazing, but there are more than a few moments of motion blur, a few soft shots and some issues with some of the nighttime footage, but otherwise, there are tons of great shots looking amazing throughout that would challenge any serious HD projector or HDTV.Director of Photography Alex Thompson (The Krays, Alien 3, Legend, Year Of The Dragon, Roegís Eureka) passed on a few years ago, but remains one of the greatest British cameramen of all time and this is his totally large-frame format film.As a result, the work is unique, stunning, original, one-of-a-kind, has a rich sense of place and that includes a color palette that offers more white than usual.A deceptive move on context to the narrative, only Blu-ray can deliver the Ivory White quality the original 70mm prints (and maybe better 35mm prints) did.The results here overcome any shortcomings in the transfer.

 

The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 mix comes from the original 5.1 mix that was included on 35mm prints in Dolby Digital and SDDS (Sony Dynamic Digital Sound) as well as Dolby Magnetic 5.1 surround on the 70mm prints with advanced SR (Spectral Recording) noise reduction.The mix here sounds really good and though it may seem the sound is coming too much from the front speakers, it is my belief (as when I saw it in 70mm with the mag stereo multi-channel mix) that Branagh wanted to have a soundmix that had both modern 5.1 type surrounds, yet also had the traveling dialogue and sound effects of classic 70mm presentations where five of the six tracks would be behind the screen.It may seem a compromise, but I like the character of the mix and it keeps the audiences eyes on the image, which is so vital here.Patrick Doyleís score is a plus and gets the surround channels as much as anything here, but this has the rich, warm quality of the mag sound without the dropout or wear, so that is no problem here whatsoever.

 

Extras include the DigiPak booklet case it comes in (which may be for a limited time), 1996 Cannes Film Festival Promo, introduction by Branagh, To Be On Camera: A History With Hamlet featurette and feature length audio commentary by Branagh and Shakespeare scholar Russell Jackson.

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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