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Hamlet Movie Comparison

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Hamlet: A Comparison of Two Movies


Michael Bucknam

May 29, 2006

The purpose of this report is to compare and contrast two movies made about Hamlet. I will present and discuss different aspects of the version directed by Kenneth Branagh to that of Franco Zefirelli. During this paper you will be presented with my opinions in reference to determining which version of Hamlet best reflects the original text by Shakespeare. I will end this paper with my belief and explanation of which movie is true to the original play.

Normally, when a movie is made about a story in a book the two stories are not exactly the same. The movie is adjusted by adding small details or leaving out some parts in order to make the story more interesting or shorter in time to adjust for people watching it in a cinema. This is the case with Shakespeare's Hamlet for one of these movies while not the case with the other. Zefirelli's movie starring Mel Gibson left out but also added things that Shakespeare never wrote that were not originally in the play. It is highly edited and straight forward while Branagh's version is much more exact and quite longer. It includes all of the words as in Shakespeare's original version.

When Shakespeare wrote Hamlet he did not write a scene depicting the funeral of King Hamlet. However, in Zefirelli's movie this scene is present. Not only is it an added scene but it also replaces the original opening scene of the play. In the play, the first scene is where the ghost of King Hamlet appears to the guards on duty, Marcellus and Bernando, and where the ghost is introduced into the play. The movie never even show's this scene. The ghost is first introduced into this movie in the following scene where Horatio is shown telling Hamlet about the ghost.

The play depicts Fortinbras receiving a vote from the dying Hamlet to become the new king. Shortly after, Fortinbras himself makes a speech accepting the honor and

declaring himself the new king. Zefirelli takes Fontinbras out of the play and fails to show the end where Fortinbras makes his declaration speech.

Zefirelli also left out another part from the play. In the play, Polonius asks Reynaldo to travel to France and spy on his son Laertes. However, the movie never shows this scene. In fact, the movie fails to even include Reynaldo.

Another aspect to consider between the two movies is the settings. The play takes place in a cool and raw gothic time. However, the settings in both films are quite different. Branagh's film is updated to the 19th century and in an opulent palace. The palace has mirrors with the magnificent hall at the center of the royal court. This isn't the impression I had when reading the play. However, the weather in this version appears to be cloudy and visibly cold. The weather creates suspense because it appears as a threat. You could hear the gasping wind which portrayed the men as being uncomfortable and cold which added to their fear of what was to come. This is in major contrast to Zefirelli's film which takes place in a Scottish castle with medieval costumes that are far more appropriate to the play's tone. The air of the castle is a gloomy, dark mansion which is a perfect place for the play to reflect someone grieving. This is much more like I would have imagined the original play to present.

Another aspect is the presentation of the ghost. The imagery of each setting is used to portray the ghost scenes differently. In Zefirelli's version the ghost is portrayed using only lighting to cast a strange glow or gleaming on the actors. When the ghost appears


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