Hamlet Release Date: August 17, 2010 Studio: Warner Brothers Packaging/Materials: Single-disc Blu-ray Digibook Year: 1996 Rating: PG-13 Running Time: 4:02:00 MSRP: $34.99 THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES Video 1080p high definition 16x9 2.20:1 Standard and high definition Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: French 5.1, Castillian 2.0, Spanish 2.0, German 2.0 Stereo Subtitles English SDH, French, German SDH, Castellano, Dutch, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish Variable The Feature: 4/5 Shakespeare's melancholy, Danish prince is represented on film once again, though this time in a particularly ambitious adaptation. HTF Reviewer Ken McAlinden detailed how when he reviewed the Warner Home Video Shakespeare Collection on DVD: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Kenneth Branagh), is understandably gloomy after the death of his father followed all too quickly by the wedding of his Mother, Gertrude (Julie Christie), to his Uncle, Claudius (Derek Jacobi). When the ghost of his late father (Brian Blessed) informs him that he was murdered by Claudius, Hamlet becomes resolved to seek revenge, but his constant self-examination gets in the way and results in many delays while his affected manner leads to speculation by those around him that he has lost his mind. Having successfully brought red-blooded full-bodied screen adaptations of "Henry V" and "Much Ado About Nothing" to the screen, Kenneth Branagh did the same for "Hamlet" in 1996. In the same year when Tom Cruise was turning "Mission Impossible" into a big-screen franchise, Branagh somehow managed to achieve his own impossible mission by convincing Castle Rock to allow him to make a four-hour plus full-text adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy starring himself and shot in 65mm. At face value, adhering to the full text of a stage play sounds like an inherently un-cinematic idea. For instance, plays frequently require characters to relate events that occur outside of their limited number of location settings via dialog, while a strength of film is the ability to actually show them. Far from presenting a stage play in conveniently recorded 70mm form, Branagh and his collaborators have reconceived "Hamlet" from the ground up in cinematic terms. Flashbacks and montage are used to illustrate narrated, and sometimes newly conceived, events concurrent with relevant dialog. The play has also been re-set in a 19th century Denmark to give it a slightly more modern appearance than the traditional gothic trappings. While one could argue that previous film adaptations of Hamlet were as good or better than this one, and there are more differing and worthy takes on the title character than there have been actors who have played him over the last half-century, the one advantage Branagh's adaptation has over all previous films is completeness of characterization. Normally, when the play is edited down, the plot is streamlined and the supporting characters have their roles reduced. In the case of Hamlet, the observations on human nature inherent in the cast of characters are as much or more what the play is about as the plot, and Branagh's is the only film adaptation that does not short shrift any of them. Of course, this only works if the cast is up to the challenge, and in this case, they most certainly are. Perusing the impressive cast list above will provide an indication of the caliber of talent, and even a number of small cameo roles are filled out by leading lights of the stage and screen such as John Gielgud, Judi Dench, John Mills, Richard Attenborough, and Rosemary Harris. At the time of the film's release, critics came down pretty hard on American stars Jack Lemmon, Billy Crystal, and Robin Williams, and while Lemmon does seem somewhat out of place as Marcellus, I actually liked Crystal and Williams in their parts as the sardonic first grave digger and the pompous, pathetically insecure Osric. If one can set aside the baggage of their comic celebrity reputations, they fit into Branagh's amped-up 19th century Denmark nicely. Video Quality: 4/5 The film is accurately framed at 2.20:1 and presented in 1080p with the VC-1 codec. Blacks are consistently deep and solid, though shadows sometimes look a little too opened up, making the image look flat. Overall contrast, however, displays the full range of values with no signs of compression at either end of the spectrum. Fine object detail is quite good, holding up well in both close ups (check out that peach fuzz on Winslet's face!) and wide angle shots (the falling confetti in the coronation scene is particularly marvelous), though some of the impressiveness is diminished by constant, visible edge haloing. Physical artifacts are also minimal - slight "sparkle" appears here and there, but otherwise the picture is clean and free of damage. Another site has noted the transfer's heavy use of noise reduction, but frankly I'm having trouble seeing it. Yes, Claudius's face looks a little pink and waxy in the coronation scene, but standing right beside him is Gertrude, whose face doesn't have the same problem. Consequently I can't help but chalk it up to the production's make up. Likewise close-ups have a satisfying level of detail, with pores and fine facial hairs visible and uncompromised. If noise reduction has indeed been applied, it's very, very subtle. More obvious is the edge enhancement, which I believe will be more of an issue for viewers than the apparent detail in the picture. Audio Quality: 4/5 Dialogue dominates the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track (just as it should), and is nicely detailed and intelligible. Surround channels provide support for the score and ambient sound effects like crowd noise and echoes, and though fairly subdued outside of some dynamic panning effects during the Ghost scenes, they give the film welcomed ambiance and presence. LFE is also used sparingly (also during the Ghost scenes), but shows significant depth and weight. Special Features: 4/5 The extras carry over all the feature-related items from the previous DVD release, with the commentary providing the richest information. Introduction by Kenneth Branagh (7:50, HD): Branagh describes his first exposure to "Hamlet" and his approach to adapting it for film, and reflects on the significance of what some would consider his greatest work. Commentary with Kenneth Branagh and Russell Jackson, Professor of Drama and Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham: Students of the Bard should find plenty to appreciate in the commentary, which is filled with analysis about the play in general and the production in particular. Jackson was on set during production and offers some interesting anecdotes and observations. To Be On Camera: A History with Hamlet (24:34, SD): Featurette produced in 1997 includes cast interviews, history of Branagh's involvement with the play, challenges during production and highlights from behind the scenes. Vintage Cannes Promo (12:07, SD): Covers similar material as the previous items, but includes some additional character analysis and anecdotes. Trailer (1:39, SD) Collectible Book: The nicely produced book-that-is-the-packaging includes written background about the production, an essay about its significance, cast biographies, and trivia. Recap The Feature: 4/5 Video Quality: 4/5 Audio Quality: 4/5 Special Features: 4/5 Overall Score (not an average): 4/5 Warner Brothers turns in a solid audio and video presentation of the most ambitious - if not the most complete - film adaptation of Shakespeare's "Hamlet." The special features include a worthwhile audio commentary and a respectable range of vintage promotional items. Given the quality of the presentation, it's a tempting upgrade for owners of the DVD and an obvious choice for first time purchasers.