Guest Post: Comparing five Hollywood original films to their remakes


Hollywood is crazy about doing remakes, just recently Ridley Scott signed on to direct a remake/reboot/redo/prequel/sequel his own original film Blade Runner. Then his brother Tony Scott announced he was in talks to do a remake of Sam Peckinpah’s great western, The Wild Bunch, I hope to god that this will never ever happen. The original is one of the best films ever made and it’s on my top ten favorite films of all time. So needless to say I’m not happy that Tony “I’m such a hack” Scott wants to do a remake of it.

Anyhoo, I thought of writing an article about comparing the original films to the remakes since Hollywood can’t seem to think of anything original now a days. The way it works is I’ll write about the differences between each films and declare which one is the winner, the original or the remake.

Ok, here goes:

1. Man on Fire

1987 Original: Speaking of Tony Scott, he was actually set to direct this film way back in the 80s but at the time he was still new in the industry, so the studio didn’t want him to take over the project. They let some French director named Elie Chouraqui do the film instead. The original starred Scott Glen as Creasy and Joe Pesci as David, his character is that of Christopher Walken’s in the remake. I saw this version years ago at the recommendation of Quentin Tarantino, he loves the film and can’t stop talking about it while he was promoting Pulp Fiction. To be honest with you, the film wasn’t that good. The first 30 minutes or so was hard to sit through, but the rest of the film was pretty decent. The film was badly directed and acted, especially Joe Pesci, he was quite awful in the film. Also it was a very low budget film so it looked very cheap.

2004 Remake: So 17 years later, Tony Scott was finally able to make the film he wanted to do years back. He has more prominent stars with Denzel Washington and Christopher Walken, and a bigger budget. The remake is pretty much the same as the original, except this one took place in Mexico while the original was set in Italy. Also the remake was much more violent and since it cost $70mil to make, so the action scenes were bigger and louder than the original.

Winner: 2004 remake

2. Infernal Affairs/The Departed

2002 Original: The original version from Hong Kong was a very slick and cool thriller, and I knew Hollywood would do a remake of it right after I saw it back in early 2000s. In fact, Brad Pitt bought the rights to the film after he saw it and was going to star in it himself but he decided to just be the producer. The film was very fast paced with great cinematography and a cool soundtrack. To me though, the film didn’t spend enough time on character development, so we didn’t really know about them all that much. The women in the film were simply there just for eye candy purposes and the main gangster (Nicholson’s character in the remake) was played by a very weak actor.

2006 Remake: So the remake is pretty much the same as the original plot wise with the exception of the ending, I wouldn’t ruin it for those who haven’t seen either the original or the remake. In my opinion, the remake did a better job when it comes to developing the main characters, we know more about them and their motivations as to why they’re doing what they’re doing. Of course it helps a lot when it was directed by the master Martin Scorsese and the fact that Jack Nicholson played the Irish gangster.

Winner: It’s a tough one but I’m gonna have to go with the 2006 remake

3. The Day of The Jackal/The Jackal

1973 Original: The original version directed by Fred Zinnemann was a very smart thriller that took its time to tell the story. The plot centers on a professional assassin codenamed “Jackal” who’s hired to kill French president Charles de Gaulle. The pacing might turn off some of today’s movie audiences but if you’re patient enough, the payoff is pretty good.

1997 Remake: This updated version was loud and stupid, seriously, Bruce Willis still looks like Bruce Willis even after he put on all those supposed disguises. The director of the original felt so insulted by this remake, he threatened to sue if Universal uses the same title, that’s why they cut the title to just The Jackal. Even the author of the original book asked his name be removed from this film. Also, Bruce Willis and Richard Gere didn’t get along at all during filming and vowed to never work with each other again.

Winner: No questions about it, the 1973 original win hands down

4. La Femme Nikita/Point of No Return

1990 Original: The original, directed by Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, Leon: The Professional), kicked off the Nikita franchise that somehow never goes away. I really like this version and I even watched the TV show version that aired in the late 90s. I’ve also been watching a few episodes of the new show that stars Maggie Q.

Anyhoo, back to the movie version, I thought it was a very good action thriller with a great concept. The story revolves around a convicted felon who’s given another chance to redeem her life by becoming an assassin for the government. The down side for this movie was the last 30 minutes or so, the film just fell apart in my opinion. It seems to me the filmmakers didn’t know how to end the story and just came up with some lame idea.

1993 Remake: The remake starred Bridget Fonda and I thought she was quite a miscast. Ok so maybe if Fonda gained a few more pounds of muscle, she might look more appropriate for the role. Besides the miscasting, the remake is basically a carbon copy of the original and I enjoyed it.

Winner: It‘s a tie

5. The Mechanic

1972 Original: This version starred the great Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent. I think it’s one of the best action films of the 70s. The slower pacing might not sit well with today’s movie audiences though. Some suggested that the film has some homosexual undertones since the two leads spent a lot of time together and we don’t see them interact with women. I think that’s BS, the story’s about an aging and highly-trained assassin who wants to train a younger version of himself, so to me it’s more of a father and son story. But of course that’s not the case, if you seen the film, than you know what I’m talking about.

2011 Remake: The remake has been in the work for years. In fact in the late 90s early 2000s, Michael Douglas was in talk to star but it never happened. So finally the new one came out earlier this year and it was one of the most dreadful remakes I’ve ever seen. I didn’t mind the casting of Jason Statham as the main character but I thought Ben Foster was a total miscast. I know some people said Foster is one of the best young actors today but I’m not one of them. To me he’s pretty bland actor, actually he reminds me a lot of Stephen Dorff.

This updated version decided to up ante on the action and violence level but have non of the intelligence of the original. Also, I mentioned some people think the original has the homosexual undertones, so in order to dissuade people from thinking the two characters are gay, the filmmakers decided to show our leads having sex with hookers. Classy I tell you.

Winner: 1972 original

Have you seen any of these films? If you happen to have seen both the original movie(s) and the remakes, please share which version you prefer.

Guest Commentary: A thing or two the movie industry can learn from Steve Jobs

Thanks to my beloved hubby Ivan M. (a.k.a. Pixelcrave) for this special contribution.

I love Pixar movies! I have watched every one of them (except for the last one, Cars 2) and can honestly say each one is very much enjoyable to watch. Even the weakest one in my book (Cars) was still a fun experience.

With the recent news about Steve Jobs stepping down from his CEO role at Apple, the focus has mainly been of his “fruit” company and its ubiquitous gadgets that start with a lowercase “i”. But it’s hard to think about Pixar without acknowledging the fact that after all Jobs was the first to recognize its potentials, and made the investment in what would eventually be one of the best contributions to the movie industry.

A lot has been said since the news came about, including a few movies-related articles like this that highlight the “origin” story of Pixar — how Jobs purchased an almost defunct computer graphics division from George Lucas for $10 million, stroke a big distribution deal with Disney, and turned it into an animation powerhouse that has produced twelve feature films, most of which have received critical and financial success.

It’d be a very long post to even try to list all the things that you can learn from Mr. Jobs. But for the purpose of this article, I’d like to focus on only two things that are very much relevant to the movies & entertainment industry.

Quality over quantity

When Jobs returned to Apple in 1996 (after being ousted by his own company 11 years earlier), the company was in a big financial red. Jobs’ first order of business to return to black is by terminating a number of Apple products and only focus on a handful of core products that he believes has the most potentials to succeed.

Jobs applied the same principle to Pixar. He is not as hands-on nor micro-managing in Pixar as he is in Apple, but the one thing he made sure of was for Pixar to focus on quality movies — even if that means not producing as many movies as possible, despite pressure from analysts. Contrast this to how Hollywood studios have been operating, creating sequels after sequels in a ridiculously short period of time, all for the sake of generating profits even if it compromise quality.

“The great thing about Steve is that he knows that great business comes from great product. First you have to get the product right, whether it’s the iPod or an animated movie,” says Peter Schneider, the former chairman of Disney’s studio. In fact, Jobs admitted that Pixar often had to make a difficult decision to halt production of each of its movies, to first fix outstanding issues with a storyline or character. Think about it: there are only 12 Pixar movies since Jobs bought the company 25 years ago! That’s a minuscule number compared to Hollywood’s standard. Yet, the $602 million average gross of its movies is by far the highest of any studio in the industry (per Wikipedia). “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do,” Jobs often says.

Ideas first and foremost

Neither iPod nor iPhone were successful because they were the first in the market. They were successful because they were designed around the idea of simplicity — something that’s not typically associated with hi-tech gadgets. Pixar’s Toy Story was the first feature film that was made entirely with CGI. Yet its technology was not the big idea that eventually skyrocketed the company’s valuation into over $7 billion when Disney acquired it in 2006. Toy Story and other Pixar’s movies that follow simply connect with audiences — whether it’s children, younger/older generations, even people of various cultures. The storyline & strong character development behind every movie are ultimately what drive the company’s success. Talking about the working culture at Apple, Jobs once said in an interview, “you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy. The best ideas have to win, otherwise good people don’t stay.”

I can only ponder how many movies out there today where the original ideas and vision have been compromised because of pressure from big studios who get the paycheck. It’s no surprise that a lot of the critically-acclaimed movies are coming from smaller, independent studios where ideas and creativity can be nurtured more freely.

Ultimately, the movie industry is as much about making money as any other for-profit business out there — Pixar and Apple not excluded. But what Steve has demonstrated through his two jobs is that he doesn’t compromise creativity and quality for the sole purpose of generating more revenue. For as many good quality movies out there, there are far more money-machine garbage out there that diminish the creative side of the industry.

Here’s hoping more non-compromising creative minds in the industry would share Jobs’ thinking when he says, “quality is more important than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.”

So what do you think about Pixar and Steve Jobs in particular? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Related Pixar Articles:

Weekend Roundup and The Company Men review

Happy Monday, folks. My friends in the East Coast, I hope y’all stay safe. I was glued to the TV screen Saturday night watching all the coverage and reading people’s tweets about Hurricane Irene, wow, I definitely don’t take this beautiful weather in Minnesota for granted. We are very blessed indeed.

Viola Davis & Octavia Spencer in The Help

Well, looks like even the 50+ MPH wind doesn’t dampen The Help‘s box office take, earning over $14 mil to take the top spot for the 2nd week in a row. It’s made almost $100 million total which is very impressive! In fact, female stars dominated box office this weekend, Zoe Saldana’s Colombiana takes the #2 spot with about $10 mil (per BoxOfficeMojo). Granted it’s a pretty slow week and the crazy storm in the East Coast surely makes a dent in box office revenue.

I didn’t make it to the movies as it was quite a hectic weekend w/ my hubby doing his third (and last) triathlon of the year on Saturday, but we did manage to see The Company Men we got from Netflix. Here’s my review:

The Company Men (2010)

This is one of those movies I wanted to see because of the cast, but the timely subject matter about corporate downsizing certainly piqued my interest as well. The story revolves around the employees of the ship-building corporation called GTX who must face the ramifications of being laid off from their lucrative jobs. Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is the first ‘victim’ who once earned $120K plus bonuses and stock options as a sales executive. Then when the second round of downsizing takes place, Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) and Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) got let go as well.

Each of these guys deal with their job loss in their own way, but one thing they have in common is how they didn’t see it coming and they live well beyond their means. Right from the start, the film shows us just how these people live in giant homes (Gene’s house is practically a mansion!), dressed in expensive suits and driving luxury cars. The lay off was a huge wake-up call for Walker, the quintessential cocky ‘suit’ whose mantra is ‘I have to look successful.’ He drives a Porsche which is obviously more than he can afford given he’s got two young kids and a stay-at-home wife. It’s quite a contrast to Kevin Costner’s character Jack Dolan, Walker’s brother in-law who lives in modest home working as a carpenter. [My hubby couldn’t help notice the Superman connection between the two — Costner is playing Pa Kent in the upcoming Man of Steel, and Affleck played George Reeves in Hollywoodland] 😀

The film offers a poignant message about corporate greed as well as what happens when one puts one’s self worth in their careers and personal wealth. The entire identity of these men are tied to their jobs, no worse, what they earn from those jobs. It’s a painful topic that’s relevant to everyone living in this dismal economy, even if we’re blessed enough not to get laid off, we’re affected by it in one way or another. The movie also shows the effect not just on the adults but on the kids whose parents lose their jobs. Walker’s son was shown to have given up his X-Box because he knew his parents can’t afford it at this time… it’s at this moment where it’s clear that Walker realizes he too has to make some drastic changes and stop being delusional about his situation.

DeWitt as Maggie Walker

I like this film more than I thought though it’s certainly not without flaws. It could’ve been more tightly-written and less predictable, and it could also do without the rosy Hollywood ending. But I appreciate the honest and almost its matter-of-fact-ness of John Well’s directing. Wells also wrote the script based on the real-life experience of one of his family members, combined with research/interviews with people suffering from corporate downsizing.

The performances are definitely worth a watch, Affleck doesn’t quite shine in his more subtle performances but he’s affecting enough and the drastic shift in his character’s demeanor is quite believable. Jones and Cooper are in top form as always and their scenes together are memorable, but Costner is a bit underused here though his character is supposed to represent the blue-collar workers in this story. The actor also doesn’t age gracefully, I almost didn’t recognize him from the trailer as he looks like he’s well over 60!

No, I’m NOT Idris Elba 😀

I think my favorite character is Rosemary DeWitt as Affleck’s supportive and sensible wife. I like DeWitt’s performance and her character Maggie who keeps the family together. I love that Wells wrote such a strong female role and hire the right actress for the job, though the rest of the female characters are far from being commendable. I just have to comment about Maria Bello, must she take her clothes off in every film?? Seems so unnecessary in this film that I find it very jarring. Oh and I also have to give a shout out to Eamonn Walker, who I thought was Idris Elba at first, apparently he’s also a Londoner. I LOVE his character Danny who becomes friends with Walker, their scene on the roof is pretty comical.

So overall this was well worth a rent. Too bad it bombed at the box office, but at the same time it didn’t quite have the same ‘oomph’ as Up in the Air which deals with a similar subject matter.

3.5 reels

Well, what movie(s) did you watch this weekend? If you’ve seen The Company Men, I’d love to hear what you think.

THIS JUST IN! The Rum Diary Trailer

Wow, seems like it’s been ages ago since I posted the Rum Diary on-set photos … yep, that was back in Summer 2009! I actually put this movie in my list of most-anticipated-movies of 2010, I had no idea it would take over two years for it to finally get a distributor!

Well, we finally get a trailer now, check it out:

The story is based on a novel by Hunter S. Thompson (a personal friend of Depp’s) with the same name, the 48-year-old actor plays an American journalist named Paul Kemp, which is loosely based on the author’s own life journey. Per Deadline, here’s the official plot of the movie:

“The Rum Diary” tells the increasingly unhinged story of itinerant journalist Paul Kemp (Depp). Tired of the noise and madness of New York and the crushing conventions of late Eisenhower-era America, Kemp travels to the pristine island of Puerto Rico to write for a local San Juan newspaper run by the downtrodden editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins). Adopting the rum-soaked lifestyle of the late ‘50s version of Hemingway’s “The Lost Generation,” Paul soon becomes entangled with a very attractive American woman, Chenault (Amber Heard) and her fiancée Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), a businessman involved in shady property development deals. It is within this world that Kemp ultimately discovers his true voice as a writer and integrity as a man.

This is the second Thompson’s book-to-film adaptation for Depp. The first one was Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas in 1998, where he also played a journalist desperately seeking for the ‘American dream’ with the help of drugs and alcohol hidden in their convertible. Looks like this is a fitting vehicle for Depp who’s known to gravitate towards ‘lost soul’ kind of characters. Can you believe this guy is just TWO YEARS shy of 50?! He doesn’t look a day over 35 if you ask me. I mean, Amber Heard is only 25 years old and they look like they could have gone to college together! I’m not too crazy about her, but doesn’t seem like she gets to do much more than what she did in The Joneses, that is just be sexy and seductive.

Anyway, the whimsical trailer is a hoot… that scene of Depp driving that tiny car looks like a fun scene. It’s fun seeing Depp goofing around and flirting up a storm, the eternally-youthful actor actually looks like himself here, no silly haircut or crazy makeup… and I kind of prefer him in comedic roles. It also seems like everyone, including the normally-serious Jenkins, is having loads of fun in this movie… well naturally with all that rum, ahah. I didn’t see Eckhart until a bit later in the trailer, so I don’t know how much screen time he’ll have. I hope he’ll get a decent amount as I quite like him as an actor.

It’s scheduled to open on October 28 in the US, not sure how wide of an appeal this movie will have even with Depp in it though.

What say you, folks? Are you interested in seeing this one?

FC Poll – What should Christian Bale do next after Batman 3?

Happy Friday all! I thought I’d do a poll as we all love to cast votes, right? 🙂

Well, I saw various tweets about Christian Bale‘s possible next projects post The Dark Knight Rises a few days ago but haven’t got a chance to actually read any of them closely until last night. Wow, even just looking at the list makes my head spin! There are more than half a dozen projects he’s either reported to have been cast or are considered by various filmmakers.

Before I list all of them, for sure we will see Bale in the historical drama 13 Women of Nanjing which is scheduled to be released next year, most likely after Batman 3. But beyond that, there is no other film listed on his IMDb page and filming of Batman 3 supposedly wraps in November. Perhaps he’s just being extra careful in choosing his next project, y’know to make sure he doesn’t suffer the ‘Oscar winner curse’ we’ve seen all too often. I doubt that’ll happen to him though, as he’s already a spectacular actor even before he won an Oscar for The Fighter. So maybe he just wants to go on a long holiday with his family? Who can blame him, he’s been quite prolific in the past few years.

In any case, here’s a quick summary of all the possible projects he’s been associated with so far:

(Sources: IMDb, Variety, A&E Playground, Guardian and Moviefone)

  • A third remake of A Star is Born opposite Beyonce, directed by Clint Eastwood – Plot: A young woman comes to Hollywood with dreams of stardom, but achieves them only with the help of an alcoholic leading man whose best days are behind him.
  • Michael Mann’s next project called Gold, which is a modern remake of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) – Plot: Two ambitious and energetic Americans searching for gold in Mexico. Sounds like a Western?
  • Yet another remake, this time it’s a Spike Lee’s version of the South Korean gory thriller Oldboy (2003) – Plot: After being kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years, a man is released only to find that he must find his captor in 5 days. Bale is reportedly offered the villain role, meh I hope he won’t do this one.
  • Darren Aranofsky’s epic Biblical tale Noah about the God-appointed ark builder. Bale has played the role of Jesus Christ before in a TV movie Mary, Mother of Jesus (terribly miscast IMO). In any case, if he did signed on, it wouldn’t be his first foray into a Christian-themed film.
  • The Road‘s director John Hillcoat’s The Revenant, which is based on a true story of adventurer Hugh Glass who’s left for dead by his employer after being mauled by a bear. The man miraculously survives and resolves to hunt down the men who abandoned him. Sounds too similar to Rescue Dawn as far as the harsh condition he’d have to endure during filming
  • This one is a possible reunion with his Machinist‘ director and writer, Brad Anderson and Scott Kosar, respectively. The project is called Concrete Island. Per Variety, the movie will be based on J.G. Ballard’s 1974 novel – it centers on a wealthy architect who finds himself stranded in a section of fenced-off wasteland in West London; he’s forced to survive on only what’s in his crashed car and what he’s able to find. He finds companions on the island and decides to remain there and forsake his former life. So basically it’s like Castaway but with a bit more companion than Wilson the volleyball?
  • Now this one I’m really excited about and sounds like it’s a done deal? My friend Castor reported last week that the suddenly-prolific Terrence Malick is apparently working on yet another Untitled Project and has cast Bale in the lead role. No idea what it’s about yet and Malick is still looking for the female lead.

    The last time Bale was in a Malick’s film he was playing such a deeply romantic role, playing John Rolfe to Q’orianka Kilcher’s ‘Pocahontas’ in The New World. I looooooove him in that, his 20-minute or so screen time is definitely my favorite part of the entire film! So of course I was bummed out when Ben Affleck replaced Bale in the untitled Malick’s romance drama opposite Rachel McAdams, so I’m hoping this will be a romantic role as well.
  • This is probably the least buzz-worthy out of the other rumored projects. According to the A&E article, Bale’s also rumored to star in director Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace, “… a film formerly known as ‘The Low Dweller’, a dark drama which tells the story of a man named Slim, who, after being released from a lengthy prison sentence for murder, sets out to avenge the murder of his brother.”

My wish:

Now, I’ve said it in my birthday tribute to Bale last year that I still hold on to hope that one day he’ll do an unabashedly romantic movie. No, I’m not talking about rom-com, but a sweeping drama with a deep love story at its core (something like The Painted Veil?) or maybe a sci-fi romance as I looooove his tender scenes with Emily Watson in Equilibrium. I mentioned Angela Bassett in a blog comment yesterday, I’d love to see Bale opposite her in a forbidden bi-racial romance… yes I know there’s the 15-year age difference between them but that’d make it even more interesting. Plus Bassett still looks so good at 53 and she’s so darn classy!

So, now that I’ve told you what I’d love to see Bale do next, please vote for YOUR pick below… and share in the comments why you want him to do that role(s).

Upcoming Flix Spotlight: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

I haven’t done a new flick spotlight in a while, and the last time I did it was on Cloud Atlas, which had quite an ensemble cast. Well, the fantastic British cast is what initially grabbed my attention about Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know I love all things Brits and most of my favorite actors are from across the pond. Well, this one is chock full of them! Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, and John Hurt.

I put this movie on the list of most-anticipated movies of 2011 back in March, but now it’s been generating some serious buzz all over, thanks to the impressive set of enigmatic character posters

… and trailer, like this new International version that’s just been released yesterday.

It shows just a bit more clips than the first trailer, but retains that same creepy, sinister vibe. It’s particularly interesting that it uses the same score as in the X-Men: First Class, and the fact that both are set in the 60s. I love the retro look and the music is certainly effective.

Based on John le Carré’s 1973 novel of the same name, this movie is a remake to the 1979 British miniseries starring Sir Alec Guinness as espionage veteran George Smiley. Set in the bleak days of the Cold War, the plot centers on a middle-aged spy who’s forced out of retirement to uncover a Soviet mole in the “Circus”, the highest echelon of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). The minute we hear the words ‘British spy’ most of us automatically think of 007, but the gritty and realistic portrayal of the espionage world in this one is a far cry from the glamorous lifestyle depicted in the Bond movies.

Author John le Carré

According to FilmStage, Le Carré actually has a cameo in the film. The British spy novelist has also seen the film and has high praise for it… “Through my very personal prism… it is a triumph. And if people write to me and say, ‘How could you let this happen to poor Alec Guinness,’ I shall reply that, if ‘poor Alec’ had witnessed Oldman’s performance, he would have been the first to give it a standing ovation. I’m very proud to have provided [director Tomas] Alfredson with the material, but what he made of it is wonderfully his own.” Wow, that’s quite a compliment coming from the author himself!

Speaking of Alfredson, he’s said to have brought a horror sensibility to the film, even comparing it to his last feature, the Swedish vampire flick Let the Right One In. In the Independent article, he’s quoted as saying ” … horror is 90 per cent inside people. The gap between reality and what’s happening in their mind — that’s what creates the horror. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a horror precisely because you do not know how far the conspiracies and lies stretch — it could be much worse than you think.”

I’m so glad to see Gary Oldman in a leading role in a pretty high profile project. He’s done other leading roles of course, but this is perhaps one of the most prominent with high visibility. I’m pulling for him to finally nab at least an Oscar nomination for the role. Can you believe it he has NEVER been nominated?? It’s ludicrous really considering his resume. I’ve listed five of my favorite Gary Oldman roles, but I have a strong feeling I’d have to make room for his role as Smiley once I’ve seen this film. He even sounds different somehow, but then again great actors are often able to alter their speaking voice.

And of course there’s the eye candy factor, ehm. Tom Hardy is not the primary reason I want to see this movie, but his presence certainly can’t hurt. He looks so darn appealing sporting blond locks. Even amongst THIS cast, I have no doubt he’ll be stealing scenes with his seductive glances and well, looking like Tom Hardy 😀

I know it’s perhaps premature to say this, but I can’t imagine this one NOT living up to the hype. I sure hope this will be released nationwide come November 18!

What do you think folks? Is this high on your must-see list?

Rental Pick: Kenneth Branagh’s HAMLET (1996)

It took me 3 days but I finally finished the 4-hour long Shakespeare adaptation by Kenneth Branagh. I’d even use the term ‘masterpiece’ as it really was quite an undertaking to bring the Bard’s most famous play to life in such a grand and passionate fashion.

Please keep in mind that before seeing this, my knowledge of Shakespeare is minimal at best. I didn’t grow up reading Shakespearean text nor plays, nor did I ever attend any drama class where Old English was spoken. Of course I’ve heard the term ‘To be or not to be’ but in what context it was spoken I never knew. In fact, I even forgot (or simply didn’t know) that Hamlet was Danish! So I’m not going to be presumptuous and think that everyone knows the story of Hamlet, so here’s the gist:

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, returns home to find his father murdered and his mother remarrying the murderer, his uncle. Meanwhile, a war is brewing.

The opening night scene at Elsinore, the Danish royal castle, with the three guards witnessing the ‘ghost’ of the deceased King Hamlet felt like it went on forever. But as soon as the scenes move to inside the castle depicting the festivities of the wedding between Prince Hamlet’s uncle Claudius and his mother Gertrude, things started to pick up.

I LOVE this scene. Right from when the hero of the story is introduced (as displayed in the main banner above) with an interesting camera angle that suggests Hamlet’s loneliness and despair, the entire scene is exquisitely shot. Throughout the jubilant affair, Hamlet’s expression is stoic and blatantly mournful, wearing black when everyone is dressed in colorful attire. The ending of that scene with all the confetti flying in the air is just not only looks gorgeous, but it’s really a beautiful intro into the dynamics of the main characters in the room.

There are a lot of things I admire about this film. The Shakespearean dialog can be a source of frustration to some but I really think it enriches the story way more than if they had gone with modern English. Before seeing this, the other Shakespeare adaptations I saw were Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing and Romeo & Juliet (both the Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann’s version), so I’m somewhat familiar with the ‘thou, thine, thee’ use of words but still, for the first half hour or so of watching Hamlet, I was quite overwhelmed. But after a while I actually became enthralled by it. I think the art of speaking is lost nowadays, people swear so much that every other word is replaced by some expletive to express whether disappointment or praise… so to hear people speaking in this manner with not a single f-word or JC (this one always makes my ears burn!) spoken in the entire 4-hour movie is quite refreshing.

Then there is the cast… in addition to Branagh, we’ve got Kate Winslet, Richard Attenborough, Brian Blessed, Richard Briers, Julie Christie, Billy Crystal, Judi Dench, Gérard Depardieu, John Gielgud, Rosemary Harris, Charlton Heston, Derek Jacobi, Jack Lemmon, Rufus Sewell, Timothy Spall, and Robin Williams.

Many of them only have brief cameo, but each actor brought something special to their roles. I especially enjoy seeing two of my favorite actors, Heston and Sewell, though they didn’t share a scene together. I thought Billy Crystal as the grave-maker was somewhat an unlikely choice, and he didn’t even alter his speaking voice at all. It sounded a bit jarring at first, but after a while I found it amusing. It’s quite an interesting contrast to Derek Jacobi, whose delivery is so natural it’s as if the London-born actor was actually born speaking that way.

Out of the main cast, Kate Winslet as Ophelia really stood out to me… her performance is nothing short of phenomenal. Whether she’s projecting fear of Hamlet’s madness or heartbreak as she mourns her father, her acting is simply sublime. I dare say that she perhaps eclipsed Branagh himself, though he too is impressive. I enjoy all the soliloquy scenes he did, and I always thought Branagh has a rich speaking voice. The character actors are particularly notable, especially Nicholas Farrell and Michael Maloney as Horatio and Laertes respectively, both of them had so many lines but both seemed undaunted. I recognized both of them right away from the BBC miniseries The Jury which also stars Jacobi (a fantastic legal drama btw, I highly recommend it).

I’ve since learned that this is the first “full-length” film version of Hamlet ever made and the most ‘complete.’ As I’ve mentioned, it’s one of the longest feature film I’ve ever seen, but also one of the most beautiful. There is such a grand, sweeping feel to this film, an ‘epic’ quality if you will. As it turns out, this film was shot in 65mm, in fact, as of last year, this was the last studio film to be filmed entirely using that high-resolution process. The shot is particularly effective in the castle invasion scene as the Norwegian troops came marching in. I learned in the Special Features section that the crew had to cover that entire castle compound with fake snow!

To complement the gorgeous visuals, Branagh worked with his longtime collaborator Patrick Doyle to score the movie. I adore Doyle’s work, I could easily add Hamlet‘s soundtrack as one of my favorites from the Scottish composer. So really, this film has it all… dazzling visuals, superb script, beautiful music, and fantastic cast. Oh, and a momentous ending! The film sort of opens in that main hall in Elsinore and the climax takes place in the same spot. This time, the crowd gathers to watch Hamlet and Laertes in a sword-fight. It’s an exquisite scene… not only is the duel the most action-packed scene of the whole film, it’s also packed with emotional roller coaster. All the madness, hatred and seething rage that has been building amongst them is at the boiling point, and when Hamlet finally gets to avenge his dead father, it was a great moment. It’s short-lived of course, hence the tragedy.

I’m glad I finally watch this film. I think I appreciate it even more after having seen the behind-the-scenes featurettes and interviews. It’s an ambitious endeavor but Branagh pulls it off beautifully. Now that I’ve seen this, I’m interested to see other Hamlet adaptations out there but I believe this adaptation will stand as one of the best, if not the best of them all. Definitely a piece of cinema to treasure for generations to come.

4.5 out of 5 reels

If you’ve seen this film, I’d love to know what you think. If not, what is your favorite Shakespeare film adaptation so far?