Jaded New York audiences who saw the trailer for the slick, contemporary new film, "Hamlet," which reinvents Denmark as a corporation in New York City and has Ophelia drowned in a skyscraper lobby fountain, giggled at the prospect of the Melancholy Dane in 2000 Manhattan -- Looks pretentious and seems to dismiss the Bard's poetry and intent.
Lo and behold, the Miramax picture, which opens May 12 nationwide, is getting some of the best reviews of any movie this spring, praising the resetting by director-screenwriter Michael Almereyda.
The New York Times and The New Yorker embraced the movie, which stars Ethan Hawke as an unreachably sad and greasy Hamlet, opposite Diane Venora (of Broadway's upcoming Macbeth and various Public Theater Hamlet stagings) as Gertrude, Kyle Maclachlan as Claudius, Bill Murray as Polonius, Liev Schreiber as Laertes, Sam Shepard as Hamlet's Father and Julia Stiles as Ophelia.
Given its setting, the film is said to be faithful to the Shakespeare text, although the script is edited. There are no modern references in the language, but the visual world is contemporary and urban.
Among highlights: • The classic soliloquy ("To be or not to be...") is spoken in the "action" section of a Blockbuster Video outlet. • The "play" that catches the "conscience of the king" is a film video called "The Mousetrap" by Hamlet.
• The final scene is a sword fight that escalates into use of other weapons.
For more information, try the Miramax website at www.miramax.com.
-- By Kenneth Jones