Theatre trivia fans will want to check their watches when they go in to see Kenneth Branagh's film version of William Shakespeare's Hamlet starting Dec. 25. There's no doubt that it's a long movie based on a long play. But a dispute has erupted over precisely how long the film is.
Variety newspaper reports that Columbia, which is distributing the picture, claims the film is 238 minutes long. But Daily Variety's chief critic Todd McCarthy clocked it at 242 minutes. Another Variety critic, Derek Elley, counted 246 minutes.
If Elley is correct, that would mean that Hamlet will make movie history as the longest U.S. or British sound film ever released -- longer even than Cleopatra, reportedly the current record-holder at 243 minutes.
For the math-shy, that's four hours and three minutes. Add the planned intermission and you have a full evening of poetry and drama.
Hamlet is Shakespeare's longest play and the character of Hamlet has more lines than any other single Shakespearean character. It's usually cut for stage performance, but Branagh insisted on filming virtually the entire script. According to Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide, the 1990 Mel Gibson Hamlet ran 135 minutes; Nichol Williamson's 1969 Hamlet ran only 114 minutes; Laurence Olivier's famous 1948 version ran 153 minutes.
Cinema operators reportedly are unhappy that they'll be able to fill their theatres only once per night, but hope to make up the difference at the snack bars during the intermission.
Despite earlier reports, distributor Castle Rock has decided not to release a trimmed two and a half-hour version to theatres outside New York and Los Angeles, though the shorter version will be shown on airplanes, TV and in foreign markets, according to the New York Post.
-- By Robert Viagas