Hamlet (1990)

PG | 135 mins | Drama | 19 December 1990

Director:

Franco Zeffirelli

Producer:

Dyson Lovell

Cinematographer:

David Watkin

Editor:

Richard Marden

Production Designer:

Dante Ferretti

Production Company:

Icon Productions
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HISTORY

       Christopher De Vore and Franco Zeffirelli’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet cut nearly three hours of action from the play, which often runs five hours in live performance. A 6 Jan 1991 LAT article pointed out some of the changes made to the original text, including the placement of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy after the “nunnery scene” between “Hamlet” and “Ophelia,” instead of before it. In addition, the nunnery scene did not actually contain the line, “Get thee to a nunnery,” which was moved to the “play within a play” sequence. Hamlet’s advice to the “players” was also cut, along with any mention of an additional speech he inserted into the play, The Mousetrap.
       Items in the 7 Apr 1989 issues of HR and DV stated screenwriter-director Franco Zeffirelli and producer Dyson Lovell would adapt Hamlet for the screen, as announced the day before at a press conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA, attended by Mel Gibson, who was cast as Hamlet. Zeffirelli chose Gibson, whose starring roles in the Lethal Weapon series had made him a highly bankable movie star, in an attempt to lure a younger audience, as the director had done with his 1968 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (see entry). In a 7 Apr 1989 LAT item, Zeffirelli was quoted as saying, “It’s very seldom that (Shakespearean) plays are done in a way that kids can identify with…and I think I’ve found a way to accomplish that.” According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Zeffirelli ... More Less

       Christopher De Vore and Franco Zeffirelli’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet cut nearly three hours of action from the play, which often runs five hours in live performance. A 6 Jan 1991 LAT article pointed out some of the changes made to the original text, including the placement of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy after the “nunnery scene” between “Hamlet” and “Ophelia,” instead of before it. In addition, the nunnery scene did not actually contain the line, “Get thee to a nunnery,” which was moved to the “play within a play” sequence. Hamlet’s advice to the “players” was also cut, along with any mention of an additional speech he inserted into the play, The Mousetrap.
       Items in the 7 Apr 1989 issues of HR and DV stated screenwriter-director Franco Zeffirelli and producer Dyson Lovell would adapt Hamlet for the screen, as announced the day before at a press conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA, attended by Mel Gibson, who was cast as Hamlet. Zeffirelli chose Gibson, whose starring roles in the Lethal Weapon series had made him a highly bankable movie star, in an attempt to lure a younger audience, as the director had done with his 1968 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (see entry). In a 7 Apr 1989 LAT item, Zeffirelli was quoted as saying, “It’s very seldom that (Shakespearean) plays are done in a way that kids can identify with…and I think I’ve found a way to accomplish that.” According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Zeffirelli and Lovell had previously collaborated on an abortive stage production of Hamlet in 1980 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, CA.
       A 7 Feb 1990 Var brief reported Nelson Entertainment had acquired U.S. distribution rights, while Sovereign Pictures would handle foreign sales. Gibson had already arrived in England in preparation for the shoot, which was scheduled to begin 23 Apr 1990, on the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birthday.
       The budget was cited as $10.5 million in a 19 Dec 1990 LAT article. However, production costs rose to $15.5 million, and in a 20 Dec 1990 DV brief, Dyson Lovell stated the final budget was $16 million. Mel Gibson and Glenn Close were paid “just above scale” and promised percentages of the film’s box-office gross. Other actors, including Alan Bates, Ian Holm, Paul Scofield, and Helena Bonham-Carter, also took salary cuts, as noted in the 10 Jan 1991 LAT. Financing was provided by Dutch bank Pierson, Heldring & Pierson N.V., based on advance sales to Nelson, Sovereign, and Carolco, which had acquired distribution rights for England, France, and Italy.
       Although a 7 Feb 1990 Var brief announced a fourteen-week shooting schedule, later reports stated filming was completed in eleven weeks. Locations included Dover Castle in the southern county of Kent, England, which, along with Blackness Castle in Blackness, Scotland, and Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven, Scotland, stood in for Elsinore Royal Castle. For a weathered look, the castle exteriors were covered in a mixture of coal dust and water. Interior scenes were filmed at Shepperton Studios in England.
       Costume designer Maurizio Millenotti was called to the set two weeks prior to filming, after original costume designer Norma Moriceau quit the project for unspecified reasons, as noted in a Feb 1991 Theatre Crafts item. With very little time to work, Millenotti abandoned sketches, taking inspiration from “statuary at medieval cathedrals throughout Europe, including Chartres, Hamburg, and Parma.” Fabrics for Gibson and Alan Bates’s costumes came from Italy, and costumes, made primarily of wool and silk, were assembled by tailors at Shepperton Studios. A 19 Dec 1990 LAT brief criticized the costumes as overly clean for the time period, but praised the jewelry and described the crowns as “absolutely on-11th-Century target.”
       The first edit ran almost three hours. Scenes that were cut included Hamlet’s “trippingly on the tongue” speech to the actors, and the soliloquy in which Hamlet forlornly states, “Oh that this too, too solid flesh should melt.”
       The film garnered positive word-of-mouth during post-production, drawing the attention of major studios, including Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures, that had previously turned down the project. Despite Nelson Entertainment’s non-exclusive deals with Orion Pictures and Tri-Star Pictures, and Orion’s insistence that Hamlet was on its release schedule as of 24 Jul 1990, Warner Bros. was announced as domestic distributor in a 25 Jul 1990 HR article, which cited Warner Bros.’ objective to cast Gibson in Lethal Weapon 3 as an added incentive to distribute Hamlet. Warner Bros. paid $6 million for U.S. and Canadian theatrical distribution rights, as well as home video rights. The film marked the first Nelson Entertainment production that was not released through Nelson’s own home video division, or Orion Home Video, which had acted as Nelson’s “video sales agent for the past two years,” according to a 22 Aug 1990 HR article.
       As part of the promotional campaign, Warner Bros. targeted high schools, sending out over 100,000 direct mailings to principals and English teachers, as stated in a 24 Jan 1991 LAT article. Mailings included study guides and applications for discount coupons which would allow students to see the film for a reduced $3.50 ticket price. In Dec 1990, Gibson filmed a fifty-four-minute educational video titled Mel Gibson Goes Back to School, over the course of two visits to University High School in West Los Angeles. The actor was shown workshopping Hamlet with tenth-graders, and coaching them in scenes from the play. 18,000 copies of Mel Gibson Goes Back to School were sent to high schools.
       The 22 Aug 1990 HR stated the film would open in mid-to-late Dec 1990 in Los Angeles, New York City, and Toronto, Canada, to qualify for Academy Award consideration. In advance of the 18 Dec 1990 world premiere at Mann’s Village Theatre in Westwood, CA, a 2 Dec 1990 LAT item reported the Shakespeare Globe Centre Western Region contacted stamp dealers across the U.S. for 1964 Shakespeare stamps to affix to roughly 3,000 invitations. Guests included 300 Shakespeare teachers. After the premiere screening, guests were transported via London taxis and double-decker buses to a reception at the recently unveiled Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center. The event raised an unspecified amount for the International Shakespearean Globe Centre, a new structure set to begin construction in Feb 1991, and $75,000 for the Globe Theatre’s Western Regional educational program, as noted in the 20 Dec 1990 DV. Another benefit screening took place at AMC Century City Theater on 17 Dec 1990, with proceeds going toward the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).
       According to the 10 Jan 1991 LAT, Gibson was headed home to Australia, “numb from a promotional tour” in support of Hamlet. However, the actor would continue to promote the film while in Australia, as stated in a 22 Jan 1991 HR item, attending premieres in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne in mid-Feb 1991. Gibson was also planning to launch a “Mel Gibson Village Roadshow Scholarship,” to be funded by a to-be-determined portion of Australian box-office grosses.
       Critical reception was mixed. While the 19 Dec 1990 LAT review claimed that Daniel Day-Lewis or Kenneth Branagh would have been better suited for the lead role, a 6 Jan 1991 editorial piece in LAT called Mel Gibson “the most unaffected and lucid Hamlet in memory.” The film received Academy Award nominations for Art Direction and Costume Design, and was named one of the top ten films of the year by the National Board of Review. Box-office earnings amounted to $20 million, according to an 8 Aug 1991 LAT item, which also noted that Hamlet was doing “ok” in its second week of home video release.
      End credits include the following statements: “The Producers wish to thank: English Heritage and Scottish Historic Buildings and Monuments, The Rt. Hon Charles Pearson, Dunecht Estate, and the town of Stonehaven, Scotland, for their co-operation”; “The Producers wish to express their Special Thanks to Nigel Sinclair”; “The Producers also gratefully acknowledge the significant contribution made by the following: (in alphabetical order) Dalisa Cohen, Alexander Gelderman, Bryan Isaacs, Ruth Jackson, Mario Kassar, Paul Kijzer, Eveleen McCormack, Charles Meeker, Kari Ann Messina, Richard Northcott, John Ort, Barry Spikings”; and “Made at Lee International Studios, Shepperton, England, and on Location in Scotland and Kent.”
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
7 Apr 1989.
---
Daily Variety
14 May 1990.
---
Daily Variety
22 Aug 1990
p. 1, 26.
Daily Variety
13 Nov 1990.
---
Daily Variety
26 Nov 1990.
---
Daily Variety
19 Dec 1990
p. 2, 20.
Daily Variety
20 Dec 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Apr 1989
p. 1, 65.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jul 1990
p. 1, 20.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Aug 1990
p. 1, 26.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Nov 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Dec 1990
p. 6, 24.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jan 1991.
---
Los Angeles Times
7 Apr 1989
Calendar, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
2 Dec 1990
Section E, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times
19 Dec 1990
Calendar, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
19 Dec 1990
Section E, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
19 Dec 1990
Calendar, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
20 Dec 1990
Section E, p. 30.
Los Angeles Times
6 Jan 1991
Calendar, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
10 Jan 1991
Calendar, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
24 Jan 1991
Section F, p. 1, 9.
New York Times
19 Dec 1990
p. 15.
Theatre Crafts
Feb 1991.
---
Variety
7 Feb 1990.
---
Variety
24 Dec 1990
pp. 37-38.
Village Voice
1 Jan 1991.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Warner Bros. and Nelson Entertainment Present
An Icon Production
A Franco Zeffirelli Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
3d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Focus puller
Loader
Cam trainee
Cam trainee
Stills photog
Gaffer
Elec
Standby
Standby
Standby
Standby
Standby
Cam & lenses by
Grip equip
Lighting equip supplied by
Boat seq filmed by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Supv art dir
Art dir
Art dir
Art dir
Art dir
Art dept runner
FILM EDITORS
1st asst ed
2d asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Const coord
Prod buyer
Scenic artist
Draughtsman
Draughtsman
Prop master
Prop storeman
C/H standby prop
Standby prop
C/H dressing prop
Dressing props
Dressing props
Drapes master
Chargehand
Chargehand
Const mgr Scotland
Const storeman
H.O.D. painter
H.O.D. carpenter
H.O.D. plasterer
Supv carpenter
Supv carpenter
Supv carpenter
Supv plasterer
Supv rigger
C/H stagehand
C/H rigger
C/H painter
C/H carpenter
C/H plasterer
C/H plasterer
C/H painter
C/H painter
C/H plasterer labourer
Sculptor/Modeller
Sculptor/Modeller
Props and armour supplier by
Rome
Props and armour supplied by
Florence
COSTUMES
Ward supv
Asst cost des
Asst cost des
Asst cost des
Ward asst
Ward asst
Ward asst
Ward asst
Ward asst
Cost supplied by
Florence
Cost supplied by
Rome
Cost supplied by
Rome
Cost supplied by
London
Principal jewelry des and supplied by
Hand woven fabrics by
MUSIC
Mus comp, orch and cond by
Mus ed
Mus rec at
Rome
Gen music coord
Medieval mus performed by
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom swinger
Sd maintenance
Dial ed
Footsteps ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Sd transfers
VISUAL EFFECTS
Main title des by
MAKEUP
Mr. Gibson's makeup
Ms. Close's makeup
Supv makeup artist
Makeup asst
Supv hairdresser
Hairdresser
Hairdresser
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod controller
Prod supv
Casting dir
Voice coach
Scr supv
Pub coord
Duel arr by
Prod coord
Prod's asst
Asst to Mr. Zeffirelli
Asst to Mr. Zeffirelli
Asst to Mr. Gibson
Asst to Ms. Close
Prod runner
Pub asst
Prod accountant
Accounts asst
Horse master
Medical officer
Unit nurse
Unit driver
Unit driver
Unit driver
Unit driver
Unit driver
Marketing consultants
Loc catering by
Loc vehicles supplied by
Scripts prepared by
Legal services
Los Angeles
Legal services
London
Completion guaranty supplied by
Made in association with
Made in association with
Made in association with
with
Prod lender
STAND INS
Stunt double
Stunt double
Stunt double
COLOR PERSONNEL
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare (London, 1601, published 1603).
DETAILS
Release Date:
19 December 1990
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles world premiere: 18 December 1990 at Mann's Village Theatre
Los Angeles and New York openings: 19 December 1990
Production Date:
began 23 April 1990
Copyright Claimant:
World Icon, N.V.
Copyright Date:
26 April 1991
Copyright Number:
PA518822
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Prints
Photographed on Agfa XT colour negative
Duration(in mins):
135
MPAA Rating:
PG
Countries:
United Kingdom, France, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
30812
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

At Elsinore Royal Castle in Denmark, Queen Gertrude and her son, Prince Hamlet, mourn the death of King Hamlet. Claudius, Prince Hamlet’s uncle, reminds the prince he is next in line to the throne and promises to love him like a father. Less than two months later, however, Claudius has married Gertrude and assumed the throne, sending Hamlet into a bitter depression. One day, the new king’s chief counselor, Polonius, grants his son, Laertes, permission to return to France. Laertes seeks out his beautiful sister, Ophelia, and warns her to stay away from Hamlet, insisting the prince’s romantic interest in her can only be fleeting since she is not royal. Polonius sees Laertes off, urging him to be true to himself. As Laertes rides away, Polonius forbids Ophelia from seeing Hamlet. Pacing the castle walls, Hamlet eavesdrops but is interrupted by Horatio, his friend and classmate at Wittenberg. Horatio has come for the funeral, but Hamlet irritably informs him that a wedding has already taken place in its wake. Horatio surprises Hamlet with news that he saw King Hamlet the night before, and reveals that two watchmen have spotted the king’s ghost the past three nights. Hamlet suspects that if his father’s ghost is roaming the castle, his death must have been a result of foul play, and agrees to join the men on their next watch. That night, Hamlet sees his father’s ghost, who reveals that Claudius, his own brother, murdered him by pouring poison into his ear during a nap. The ghost urges Hamlet to avenge his death, but asks him not to hurt Gertrude, who will be troubled enough by her own guilt. Stunned by the ... +


At Elsinore Royal Castle in Denmark, Queen Gertrude and her son, Prince Hamlet, mourn the death of King Hamlet. Claudius, Prince Hamlet’s uncle, reminds the prince he is next in line to the throne and promises to love him like a father. Less than two months later, however, Claudius has married Gertrude and assumed the throne, sending Hamlet into a bitter depression. One day, the new king’s chief counselor, Polonius, grants his son, Laertes, permission to return to France. Laertes seeks out his beautiful sister, Ophelia, and warns her to stay away from Hamlet, insisting the prince’s romantic interest in her can only be fleeting since she is not royal. Polonius sees Laertes off, urging him to be true to himself. As Laertes rides away, Polonius forbids Ophelia from seeing Hamlet. Pacing the castle walls, Hamlet eavesdrops but is interrupted by Horatio, his friend and classmate at Wittenberg. Horatio has come for the funeral, but Hamlet irritably informs him that a wedding has already taken place in its wake. Horatio surprises Hamlet with news that he saw King Hamlet the night before, and reveals that two watchmen have spotted the king’s ghost the past three nights. Hamlet suspects that if his father’s ghost is roaming the castle, his death must have been a result of foul play, and agrees to join the men on their next watch. That night, Hamlet sees his father’s ghost, who reveals that Claudius, his own brother, murdered him by pouring poison into his ear during a nap. The ghost urges Hamlet to avenge his death, but asks him not to hurt Gertrude, who will be troubled enough by her own guilt. Stunned by the news that his father was murdered, Hamlet wanders the castle and observes Gertrude and Claudius at a dinner party. He calls Gertrude a “most pernicious woman” and Claudius a villain, and tells Horatio and the watchmen to keep his father’s ghost a secret. The next day, Hamlet’s mental state has further unraveled when he visits Ophelia in her fabric workshop. Chief counselor Polonius spies as Hamlet seizes Ophelia, then lets her go and stalks out of the room without a word. Showing Gertrude and Claudius a love letter Hamlet wrote Ophelia, Polonius blames Hamlet’s mental instability on his infatuation with Ophelia. The three arrange a chance meeting between Hamlet and Ophelia, in order to overhear their conversation. As planned, Hamlet comes across Ophelia on his regular morning walk, and she returns a necklace he gave her. Scorned by the rejection, Hamlet denies ever having loved her. He shoves her against a wall and tells her to marry a fool, because wise men know what monsters women make of them. Hamlet then declares an end to marriage, and states that all married people shall live, except one. Based on the exchange, Claudius determines Hamlet should be sent away to England. That day, Hamlet takes refuge in the castle catacombs and ponders the question, “To be or not to be?” He wonders if he should take action against Claudius, or sit back and be victim to “outrageous fortune.” Later, he is met by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two friends who have come to visit, although Hamlet rightly suspects they were sent by Claudius. A company of actors soon arrives, and Hamlet decides to use them to pique Claudius’s guilty conscience. Before that night’s performance, Hamlet coaches the actors in a version of The Mousetrap, a play about a murdered king. Hamlet finds Ophelia in the audience and instructs her to take refuge in a nunnery. As the play begins, he watches Claudius react to the murder plot and derives great pleasure when Claudius is disturbed by a scene in which the “Murderer” pours poison into the “Player King’s” ear. Later, Hamlet goes to see his mother in her bedchamber, where she reprimands him for offending his “father.” Hamlet counters that it is Gertrude who has offended his father, referring to the deceased king. He senses that Polonius is eavesdropping from behind a tapestry and spears him. Polonius drops dead, causing Gertrude to panic over the wretched act her son committed. Hamlet claims it was no more wretched than his father’s murder. He mounts Gertrude on her bed, and she kisses her son passionately. Hamlet returns the kiss, but stops when he sees his father’s ghost. Gertrude’s fears that her son has gone insane are reaffirmed when she sees him talking to a ghost she cannot see. The ghost reminds Hamlet of his purpose: to kill Claudius. Reinvigorated, Hamlet forbids Gertrude from allowing Claudius into her bed again, then drags Polonius’s dead body out of the room. Gertrude informs Claudius of Polonius’s death. Claudius sends guards to search for Hamlet, who agrees to leave for England that night. Claudius gives Hamlet’s escorts, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two sealed letters for the King of England, instructing the monarch to kill Hamlet. Before he leaves, Hamlet promises Gertrude he will outwit Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, whom he does not trust, and return to Elsinore. Soon after, having lost both her father and Hamlet, Ophelia loses her sanity and drowns herself. On the ship to England, Hamlet finds Claudius’s letters ordering his death and replaces them with identical letters instructing the King of England to kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern instead. Hamlet makes his way back to Elsinore. Passing through the cemetery, he sees a funeral party approaching and hides. Realizing the funeral is for Ophelia, he emerges from behind a gravestone and places flowers on her dead body. Laertes, who has returned from France, learns that Hamlet killed Polonius and conspires with Claudius to avenge his own father’s death. Hamlet is asked to take part in a fencing match against Laertes, who secretly applies a deadly poison to one of his swords. As the fencing match begins, Claudius announces he will drink to Hamlet if he gets the first couple of sword hits. Hamlet succeeds, and Claudius drinks from a chalice, then drops a pearl in the wine and encourages Hamlet to drink. Hamlet refuses and continues the match. Meanwhile, Gertrude picks up the chalice and drinks, to the distress of Claudius. Laertes selects his poisoned sword for the next bout, while Gertrude suddenly takes ill. Realizing she has been poisoned, Gertrude looks accusingly at Claudius. Laertes slices Hamlet’s arm with the poisoned sword, which Hamlet commandeers and uses to spear his opponent. Gertrude reaches out to warn Hamlet that he has been tricked, but drops dead. Laertes informs Hamlet they will both soon die from the poison, and Claudius is to blame. Hamlet attacks Claudius and forces the rest of the poisoned wine down his throat, killing him. Finally, Hamlet takes ill and lies down by his mother, bidding the “wretched queen” goodbye. In his dying breath, Hamlet beseeches Horatio to live and tell his story. Horatio responds, “Good night, sweet prince.” +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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