Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hamlet 2 : Should There Have Been Only One?

Last night on the redeye flight back from California I finally got to watch Hamlet 2.  For a week I’d been seeing a steady Twitter-stream of comments from people that either loved or hated it.

I can’t say I loved it, but man it wasn’t good.  I wrote on Twitter that it had 4 minutes of good in it, a comment I’ll explain in a moment.

Hopefully everybody saw the trailers when they came out, and our discussion.  The plot : A really bad drama teacher attempts to save his drama department by putting on a play so bad that it’ll get everybody’s attention and turn into one of those “so bad it comes back around to good” things.  The bigger plot : It’s also insanely offensive and stupid (you did see Jesus and Hamlet together on the time machine, right?  They did not, however, show the president French-kissing Satan in the commercials), so it turns into a big free speech thing, blah blah “We heard it’s offensive so we want it banned even though we never saw it for ourselves”, all that sort of stuff.  Throw in some self-satire about “inspirational teacher” movies – the bad drama teacher is obsessed with writing stage versions of movies, and wants to model his life story on something like Mr. Holland’s Opus or perhaps Dangerous Minds – and you’ve got everything you need to know.

The movie itself is just pieced together scenes from other movies, perhaps on purpose.  You’ve got the gangbanger kid who doesn’t want to be in a play, but turns out to be the best actor in the group…who then has to quit the show because his parents are making him.  You’ve got a teacher’s pet who learns to let her hair down, and a theatre major figuring out that he’s gay.  There’s a whole subplot about his wife leaving him that’s so bad I don’t understand why it was there to begin with, you could have shot one scene at the beginning with him coming home to an empty house, and saved yourself about 25 minutes of film.

There are a handful of funny moments, almost all of the outrageous/shock variety – somebody comes out with a stream of curse words, or shows up naked when you didn’t expect it, or falls down.

The plot of the story, which I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet, shows Jesus bringing Hamlet back in a time machine.  Hamlet is going to go back and correct everything so that no one dies.   I don’t think it’s “taking the tragedy out of the tragedy” as one character puts it – I think it’s exploring what it means to want to go back and make amends, and using the world’s greatest tragedy as the canvas to depict how that might go.

It comes at 1:19 into the movie (yes, unfortunately for me, I waited 79 minutes for this).   You know what I’m going to say.  It’s when we actually start seeing Shakespearean content.  The entire movie up this point has been stupid, and quite frankly could just as easily have been a movie about Ghandi and Martin Luther King, for all the Shakespeare it had in it.  But then there’s Gertrude, poisoned cup in hand ready to drink, and a time-travelling Hamlet comes lunging in (in slow-motion, no less) to bat the cup from her hand. 

There’s those damned lightning bolts up my spine.  It happens every time, and I love it. 

I won’t spoil things, but we then get about 4 minutes of the play-within-the-movie and you do get to see Hamlet’s quest to put everything right.  I was intrigued, I have to admit.  It’s not dumb, it has no Jesus in it, no sex and violence. It is exactly what I described – Hamlet trying to undo the tide of tragedy around him. 

And then it’s over, and we’re back to the regular movie.  At first I thought, “That could have been a 4 minute YouTube clip and I would have enjoyed it more”, but that’s not really fair.  By the time the play does go on, you know more about the characters, at least one or two of them.  So maybe instead of a 4minute clip it could have been a 15minute short film.


If you’re like me and the only reason you’d consider looking at this movie is for the Shakespeare references, you know all you need to know.  There are maybe one or two other references sprinkled throughout the play (meeting the student’s parents was a particularly good one), but they’re clearly not important to the movie.


Jack Morgan said...

It was as if they didn't know what kind of movie they wanted to make, so they made a movie that fit what focus groups told them was the only way young people would see a film about Shakes.
They should have called it "Dude, Where's My Shakespeare."

ren girl said...

Yeah..I saw it & felt that it could have been a really fun movie with about seven rewrites of the script. It had little flashes of "oh hey! that's really funny!" that were mostly drowned out by the stupidity.
I did find "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" to be hilarious, although I come from that as a musical fan (it's pretty much great musical theater satire).

I also wanted to see a little more of the play-within-a-movie. A 15-minute short film might have been the way to go...

Duane said...

I agree that the musical number was hilarious - months ago, when it was released on YouTube. Inside the movie it was just another random scene that didn't fit with everything else - ho hum, snip here, quick cut there, random shots of the play....oh wait, let's do a full blown musical number!....ok, back to random quick cuts....