MAD MAX as Hamlet?
Come on. The only person who would try something like that is Franco Zeffirelli, and that he has, with surprising result.
It's all rather amazing. We've see this drama so many times, we know all the lines by heart (well, some of them), and still we are enrapt, transported, moved by the film, one that was done on locations in Scotland.
Mel Gibson may be the weakest thing about the movie, but he isn't at all bad. He is better, say, than Clint Eastwood would have been in the same part. He does tend to rant now and then, but he does extremely well with his soliloquies, and his death scene is all you'd want it to be.
Gibson was daring casting. American born, he lived in Australia from the time he was 12. As an adult, he did screen time as Mad Max,'' the futuristic Robin Hood.
Since then, he has become an international screen presence as a Hollywood star. Up to now, however, nothing has taxed him so much as the role of the mad Dane, and he need never be ashamed.
Nor should Glenn Close, who should be very proud. Close plays Queen Gertrude with remarkable sensitivity. Add this to a long line of stellar performances by this woman, who in this instance ++ is every inch the queen, mother to Hamlet and wife to her first husband's brother.
Zeffirelli has cut very little from the text. Most of it is still there and is beautifully delivered by Alan Bates (Hamlet's stepfather), Ian Holm (Polonious), Paul Scofield (Hamlet's murdered father) and Helena Bonham-Carter as the hapless Ophelia.
The biggest star of the film, however, is Zeffirelli, who gives the film pace, sweep and flow so lyrical it becomes the heart of the film. This isn't too surprising. He did the same with his screen versions of ''Romeo and Juliet'' and ''The Taming of the Shrew.'' He also did ''The Champ'' and ''Endless Love.'' It's been an interesting career, and this only adds to it.
Some of the dialogue is lost. The sound isn't always that good. Most, however, is there, ready to be heard, ready to be understood.
Some have voiced the opinion that Zeffirelli puts too much emphasis on the Oedipal relationship of Hamlet to his mother. That's a matter of interpretation. If the director does give all this more than the usual stress, he isn't all that obvious with it.
Watching ''Hamlet'' again, this particular version of it, is interesting. It is interesting listening to all the lines that have served as titles for books, plays and films, and it is interesting to see what happens to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are set to betray Hamlet but are tricked to their own deaths.
In the Zeffirelli ''Hamlet,'' the melancholy Dane comes across as something of a troublemaker, a rash young man who becomes responsible for the deaths of five people, including his mother, whose demise, in the film, is brilliantly managed by Close.
''Hamlet'' opens here today.
*** The Shakespearean tale about the prince of Denmark who lived to avenge the death of his father.
CAST: Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, Paul Scofield, Alan Bates, Helena Bonham-Carter, Ian Holm
DIRECTOR: Franco Zeffirelli
RATING: PG (violence)
) RUNNING TIME: 133 minutes