MST3K: Hamlet | Varied Celluloid

MST3K: Hamlet

Posted by Josh Samford On July - 1 - 2011

Hamlet (1961 / 1999)
Director: Kevin Murphy
Writers: Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett and Mary Jo Pehl
Starring: Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett and Mary Jo Pehl



The Plot: Mike Nelson is trapped on the Sattelite of Love in outer space with his several robot pals and they are forced to regularly endure many bad movies. The only thing that makes this process bearable is the fact that they riff and crack jokes during the entire ordeal. When Pearl, the evil woman who forces Mike to watch these movies, loses a quick bet with Mike – he gets to choose the movie this week! When he chooses any theatrical version of Hamlet that Pearl wishes, he doesn’t realize that in 1961 there was a German television film made retelling Shakespeare’s incredibly popular play. What follows is the classic story of Hamlet, the Danish tragedy, only told in a very different way than the traditional.

The Review
Hamlet is one of those episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that I have a great deal of familiarity with. I unfortunately tuned into the series during its final days on what is now the SyFy network. During the final year or so of it being aired, the channel seemed to rerun the same six or seven episodes on a weekly basis and one of those episodes just so happened to be Hamlet. I’ll be brutally honest with you right now, when I first watched this episode… I loathed it. Now, after looking online, it seems that I am not the only one who has listed it amongst the very worst episodes within the MST3K catalog. Yet, no matter how much I despised the episode, I never blamed the riffing. Although my opinion has most certainly softened towards this episode, I still contend that the very worst aspect of this episode has nothing to do with the riffing from Mike and the bots.

Without question, the main problems with this episode arise from the fact that Shakespeare’s work simply doesn’t translate into the easiest thing to lampoon. The dialogue is very much in the old English form of speaking and it is nearly impossible for Mike and the bots to actually pick out lines of dialogue in order to tag their riffs on top of. Let’s be totally honest here, in the majority of Shakespearean plays we have to pick out a word or two that we actually recognize in order to make heads or tails of what is going on anyway. You take that situation and confound it even more by adding a really muddy English dub for audio, and you have a great portion of inaudible dialogue that these guys were supposed to somehow make fun of. The guys are forced to make mostly visual jokes and find the occasional sentence that will be entirely obvious for the audience to also pick out and run with. However, most of the jokes are centered around the long and intricate monologs given by Hamlet himself, which obviously bores Mike and the bots as much as it does the audience.

The actual quality of this Hamlet production isn’t that bad. I think if this were in its native German, this could possibly be one of the more interesting productions of a Shakespearean play for the cinema. No matter what antagonism you may hold for the movie because it made for a terrible episode of MST3K, there’s no question that this is a visually creative little film. The sets throughout the movie are all designed incredibly sparse and bring to life the theatrical background of the play. It looks very stripped down and features completely black backgrounds, with very Gothic and archaic dressing within the foreground. The general look gives the movie a bleak, depressing and slightly disturbing atmosphere, which may very well translate into a very watchable version of this Shakespearean classic. Although Hamlet has always been a very dark and morbid story, without even trying this production gives it the truly horrific tone that it probably deserves.

Maximillian Schell seems expressive in the role and although we never get to hear his actual performance, he seems to get inside of his character and performs up to the task. Although I doubt this, even in its original language, would bump Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet off the mantle, I think it could very well be an interesting twist on the familiar story. Still, even though it’s nearly impossible to produce a laugh riot from a film like this, that doesn’t stop Mike and the Bots from succeeding in coming up with many jokes along the way. As the film progresses to the point of nausea, during the final act, Mike and company seem to step things up and show their overall frustration with the film as this sections makes for the most entertaining portion of the movie.


The Conclusion
Nowhere near being one of the best examples of MST3K wit, this isn’t nearly the horrible experience I remembered it being from having seen it my first time on television. Overall, even bad Mystery Science… is still going to be pretty good. I give the episode a 2 out of five.




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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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