Tonight are the Writer’s Guild Awards. Neither Cammy or I are members of the Writer’s Guild (shocking, I know) so we’re going to continue giving out our own awards.
The Award for Most Needlessly Flashy Fight Sequence in a Motion Picture…
An ordinary person might think that a fight sequence in which four of your principal characters die would have enough drama in it. But Kenneth Branagh knows that you can no more pack too much drama into a final duel sequence than you can pack too many A-list actors into one random Shakespearean movie. And that is why we here at It’s My TV, It’s My Peanut Butter bestow the inaugural award for Most Needlessly Flashy Fight Sequence in a Motion Picture upon Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 production of Hamlet.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love Kenneth Branagh in many ways. And there are several things I love about this movie. But somewhere out there is a fight choreographer with blackmail material on Mr. Branagh. (Nick Powell is credited as “fight arranger.” He’s my primary suspect.) I can’t think of any other reason for the final fight sequence to be quite so over the top.
The duel between Hamlet and Laertes clearly would not have held our attention on its own, and that’s why Branagh ratcheted things up a bit by interspersing the invasion of Fortinbras’ army. Thank goodness, it was the only thing that kept me awake. (That’s a joke, in case you’re missing my sarcasm). The pure visuals of the scene–the red carpet on the black and white floor, the mirrored hall, etc are striking, but completely overshadowed by the sheer violence of the duel, which is supposed to be, at least at the outset, amiable. But from the moment Laertes’ sword goes sliding across the tile and Hamlet makes the switch, I just can’t keep a straight face. Because next we have stairs, and glass display cases exploding as our heroes bump into them. And it’s not enough for Laertes to die from being stabbed with at poison tipped sword. No, no. We have to have him flip over the railing of the second floor walkway so that he can gurgle out his final lines while silhouetted against the black and white tiles. Brilliant!
But where this scene really loses me, is Claudius’s death. I know he’s a murdering scumbag, but is there a chance that’s a touch of overkill? Dude gets impaled with a flying fencing foil (still envenomed), pinned to his chair by a falling chandelier (complete with Tarzan!Hamlet) and then forced to drink poisoned wine. Cathartic? Yes. A little silly? Definitely.
And in the midst of all this we also kill Osric. Because we can.
For all this death and drama and use of every stage combat technique you learned in school, we give this award to your film, Mr. Branagh. Please share it with Mr. Powell and your stunt coordinator Simon Crane. Congratulations.