Judge Gordon Sullivan always has his Zombie Hamlet in a Zombie Omelet.
A Comedy of Errors!
Out of all of Shakespeare's plays, the one I want to love but can't is Hamlet. Something about the melancholy Dane never quite grabs me like it's canonical status tells me it should. Still, I respect the play for its richness: Hamlet can be sane. Hamlet can be mad. Hamlet can want to sleep with his mother Gertrude. Gertrude could be in on the plot to kill Old Hamlet. Gertrude can be innocent. The setting, too, can change, from dark Elsinore of Olivier to the Edwardian opulence of Branagh to modern boardrooms in Almereyda's version. Heck, audiences would even buy a Hamlet set during the Civil War. A plantation inheritance hanging in the balance, Danish aristocracy replaced by Southern aristocracy, and Fortinbras is suddenly a Union commander. It sounds a bit outlandish, but that's the point in Zombie Hamlet, a mockumentary style look at independent film production that mixes zombie, Shakespeare, and the South for comedic gumbo. It drags, but fans of indie film will recognize a lot of the difficulties the film faces.
Osric Taylor (Travis Wester, God Bless America) is an indie filmmaker with a dream: to adapt Shakespeare's Hamlet, but set in the Old South as an homage to Gone with the Wind. He convinces an investor to give $24 million for the budget, but when he pulls out, they get funding from Hester Beauchamp (June Lockheart, Lost in Space), who owns the plantation the film will be shot on. However, she only has $300,000, and there have to be zombies in the movie. When she turns up dead before shooting starts, Taylor and his crew will commit any fraud to keep their movie alive.
Zombie Hamlet is basically a mockumentary/found-footage hybrid. Because Taylor and his crew are making a film, there's always a camera on capturing "behind the scenes" footage for the eventual DVD release. That means we're watching a film that's about the making of another film (which is the closest the film really gets to mimicking Hamlet and its play-within-a-play structure). Since this is a comedy, everything that can possibly go wrong with the production does. From securing financing by selling out (initially Taylor asks for $42 million, then settles for $24 million, and finally ends up with $300,000), to falling in love with his co-star, to difficulty getting the zombies to behave on camera, Zombie Hamlet documents an indie production run amok.
The film's big problem is that it doesn't quite know what it's poking fun at. With most of the more famous mockumentary films, we get a peek into an otherwise unknown world. Take the work of Christopher Guest. Waiting for Guffman looks at small-town theater, while Best in Show takes us inside the world of competitive dog shows. Even This is Spinal Tap was made before Behind the Music became a ubiquitous feature of music television. In contrast, Zombie Hamlet enters a world rife with real-life documentaries that are themselves absurd. Hearts of Darkness captures the infamously disastrous shoot of Apocalypse Now, and any recent Troma release has a documentary included that showcases just how far people will go to make an independent feature. Truth, in this case, really is stranger than fiction. So Zombie Hamlet pulls out a bunch of stock characters (ooh, the producer is smarmy; how funny and original!) and puts them in the difficult straits of an indie production. Some of it is funny, but not nearly enough of the jokes land to make the 85-minute experience worthwhile.
Luckily, it's not all terrible. The cast are all pretty game, and it's especially fun to see the foul-mouthed Jason Mewes (Dogma) not resort to his usual blend of profanity. The DVD is also okay. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer looks like a clean, contemporary take on a modern HD source. Generally things are bright and clear, with solid detail. Black levels are deep enough, especially during night-time scenes, and colors are well saturated. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track keeps dialogue audible throughout, and adds some surround action during the more zombiefied scenes. The disc's lone extra is the film's trailer (which, to be honest, is probably all most viewers should watch as it encapsulates all the greatness of the premise with none of the film's downtime).
I wanted to like Zombie Hamlet. Despite the fact that I'm a fan of both Shakespeare and zombies, Zombie Hamlet misses the mark by going for a found-footage/mockumentary approach to a subject that just didn't need to be poked fun at. It might be worth a rental for fans of the actors (including Jason Mewes), but most viewers can skip this one.
Probably shouldn't have been reanimated. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Level 33 Entertainment
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