Tuesday, October 2, 2012

MST3K: Episode 1009 - Hamlet, Prinz von Dänemark

I'm watching all of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes in order. More about that here and here.

Episode 1009: Hamlet, Prinz von Dänemark

First aired: Sci-Fi Channel on 27 June 1999
Availability: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Amazon DVD (Solo), Amazon DVD (Volume 4), Rhino (Volume 4/out of print), Shout (Solo), Best Brains (Solo)

To riff, or not to riff...
Who doesn't like Shakespeare? Even Klingons love Shakespeare.

So, why would the MST3K crew poke fun at one of Shakespeare's most famous plays?

Simple. Because they can.

But, with the entire premise of the show being that they show really bad movies, how do you work in one of Shakespeare's greatest works?

"To be, or not to be..."
They found a way.

They had Mike winning a bet with Pearl, and him getting to choose the movie. He chose Hamlet. Didn't matter which version. Only it did. Pearl sent the Maximilian Schell version.

Not familiar with that one? It was made for German TV in 1961. That should tell you a lot.

So, what's this version about?

Duh, it's Hamlet.

"Alas, poor Yorick!"
Sentinels see a spectre of the late King Hamlet wandering around, and Prince Hamlet's friend Horatio sees the ghost too, so he gets Prince Hamlet to show up the next night, and, sure enough, Prince Hamlet sees the ghost of King Hamlet who tells him that Claudius, the King's brother who looks like Oliver Reed but sounds like Ricardo Montalban, murdered the king and married Gertrude, the King's widow and Prince Hamlet's mother, and the ghost wants Prince Hamlet to avenge his murder, and Hamlet agrees, planning to act all crazy and such until he gets the chance to kill Claudius, and, sure enough, everyone decides Hamlet is nuts, including Ophelia, who Hamlet has the hots for, and she hears him contemplating suicide ("To be, or not to be..."), but Hamlet is concerned that Claudius may not be guilty, but he hires some performers to put on a play that re-enacts the king's death, and Hamlet figures that Claudius is guilty based on how he reacts, then Gertrude summons Hamlet, demanding an explanation for his actions, and while there, he finds someone hiding in the curtains and kills him, thinking it's Claudius, but it's Polonius, Ophelia's father who sounds like Sgt. Schultz, which upsets Ophelia and drives her crazy and pisses off Laertes, Ophelia's brother, who wants to kill Hamlet, then Ophelia kills herself, and while folks are digging Ophelia's grave, Hamlet finds Yorick's skull, and gets in the "Alas, poor Yorick!" line, and at the funeral Hamlet and Laertes exchange words, but then have a fencing match later, where Laertes, in concert with Claudius, plans to kill Hamlet with a poison foil and a backup plan of poison wine, only Gertrude drinks the poison wine, Hamlet gets stabbed with the poison, but then stabs Laertes with the poison sword, then stabs Claudius and makes him drink the poison wine, and everybody dies except Horatio. The end.

"Lay on, Macduff!" Oh, wait. That's a different play.
The truth of the matter is that, while Hamlet is considered a masterpiece, it is a long and plodding story. There's lots of talking because, well, that's how they did stuff then. Storytelling by ... telling the story ... with some action thrown in. To keep the rating up, I suppose.

They had some serious fun with the production, poking fun at the outfits, like the ghost looking like Patti Labelle; at the accents, like Claudius being dubbed by Ricardo Montalban and Polonius being dubbed by John Banner; and the overly-long talking scenes, like the talking Hamlet doll with the pull-string that extends to the far reached of the ship.

This may be one of the worst versions of Hamlet you've seen, excluding any put on by amateurs. And, what makes it so bad is the sound and video quality of 1961 television. Oh, and it's in another language. Of course, most of the writing from Elizabethan England sounds like another language. But translated to German, then dubbed back into English? Yeah, that might make it MST3K-worthy.

This episode aired 11 times from 1999 to 2003, and I saw a lot of those airings. Part of the time, I watched it just to watch Hamlet. Most of the time, though, I watched it for the riffing.

Trust me on this: watch it for the riffing.

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