Friday, October 16, 2015

Wholock: A Comparison & Review of Cumberbatch and Tennants Hamlets

(I will admit I first watched Sherlock and fell in love with Benedict Cumberbatch's acting skills, but then my children introduced me to Doctor Who and now I have come to adore David Tennant.  As you can see, I am either quite fickle or just lean toward the English actors. I have always favored Patrick Stewart over William Shatner.)

I am ashamed to say that David Tennat's Hamlet is the first I have ever watched.  I have read and watched other Shakespeare plays but never viewed  Hamlet, always telling myself  I would rent the Kenneth Branagh version at some point in my life, but thinking it might just be a drudge.  I was mistaken.   Hamlet has many layers  it would seem.

The Dane is Mad!! Or is he?

My initial reaction to David Tennant's interpretation of Hamlet was that surely he must be truly mad. Tennant appeared to know exactly what someone with rapid cycling Bipolar disorder might act like.  The sadness and weeping, the jumping about, fevered speech, and the need to grab and hold people and invade their space.  Then sudden solitude and quietness --- introspection. I thought possibly David Tennat had once been diagnosed with bipolar disorder he seemed to play it so spot on -- at least in my eyes.   I googled bipolar and David Tennat and came up with nothing except that he once acted the part of a Manic/Depressive in a series on the BBC called Taken Over the Asylum.  The series was filmed at an actual asylum and some of the patients were used as extras.  Possibly this is where he learned to play a mad man so well?

Their is a debate amongst Shakespeare scholars on whether Hamlet is truly mad or just acting as if he is mad.  I believe Tennant is playing him as truly mad and Cumberbatch as acting as if he is mad.  A couple of  scenes reveal a contrast of their style and how the madness may be interpreted.  When the Hamlets meet the ghost, Tennant's Hamlet rushes up to his father and hugs him, Cumberbatch cowers in fear- what a sane man would more likely do.  Tennant takes his sword and cuts his hand to swear a blood oath to his father  and Cumberbatch writes a note in a book.  Not only can the cutting of his hand be thought of as a sign of allegiance but often cutting and mutilating part of the body is used in mentally ill individuals as a release of emotions that are too overwhelming to bear. Tennant's Hamlet has this cut wrapped with a cloth through out the play to remind him of his oath to his father.

We see another contrast between true madness and play acting mad in the initial scenes with Ophelia and Guildenstien and Rosencrantz.  Cumberbatch's Hamlet dresses up in a toy soldier uniform hops on a table and walks slowly like a robot Toy Soldier.  When meeting Rosencrantz and Guildenstein he is in a play castle - playing the part of a Toy Soldier.  Although I believe in a manic state you might very well enjoy wearing the brightly colored uniform of a toy soldier,  the scene struck me as more of what "sane" people might think a mad person would act like.  And I noticed during this same scene, I could understand Cumberbatch's words far better. Often times it seems that Tennat's words come speeding out of his mouth -  he seems to have the more pressured speech patterns you might see in someone that is manic -- but of course as an actor -- Tennant has to be able to not talk so fast that no one can understand what he is saying.  After all the audience has to understand the words. In these scenes, Tennat's Hamlet just uses his actions and words to signify his madness instead of dressing up in the part. Although some reviewers believer that the muscle T-shirt and bare feet are dressing up a bit.   I read one review that stated that Tennat acted too manic. What the reviewer didn't understand that in madness you are often "too much" of everything -- too sad, too happy, too quick, too bright, too slow, too grabby -- and "normal "  people often hate too much of anything.  It seems our world  prides itself on mediocrity and sameness.

One might ask how either Hamlet could be mad because  they both do state that they are play acting as if mad.  And both Hamlets seem to "ham" it up at times and play act madness.  This hamming it up is often seen when the Hamlets are interacting with Polonious.  Actually the Polonious in Tennant's Hamlet would drive any one mad but we will speak of that later.   You can be mad and know that you are mad and still act even madder.  Their is a bipolar spectrum --  from mild hypomania to full blown  manic episode and psychosis.  Often times people know that they are insane but cannot control their impulses.  There are also those that are insane but are totally unaware of it.  I think Tennant's Hamlet knows he is insane and uses it to his advantage.  Cumberbatch's Hamlet is most likely extremely depressed about his father's death but I don't think he is manic.   He seems to use the play acting of his madness as a way to delay any action on his part while he decides whether or not to seek vengeance.

Now on to that famous speech -- "To Be or Not to Be"

Tennants speech is depressed, quiet sad and seemed very introspective.  Cumberbatch was more emotive, he uses a leather belt around his neck as a prop and he is wearing that silly toy soldier uniform but he does get across the fact that he is considering suicide.

How the characters contrast

There is a world of difference in the manner in which Polonius is played.  In the Tennat Hamlet Polonius is a fool and is played for laughs.  You wonder how such a man could rank so highly in the government ( probably wealth and birth) and I was not all that sad when he died.  In Cumberbatch's play he is no fool and he appears capable of  his office. Hamlet teases him but rarely does he appear to take the bait but seems to be more exasperated with Hamlet.  It is a surprise that Hamlet would be able to strike him dead through the curtains.

Patrick Stewart plays both Claudius and the Ghost in the Tennant's Hamlet.  I have to admit -- you just fall in love with that voice.  This Claudius does not seem to be so evil, although he does plot Hamlet's death and you can tell that there is some conniving going on.  In the end, though, he accepts his death by Hamlet's hand.  Cumberbatch's Claudius seems to be a real jerk.  He shames and embarrasses Hamlet at the wedding in front of many guests telling him that he is not being manly when he mourns.  Stewart's Claudius also entreats Hamlet to stop mourning but he seems to be gentler.

I think I enjoyed Cumberbatch's Ophelia better than Tennants.  She seemed so much more confused and seemed to be truly in love with Hamlet.  And boy does she know how to play bonkers after her father dies.  I never really knew what was going on with Tennant's Ophelia, maybe she just enjoyed the thought of having a Prince courting her.  It seemed to be that Tennant's Hamlet loved her -- even in the scene when he is telling her to go to a nunnery, it seems that he is trying to protect her  and get her away from the castle.

I didn't see much of a difference between the two Gertrudes and not much between the two Horatios. Except Cumberbatch's Horatio was covered in tattoos and always carried around a back pack. They both played good parts though and were stalwart friends.

Rosencratz and Guildenstien -- I definitely liked Tennants  duo better.   They would look at each at times and you could just see that they were thinking -- wowza - this guy is crazy - what have we gotten ourselves into?  You could also tell that in the past they had all once been friends.  I did not get that same feeling from Cumberbatch's  pair.  They just seemed to be there to listen to Hamlet's speeches.

May the better man win??

Which Hamlet was better -- they were both excellent and I enjoyed both actors portrayals.   I am hoping that they will come out with a DVD version of Cumberbatch's Hamlet.  If  I return to one or the other more often than I will know which one edges out the other.  I am in the middle of rewatching Tennant's Hamlet and very much enjoying it again.  If I can do that over and over again, then you know that you have a classic.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Martian -- A Book/Movie Review/Comparison( Major Spoiler Alert!!)

Major Spoiler Alert  -- Major Spoiler Alert _--- Major Spoiler Alert--- Major Spoiler Alert

(I have been busy this summer and I do have some pictures and information about some bookstores I visited during the summer. And I will be blogging about them in the coming weeks.  But I did mention that I would discuss books too in this blog, because, after all, you would not have bookstores without books! )

This week I did something I have never done in the past.  I finished reading a book the day I saw the "Major Motion Picture".   

Now, I have had The Martian sitting in my Kindle  for probably 6 - 12 months and had not gotten around to reading it yet, although I had noticed that it had great reviews and there was motion picture in development -- and I like science fiction.  But truthfully, I wasn't in a Science Fiction mood.  I have been reading a lot of  fantasy/urban fantasy/paranormal.   Some good  -- many not so good. With the movie coming out and the great reviews -- I figured it was time. 

The book is extremely science oriented and the science actually seemed right on the money.   Since I am a veterinarian and majored in biomedical science, I could understand quite a bit of it, although, much of the physics and calculations went over my head.  The chemistry was a little daunting too. The botany part was great -- living science is more up my alley and I completely understood what he was trying to do.  

In the book they mention that Watney has both an engineering degree and  a degree in botany, which helped explain how one person could know so much about such varied sciences.   I did not pick that up in the movie but they did not go into as much detail into  all the calculations and physics in the movie either.  In the movie they made it look far easier to get the probe set up for communication and then NASA and all the science geeks at NASA and JPL were there to help figure things out.  This seemed to occur fairly quickly in the movie -- not so quickly in the book.   

I did enjoy how he was able to perform calculations and figure out so many things on his own while dealing with the oxygen and water reclamation issues in the book, but I understand how that would have slowed the movie down which was still over two hours long. I do wish that in the movie they would have gone into more detail on how complicated it was to grow the potatoes -- but I guess the fact that he nearly blew himself up in the movie while trying to make water suggests that it was complicated without boring the non science geeks to death.  

When the movie started it was a bit surreal to almost hear the dialog from the book verbatim during the evacuation of the HAB.  I  was happy that they were sticking so close to the book but the dialog seemed a little wooden on the screen.  After the initial five minutes, I did not continue to notice this as the movie proceeded  -- big sigh of relief.  

I did applaud the movie for using a skin stapler instead of suture to close Watney's wound.  It is far more easier, not as painful, and the fact that one came out -- also totally believable.  

Much of the funny elements from the book were still in place such as the 70s music.  Didn't really go into the 70s TV shows though except for the Fonzi thumbs up-- which seemed a little out of place without the TV show set up as in the book -- but the Fonz is somewhat iconic.   

The movie spent a large amount of time with NASA and JPL which was more enjoyable than I thought it would be.   It was amusing to see the JPL and NASA scientists testing things out at the lab and then seeing  Watney performing the tasks.  I also liked the wink to Lord of the Rings with the Council of Elrond which was in the book-- but the movie has Sean Bean in it as Mitch who also happened to play Boromir in Lord of the Rings and attended the Council of Elrond in the Lord of the Rings movie.  In The Martian movie it was pretty obvious that there was a nod and wink to Sean Bean but at the time I could not remember who he played in Lord of the Rings.  Anyway that was just brilliant and I am sure all the Lord of the Rings fans will just love it!!

The movie  did leave quite a few major and I thought pretty important things out of it.  They did not mention anything about the special glue used to seal the space suits, everything was just duct taped together.  Okay -- my 13 year old son has made some amazing things from duct tape but I don't know if I would rely on it to seal a large opening in basically a tent on a planet with extreme environmental conditions.  At least in the movie they suggested that Watney was a little nervous about it too.  

The pop tents and the modification of the extra rover were left out too.  Not such a big deal, but I think the reason why he used the pop tent in the book on his long journey made a lot of sense.  In the movie they just had him sitting outside Rover with his suit in place.  

When they did not have the large sandstorm or the tipping over of the rover  or the loss of communication with NASA-- I was like -- what?  Those were exciting parts of the novel.  They really had to make the rescue count for a big finish -- and they did.  Lewis replaced Beck and Watney got to play Iron Man after all -- not very believable but fun none the less -- and the change ups made you wonder if someone might die after all.  

The book ends with Watney in the Hermes but the movie has an epilogue and basically shows you what has happened to everyone involved in the mission several years after the rescue.  The epilogue was a pleasant addition, because the movie did make you care for these people.

One criticism that I have read in other reviews is that Watney seems too optimistic.  There is not enough angst and "woe is me" in the movie or the book.  Well -- we see a lot of angst in movies -- it is nice to see a character with a personality that is optimistic and extremely resilient.  

I give both the book and movie 4/5 stars.  I am not going to say one is better than the other -- they are both enjoyable.  What was your take on one or the other?