'Strange Brew' is One of the Best Film Adaptions of 'Hamlet' Ever Made

Liam McKeone
Strange Brew
Strange Brew /
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Last week, Max Kellerman made a lot of hockey fans upset when he said that nobody really cared about the sport. When browsing through the Twitter replies to his segment on First Take, I saw several users calling Kellerman a "hoser." That made me laugh because I was reminded of when I was a teenager and my dad demanded I watch the Canadian cult classic Strange Brew, a movie he apparently saw several times in theaters when it was released. I suspect this is why I constantly have "Take off, eh" on my mind as a regular retort to literally anything to this day.

As one naturally does when struck with such nostalgia, I went to YouTube to look up some of the funny scenes, and then, out of curiosity, clicked the Wikipedia page. It turns out that the plot of Strange Brew is a loose (heavy-emphasis on "loose") adaption of Hamlet. Upon rewatching, the parallels weren't obvious, but they were there, and there's an argument to be made it's one of the best Hamlet movie adaptions ever (excluding the literal movie adaptions titled Hamlet). I will be making that argument today.

Let's start by breaking down those parallels. The most important one to understand going in is that madness takes hold of nearly every character. As in Hamlet, madness is a central theme and the main plot of the evil Brewmeister in Strange Brew. The Elsinore Brewery is named after the Elsinore estate in Denmark. Uncle Claude (aka Cladius) works for Brewmeister Smith, who murdered John Elsinore (aka King Hamlet).

Main characters Doug and Bob McKenzie are not some combination of Hamlet, but rather an unholy mix of three of Shakespeare's characters: Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Ophelia. Pamela is, in fact, the Hamlet figure here. There's the fact that their names sound rather similar, and the fact that it's Pamela's family engaged in all sorts of cloak-and-dagger actions, and it was her father who was murdered by Uncle Claude (or so she thinks). The McKenzie brothers, like Ophelia, are controlled by their father. As Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were ordered to be killed by the King in Hamlet (and act as comedic relief), Doug and Bob were ordered to be killed by Pamela's uncle. Ghosts play a large part in Strange Brew, just as in Hamlet. Bob and Doug discover the evil plot when playing a video game and are approached by the ghost of Pamela's father.

So, yeah, it's an extremely general adaption, but an adaption nonetheless! I would argue that one could even take it as a subtle adaption, and those are better than the heavy-handed ones that copy the plot twist for turn. Is it better than The Lion King, the most famous Hamlet adaption ever made? Perhaps not. But what makes it great is the goofiness of it all.

Hamlet is a pretty dark tale. It ends up with just about everyone dead, and they die in tragic fashion, too. If you watch movies to feel the worst of your emotions, then this isn't for you. But if you, like me, enjoy watching movies to escape from reality for a few hours and have a good time, then there's nothing better than Strange Brew. It's like Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead in that way. No film adaption manages to twist the essence of their adaption to the extreme that Strange Brew does while paying homage to a literary classic -- and that, right there, is what makes it great. If you don't agree, well, take off, eh?

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