Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet (1990) alters much of the play's original dialog to adapt it to a more modern, cinematic style. However, unlike Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Hamlet in 1996, Zeffirelli employs sets and costumes that are historically accurate to the time and setting of Shakespeare's original work.
The scene begins with Hamlet and Laertes being dressed in light metal armor. Rather than using foils like in the play's text, Zeffirelli has both men using Arming swords. These swords are more substantial than a fencing foil and have a pointed tip.
It appears that Zeffirelli directed Mel Gibson to portray Hamlet in this scene with more comedic traits. Before the fencing match officially begins, Hamlet raises the sword over his head and then tips forward quickly, acting as if he cannot bear the weight of the sword. The onlookers laugh, which encourages Hamlet to continue to jest throughout the fencing scene. At one point, after Laertes and Hamlet have exchanged several blows, Hamlet pretends to be overwhelmed and haphazardly falls to the dais where Gertrude and Claudius are sitting. He smiles at his mother to reassure here and then pretends to get dizzy when he is back on the fencing floor. An attendant comes to help him, and then Hamlet pretends to sneeze in his face.
By injecting additional humor into Mel Gibson's acting for this final scene, Zeffirelli appears to be attempting to juxtapose the lightness of the comedy with the darkness that is looming over all of the primary characters in the scene.
After the men exchange several points, they become hot and remove their armor and begin to fence in their linen shirts. This wardrobe change results in both men being more vulnerable to injuries and is what ultimately enables Laertes to wound Hamlet and for Hamlet to then wound him in return. Both men were wounded by the same blade—Laertes' poisoned sword.
The music in Zeffirelli's adaptation of Hamlet is very minimal and is faithful to the musical queues that are listed in the original folios. For example, trumpets are blared to indicate when the two men are prepared to begin fencing. There is no other music in the scene. Otherwise, Zeffirelli uses the sound of the combat and the dialog to control the mood in collaboration with the physical action.