Monday, January 10, 2011

Michael5000 vs. Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing (Branagh, 1993)

The Play: Much Ado About Nothing
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Genre and Setting: Comedy with a dramatic edge, set on a Sicilian nobleman’s estate. Branaugh places the play in a idealized Italy of no particular era.

The Gist: A pair of sharp-tongued, witty frenemies need to be helped to realize that they are in love with each other. At the same time, a wedding is broken up through the treachery of a Bad Guy, and the estranged pair needs to be brought back together through an uncovering of the truth and some mild repentance.

The Adaptation: A big-budget feature movie produced by Kenneth Branagh, starring such household names as Ken himself (competent but sometimes a bit hammy), Emma Thompson and Denzel Washington (fabulous of course), Keanu Reeves (about what you’d expect), and Michael Keaton (a minor disaster).

Clocks In At: 111 minutes, quite a few of which are mostly scenery and spectacle. Judging it against my Pocket Guide to Shakespeare's Plays -- this is my first exposure to Much Ado, can you believe? -- it looks like the central plots were faithfully followed while some sub-plots were pruned and a few secondary characters were enhanced to make them a little more charismatic on the big screen.

Pros: Branagh makes this popular comedy a grand visual spectacle with the help of an all-star cast, a zillion enthusiastic extras, and a spectacular filming location in Tuscany. Emma Thompson is to die for. The craftsmanship of the film is exquisite (almost to the point of showing off, at times), and everyone seems to be having a good time. This is a movie that makes you want to move to Italy and go to lots of fabulous parties, because life is good and everything will work out in the end.

Cons: When spectacle goes too far you get bombast, and Branagh, who is not famous for restraint, sometimes presses right up against that line. The only really serious problem, though, is Keaton’s presence in the role Dogberry, the local constable. Given some of Shakespeare’s funniest comic dialog, he reprises his weird physical-comedy schtick from Beetlejuice. Also, nobody should try to do the “pretending to ride horses that aren’t really there” gag until at least a hundred years have passed since Monty Python took ownership of it. Seriously.

Prognosis: A fun, lively, and upbeat Shakespeare movie, easy to watch and easy on the eyes.


Elizabeth said...

Are you being efficient and combining the Shakespeare project with the movie-reviewing project? Well done. Have you seen the Romeo & Juliet adaptation with Leonardo di Caprio? Highly recommended.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

Does Keanu get to say "whoa!"

MulchMaid said...

I gotta admit this is one of my favorite Shakespearian romps. It's perfect to watch when you're in bed with the flu or a bad cold and just want the world to be a bit warmer and nicer.

Michael5000 said...

Eliz: Yes.

Dr. Ken: You can tell he's thinking it. Like: "Whoa! I'm in Shakespeare!"

Mulchy: I can totally see that. Mmmm.... Tuscan scenerio....

Rebel said...

"Oh God that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market place!"

Love love love LOVE this movie. But I agree... I fast forward of the Michael Keaton part every single time. Painful!

Rebel said...

Also... lots of naked people in the credits scene!

Jennifer said...

I'm with you very much on this! I show it in class pretty regularly, but I take the liberty of skipping the Keaton scenes. When people ask me why, I can only say that they're embarrassingly bad.

May it also be shown in the public record that students petitioning me to join their "Don Pedro Got Jilted" group on facebook after one in-class viewing finally got me on (years ago now, but back then it was finally).

One of the things I like best about the play is the way the source/analogues treat the scene where it's supposedly Hero in the window. Some are very skeptical and go to great lengths to establish why the Claudio character should instantly believe the worst--something Shakespeare omits from his story.