William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Unfair as this is, I entered the screening of A Midsummer Night’s Dream expecting the best movie of the year. I try my best not to do this; I attempt to be as objective as possible when watching a movie so that I can be just when reviewing it. But in this case I just couldn’t help my preconception: just look at that cast! It seemed inconceivable to me that a movie featuring so many of the best stars in Hollywood could be anything less then stellar. Needless to say I was crushed. I hope that my expectations and the lack of their realization don’t influence this review, but there you are.

The good old Bard has been a hot commodity in Hollywood lately; what with Shakespeare in Love winning Best Picture and all, so A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the many Shakespeare adaptations that we have seen and that are coming our way in 1999. However, unlike 10 Things I Hate About You or the upcoming O, this one hasn’t been updated or otherwise dumbed down for a Gen-X audience. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the real thing: a barely edited version of the world’s greatest playwright’s lightest, most whimsical comedy.

The bulk of the story takes place during a magical night in a forest (the play was set in Greece, but this movie was moved to 18th century Italy, which is the only significant change that director Michael Hoffman makes). It’s about a group of lovers, as well as a play troop who seek solace inside the woods. Little do they know that fairy mischiefmakers are plotting a practical joke: a magic potion that will make whoever is anointed with it fall in love with the first person they see when they wake up. What follows is essentially a comedy of errors (from the Bard, no less) that is easily Shakespeare’s most enjoyably frivolous excercise.

The potential star power in this movie is nothing short of astonishing. Rupert Everett, who should have received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for My Best Friend’s Wedding is slightly flat, playing one of the two culprits, and Michelle Pfeiffer isn’t as engimatic as she should have been as the Fairy Queen. On the flip side, Stanley Tucci is delightful, and Kevin Kline, as an actor who is turned into an ass, handles Shakespearian dialogue with impressive deftness, almost making us forget just what it is we are listening to.

The main reason that A Midsummer Night’s Dream doesn’t quite work is that there is no magic. The frenetic plot does not flow as smoothly as it should, so that despite a tremendous effort from some of the actors and actresses here, we are not as engrossed as we could have been. It’s refreshing to see a movie where glossy special effects are not permitted to take over, but maybe — just maybe — a little more atmosphere with the help of some effects could have given this film a more appropriate feel.

The soundtrack in the movie leaves much to be desired and for mostly the same reason: it does not assist the movie in developing a convincing atmosphere for its characters to inhabit. The operatic interludes just do not work for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or maybe it’s the choice of the opera that detracts from the movie.

It has been a while since a real Shakesperian adaptation went the mainstream direction in Hollywood. Perhaps studios simply think that today’s audience doesn’t have a long enough attention span to sit through one — Shakespeare is infamous for being difficult to understand, although those who dismiss his work simply for that reason aren’t doing it justice. So in that sense, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a welcome diversion. But as a movie, unfortunately, it doesn’t quite jive. For what it’s worth, however, it’s message comes through loud and clear: Love makes fools of us all.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log


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