Blinded by the Light
His Dark Materials
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I've seen lots of versions of this play, and this one was creative and interesting. The way it was filmed gave it a new, modern feel and a new context in which to view the story.
I tried watching Much Ado About Nothing once before, but when I realized they were sticking with the original Shakespearean dialogue I stopped. I have always had issues with comprehending his style of writing. I love how it sounds, and when I know what’s happening I tend to love the stories, but I usually need to study the play first to understand the plot so I can then sit back and enjoy the poetic way lines are delivered. So I read through a full plot synopsis before returning to the movie this time, and it clicked exactly as I expected. The film worked perfectly for me and, because I knew all the major plot points, I could actually comprehend what people were saying through the Shakespearean gobbledygook. I was surprised how well Much Ado About Nothing translated into a modern setting. There are a few details of the story that don’t exactly fit, but most of the way through I could see why this made sense for Joss Whedon to adapt in this fashion. I don’t know why he felt the need to film in black and white, that was an odd choice, but it didn’t bother me in any way. However if he had gone with color, and had modernized the language, I wonder if this could have been a big hit. The story has loads of comedy and drama that could appeal to audiences of all ages, but by keeping it more traditional the audience was limited. I guess after dealing with the spectacle of The Avengers, something smaller was desirable. As a fan of most things from Joss Whedon, I was delighted to see a cast loaded with his regular actors. He knows perfectly where to place each person in order to reap the maximum benefit from their acting skills. In particular, Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker do a great job of balancing the snarky wit and romantic drama of Benedick and Beatrice. I loved all of their scenes together, and even when I wasn’t keeping up with the dialogue, I could sense what they were saying based on their expressions. The other noteworthy performance was Nathan Fillion as Dogberry, who threatened to steal every single scene, with perfect comedic timing. In the end I quite enjoyed Much Ado About Nothing. As with most Shakespeare that I’ve seen, it grew on me more as I got into the story, and I would be happy to watch it (or any other version of the play) again.
It took a while for Nathan Fillion to get on into the show, and for me to get used to the script, which is just exactly what Shakespeare did. It's exactly what he wrote, but set in modern times. That's unique. But it does take a while to get used to. But, everything else is so great, and made even better when you hear about the circumstances that were there to make this, including that it was made in 12 twelve days during a break during the making of The Avengers! Pretty much everything is great, the performances, the direction, the cinematography, and of course what Shakespeare wrote was phenomenal! This is a very unique movie, and if it wasn't an adaptation, and not the first movie adaptation, I may have said that it was one of the most unique movies I'd have ever seen! I'd recommend this for anyone interested!
GREG: (Greg Smith, Founder of Agile Writers of Richmond, VA) Scott, we just finished watching Much Ado About Nothing, Joss Whedons Shakespearean side project.
SCOTT: (Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond) I ve always wondered what a do is. Now I know.
GREG: Whedon s Much Ado is Shakespeare s classic play performed in a modern setting - but still using the Bard s own words. We re introduced to Benedick (Alexis Denisof) who is back from war. He s accompanied by friends Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and Claudio (Fran Kranz). Claudio is quite taken with young Hero (Jillian Morgese), a fair maiden. But there is trouble afoot. Hero s cousin, Beatrice (Amy Acker) apparently has had a relationship with Benedick in the past, and she is done with men.
SCOTT: While Claudio and Hero make plans to marry, the illegimate brother, Don John (Sean Maher), bitterly plots to sabotage the relationship by making it appear that Hero has cheated on Claudio. At the wedding ceremony, Claudio exposes Hero s alleged infidelity to everyone, causing Hero to faint. Hero s family decides to make it appear that she has died, and meanwhile the truth of Don John s evil plot is exposed, causing Claudio great heartache.
GREG: Scott, I m actually a newcomer to Shakespeare. My exposure so far has been 1999 s 10 Things I Hate About You and Kenneth Brannaugh s 1993 offering of Much Ado (as well as several tutorials I viewed on Netflix a few years ago). I found the story just wonderful, even if the Shakespearean English a bit difficult to decode. In Whedon s version, a lot of the story is told both with words and with the actors portrayal of their characters. The modern setting and costumes helped to identify who the characters were and how they related to each other.
SCOTT: You re right, Greg. Neither one of us is a Shakespearean scholar, but we do appreciate the timelessness of a good story. I admire Joss Whedon s bold foray into new territory that is as different from Cabin in the Woods as a story can get. Whedon clearly demonstrates his versatility, as he pulls off a very stylish modern rendition of one of the Bard s best comedies. This wasn t easy to do, as we all know how beautiful yet dense Shakespearean English is. As you note, Whedon s excellent casting helps us along nicely, as the characters convey meaning and nuance with terrific nonverbal cues and facial expressions.
GREG: Well, you know that in my eyes Joss Whedon can do no wrong. He was the creator of such great series as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the short-lived Firefly. Several of the members of his TV stable make appearances in Much Ado. We both enjoyed his great send-up of the horror genre in last year s Cabin In The Woods. And of course he nailed the action/adventure genre with The Avengers. There seems nothing that Joss Whedon cannot do.
SCOTT: Much Ado About Nothing is filmed in black and white, an interesting artistic choice that I applaud. It gives the comedy an edginess that I believe is warranted by the dark streaks within an otherwise light love story. For modern audiences to appreciate this film, Whedon made two brilliant casting decisions in Amy Acker as Beatrice and Alexis Denisof as Benedick. I may be going out on a limb here, but I strongly suspect that Acker and Denisof will garner Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. The set design was also outstanding; there is brilliant use of windows, stairways, landscaping, and lighting throughout the film.
GREG: Nathan FIllion also makes for great comic relief as Dogberry - the buffoonish security guard. From the hero perspective there is a lot to appreciate here. Benedick undergoes a transformation from the confirmed bachelor to offering to lay down his life to defend the honor of Beatrice s cousin. Young Claudio and Hero are the young lovers. Don John is the villain. The classic hero structure is well in place. You could hardly expect less from Shakespeare.
SCOTT: I m totally with you, Greg. Much Ado About Nothing is a gem of a movie that tugs at our heartstrings and cannot help but make us smile. The film has a touching energy to it thanks to sparkling performances by a talented young cast. Joss Whedon took a big chance here and it pays off handsomely. I give this film 4 Reels out of 5. As you note, we have a nice ensemble of heroes who display great range of emotion and handle the challenge of Shakespearean English with style and dexterity. Their hero journeys aren t in the same league as, say, Hamlet or King Lear, but nor are they meant to be. As they stand, I give this great group of young lovers 4 Heroes out of 5. Movie: Heroes:
GREG: I think I was more favorably impressed than you were, Scott. This is the most accessible Shakespeare that I ve ever seen. It was wonderful to look at and to listen to. I give Joss Whedon s latest project 5 out of 5 Reels. I also think that when it comes to classic heroic stories, Shakespeare wrote the book. I give Much Ado 5 out of 5 Heroes. Movie: Heroes:
I'd forgotten I'd watched it, but it was quite enjoyable that I do remember.
NIcely done with a crack cast, except maybe the Castle guy. However, the camera work, tho' attractive, is too handheld shaky for dialogue/monologue that, not declaimed (delivered to the balcony), is sometimes hard to hear or understand. And the thing about handheld camera that chichi directors don't seem to understand is that the documentary looking shakiness puts an invisible person (the cameraman) into the scene - and that's weird. Rent a tripod & use it. It's a bit difficult to keep-up with who's-who here, too. Additionally, since the play is transposed into a modern milieu, why not translate the text into modern English, the way the Bible today is translated from King James to an accurate but more modern vernacular? As it is, it's kitschy & cute for the (tiny) Bard crowd but not so much for this viewer. Also, in modern times, all the cute guys playing conniving matchmakers seems pretty unlikely, even gay.
A creative take on a classic script, not all of Whedon's choices jive but its obvious the actors and director had a lot of fun creating it, making it a joy to watch.
Whedon's successful contemporary adaptation is as interesting as it is engaging. The black-and-white filming extenuates the visual light, dark and shadows, and adds a polish to the film.
Interesting Joss Whedon directed Shakespeare film.
Much Ado About Nothing - 2013
3 out of 4 stars
Script - William Shakespeare
Director - Joss Whedon
Benedick - Alexis Denisof
Beatrice - Amy Acker
Dogberry - Nathan Fillion
Leonato - Clark Gregg
Claudio - Fran Kranz
Hero - Jillian Morgese
Don Pedro - Reed Diamond
Don John - Sean Maher
Conrade - Riki Lindolme
Margaret - Ashley Johnson
In Much Ado About Nothing, Joss Whedon, in a whirlwind filming, pulled in his friends to create a fun, quirky, black and white movie. In fact, this film adapted the fun aspects of Shakespeare's play to Whedon's unique and imaginative directing. Secondary characters really stood out in ways that should not be overlooked.
For instance, Sean Maher (Serenity) was cast as Don John. Every character Maher has portrayed previously has been a good character and it was a shock to see him playing the evil bastard prince. An interesting shift from his more innocent role as Dr. Simon in Serenity who was the caretaker and guardian of his sister. His portrayal of Don John was cold and calculating. He smirked derisively at the pathetic "good masters" and wheedled them into believing the worst of Hero.
A unique twist that Whedon put into the film was changing Conrade from male to female. This made it possible for Don John to be Conrade's (Riki Lindolme) lover without raising eyebrows. An interesting thought is that Conrade being a male would have been more appropriate as Don John's lover since Maher is gay. Conrade, normally a male character, was played as a sex object for Don John and maybe even Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark). She was almost comfortable with Borachio walking in on the foreplay between Don John and herself. She was happy to hand her pot over to Borachio while he was telling her how he had convinced Don Pedro and Claudio that he was having sex with Hero, when in reality he was swiving Margaret.
Though not a character, an important aspect of the movie was the partying. Every scene was filled with people drinking one thing or another. Tables and counters were liberally filled with wine bottles, wine glasses, liquor bottles, and shot glasses. It was hard to decide what time of day it was due to the copious drinking. The only characters that aren't seen drinking or smoking pot are the constables.
Finally, Dogberry (played by Nathan Fillion), the head local constable, obviously wants to sound important but can't seem to say the right words - ever. In fact, he often says the exact opposite of what he is trying to convey. It is funny and tragic simultaneously. In Whedon's version, the constabulary look like they are either FBI or CIA, but act like Keystone cops. Fillon, typically an off beat, fun character actor, plays Dogberry with serious conviction and the more serious he is, the more hilarious his delivery is.
There is a lot to enjoy about this movie and lots to look for. Especially Dogberry's "I am an ass!"