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A Midsummer Night's Dream

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Starring: Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer
Director: Michael Hoffman
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 115 Minutes
Release Date: April 1999
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Calista Flockhart, Rupert Everett, Stanley Tucci, Anna Friel, Dominic West, Christian Bale, David Strathairn, Sophie Marceau

Review by AlexI
3½ stars out of 4

After the incredible and unexpected success of "Shakespeare in Love", the audience has again opened their eyes for Shakespeare. Michael Hoffman is one of many that dived into the ocean of Shakespeare's poetry during the last decade.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" has been adapted to the big screen several times, with no particular luck. It can be a dark nightmare, a slapstick comedy, or a semi-serious melodrama, depending on the script adaptation. Hoffman has chosen the most common and easiest way - light comedy. The director creates an enchanting atmosphere, as he brings to the foreground of the story beauty and elegance - a magical recipe for the recreation of a timeless story that is as relevant today as it was when Shakespeare wrote it.

Hoffman didn't move too far away from Shakespeare's original play: Egeus, father to Hermia, has betrothed his daughter to Demetrius, a man who in turn loves her with all his heart, and is determined not to let Hermia's true love, Lysander, from inheriting his bride. Then Hermia and Lysander plot to run away together to avoid this marriage, and even possible death. They share their plot with Helena, a close friend, who unfolds on-stage her own attraction to Demetrius. She then storms out to inform him of what Hermia and Lysander are doing, which will benefit Helena later, as she suspects that her decision to reveal this plan to Demetrius will show him how much she loves him. The parallel story unfolds in the forest nearby, where magic transforms the grounds into an enchanted parallel world. Here we meet the fairies. Oberon (Rupert Everett) and Titania (Michele Pfeiffer ) are king and queen of this charming race, but that does not prevent them from feuding over an Indian boy Titania cares for. Returning home and falling asleep, Oberon discusses a plot with his servant, Puck, to apply a nectar from a forest flower to his queen's eyes so that, when she awakes, she shall fall in love with the first ugly creature that catches her eye. Continuing with this plan, the king hears the accounts of the four lovers as they become separated from each other in the forest. He furthers his orders to Puck, who is instructed to apply this nectar to Demetrius, so that he can fall in love with Helena, and all will be solved. But the plan is distracted when Puck gets the men confused, and applies the nectar to Lysander's eyes. He then exits the scene, and Lysander, as you probably know, falls in love with Helena at first sight. Before the dawn all of Puck's mistakes have been corrected, the magic is gone, the madness ends and the right lovers fall in love with the people they are supposed to.

With his 1996 production of "Hamlet", Kenneth Branagh showed that it is possible to conceive a brilliant adaptation of the full text, but the result will have a long running time, which would be unfortunate for a film like "A Midsummer Night's Dream". Hoffman has chosen a more traditional approach of snipping speeches by removing "extraneous" material. He is less successful. Because of the minor problems in the script and unusually rare and difficult language the acting feels at times cold and removed, as if the actors themselves didn't quite understand the lines they are pronouncing. Christian Bale is pale, Calista Flockheart and Anna Friel are acceptable and Dominic West is at times interesting. But it is only Kevin Cline, Stanley Tucci and Michelle Pfieffer that feel confortable in their roles and really give extraordinary performances. Hoffman's magical picture relies more on performances and atmosphere than on special effects and depth of story. There are no computerized creatures and characters, which is a nice break from Lucas and Besson. The technically simple, but incredibly effective art/set direction dazzle the viewer with golden sparks and fairies, shining in the air like gems, and silver moonlight shining upon our lovers. Makeup and costume design are spectacular in creating a variety of odd denizens, including a rather frightening- looki ng medusa and a few alien-looking creatures. The movie captures the delicate beauty of this Shakespearean comedy. In a magical fantasy setting like this, lines as "The course of true love never did run smooth" and "Lord, what fools these mortals be" work exceptionally well.

The director changed setting from 16th century Greece to Tuscany in the late 1800s. The bicycle a relatively new invention at the time becomes a key prop, allowing characters to pedal after each other instead of chasing around on foot. It also provides one of the movie's most amusing sight gags. But he is careful, this is not "Romeo + Julia". The modernizations aren't too modern, and his changes to the original story are minor and almost unnoticeable.

We have had many spectacular adaptations of Shakespeare's undying masterpieces. And it is a tuff task to compare with them. Michael Hoffman's new feature doesn't capture the depth and grandness of Kenneth Brannagh's "Hamlet", nor does it possess the power and originality of Richard Loncrane's "Richard III" . But its magical beauty and appealing plot make it good enough to stand in such exceptional company.

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