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20th Century Fox presents
"For aught that I could ever read, could ever hear by tale or history,/The course of true love never did run smooth."
DVD ReviewThere's nothing like a change of scene to breathe life into an old chestnut. No chestnut is hoarier than A Midsummer Night's Dream, but Michael Hoffman brings the play to life on the screen with a clever change of setting to the turn of the last century with the human characters riding on that newfangled contraption, the bicycle. Of course, having an excellent cast and super sound design and photography doesn't hurt.
Shakespeare's play is moved to Italy from Greece (though the Greek names are retained) apparently because the film was shot at Cinecitta studios in Italy. However, since Shakespeare felt free to mix in good old Anglo-Saxon names amongst the commoners, the change is not as jarring as might be thought.
The play concerns the antics of the humans side by side with the faerie world, as the problems and obstacles of finding and keeping love are given comic effect. Everything is set in motion by the coming wedding of Duke Theseus to Hippolyta. A noble, Aegeus, has arranged that on the same day his daughter, Hermia, shall marry Demetrius, a young man beloved by Hermia's friend Helena (Calista Flockhart). Unfortunately, Hermia loves young Lysander instead. Aegeus threatens to have Hermia killed or sent to a convent, prompting Hermia and Lysander to run away through the woods to Athens. When they are forced to divulge their plan of elopement to Helena, she notifies Demetrius of this, hoping then to catch him in the woods herself.
At the same time, Titania (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Oberon (Rupert Everett), the queen and king of the faeries, are squabbling out in the woods—Titania loves Theseus, and is angry with Oberon for supporting Theseus' coming marriage. Oberon enlists his spritely knave Puck, otherwise known as Robin Goodfellow (Stanley Tucci), to acquire a flower which, when spread on the eyelids of a sleeper, causes him or her to fall madly in love with the first thing he or she sees. In addition to using this flower to teach Titania a lesson, Oberon also decides to help out Helena in winning Demetrius' love so all can live happily ever after.
Meanwhile, a group of laborers led by Peter Quince, decide to present a play for the Duke's wedding day, in hopes of winning a pension promised to the best drama. They land on the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe, with the hammy and pompous weaver Bottom (Kevin Kline) starring as Pyramus. The attempts of this motley group to make serious drama are quite hilarious.
These stories all come together when Puck botches the assignment and puts the flower on the eyes of Lysander instead of Demetrius, causing him to fall in love with Helena, and resulting in no end of havoc amongst the young lovers. He also brings to Titania's bower the enchanted Bottom, whom he has given the head of a jackass. Titania soon falls under the spell of the flower and immediately becomes enamored of Bottom's braying.
The cast is quite perfect in their respective roles. Kevin Kline plays Bottom with sublime overacting, and Stanley Tucci in particular makes a splendid Puck, with a slight paunch and five-o-clock shadow, to give the picture of a fairy gone slightly to seed. Puck's use of the bicycles is a humorous bit of business that by itself justifies the time change.
The photography of the Italian countryside is beautiful throughout and the sound design is truly enveloping. The special effects of Bottom's transformation are handled subtly and artfully, as are the transformations of the faeries from specks of light to humanoid form.
The cast brings out the humor of the script quite nicely, and the humor of the additional business is broad and completely in character with the exception of an ill-conceived mud wrestling episode which is just embarrassing. I laughed out loud to more of this film than many other comedies I've seen in recent years. There is plenty of slapstick and word play to satisfy nearly any kind of desire for humor.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Fox really should have used an RSDL disc for a film that runs a full two hours. The bit rates are extremely low—hovering around 3 to 4 Mbps. The picture seems overly soft. A certain amount of softness is appropriate for the film and is intentional, but the picture is really too far soft to be pleasing; it nearly becomes smeary at times.
Colors are vivid throughout; the shots of fields and woods during daytime are a spectacular, sumptuous green, and the red of a group of cherry tomatoes under the credits is positively glowing. Flesh tones are accurate and shadows and blacks are dark and rich. We can only wonder what an anamorphic transfer on a dual layer disc might have looked like.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: While the Dolby Surround 2.0 track is acceptable, the 5.1 track on this disc really shines. Mendelssohn's music (which is heavily used) is full and rich. The characters also are often seen playing opera excerpts on gramophones—though we hear modern sound. La Traviata, La Cenerentola and Cavalleria Rusticana are among the operas we hear throughout the film, making this a most pleasant experience for the classical music lover.
Once we are out in the woods, the sound design takes over and we truly feel that we are in the middle of a forest with ambient woodland sound all around. The chapters in the woods can easily serve as audio demo material for those not wanting to use explosions and gunfire for that purpose. Directionality is clear and well timed; as an example, a slithering vine that Titania coils around Bottom moves through the speakers to follow the action on the screen. This is a wonderfully involving sound design, brought forth with clean and crisp audio.
The viewer should be aware that the sound defaults to Dolby Surround 2.0; the audio may be changed on the fly, however.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Layers Switch: na
Extras Review: The sole extra is the theatrical trailer. Subtitles are provided, and are highly recommended for the viewer in order to get all of the verbal jokes. The subtitles appear in the black bars beneath the picture for maximum readability, though they may be slightly cut off if viewed on a zoomed letterbox television.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsOf the many various versions of this play I've seen live and on film, this is head and shoulders the best realized and by far the most amusing. The sound design is absolutely super and needs to be heard to be believed. Highly recommended—just don't expect much in the way of extras or picture clarity.
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