I had to drive clear across town to see this, since only one local theater is carrying it. But though sitting too close to the HD video screen in the small theater seems to have given me a headache, the trip was worth it. I'm not familiar enough with the play to assess the merits of the adaptation, but it was a solid movie and the performances, production, and direction mostly worked very well. If anything, it was the source material I found most wanting, since it seems kind of uneven in tone and focus and its crises are resolved too easily. But then, maybe that's what Elizabethan audiences wanted in a comedy, and maybe I shouldn't expect too much from a play called Much Ado About Nothing
. There was some good dialogue, though, and Whedon and his cast mostly brought out the best in it, and did a terrific job finding the emotion and drama as well as the humor.
The real standouts here for me were Fran Kranz -- just as brilliant, heartfelt, and poignant an actor as he was in Dollhouse
-- and Amy Acker, who was as superb as ever. Reed Diamond also really impressed me -- making Shakespeare's dialogue sound natural and non-stagey is a very hard thing to do, and I think Diamond did it better than anyone else, though Acker was a very close second in that department. Nathan Fillion was quite memorable as Dogberry, but he wasn't really doing much beyond being Nathan Fillion. I liked Tom Lenk's '70s-bad-cop take on Verges.
But I found Alexis Denisof underwhelming as Benedick. His delivery was too declamatory, more reciting the lines than delivering them naturally. Maybe that's because he was going for a bombastic characterization, but it didn't work for me. And while Clark Gregg was good, he didn't stand out as much as I'd expected. Sean Maher was an underwhelming villain as Don John, and Spencer Treat Clark as his henchman Borachio was rather bland.
The production was good. Hearing that this was a project Whedon and friends put together in 12 days in his house, I wasn't expecting the house itself (and its grounds) to be such a central and captivating character. No wonder he wanted to make a movie there -- it's a gorgeous place. Although I wonder how much he dressed up the "sets" to make them more visually interesting. The music was fairly good too, and it was nice to see Maurissa Tancharoen get an onscreen cameo as the singer at the party (unfortunately she was the only nonwhite person whose voice is heard in the film, though there are several black extras). And those acrobats on the trapeze were amazing.
It was a bit weird seeing this contemporary setting for a story so rooted in centuries-old customs and attitudes -- dukes and princes, arranged marriages, the fixation with feminine purity before marriage, etc. That always throws me in these modernized productions. Plus it was weird hearing the Rule-63
'd Conrade consistently referred to as a "fellow" and a man, although Dogberry did call her "she" at one point.
Which is, to what extent did Elizabethan/Jacobean audiences regard themselves as "modern," distinct from ancient or mediaeval? Mediaeval religious art also had a tendency to dress its figures in contemporary dress, but it would be foolhardy to assume those artists were modernizing for their audience. Shakespeare was much closer to mediaeval times than to us.
Well, there is the fact that at the time, "modern" tended to be used to mean "ordinary, commonplace," as in Sonnet 83's lament that "a modern quill doth come too short" in writing of the worth of its addressee, or As You Like It
's use of "modern instances" to mean trite examples and "modern censure" to mean common sense. But on the other hand, there is All's Well that Ends Well
, Act II sc. iii:
Laf. They say miracles are past; and we have our philosophical persons, to make modern and familiar, things supernatural and causeless. Hence is it that we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves into seeming knowledge, when we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear.
Par. Why, ’tis the rarest argument of wonder that hath shot out in our latter times.
So they did have a sense of their own time being newer and distinct from the past -- just as everyone probably has throughout history.
At the outset of his career, drama was a branch of poetry. No, it is by no means assured that our version of modernization was "exactly" what Shakespeare was doing.
No analogy is ever exact, but there's no question that Shakespeare was modernizing for his audience. "The clock hath stricken three" in Julius Caesar
is a classic example -- they didn't have striking clocks in Ancient Rome, so that's as great an anachronism as the cell-phone video in Whedon's Much Ado
. (Oops, I already mentioned that one way back in post #24!)