Joss Whedon is to Shakespeare as Russell Crowe is to musical villainy. They’re both good. The latter does Javert with brute force, and he can sing. The former plays Much Ado About Nothing with agility and slapstick and only a little bit of song.
I think Wm. S. would be pleased with Whedon’s take on Much Ado. He used the bard’s original language. Albeit almost an hour short of using all the words. Probably a nod to saving money and not over-taxing our modern audience’s ubiquitous short attention span. Little is lost in this condensed version. You do have to adjust to listening as well as looking. We have become so used to being assaulted by the sights and sounds of so many of our movies that we automatically tune out the overload. In this film you do not want to tune anything out. Much of the humor and the sorrow is in the dialogue and you don’t want to miss it.
The best part about that original language is that Whedon had them speak the words sensibly and normally as though they would be understandable to our modern ears rather than to pontificate because they were written by the great and glorious Bard of Avon. And by so doing, our modern ear had no trouble understanding them. There aren't even any British accents.
Doing the film in black and white was a surprise. Surely the play was originally done live and in full-color.
In fact, Shakespeare was originally pop culture in an age when they had bull-baiting and bear-baiting in the same theater on the off-nights. For the play nights they just put sand and sawdust over the blood and gore and sold tickets to all and sundry, the great unwashed as well as the landed gentry. Actually, in old Bill’s time, pretty much everyone was unwashed. So it was probably produced live, in color, and full-scented.
I am pleased to say that I enjoyed Whedon’s film production amid the scent of popcorn.
Although this Much Ado is set in today’s world with today’s fashions and conveniences, it retains the mores of turn of the century England. That’s the 17th Century.
Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, sets out to orchestrate the lives of his subjects. He will arrange the marriage of young adherent Claudio to ingénue Hero. And hook-up his old friend Benedict, a dedicated misogynist, with Benedict’s long-time antagonist Beatrice.
Although the young couple are ostensibly the lead roles, it is the wit wielded now like cudgels and then like rapiers by Beatrice and Benedict that make this play my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies.
The prince’s evil brother Don John nearly destroys the young people’s lives. It is here that the serious intolerance of Shakespeare’s time comes to the fore.
But Don John is only a very small part. Shakespeare was a master of making the dark, darker by flashing a beam of light in the form of broad humor. Here he uses Don John’s henchmen to set in motion what is my favorite scene in the movie. They are interrogated by the prince’s security team lead by that bumbling-cop character Dogberry played to perfection by Nathan Fillian.
Put away the dusty teachings of that old high school English teacher and go see this production. Shakespeare’s plays were never intended to be read piece-meal and badly in high school classrooms. They were not intended to be read at all. Who reads Harold Pinter or Neil Simon? Plays are for watching. On the screen or on the stage.