Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)


   

Our rating: 2 out of 5

Rated: PG13

 
reviewed by Charity Bishop

        

Shakespeare was often known for his satires, glimpses of life just slightly out of norm and full if irony, wit, and hidden meaning. A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of his most underrated plays, even with the wide vestige of characters that the audience is left to root for. There is the mischievous Puck (Stanley Tucci), the beautiful queen Titania (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her brooding husband, and a few unexpected characters who find themselves thrown into uncertain circumstances. Recently there's been a reawakening to the value of Shakespeare, and film makers and producers have offered us a number of his plays in movie form... from several versions of Hamlet, to Romeo & Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, and most recently, with perhaps the most stunning cast of all, A Midsummer Night's Dream.

 

This well-produced glimpse into the world of fairies and human interaction, with a few flighty creations thrown in for fun, turns out to be a magical ride... with more than its share of problems for wary viewers. The story is fairly simple... to begin with. Hermia (Anna Friel) is betrothed against her will to the overpowering Demetrius (Christian Bale) but is violently in love with another young man. After pleading her case and being refused (even to the promise of death if she goes against her father's wishes in marriage), Hermia and her lover flee into the wood. Unfortunately they are seen by a girl secretly in love with Demetrius and the jilted fiancée sets out to teach them a lesson. What the foursome don't realize in their prowling of the woods is that they've strayed into the domain of Titania, Queen of the Fairies, who is herself in need of a bit of magical help.

 

Having had an argument with the King (Rupert Everett), she rejects him and he in turn convinces the mischievous Puck to put a love potion in her eyes so that she might fall head over heels for the first thing she sees... him! Due to Puck's tampering, Titania has fallen for a donkey-headed monster and the four humans who also got a taste of the love bug can't make up their minds who should love who. It's merely the beginning for a confused night in which everyone stumbles over each other trying to figure out the wondrous mystery of love.  The film is a lavish and witty retelling with a star-studded cast and a magical soundtrack. The dialogue is well-done and understandable and the previews commend it to be a wonderful piece of stimulating eye-candy. That it is... unfortunately, it's also a bed-hopping romp with just enough flesh to give viewers, particularly men, an unpleasant eyeful.

 

Titania carries on an affair with Bottom, her donkey-headed lover and they are intimate once or twice... seen kissing and snuggling, usually only half-dressed. The four human lovers are found naked in the woods by the town noblemen the following morning and asked for an explanation. The result is that the girls manage to cover themselves fairly well with clothes, but the men are unable to and we glimpse brief backside nudity. Implied sex and the illusion of nudity finish out this film's poor choice in content and costuming. Viewers should also be forewarned the fairies' wardrobes are often sheer and revealing. (Nudity is seen from above in one peeping shot of the fairies bathing.) Knowing Shakespeare and the raunchiness of his plays (only obvious to those who truly study the language in which he wrote them), I think he would approve of this adaptation. In all other ways, it is dazzling although somewhat stiffly acted at times. The costuming is beautiful, the fairy land in which it is set a magical, ethereal place in which the viewer is enamored. It's a somewhat misguided adaptation but manages to teach a few lessons in the dangers of matchmaking, or in a sense "playing God," without ever completely losing its charming flavor. 

 

Even non-Shakespearians will find a lot to like about A Midsummer Night's Dream. However we living mortals would do well to resist the magic spell of Titania and her fairies and turn to an older, less revealing adaptation. A wonderful production by Hollywood standards but a poor one taken into a Christian context, the next time you go browsing through your local blockbuster on a Shakespearian urge, think twice before picking this up off the shelf.