Monday, February 3, 2014

Big Screen Books: Much Ado About Nothing

"Big Screen Books" is a blogging series where I discuss adaptations of some of my favorite literary works, whether through movies or television. My previous installment of "BSB" covered BBC's Emma miniseries! 

Something many people know about me is that I'm a bit of a Shakespeare fan, and just in case you didn't know that, my 4.0 in last Spring's "Shakespeare Post 1603" class might give you a bit of a hint, as well. But lighthearted bragging aside, the Bard is, without a doubt, the Best, especially when it comes to capturing the truth, joy, bitterness, tragedy, and subtleties of human life. I have enjoyed pursuing his iconic works throughout my reading experience, from  an obsession with Romeo and Juliet in elementary, to Hamlet in senior year, and The Tempest in college. I even did a College Fashion post on a couple of his works!

So, when Joss Whedon chose to forsake the big budget of his normal blockbuster films and spend his wind-down time coming off of The Avengers to film a low-budget Shakespearean adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing in his own home, in black and white, using primarily the original Old English dialogue, you can bet I was all there with a bag of popcorn in hand. Thank goodness I had my Dad to share the popcorn with, too.

For those not intimately acquainted with one of Old Will's less widely-known, but no less gifted, comedic works, Much Ado About Nothing begins with the convergence of two notable couples, in the sparring and witty Benedick and Beatrice, and the young and naive Claudio and Hero. Whereas Benedick and Beatrice's journey is one from antagonistic put-downs to being tricked into confessing their love for each other, Claudio and Hero's is much less the typical fodder of romance: after the scheming effects of Don John, Cladio believes Hero to be unfaithful, and publicly humiliates her, leading to an unfair disavowal upon her from her father, and, at the advice of the intervening friar, the charade that Hero has actually died of a broken heart in the aftermath. Will their friends' scheming push Beatrice and Benedick together? Will Claudio ever learn the truth about Hero's virtue? Are we going to get a wedding by the end of this piece? 

You can bet that the answer to all of those questions is a resounding "yes," and it's not even worthy of a spoiler alert, because this play came out in the 16th century.

The transposition of the classic Shakespearean work - and it's associated, and highly antiquated themes of ownership, marriage, and justice for wounded women - into the modern world was one I had originally assumed would be a bit rougher than it was. It actually translated quite well, I think, and I feel a lot of it had to do with the almost self-referential antiquity of shooting the film in black-and-white (which, in itself, was actually an attempt at keeping costs of costuming and lighting to a minimum, so good decision-making all around). It was a little retro, while still keeping things modern, and it managed to get by with only minor alterations to literature by demonstrating major plot changes through action and visuals, instead of messing with the text itself.

I think what it really came down to, as well, was the fact that Joss Whedon made this movie, and I look to him not only for such interesting and notable endeavors in plot and subject matter, but also for new views in altering the pre-existing dynamics of movie conventions, like what he did here, bringing Shakespeare out of it's comfortable time frame, into the realm of black-and-white cinema, and even then, dousing it with a fair hit of the modern.

And, we can't forget to mention his loyal stables of incredibly gifted actors... believe it or not, it actually took me several days after viewing the film to figure out that Benedick was Wesley Wyndham-Price from Buffy and Beatrice was Fred from Angel ('cause I'm oblivious, that's why). And, for all my Dollhouse (and Cabin in the Woods, holla) fans, Fran Kanz is adorably affable - as he always is - as lovelorn Claudio, so, there's him, too. And, of course, the incomparable Nathan Fillion makes an appearance, but that stupendous man needs no introduction, really.

In total, Much Ado About Nothing was an intelligent and intriguing take on a classic comedy, transposed into a not-so-likely time period with finesse and exuberance. For fans of Joss Whedon, this is well-worth viewing, and for fans of Shakespeare, you've probably already seen it. Watch it again.

1 comment:

  1. I still haven't seen this, but I really need to! I don't know what I'm waiting for haha. I'm a huge Joss Whedon fan, so I definitely need to watch it at some point. I guess it's the language that worries me. I'm scared that I'm not going to be able to figure out what's happening. I took a few Shakespeare classes in college, so I have some background to it, but I still feel like it's sometimes hard to understand when they're talking fast and stuff.