While I do blame Kenneth Branagh and William Shakespeare for my incredibly 'flat' ass (mainly due to sitting and watching Branagh's Hamlet in the theater when it came out in 1994), I still have incredible affection for their movies and plays (well, Branagh's movies and Shakespeare's plays). So, when 20th Century Fox announced the release of Much Ado About Nothing on Blu-ray I was very excited to say the least.
Love faces hilarious, sexy challenges when one young couple (Kate Beckinsale and Robert Sean Leonard) battles treachery at the hand of a sinister friend (Keanu Reeves), while another couple (Branagh and Oscar® Winner Emma Thompson) battles — each other! With help from a prince (Oscar® Winner Denzel Washington) and a bumbling constable (Michael Keaton), the lovers just might prevail in this rich comedy that wonderfully “casts the battle of the sexes in the form of an elegant dance” (The New York Times).
This is one of Shakespeare's best plays in my opinion. It's mostly lighthearted and it surrounds one of the best subjects you could ever address in a film (or writing for that matter), love. The best part of the film, mainly because the writing is already solid, lies within the casting. Denzel Washington was one of the more solid casting choice as Don Pedro. His presence on the screen brings a sort of suave, controlled nature. He acts as the anchoring point for all the characters to run to when there's trouble, and he helps the situations with a 'no problem' sort of attitude that only Washington can carry perfectly. The casting of a very young Kate Beckinsale as the lovely Hero was a good choice, as was her character's love Claudio, played by House star Robert Sean Leonard. Now the one casting part that made the staff uneasy when we were watching this movie was Keanu Reeves. He plays a very unhappy man named Don John. While most people will always harp that this young man has a problem speaking English, he did a great job with Shakespeare's words. Reeves plays a great antagonist (see The Gift if you need an example) and fit the bill perfectly in this production. He did a superb job at rubbing people the wrong way.
While I can't complain about the story at all (mainly because there weren't really any liberties taken), there are some quirks. The biggest problem I can find is that Branagh tends to act like he's on a stage when he's in his part. While he has been in plenty of films, his love has always been the stage. When you see him in this movie he tends to overact a smidge and does a lot of shouting when going through his lines. I think Ebert commented on this issue with Hamlet when Branagh gets going on monologues, and it's very much true. You will see this overacting quite a bit, but you'll forgive it when you realize how well this man knows the material. His interaction with Emma Thompson's Beatrice is priceless (they have such a wonderful back and forth), as his headbutting sessions with her are just fun to watch. It's better if you know the Shakespeare material, so you can translate the insults going back and forth. Still, Branagh tends to shout quite a bit unnecessarily.
Other than this small complaint, the movie does justice to the story. The actors/actresses help it quite a bit. Is it the best Shakespeare to film? It's much better than Gibson's Hamlet translation, but it's not as good as Branagh's other works, especially his Hamlet. If you are a Shakespeare fan then you'll enjoy Much Ado About Nothing, but even if you're not you'll find some value in it.
Speaking of value, the Blu-ray transfer was good. In more of the brightly lit scenes (since most of it is) you'll find some great detail in the transfer. There are some scenes were graininess and artifacts rue the day. For example, the opening scene where Beatrice is reading to the town folk you will see plenty of grain in the film. Once you are in the town then it all changes to a much cleaner picture. The shower scenes are nice. As for the audio, you get it in 2.0 DTS-HD, and I'm thankful for that. If Kenneth Branagh was shouting in all five of my speakers then I might be depressed... or deaf.
As for the speacial features, here's what you're getting:
- Making Ado About Nothing
- Theatrical Trailer
I would have given my first-born to have commentary on this release. You do get a nice featurette about the production, but I would have loved a lot more. I would have given my second-born for a gag reel. Again, what you get is nice, especially for the price, but more would have been better.