I know, I know. If a movie has Christian Bale or Robert Downey Jr. I’ll see it, so it’s no surprise that I am reviewing yet another Christian Bale movie. The shocking part is that I didn’t know A Midsummer Night’s Dream even had Christian Bale in it until I was playing around IMDB about a week ago. When I figured that out of course I had to Netflix it. I am sure most people know at least vaguely what the plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is. However, Shakespeare is Greek to a lot of people to I might as well sum it up for you.
The play takes place in Athens and revolves around one of the noblemen who is finally getting married, the whole town is rejoicing. A small play company prepares a play for the event starring their best actor Nick Bottom – who is more than a little conceited about himself and his talents. At the same time there is a love triangle between Lysander, Hermia, and Demetrius. Lysander and Hermia are in love but Hermia’s father does not want the couple to be, and since Demetrius is in love with Hermia her father has consented to the marriage of Hermia to Demetrius. The problem of course is that Hermia does not love Demetrius but her friend Helena does love Demetrius and he won’t give her the time of day. Meanwhile, in the forrest surrounding the city the fairies play but Oberon king of the fairies and Titiana his wife fight.
When night falls Lysander & Hermia flee into the woods to escape her forced marriage and are pursued by Demetrius and Helena. Oberon decides to betwitch Titiana to fall in love with a beast (Bottom who is turned into a donkey), but as he doe this he spies Demetrius spurning Helena and decides that she should have the love she deserves; as such he charges Puck with the mission to track down Demetrius and bewitch him to fall in love with Helena instead of Hermia.
In typical Shakespeare fashion this is where the problem occurs. Puck does bewitch the young Athenian man he finds in the forrest but it’s Lysander not Demetrius. Long story short Demetrius and Lysander both end up fighting over Helena and hating Hermia and both women are confused and angry – Helena thinking she is being teased and Hermia thinking Helena has done something to bring this about. All the while Oberon watches as Titania throws herself at a beast.
What I liked about this version was the fanciful world that was created for the night time in the woods. It did feel like it was an enchanted wood, something that a child would believe was infested with fairies and other magical creatures. What I did not like so much was that this world felt such like a sound stage that when we went to the daytime version of the woods (when the magic was broken) it looked so real it didn’t even seem like part of the same planet. I understand why this was done from a directorial standpoint, you would want two totally and completely different worlds, but there should have been something done in film stock, color palette, etc. to make the two worlds seem like they were part of the same film. I also did not understand the added little nugget having to do with bicycles…but I partially chalk that off to someone wanting to put Puck on a bike and wanting to do the gag with Lysander & Demetrius lifting Helena’s bike.
When I was watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream I was actually shocked by the number of stars that are in the film. Back in 1999 (and judging from the DVD packaging) a lot of these actors weren’t nearly as well known. This totally explains why I didn't know Bale was in the movie. This was prior to Batman & American Psycho, as such Calista Flockhart got billing over Bale. He is not even mentioned on the packaging or shown in the art. Neither is Sam Rockwell.
I did also appreciate that none of these actors made me feel like they couldn’t do Shakespeare. There is always at least one actor in an adaptation that seems like they can’t handle the language or something similar that puts them out of the film for me. I really didn’t have that here. I did have a brief moment where I kept looking at Calista Flockhart and seeing Ally McBeal but that is my thing and has nothing to do with her performance.
On the whole I did find this film really enjoyable and think that it was a worthy effort as far as Shakespeare adaptations go.
Director: Michael Hoffman
Writers: William Shakespeare & Michael Hoffman
Nick Bottom: Kevin Kline
Titania: Michelle Pfeiffer
Puck: Stanley Tucci
Oberon: Rupert Everett
Helena: Calista Flockhart
Lysander: Dominic West
Demeterius: Christian Bale
Hermia: Anna Friel
Theseus: David Strathairn
Hippolyta: Sophie Marceau
Francis Flute: Sam Rockwell
Theseus: No epilogue, I pray you, for your play needs no excuse. Never excuse, for when the players are all dead, there need none to be blamed.