August 12, 2001 -- This film adaptation of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," just might be the best one ever made. It's really enjoyable. Several film adaptations have been made, including one in 1935 starring Mickey Rooney and Jimmy Cagney, followed by two more adaptations in the 1960s. The only other one I've seen in Woody Allen's 1982 film, "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy," which is not closely based on the play.
The play is about several people in an enchanted wood on a summer night. Some fairies decide to put spells on them, causing them to fall in love with the first person they see when they wake up. This leads to all sorts of funny situations. Beneath the humor, though, there is a serious situation brewing, as Hermia (Anna Friel of "St. Ives"), is threatened with death if she refuses to marry the man chosen for her. The fairy queen, Titania (Michelle Pfeiffer of "Deep End of the Ocean"), also has a spell cast on her so she falls in love with Nick Bottom (Kevin Kline of "The Ice Storm"), who has a spell cast on him to make him look like a sort of human donkey.
Casting these spells are Puck (Stanley Tucci of "Deconstructing Harry") and the fairy king Oberon (Rupert Everett of "My Best Friend's Wedding"). Such confusion reigns as lovers quarrel and chase after new loves, that Puck observes, "What fools these mortals be." Titania herself looks as foolish as the mortals, however. There is also a play-with-a-play as Bottom and his friends try to win a thespian competition at the palace. It makes for an enjoyable, if mostly lightweight, film about romantic follies. Appearing in the film are Calista Flockhart of "The Birdcage" as Helena, Christian Bale of "American Psycho" as Demetrius, Dominic West as Lysander and David Strathairn as Theseus.
Director Michael Hoffman ("Soapdish") does a fine job of keeping that fine balance between humor and pathos (Hoffman also adapted the screenplay). Kline does a good job of making an ass of himself, so to speak. Flockhart, better known as Ally McBeal, is effective as a rather desperate woman. Anna Friel, caught in a tough situation, is excellent, as is Tucci. The cinematography by Oliver Stapleton ("The Ciderhouse Rules") is excellent, considering the tough lighting conditions. The forest scenes have a kind of otherworldly glow. The special effects, a key part of the film, are also handled very well. This film rates a B. I have not seen the DVD version of this, only a VHS tape.
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