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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2000
It always amazes me that people think that a Shakespeare "purist," a true lover of Shakespeare, won't like any new version. I teach a Shakespeare course, I've studied Shakespeare at Oxford, I've seen 30 or so productions by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and I've got news for you. This video is just fine! True Shakespeare buffs are theater people, not dusty curmudgeons so old they fart dust. I have seen about 15 versions of AMND, and this certainly holds its own. The setting is a fantasy world anyway, so putting it in Tuscany does not violate any "rule." There are some niggling complaints: Kline's Bottom is a little too sad, and Callista Flockhart is supposed to be playing the ugly one. She is not convincing. There are many gems as well, Rupert Everett's lithe,sensuous Oberon foremost among them. A bit of trivia: one of Christian Bale's earliest roles was as the boy in Branagh's Henry V, and he continues to delight. You may watch this video, enjoy it, AND consider yourself a Shakespearean. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Enjoy.
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201 of 230 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2005
A quick scroll through the reviews shows a sharp divide. Some like this Hollywood-style rendition of Midsummer's Night while others, (to be polite) do not. To make matters more confusing, several reviews are deceptive because the reviewer seriously misjudges his/her depth of experience with this kind thing. To find out your probable reaction in less than 20 seconds, just answer these questions:

Do you see live Shakespeare every year or two? Do you know who Iago is? Who Prospero is? Do you know what the Queen Mab speech is? Have you seen a film with Ian McClellan in a Shakespearean role?

If you mostly answered "yes," you are likely to squirm in pain throughout this movie. (See Category B below.) On the other hand, if you are not particularly conversant with Shakespeare (if you answered "no" to more than a couple questions above, you're not, something many reviewers both in the newspapers and here fail to fathom), chances actually become much higher that you will be okay with this. (See Category A.)

Category A: If you enjoy movies and have read a few of the Bard's plays here and there, perhaps back in school, you might be enjoy this. The Hollywood actors provide familiar faces, and a couple give respectable performances--Kevin Kline, for instance. If you find Shakespeare too long, the play here has been lopped roughly in half. If you find Elizabethan dialogue goes by too fast, several visuals have been inserted, generally slowing the pace.

The problem is this: When you finish watching, you might be tempted to think this story is just a lark and that Shakespeare was just writing wierd stuff about faeries. But that's just this movie's hacked-up version of the story, not Shakespeare's actual play. If you're curious, watch the BBC version. You will see just how much dramatic weight has been cut, and how the play is exponentially more poetic and thought-provoking than what this pedestrian movie would lead you to think.

Category B: If you could answer most of the questions above (or have recently read this play), you will likely roll your eyes throughout this movie. Despite its cagey marketing, this is NOT a Kenneth Branagh-type affair where Hollywood actors are tossed into minor roles for financial reasons. This movie is Hollywood through and through, meaning inane special effects and actors, for the most part, way out of their league. (The exceptions, like Bernard Hill, appear to have been cast to give the movie at least a veneer of authenticity.)

Worst of all, the director, in typical Hollywood fashion, does not trust the viewer and does not trust the Bard. So he has inserted several ponderous minutes of Hollywood-style back story for Bottom. Silly sight gags, with no relation to the text, abound. It's as if the director doesn't think the Bard is actually funny. All the while, some of the most humorous lines are cut or, worse, delivered with no understanding of their meaning. Stick with the BBC version for real Shakespeare.

By the way, many reviewers have scratched their heads at why they shot this as 19th Century Tuscany. Just follow the Hollywood thinking. Branagh's Much Ado had just come out, set in 19th Century Tuscany just the year before....
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57 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2000
The village of Monte Athena, Italy, at the turn of the Nineteenth Century is the setting for this delightful version of William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," directed by Michael Hoffman. Bustles are in decline, and a new invention, the bicycle, is rising in popularity; and on this one particular night in the forest, mortals and fairies come together for a mirthful interlude rife with mischief, unsolicited intercession and the pursuit of love. This is a most engaging production, highlighted by a number of outstanding performances, beautiful photography and a wonderful score by Simon Boswell which features the talents of Cecilia Bartoli, Luciano Pavarotti, Renee Fleming and Roberto Alagna. Kevin kline gives an especially noteworthy performance as bottom, while Rupert Everett (Oberon), Dominic West (Lysander), Anna Friel (Hermia) and Sam Rockwell (Flute) are also exemplary. Michelle Pfeiffer is absolutely stunning as Titania, Queen of the Fairies, and Stanley Tucci delivers a nimble Puck. There are some wonderful moments in this movie, and one especially memorable scene in which Bottom and his troop perform "Pyramus and Thisbe" for the Duke (David Strathairn) and Hippolyta (Sophie Marceau); it is hysterical. Rounding out this superb cast are Calista Flockhart (Helena), Christian Bale (Demetrius), Roger Rees (Quince), Max Wright (Starveling), Gregory Jbara (Snug), Bill Irwin (Snout), Bernard Hill (Egeus) and John Sessions (Philostrate). Extremely well done, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a comedy that will lift your spirits and keep you smiling for hours. A great addition to anyone's video collection, this one is not to be missed.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 1999
This film is a truly enchanting portrayal of Shakespeare's finest and most magical comedy. It is a richly woven tapestry of laughter and love with a generous sprinkling of fairy dust. This film version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" appears to follow word for word Shakespeare's original masterpiece, only exchanging the time and place of the story from classical Athens to what appeared to be late nineteenth century Italy. The film's scenery, from the mysterious and evocative depths of the enchanted wood to Theseus' richly appointed palace, was magnificent. And the actors themselves were both delightful and compelling. Michelle Pfeiffer was enchantingly beautiful as Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, and Rupert Everett was in his element as her darkly handsome and commanding consort, Oberon. But it was Kevine Kline in his portrayal of Bottom, the enchanted ass, who truly stole the show. I can honestly say that this was one of the most truly beautiful and delightful films I have ever seen.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 22, 2000
Well, there are mistakes, let's admit it. For example, Roger Rees is wasted in a minor role, when he is the most talented memeber of this cast at performing Shakespeare. Rees steals each scene he's in with Kevin Kline, who just does not quite have the charisma to do Bottom justice. And did we really need to see Bottom's wife (Who? ) and the mud wrestling? Nope.
Fox seems to have thought that the play would not be strong enough to carry its own weight, so they brought in Callista Flockheart and a few other ringers to draw a younger audience. But by the end of the play, you learn to ignore her and the others who need more experience before they try doing the Bard again. I found myself enjoying, instead, the exuberant fun of scenes such as the play-within-the-play, which is carried off reasonably well.
Indeed, there are enough redeeming moments in this production to make it worth a viewing. Michelle Pfeiffer is fabulous as Titania, Stanley Tucci does an unusually low-key, but delightfully cynical Puck, and I greatly enjoyed the relocation of the play to Italy at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. As a former professor of Shakespearean drama, I would certainly use this film in a class.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2006
This film is an able transposition of Shakespeare's comedy from ancient Athens to the tiny Italian village of Monte Atena at the end of the 19th century. The action takes place on an enormous estate run by Duke Theseus (David Strathairn of "Good Night and Good Luck"). The acting troupe led by Kevin Klein's Bottom the clown is made up of locals who love the theater enough to neglect their other work. The forest filled with magical fairy-folk lies just beyond the carefully clipped meadows that signal the boundary between logic and enchantment.

The film is fun. The lovers (with Calista Flockhart as Helena and a pre-"Batman Begins" Christopher Bale) are by turns love-smitten and repelled. They make their way around the forest on bicycles.The fairy-folk present a kaleidoscopic array of shapes, colors and sizes. It's fun to recognize influences -- from paintings by Waterhouse to Hieronymus Bosch -- that were used to depict them.

Special mention goes to the troupe of clowns that prepares a play for the Duke's wedding. Led by Klein/Bottom they are by turns committed thespians and incompetent oafs. Indeed, they are a play *within* the play-within-a-play as the film takes us inside Bottom's pathetic and unhappy marriage to a woman who has no use for his dreams of the stage. This gives the film a bit of a somber tone, but does it no lasting harm.

The all-star cast is generally up to the task. Michelle Pfeiffer is radiant as Titania. Flockhart is appropriately weepy, confused and irate as befuddled Helena. Stanley Tucci's Robin Goodfellow as appropriately ... puckish in his role as Oberon's servant. And Klein, after an enchantment that has turned him into an ass, incorporates a donkey's braying into his laughter and speech. The presentation of "Pyramis and Thisbe" was a high point of the film, played for all its comic pathos.

There are some qualifications to my praise. The musical score often obscured the dialog -- unpardonable when it comes to the Bard! And there was much unchaste behavior in the forest that could just as easily have been left out or dealt with in hints. In the discovery scene toward the end, the lovers are discovered sleeping in naked embrace by their parents and benefactors. The shock of such a discovery in 18-whatever was replaced by unconvincing resignation on the part of the observers. And some of the roles seeme to have been phoned in, notably Rupert Everett's dull, detached Oberon.

But these quibbles aside, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" managed to capture the intensity of the lovers and the whimsical earthiness of the world of magic.
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55 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2000
This is not the best version of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM out there. Once again, for some strange reason, it has been decided that Shakespeare didn't know what he was doing, and actually, the setting for the film is Italy, not Athens. And as the film opens we discover that characters like Hippolyta (Queen of the Amazons) and Theseus (Duke of Athens) actually live in a 19th century villa. Rather remarkable, that. Oh, and wait till you hear! Nick Bottom the Weaver has a wife. Where she came from, I guess we'll never know. She even has a speaking part.
There's also the mystery of the bicycles. They're definitely not from Athens or from Greek mythology. And the fairies' haunts in the woods look amazingly pre-Raphaelite.
All that aside, there are some nice performances in this film. Stanley Tucci does a wonderful Puck, Kevin Kline actually manages to do a good job with Bottom once his wife is out of the picture, and the other tradesmen are quite well done. Flockhart does a passable Helena, and Michelle Pfeiffer is ravishing as Titania.
One thing I couldn't get past in this movie is that there are at least four, count 'em, four different accents being employed. Hermia is obviously a long lost sister of Elisa Doolittle, while Lysander sounds a lot more like, oh, James Mason... meanwhile, Hippolyta seems to have gone to the Gina Lolabrigida school of diction and Calista Flockhart... well who knows WHERE she got HER accent.
Oh, while we're at it, is it REALLY necessary to have mud wrestling in bloomers? I mean, we all would have paid just to catch a glimpse of Michelle Pfeiffer and Kevin Kline.
Yes, this video is worth seeing. No, it isn't great Shakespeare. Watch it just for fun. Let's hope Branaugh is over his Hamlet fiasco and back producing SERIOUS performances of the Bard's work.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 1999
Saw this movie same day as the Phantom Menace.This is the better story by far.No doubt the critics and purists have all had their say (what fools these mortals be...) but I was enchanted,for want of a better word.I thought at the time that such an original idea could only have come out of Hollywood.But no it just happened to originate in a dingy little flea infested attic room above an amateur London theatre some 400 years ago.Shakespeare,what a guy.His works will live on and on long after we're gone.
As for the movie well for her role as Hermia I can finally forgive Calista Flockhart for all those shenanigans she pulls off in Ally McBeal.Well done girl! I agree with all the praise heaped on Kevin Klines performance but I thought Stanley Tucci also deserved some kudos for his portrayal of Puck.Because it was such a pivotal role I thought he made the movie,even with his broad New York accent.Well he made me laugh a few times.Pfeiffer's sexy Queen Titania was excellent while Rupert Everitt seemed to fit Oberon like a new skin.He never looked so macho! Now I'll definitely have to buy the video but i recommend this film to first time Shakespeare watchers.If the story doesnt grab you the acting and the sets surely will. William take another bow.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2000
Well, I have little to add that my fellow critics have not already mentioned. The movie truly did convey a sense of magic and wonder. Sometimes I think this play is so well loved because it takes the mind back to its earlier child-like fantasies. And this movie succeeds superbly in creating for today's visually oriented viewers the fantastic world that the Bard's audiences would have visualized clearly with their ears alone.
I'm sorry to hear that many still consider Shakespeare's poetry more an obstacle than a pleasure, for the words truly are the music of the play. But it IS unfamiliar to many, and if movies such as this are able to bridge the gap between today's audiences and Shakespeare's verse, to spark the interest of the average viewer and prompt him or her to discover the magic of the poetry one-on-one, then it's a good thing.
Speaking of music, I was delighted as much by what I heard in this film as what I saw. Using Mendelssohn's incidental music to this very play was a welcomed treat and I found the operatic selections equally effective.
I enjoyed this movie tremedously from first to last, and thought it handled both the comic and the sublime with a masterful touch. I recommend it to those who venerate the Bard as well as to those who are now just getting to know him. For those who prefer the comic vein to the tragic, it is as good an introduction to Shakespeare as any I know of.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2005
This is a fine version/adaptation of Shakespeare's classic comic masterpiece, with superior cinematography and fine acting, especially in actress Michelle Pfeiffer as the Fairy Queen Titania,Calista Flockhart as Helena, Stanley Tucci as the mischievous sprite Puck and Kevin Kline as Bottom the actor-turned-donkey. The setting has been changed to turn-of-the-century Tuscany, Italy, and the cast is mostly British and American actors donning Edwardian clothes (when they are not nude). It is still a good film and the magic of the original work is not lost in this strange twist in time period. The look, cinematially, is breathtaking, as we see lush vistas of the Tuscan countryside. The authentic Edwardian ambiance includes the newly invented bicycle and the much-loved phonograph, which constantly plays opera. Which brings me to another outstanding element in this movie- the soundtrack. It is gorgeous and will make you want to purchase the soundtrack itself. Besides spectacular classical music, like the Overture, Nocturne and Wedding March from Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream; the score features operatic arias sung by popular and talented opera stars Roberto Alagna, Renee Fleming, Luciano Pavarotti and Cecilia Bartoli. The most beautiful of these is Renee Fleming's interpretation of the aria "Casta Diva" from Bellini's Norma. Most people associate this Shakespearian comedy with English folk and Elizabethan times, it is a jolly comedy which reflected the gaiety of Queen Elizabeth's festive court, especially festive around the holidays. But no matter how you change this story to fit a diverse time period, it is still the same story. The actors are doing a fine job in their respective roles. It is still delightful to watch Puck making fools of the lovers who fall for each other's partners. The movie is even better on DVD, packed with some bonus features including trailer and commentary. The sound is superior than on VHS. This is a must have. I highly recommend it. Memorable are such scenes as when Helena and the other girl get in a mud-fight! I was very surprised that Calista Flockheart (from Fox's Ally Mcbeal) was in this movie and even more surprised that soprano Renee Fleming lent her voice to this. She is singing the earliest Casta Diva she has ever sung, and is in fine shape vocally. I hope that people can get past the fact this movie is not traditionally staged and is excellent and holds it own.
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