Movies

The Five Worst Shakespeare Adaptations

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All that’s adapted is not gold.

Just as every “serious” singer will eventually release a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” any director who self-identifies as an “artist” will eventually helm a Shakespeare adaptation (James Cameron, I fear the day). The temptation is understandable — Shakespeare is Shakespeare, after all. But there are some places even The Bard’s work shouldn’t go — like anywhere near Keanu Reeves’ mouth, for starters — and some misguided directors are hell-bent on taking him there. To prepare ourselves for Ralph Fiennes’ upcoming and tauntingly homoerotic Coriolanus, we’ve compiled a list of the five worst Shakespeare adaptations in film history. These shadows do offend.

5. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream showcases some of the Bard’s finest lyrical work; its magic depends largely on its light, mellifluous dialogue. Apparently no one mentioned this to the cast of Michael Hoffman’s painfully awkward interpretation: when the actors aren’t mumbling their words, they're missing the rhythms entirely. (The exception is Kevin Kline, because he is a national treasure, Wild Wild West not withstanding.) If you love schadenfreude, watch Michelle Pfeiffer overact her way through the enchanted forest. Given the absence of Coolio on the soundtrack, this Pfeiffer vehicle never stood a chance.

4. As You Like It (2007)

In terms of Shakespeare adaptations, Kenneth Branagh is normally a name to trust. But Branagh made a rare misstep when he ostentatiously relocated As You Like It’s Forest of Arden from France to nineteenth-century Japan. The set-change is novel and nothing more — behind the kimonos and beautiful landscapes lies a translation of Shakespeare that is neither engaging nor smart, and the set change is distracting at best. Suffering primarily from an unbearably slow pace, As Like You It fails to be anything I like.

3. O (2001)

Like every girl who went through puberty in the late-’90s, I like 10 Things I Hate About You. I find it charming and smart and yes, Health Ledger was a total babe. Yet, as O proves, just modernizing a Shakespeare play (in this case, Othello) and sticking poker-faced Julia Stiles in it is no way to guarantee success. In fact, I would go so far as to call 10 Things a fluke. O's Iago (played by millennial dreamboat Josh Hartnett) lacks the devilish charm or persuasiveness to make the character believable, and the script's incessant "bro"-ing and "yo"-ing comes off as trite.

2. Hamlet (2000)

Writer/director Michael Almereyda's Hamlet tries so hard to be hip and edgy that it might as well be me in high school. It's as if the film got all of its information on post-adolescent existence from reading a Bard student's Xanga and a couple of passages from Chicken Soup for the Young Adult Soul. When Ethan Hawke (who, in a remarkable feat, turns Hamlet into a carbon copy of his character from Reality Bites ) starts delivering the famous "to be, or not to be" soliloquy in a Blockbuster, you can't help but laugh. Also, Julia Stiles as Ophelia? What kind of strange conspiracy is this? Directors, Julia Stiles is not the voice of my generation: I stopped caring about her after watching her learn how to dance like a genuine hip hopper.

1. Macbeth (2006)

Geoffrey Wright's Macbeth is Shakespeare on steroids. It's the 2 Fast 2 Furious of Shakespeare adaptations, all masculine posturing and over-stylized violence with little emotional depth. For some reason, Wright decided to rework the brutal tragedy of Macbeth into a modern Australian gang drama (didn't know Australia had gangs, did ya mate?) and somewhere in the process created a thirteen-year-old boy's wet dream instead. The three witches have an orgy with Macbeth! There are automatic weapons! Blaring rock music! Motocross bikes! Coke! Coke! Coke! The film “is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”