DVD Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Joss Whedon and Shakespeare are two fantastic storytellers, and in Whedon’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, we get the best of both worlds. For those who are curious, yes, the entire film is spoken in Shakespearean tongue, though I do urge thou not to take shelter from this news, but embrace it in thine bosom and cherish it. Okay, so clearly I’m not Shakespeare, but I will say that those scared off by dialogue that is not always the easiest to follow, will in fact be missing out on one of this year’s hidden gems.

If you’re not accustomed to hearing Shakespeare, then entire scenes may fly by where you only have an inkling of what exactly was said. That noted, Whedon and his spectacular cast do a marvelous job of acting things out in a way where simply watching the characters, their body language, and the way they interact with one another can fill in the blanks left by some of the faster banter. Better yet, subtitles are your friend, as reading along while watching can help clear up phrases and actions that may not have made much sense otherwise. I know it helped me get adjusted to what some may even consider a foreign language.

And that’s the good news, as over time the language just starts clicking, and the enjoyment of the story and the characters within it heightens even more. Another thing that helps is that Shakespeare knows how to tell a story that, while sometimes complex, is never confusingly so. The plot of Much Ado About Nothing is straightforward, and it’s filled with the common misconceptions and plot points that many romantic comedies of today borrow from. Because of this, it’s very hard to get lost in what’s going on, even if the language barrier holds you up at first.

The film is shot in beautiful black and white, as Whedon felt that while the story is a romantic comedy of sorts, it also has a looming sense of film noir and darker comedic tones. This decision actually makes the film all the more unique and enjoyable, as it gives the film a classic look and aura, all while feeling completely modern. Whedon and his crew shot this film over a 12 day period in a single location, which works to its benefit, as the intimate nature of the subject matter, how fast things happen within the story, and how everyone being under the same roof only adds to the would-be harmless fueling of gossip and trickery in the name of love.

The cast and crew work incredibly well together, and this is thanks in part to Whedon actually hosting readings of Shakespeare at his home every so often since back in his Buffy days. When they did a reading of Much Ado About Nothing, and Amy Acker (The Cabin in the Woods, Illyria from TV’s Angel) and Alexis Denisof (Wesley Wyndam-Pryce from TV’s Buffy and Angel, as well as Sandy Rivers from TV’s How I Met Your Mother) played the lead roles of Beatrice and Benedick, Whedon noted that if they ever did do a Shakespearean film, that Much Ado would be the story, and they would be the leads. It’s easy to see what Whedon saw, as the way Acker and Denisof bicker back and forth on screen is magic, and their chemistry is undeniable.

The rest of the cast is filled out with some more major players, most of whom have worked in the Whedon-verse at one time or another: Clark Gregg (best known as Agent “His name was Phil” Coulson In the Marvel films) plays the part of Leonato, a Politician, and owner of the house where the film’s events take place; while Reed Diamond (Homicide: Life on the Streets) plays the part of Don Pedro, a visiting Prince, whose arrival sets the film in motion. Claudio, one of the Prince’s officers is played by Fran Kranz (The Cabin in the Woods, TV’s Dollhouse), who falls in love with Hero, played by newcomer Jillian Morgese. While the film’s villain, Don John, is played by Firefly/Serenity alumni Sean Maher, and I’m not sure if it was the lighting along with the black and white visuals, but man does he ever look evil and conniving.

While everyone involved is truly astonishing, special mention must be given to Nathan Fillion (TV’s Castle, Firefly) and his Watchmen. About midway through the film, shenanigans take place that see Don John’s cronies, Conrade (Riki Lindhome) and Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark), arrested and detained for questioning. Fillion plays Constable Dogberry, who’s in charge of the night watch, who alongside his partner Verges (Tom Lenk), take to questioning the suspects in show stealing fashion. In fact, Fillion and Lenk tend to steal any scene they’re involved with due to their perfect comedic timing and delivery.

After the blockbuster endeavour that was The Avengers, Whedon has toned it back to something much more personal and intimate with his adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. What’s so great about it though, is that nobody involved took the task of creating this film in under two weeks lightly, and everyone brought their A-game to the table. The end result is a film that’s filled with laughs, love, and above all else, is a pure joy to experience.

The film transfer to DVD looks wonderful, with the choice to film in black and white really helping to bring the film to life. The darks are crisp and sharp, while there’s little to no muddiness in the grey tones. The sound mix is also incredibly well done, with the dialogue coming through smoothly, and any musical score only adding to the moment and never bringing the viewer out of it.

Special features on this disc are actually fairly abundant for such a small film, so fans of the film should be quite happy.

Audio Commentary with Joss Whedon – This commentary has Whedon talk about this labour of love in great length. He touches upon many of the production aspects of the film, how things came to be, why certain shots were done the way they were, and such. This commentary is more technical than the second one; however, Whedon approaches it in a very welcoming way that shouldn’t exclude those who don’t know all aspects of movie making.

Audio Commentary with Cast and Joss Whedon – There are a handful of the cast who take part in this commentary, which is full of inside jokes and lots of laughing. If it’s not clear from the other special features that this is a tight-knit cast that enjoys spending time together, than this commentary will certainly cement that fact.

Much Ado About Making Nothing – This is a 22-minute feature that touches upon the making of the film in three acts. The first act talks about how the film came to be, and how Whedon and his producer Kai Cole got everyone involved. The second act is more about how things came to life on set, and during production, while the final act quickly touches upon Whedon taking the film on the festival circuit.

Bus Ado About Nothing – This featurette is just over six minutes in length and shows video (and Vines) of how the cast, alongside Whedon, took a tour bus from Los Angeles to Austin, Texas for the SXSW film festival. While it only briefly touches upon what happened during the 30 hour bus ride, it’s clear that this is a group of people that would be a blast to hang out with.

A “Sigh No More” music video, and some Trailers from Lionsgate round out the special features.

Lionsgate Presents Much Ado About Nothing. Adapted for the Screen and Directed by: Joss Whedon. Starring: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Reed Diamond, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Fran Kranz, Sean Maher, Jillian Morgese, Tom Lenk. Running time: 109 minutes. Rating: PG. Released: October 8, 2013.

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