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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream
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Review by Chris Hughes | posted January 24, 2000 | E-mail the Author
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Features: Widescreen Letterboxed – (2.35:1), Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), Subtitles: English, Spanish, Theatrical trailer.

The Movie:
Every generation it seems must at some point rediscover the works of William Shakespeare. In recent years the job of interpreting the Bard's works for the big screen has fallen on the shoulders of Kenneth Branagh who directed versions of Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing and Othello among others. Now Michael Hoffmann tries his hand and brings us A Midsummer Night's Dream. Shakespeare's play is one of his lighter offerings featuring several love triangles, supernatural interventions and a number of memorable comic figures. For his adaptation Hoffmann has chosen to throw out more than half of the original dialogue and places the action in the 19th century. The end result is a kind of Reader's Digest version of the play.

That being said, Hoffmann's film is indeed successful. Rather than bog viewers down with excessive iambic pentameter and Elizabethan colloquialisms he focuses instead on the main themes of the play and leaves us with the essence of its greatness. All the elements are here from the sprightly good-natured Puck and the silly self satisfied Nick Bottom to brooding Oberon and lovesick Helena. All of the action is wrapped in gorgeous sets, rich locations and sumptuous costumes making the movie a true visual feast.

The Picture:
The images in A Midsummer Night's Dream are consistently rich and filled with color and detail. Hoffmann makes full use of the widescreen format and his compositions are always balanced and attractive. Though non-anamorphic, the transfer on this DVD is well done and exhibits only the slightest evidence of compression (I was able to detect a handful of examples of pixelation and strobing in some of the more complex backgrounds.) The colors are very rich and show no halo effects or over saturation. Much of the action takes place at night so good shadow detail and black levels are critical. I found both to be right on the money. It's a shame that such a visually interesting movie should be given a non-anamorphic transfer. Bad Fox! No Cookie!

The Sound:
Two audio tracks are provided on this disc. First is a full-blown Dolby Digital 5.1 version. This track was a little disappointing to me. Though most of the movie is dialogue based there were ample opportunities to use the surrounds to create an enveloping ambient environment. There are examples of forest sounds (birds and the like) that waft across the rear channels but they could have been much more pronounced. The LFE is left with little signal with the brief exception of a little lightning. Be that as it may, the 5.1 track does what it has to and presents the dialogue in crisp clarity. The Dolby 2.0 track is almost indistinguishable from the 5.1 track as the latter has only the rarest of split-rear effects.

The Extras:
Once again Fox Home Video drops the ball. The only extra on this disc is the theatrical trailer.

Conclusion:
Shakespeare purists will probably disdain this release for its copious editing of the original dialogue. On the other hand those who have a casual interest in Shakespeare should find the film very entertaining. This most recent version of A Midsummer Night's Dream is a great introduction to the Bard's work and would lead quite naturally to screenings of Branagh's more literal interpretations. The DVD presentation itself suffers from Fox's general lack of commitment to the format, which is a shame. C'mon Fox, it's time to catch up with the rest of the industry!
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