In anticipation of tomorrow’s show in which we discuss Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, we’ve decided to count down our Top 5 Secret Shakespeare Adaptations. These are movies in which the Bard got the shaft, and was denied a motion picture credit, thus ruining his career in show business.
5. The Lion King
After promising audiences a whimsical, Elton John song-infused, cartoon adventure, Disney’s The Lion King turned out to be dark, disturbing, Hamlet-esque tale of revenge– which, admittedly, contained some whimsy and a fair number of Elton John songs. Did the story of a mopey son avenging his father’s murder at the hands of his uncle just pop into screenwriters’ heads? Seriously, there are three credited screenwriters and twenty-five additional story credits, and not one of them is William Shakespeare! And they could have credited him, because he has his own Imdb page.
On the plus side, The Lion King may be the closest Jonathan Taylor-Thomas ever gets to playing Hamlet. Also, Timon and Pumbaa, the meerkat/warthog equivalent of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern starred in there own DVD sequel The Lion King 1 ½, which re-tells the story of The Lion King from their perspective, thus making Tom Stoppard’s head explode.
4. 10 Things I Hate About You
Have you ever noticed if you mumble the titles of Shakespeare’s plays they can sound kind of like teen movie titles? For example, put some marbles in your mouth and say “A Midsummer’s Nights Dream”; it might sound kind of like “A Big Bummer, I Might Scream“. And that classic Titus Andronicus, if you don’t articulate properly, becomes Bite-Us-and-Chronic-Us, a tragedy about the bloody class war between the Goths and Stoner Kids. Less forced and actually existant as a film, 10 Things I Hate About You is the 1999 adaptation of The Taming of The Shrew. Modernizing the play by changing the setting from Verona to a normal American high school, it uses all the textures of the Bard’s original and if you can convince your English teacher you’d get more out of watching that than reading the boring play together aloud, you could at least put your head on your desk, inhale the cleaning supply chemicals and nap.
Of course, this film is notable for being a casting farm for Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. Both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Heath Ledger respectively were picked for their roles in the franchise based on their performances in this. While Ledger at the time was known for being a real dreamboat, Nolan saw the potential for him to make people scream on boats (which is what he did at the climax of The Dark Knight).
3. She’s the Man
Transvestism is a recurring role in Shakespeare’s plays and though we think of Elizabethan England as a rather conservative place, it seemed to have some real gender fluidity. They were into some kinky shit. That grand tradition continues in this update of Twelfth Night (with a healthy dash of Ladybugs) starring Amanda Bynes as a girl who pretends to be her brother Sebastian so she can play on an all boys soccer team. Things are complicated, however, when the real Sebastian returns and I assume we learn an important lesson about sexism and Amanda Bynes gets to play soccer with the boys. Plus, the movie co-stars Channing Tatum, so I assume it was directed by Steven Soderbergh.
The problem with this movie is that it really misses the point. In Elizabethan times, women were barred from the stage, so all female characters were played by young boys. So to be true to the spirit of Shakespeare this movie should have an male actor impersonating Amanda Bynes, who is playing the part of Olivia/Sebastian. He’s the She’s The Man.
2. My Own Private Idaho
Gus Van Sant has had an eclectic career, from re-making Psycho, to making Good Will Hunting twice, to the sparsely beautiful Elephant. It’s easy to forget that one of his early films, My Own Private Idaho, was a loose adaptation of Henry IV, starring River Phoenix and a post-Point Break, pre-Matrix Keanu Reeves. The movie also co-stars the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, and though I haven’t seen it in a while, I assume he was playing Needles.
1. Strange Brew
One of the oddest adaptations of Hamlet (that doesn’t star Ethan Hawke), Strange Brew finds SCTV’s Bob and Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) battling an evil brewery that’s dosing its beer with a mind-control drug. While the whole “mind-controlling beer” thing doesn’t sound explicitly Shakespearean, the name of the company is Elsinore Brewery, and the former owner died under mysterious circumstances. It’s Hamlet but with more surreal ’80s hockey scenes. Also, Max Von Sydow plays an evil brewmeister, which may be the greatest thing in all of Canadian cinema.