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7 Times Hollywood Butchered The Bard (& 10 Times It Got Him Right)

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    Each year upon this April month so fair
    We celebrate the birth of one great bard.
    In school we read his plays, so fine, with care.
    Or watched them when the reading got too hard.
    Hollywood could not resist his sage words
    And cast celebrities to play his parts.
    So we flocked to watch Leo, like the birds.
    And he and Claire Danes won over our hearts.
    But not every film always did the trick.
    For some were as ill-conceived as my rhymes.
    Sometimes the pictures were not good to pick.
    You might as well have gone to Medieval Times.
    So here we will review these flicks so poor.
    We hope it does not prove to be a bore.

    Yes, that is a terrible sonnet. But, was it as terrible as some of Hollywood's attempts to adapt Shakespeare's plays? For every Romeo and Juliet (1968) or even Romeo + Juliet (1996), there's a Romeo and Juliet (2013). You know, the one where Brody from Homeland was Lord Capulet, Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl was Tybalt, and a pre-"Love Myself" Hailee Steinfeld was Juliet.

    Shakespeare can be intimidating for filmmakers, with all that verse. Sometimes they just do away with the complicated language and use his stories, which are often elemental in their simplicity. Take, for instance, all those teen movies you loved in the late '90s and early '00s. Other times, movies try to keep all those highfalutin words, but get rid of the stuffy costumes. See Baz Luhrmann's aforementioned Romeo. There is no exact formula for getting Shakespeare right, however; some fail miserably while others succeed.

    Here are some examples of both the bad and the good.

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    Men of Respect (1991)

    Macbeth — robbed of its Shakespearean dialect — becomes a rote mob drama in this movie starring John Turturro. Turturro isn’t playing a Scottish warrior aiming for a throne. Instead, he’s mafia hitman, Mike Battaglia.

    Damning review: “Talent abounds in Men of Respect, but it seems misdirected, defused, wasted.” — Michael Wilmington, The Los Angeles Times

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    Macbeth (2006)

    Before Sam Worthington starred in Avatar, he also took on the Bard’s murderous striver. This Australian film gave Macbeth an emo haircut, employed all too much shaky camera action, and dressed its witches in schoolgirl uniforms. It strives, painfully, for coolness.

    Damning review: “Unfortunately, Romper Stomper director Geoffrey Wright’s take on the play fails to do it justice: both lumpen and flashy, it convinces neither as drama nor as stylistic exercise.” — Ben Walters, Time Out

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    As You Like It (2007)

    Kenneth Branagh is widely regarded as one of Hollywood’s best interpreters of Shakespeare. However, his take on the delightful cross-dressing comedy As You Like It was not very well-received. Branagh decided to stage the action in colonial 19th Century Japan. Curiously, he cast no Japanese actors in the lead roles.

    Damning review:
    “Mr. Branagh has teased out every manly rivalry and preserved every hey-nonny-nonny of the kooks in the Forest of Arden, but slashed passages of the repartee that defines Rosalind.” — Virginia Heffernan, The New York Times

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    The Tempest (2010)
    Helen Mirren as Prospera (rather than Prospero) is an inspired choice. But reviewers concurred that Julie Taymor’s tendency for visual excess got the better of her here. Take for instance, the corny, rock driven sequence when a fiery Ariel (Ben Whishaw) describes creating the titular tempest.

    Damning review: “The special effects are intrusive and anything but magical and the text is rather curiously edited.” — Philip French, The Guardian

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    Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)

    It’s Romeo and Juliet — with gnomes and Elton John music! Honestly, this one deserves props for the puns alone, but the happy ending is really disappointing. We're holding out for the dark and gritty Gnomeo & Juliet reboot.

    Damning review: Gnomeo and Juliet isn't exactly the worst movie to ever get a theatrical release, but it is one of the most mystifying, combining Shakespeare references, slapstick and Elton John's back catalogue in a way nobody ever expected or asked for.” — Katey Rich, CinemaBlend