MACBETH - DVD review

Something wicked this way comes takes on a whole new meaning with this pompous and joyless adaptation.

William D. Lee's picture

Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

William Shakespeare's works have seen countless permutations in all forms of entertainment. Certainly, "Macbeth", a tale of madness and betrayal, is no exception as it has seen various cinematic adaptations directed by Orson Welles and Roman Polanski, among others. Even the master Akira Kurosawa has made several films that were based off of Shakespeare's works. "Ran" was an adaptation of "King Lear", while "The Bad Sleep Well" mirrored "Hamlet." Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood" transplanted the story of Macbeth from Scotland to medieval Japan. Australian filmmaker Geoffrey Wright, best known for "Romper Stomper" which starred a young Russell Crowe as a Neo-Nazi, steps up to the plate with his version set in the modern-day underworld of Melbourne.

The original play followed the story of Macbeth, a general, who is spurred on by the prophecies of three witches known as the Weird Sisters and the urgings of his wife to betray and murder, Duncan, the King of Scotland. Assuming the throne, he kills all those who would be a threat to his power. As they descend deeper into a downward spiral of murder, Macbeth and his wife become wracked with guilt and madness. During one of the play's most well-known scenes, Lady Macbeth attempts to scrub away the figurative blood on her hands.

In Wright's film, Duncan (Gary Sweet) is now the head of a powerful crime family with Macbeth (Sam Worthington) as one of his lieutenants. The movie opens in a cemetery where MacBeth and his wife, the Lady Macbeth (Victoria Hill, who also co-wrote and produced the film) mourn over the grave of their son. In the graveyard, MacBeth initially spots the Weird Sisters (Chloe Armstrong, Kate Bell, and Miranda Nation), re-imagined from bearded witches to a trio of red-haired schoolgirls. That night, Macbeth and his friend, Banquo (Steve Bastoni), are doing a drug deal with the Macdonwald gang at the docks. Of course, the deal goes bad and bullets fly. Macbeth and Banquo gun down the remaining aggressors and take control of Macdonwald's nightclub. To celebrate, Macbeth takes some neat drugs and gets funky by switching on the fog machine and disco lights. He meets with the Weird Sisters again to foretell that he'll be the new head honcho. As if that weren't ridiculous enough, their next meeting tops it when Macbeth and the schoolgirls engage in a four-way orgy.

Lady Macbeth likes what she hears and when Duncan spends the night in their home, they plot to kill him. Macbeth stabs Duncan while he sleeps and frames his bodyguards. Soon, he begins eliminating any competition to his position of power by hiring assassins to murder Banquo and the wife and son of another rival, Macduff (Lachy Hulme). Discovering the depths to which she and her husband have sank, Lady Macbeth falls into a pit of depression and insanity. Meanwhile, Macduff and his cohorts start to turn on Macbeth's bloodthirsty reign and consolidate their resources against him.

Like his countryman, Baz Luhrmann and his garish, big-screen version of "Romeo & Juliet", Wright retains the original dialogue of the play. I've never quite understood the need to do this. It's just downright silly seeing these guys in their Armani suits gathering around a seedy back alley while speaking in Ye Olde English. I've never been much of a fan for these modern retellings. Luhrmann's "Romeo" was assuredly a box-office hit and has its own loyal following, but I don't count myself as one of them. The only one that I truly enjoyed was Richard Loncraine's "Richard III" (set in an alternate fascist 1930's England) with the always-great Ian McKellan in the eponymous role. In any event, the line readings here are just plain robotic. It's as if we were watching a troupe of high school drama students simply reciting the lines, hoping they haven't forgotten a word or two.

Wright's "Macbeth" is supposed to be an action film. The DVD cover art even makes it look like "Underworld" with the dark tones and characters in black leather trenchcoats. However, there isn't much action to be found. The movie just pretentiously plods along as we witness the actors mechanically moving through the Shakespearean dialogue. When the action does come along, Wright uses just about every clichéd technique in the action director's playbook. We've got slow-motion, fast-motion, Dutch angles, tight close-ups, and quick cuts. There's nothing inventive or exciting about any of the action set pieces.

The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The picture is definitely strong without any noticeable specks or grain to befoul the film. There are a lot of dark night scenes in the film, but it's not difficult to see what's happening on-screen.

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 stereo. The sound is decent enough. Effects such as the gunfire and score are strong. Subtitles aren't available which is a bit of a problem. The dialogue isn't muddled, but the elaborate Shakespearean words via the Australian accents can make it hard to understand what they're saying at times.

The only substantial extra available is a Making Of featurette that runs just under thirteen minutes. The featurette consists of interviews with Writer/Director Geoffrey Wright and stars Sam Worthington and Victoria Hill. Each discuss Shakespeare, their adaptation, and the shooting of the film.

Rounding out the bonus material are the film's theatrical trailer and trailers for "Beowulf & Grendel" and "The Other Conquest."

"Macbeth" is probably one of my favorite works by the Bard. I had a morbid curiosity to see it reworked into a cheesy action film. However, last time I checked action movies are supposed fun, rollercoaster rides. Instead, Geoffrey Wright's "Macbeth" is a tedious, self-important bore. "Something wicked this way comes," takes on a whole new meaning with this pompous and joyless adaptation.


Film Value