Love’s Labour’s Lost

Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Nathan Lane, Natascha McElhone, Alicia Silverstone, Carmen Eijago
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Behind the Scenes Featurette

Shakespeare raider Kenneth Branagh’s latest stab at the Bard re-imagines the slight 1593 comedy ’Love’s Labour’s Lost’ as a 1930’s screwball musical. Where to begin? The DVD from Miramax Home Entertainment indeed treats with a stellar transfer and a vibrant soundtrack, yet the real prize is the backstage glimpse behind this goofy experiment!

The King of Navarre (Nivola) convinces his counsel (Lester, Lillard and Branagh) to swear off women in the pursuit of intellectual enlightenment. All oaths are off once the Princess of France (Alicia Silverstone, whose Valley Girl delivery just grates) arrives with her entourage (McElhone, Mortimer, and Ejago) as part of a diplomatic visit. Faster than you can let slip the dogs of war, everybody cajoles, taps and swings for 94 minutes, plotting to land each other in arms, in bed or in a musical interlude.

Time has proven Shakespeare a durable fellow when it comes to genre-bending his plays for film (’West Side Story,’ ’Forbidden Planet,’ and Paul Mazursky’s ’The Tempest’ leap to mind). The gamble here was that the artificiality of the studio-bound musical would compliment one of Shakespeare’s lesser comedies. Inserting the songs of Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, and Cole Porter might seem inspired, but the result is like imitation margarine: it’s a fake of a fake. Branagh unfortunately embraced the dated flaws of the screwball comedy: exaggerated facial gesticulations, google-eyed expressions, dialogue at indecipherable speed. When Timothy Spall’s gag-ridden execution of ’I Get A Kick Out of You’ visualizes the metaphors (like a Tex Avery cartoon) or when Silverstone enunciates ’dispatch’ as two words, one wonders exactly when did the Emperor lose his clothes.

The 2.35 anamorphic transfer shines. Owing to convention, the cinematography boasts a soft-focus, heavily diffused look. The video image impresses with accurate color rendition and surprisingly solid definition: reds appear frequently yet display boldly with no break-up. Fleshtones are completely natural. The source is immaculate and despite the aforementioned photographic obstacles, no digital or compression artifacts popped up.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio serves the musical interludes well, creating an expansive soundfield during the numbers and feeding all speakers lushly orchestrated versions of ’Let’s Face the Music’ and ’They Can’t Take That Away From Me.’ As such, surround sound effects rarely intrude and the soundtrack boasts zip LFE activity.

The supplemental materials starts with four deleted scenes, excised from existing moments. However, the third deleted scene, cut completely from the film, is so utterly ridiculous its inclusion would have made the film an instant cult classic a la ’Rocky Horror.’ The outtakes numerate the flubbed lines, missed cues, and gaffes, showing that the actors had more fun making the movie than did the audience enduring it. The featurette would have us believe that a serious commitment to art drove the production. Right.

As for Branagh’s latest, it is definitely ’laboured,’ I cannot bring myself to ’love’ it and I imagine several of the participants hope this Shakespearean misfire will be mercifully ’lost.’