Shakespearean Gateway Drug

Like most everyone who’s taken an English class, I’ve had my share of Shakespeare. I’ve read a handful of his plays, know the plots to a few more, and think I mostly understand what’s kinda going on (but clearly still miss a lot of it). That said, I’ve also seen Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and Hamlet, and enjoyed both, so hey: Shakespeare. Thanks to Branagh’s films, though, I’ve had this appreciation for those long monologues and weird words without stage directions that make up a Shakespearean play.

Sometimes it seems that actually seeing something makes you appreciate it more. Take Joss Whedon’s new adaption of Much Ado About Nothing. I got the chance to see an early screening about a month ago (if you’re wondering: it’s phenomenal, go see it). What makes this movie particularly fun is that the script is pure Shakespeare. There’s no updating of the play, there’s no cutting out bits. It’s just Shakespeare.

Sure, that means you don’t quite follow everything (unless, y’know, Shakespeare’s your thing), but you get the point of the play. You can follow the plot well enough and you’ll catch most of the jokes (chalk that up to Whedon’s direction and the excellent acting). It’s all Shakespeare, but it’s made intelligible. Or more intelligible. Whatever. As it stands, Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing is Shakespeare presented as Shakespeare — not dumbed down — and watchable and understandable by people who normally wouldn’t watch Shakespeare. Familiar faces like Clark Gregg and Nathan Fillion (and BriTANick!) help ease you into the Bard’s story. You don’t have to have a Masters in Shakespearean Literature to get Much Ado. It’s there and it’s clear; there’s no attempt to snobbify it. And it just might get someone to pursue Hamlet or A Midsummer’s Night Dream. It’s a Shakespearean gateway drug, if you will.

Shakespeare isn’t the only tough thing to get into. Star Trek, as a whole, is a rather intimidating fandom. You have the original series, The Next Generation, a cornucopia of films, and a bunch of other tv series out there. There’s a lot. 2009’s Star Trek remade the universe so an outsider could jump into it. The recent follow-up, Into Darkness, delved deeper into Trek lore. It’s filled with shout outs and nods to prior works that get Trekkies’ approval, but also encourages newer viewers to investigate further. All the while it never alienates newcomers.

In fact, Into Darkness pulled this off magnificently thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch’s casting as the villain. His devoted fan following from Sherlock — a modern real-life retelling — wound up watching Into Darkness — a futuristic story about space exploration. In this case, Cumberbatch is the gateway drug. Coupled with J.J. Abrams’ storytelling, we receive an open invitation into a world we’d have needed a qualification for. Their efforts, like Joss Whedon’s helmsmanship of Much Ado About Nothing, simultaneously encourages and reassures potential viewers that even though what they’re about to watch may not be their usual fare, it probably won’t be that bad. In fact, it might actually be great.

To that effect, both Into Darkness and Much Ado About Nothing are fantastic films. They have that feeling of being for a specific group of people, yet are still remarkably accessible. Even if you still get thee and thy mixed up or thought Spock was that guy with the lightsaber, you’ll still enjoy these films. Heck, you might even try to find more like them.

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