O (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Here's a tip for you youngsters who want to master charades: you won't fool anyone with this title! I suggest you go instead for "Will Hieronymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?", "Air Bud 4: 7th Inning Fetch", or maybe "Timegate: Tales of the Saddle Tramps".

There are two distinctly different ways to bring Shakespeare into modern times, with and without his words. The problem with giving up Shakespeare's words is that he didn't have much else. His truly unique position in literature is because of two things:

1. About 75% of it is because he was the greatest, most prolific, most eloquent wordsmith that ever picked up a pen. It's difficult to find Shakespearian passages that don't move your soul.

2. About 25% of it is because he was willing to tackle all levels of human experience honestly, and was willing to take on grand themes in a distinctly human and down-to-earth way.

So ya get yer great themes, and yer great words. That alone is pretty impressive stuff, when you think about it, especially considering how fast he wrote.

But don't get confused into thinking that Shakey was a great dramatist because of his meticulous story-telling and craftsmanship, because the man was not anal-retentive about plot details or character motivation. Why does the fool simply disappear in the middle of King Lear? Why does Hamlet shilly-shally around for so long? Exactly why does Iago behave they way he does? How can it happen that people are always in the right place to overhear critical conversations? Who the hell knows? Who cares? When you are hearing God's own words, who notices such trivia? Iago is evil - that's that. The play works fine without knowing exactly why. You have to accept him as someone who just enjoys being malicious, kind of like the Norse god, Loki.


None. And the sex scenes are the most amateurishly-filmed I have seen in years - it is even possible to see that the participants are dressed.

O and Desi have a very rough, explicit sex scene that goes on forever and reveals nothing at all. (It's also, in my opinion, boring)

Although the nitty-gritty details of plotting present no problem if you decide to use Shakespeare's words, they present a real challenge for modern interpretations that decide to extract the essence of Shakespeare's themes and plots without his words, like The Devil Wore Black and O. To the credit of the filmmakers, O makes three very wise choices:

First, it gives Hugo (Iago) a motivation, thus eliminating a great flaw in Shakespeare's plotting. His gung-ho basketball coaching father seems to think of the talented, good hearted, intelligent O as more of a son than Hugo. The tension is exacerbated by the fact that O can play like Dr J, while Hugo is just one of the guys, and dad is one of those guys who places winning above everything else.

Second, while it doesn't use Shakespeare's words, it places many of the Shakespearian soliloquies into colloquial modern speech, thereby retaining their profundity and power, if not necessarily the beauty of their language.

Third, it allows O to fall because of the inherent weaknesses of his own personality. He isn't just tricked and bamboozled by the crafty Iago. Sure, Iago twisted him around, but that's no reason to kill his girlfriend - that's a reason to dump her at worst. The fact that O goes beyond a reasonable reaction is truly Shakespearian, because it shows that the tragic hero falls because of his own tragic flaws, and is not just the innocent victim of circumstances. The film could have soft-pedaled O's character flaws (as the Branagh version did), but that would have made the character too sympathetic and, worse than that, too pathetic. A tragic hero may be many things, but he should not be pathetic.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1 and a full-screen version

  • a complete version of the 1922 silent Othello

  • deleted scenes

  • cast and crew interviews

  • comprehensive analysis of the basketball scenes

The film does stay faithful to the Shakespearian version, right down to some minor details, altering only those elements which had to be changed to maintain the authenticity of the current time period. In that respect, it shows that Shakespeare's theme was universal, because the behavior of the characters as modern high school students was credible, once they supplied Hugo with a motivation.

I made a reference earlier to the fact that Iago is somewhat equivalent to Loki. Did you know that O's name in this film is Odin? Hmm.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3/4, Apollo 75/100

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDB readers say 6.6/10, and Apollo voters ay 71/100.
  • with their dollars ... fairly solid performer. Made for a modest $5 million, it grossed $16 million domestically


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B-. Good movie. Credible Shakespearian adaptation, and some good hoops as well.

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