Kit Monkman (director)
121 mins (length)
13 March 2020 (released)
07 March 2018
Just how much of a good thing is too much? In this technologically advanced day and age, perhaps it is undeniable that computer graphics are a ‘good thing’. Last year alone, designers gifted to us monkeys riding horses, exploding star ships, and even a baby tree dancing to ELO. But at what point does a film, striving for incredible world building and immersion, overshoot, and it all gets a bit much? Kit Monkman’s new adaptation probably wasn’t made to answer this question, but it certainly gives it a go. Filmed entirely with a greenscreen background, Monkman creates a fantastical atmosphere in which he tells Shakespeare’s tale of ambition, blood and madness.
The immediately obvious thing about the filming style is how much is placed on the shoulders of the actors. An abundance of close ups add to the notorious difficulty of the text, and the cast don’t exactly balance out the equation. As Lady Macbeth, Akiya Henry is a standout amongst average peers, not as innocent as Marion Cotillard in Justin Kurzel’s 2015 attempt. Mark Rowley’s performance as the titular Scot is less impressive - he forces out each emotion as if they are large rocks he is trying to move with his mind. But this is the inherent trouble with Shakespeare: it is adapted far too often. It is impossible not to compare Rowley to actors such as Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart or Michael Fassbender, all of whom do so much more with the Bard’s dark, twisting soliloquies. Monkman’s mistake is to try and re-invent the wheel directorially, without any thought to the issue that his actors are struggling against one of the most intricate scripts perhaps in existence, as well as years of noteworthy competition.
Of course it is not only the acting than can be compared to other reworkings. Monkman’s vision is more interesting visually than past pieces that value the text above all, but it is less artistically successful than Kurzel’s assault on the retinas or Orson Welles’ 1948 mystical masterpiece. The function of the greenscreen is easily the most notable feature of the piece. Realistic sets of 11th Century Scotland are left behind in favour of Middle Earth/Westeros style other worldliness, every background pushing the film further into fantasy. It is an intriguing choice, but the sacrifice of verisimilitude lessons the relevance of the story and the plight or emotions of the characters.
There is definitely a fine line directors must walk when investing heavily in computer graphics. The pioneering of new techniques has worked wonders for James Cameron, the Wachowskis and Andy Serkis, but the sword is sharp on both sides. Ang Lee was highly awarded for helming CGI spectacle Life of Pi, but his follow up experiment into a vastly increased frame rate, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, made little impact. Maybe graphics are best used subtly, when an audience might not even notice; perfectionist David Fincher deciding the way blood should drip, for example. The common thread is that success lands on those using technology for a reason: revealing the astonishing world of Pandora, or creating a lifelike image of a tiger. Kit Monkman’s reimagining of Macbeth fails to give a reason for its use of greenscreen – the only feature separating it from countless other weak adaptations. It is simultaneously too much and not enough to mean anything, and in this case it might have been advisable to hold back a little on the graphics.