Ah, summer. It’s a time of blockbusters, but also just a crazy number of filler articles. Frankly, there aren’t that many blockbusters I want to see this summer, and even fewer that I’ll actually get to review. Instead, I’m turning my attention towards my beloved burgeoning Shakespeare series. Are we all pretty familiar with Shakespeare? Yes, of course. Are we aware of the sheer number of Shakespeare movies there are out there? Over a thousand. Are we aware of some of the really weird stuff? Weird might not be the appropriate word. Strange.
Strange Brew (1983)
The Plot: Bob (Rick Moranis) and Doug (Dave Thomas) Mackenzie are Canadian stereotypes with two major passions: hockey and beer. One day they develop a conundrum: they are out of beer, and they haven’t the money to buy more. A scheme to get free beer lands them jobs at the local Elsinore brewery, where they quickly discover something is rotten. What’s rotten? The state of Elsinore. The man in charge recently died, with his suspicious brother Claude (Paul Dooley) taking charge. When Claude’s niece Pam (Lynn Griffin) shows up and starts snooping around, the evil Brewmeister Smith (Max von Sydow) must accelerate his plan for world domination. Will Bob and Doug get their free beer? Will they keep their jobs? Will they ever quite manage to figure out what’s going on?
Colin French already wrote a pretty splendid article on this film, but he approached it through the lens of Canada. I’m obviously viewing it in a slightly different light. Did any of that sound like Hamlet to you? No, of course not. You may have picked up on a few references and some scarce similar plot points, but this is about as close to being a Hamlet adaptation as The Lion King is; that is to say, not at all. What it is somewhat similar to, though, is Tom Stoppard’s brilliant comedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, a satirical character spinoff focusing on two lesser minions from Hamlet. So, I guess you could say that Strange Brew is a contemporary Canadian update of a contemporary play inspired by side characters from a Shakespeare play. Yup.
Of course, the chemistry between the two brothers reminded me less of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as it did of Norbert and Daggett Beaver from The Angry Beavers. This is not a bad thing. Both Mackenzies are pretty dense in an endearing way, but as usual, the elder brother has more considerable wherewithal, much like Norbert. Or, I suppose, there’s a bit of Rosencrantz in there to Rick Moranis’ more intensely foolhardy Guildenstern. And as in both Stoppard’s play and the animated Nickelodeon classic, the “stupid one” is often the source of accidental wisdom, or at least they manage to achieve some serendipitous conflict resolution through their antics. Hm. Between Strange Brew, Ros & Guil, and The Angry Beavers, I’ve managed to forge quite the comedic triumvirate. Shakespeare would be proud (?).
The other characters are less direct, but that doesn’t really matter. More important than carefully translating plot details and characters is appropriating the correct themes. Admittedly, it’s been several years since I had any contact with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, so I’m probably not qualified to say whether or not Strange Brew does justice to the play’s themes because, frankly, I don’t really remember whether or not it had any to begin with. The comedy is not that similar, perhaps unsurprisingly, because one is a commentary on Shakespeare and the other is a commentary on Canadian stereotypes, but… well, that is not to say that one is more valid than the other.
Perhaps the closest similarity between the two, and the best way to judge one as an adaptation of the other, is they are both really freakin’ weird. I like both of them the entire way through, but I’m not totally sure why I like either. Nothing about Strange Brew should allow it to function as a piece of cinema. The entire conflict of the film boils down to one of the brothers giving beer to a dog. The opening sequence doesn’t make any sense at all. Ophelia is a mustachioed pro hockey star. There are the truly bizarre segments with mind-controlled hockey zombies. There’s a ghost in an arcade game. I don’t know. It’s weird.
There is, of course, a straight film adaptation of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, starring Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, and perhaps someday I’ll give it its own installment in this ongoing series. It is a bit funny that I got to Strange Brew first, though, eh?