Directed by Julie Taymor
Starring Helen Mirren, Djimon Hounsou, Russell Brand, Alfred Molina, Chris Cooper, Alan Cumming, David Strathaim, Ben Whishaw, Felicty Jones, Reeve Carney, Jude Akuwudike
The Tempest is of course an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. Which means that it’s hard to go into this without some heavy preconceptions, mostly bad. If you’re a fan of The Bard your probably remembering all the failed adaptations you’ve seen and wondering what the odds are that this one is any better. If your not a fan of the famous playwright then your likely to think this is going to be a bunch of pretentious twaddle. Well Twaddle it is not, but it doesn’t quite rise to the level of masterpiece either, though it comes close.
Prospero, Helen Mirren, is a woman wronged, or more precisely a Duchess wronged. After the death of her brother the Duke, Antonio, played by Chris Cooper, accuses her of witchcraft in order to usurp the Dukedom. A charge that is hard for Prospero to overcome seeing that she actually enjoys reading books and messing around with beakers and test tubes. This is the sixteenth century after all. So Prospero and her four year old daughter Miranda are exiled. Well exiled is pretty generous phrasing for their punishment, they are set to sea in a mast-less, rudderless boat. Gonzalo, played by Tom Conti, one of the King’s counselors, takes sympathy on Prospero and Miranda and has the boat loaded with food, water and a chest full of Prospero’s favorite books but unfortunately no oars or compass.
Twelve years later King Alonzo, David Strathaim, is sailing home from the wedding of his daughter. In attendance is his son Ferdinand, portrayed by Reeve Carney, his brother Sebastian, Alan Cumming, and then there is Antonio, remember him, he’s the one who stole Prospero’s Duchy, and the faithful counselor Gonzalo. Also on board are Stephano and Trinculo, Alfred Molina and Russel Brand, the King’s butler and jester respectively. Fate has brought them near to Prosero’s island and she conjures a great storm to strand the travelers on the island and set the stage, sorry couldn’t help it.
Just to get them out of the way let me introduce you to the two native inhabitants of the island. First there in Ariel, Ben Whishaw, a fairy like spirit that Prospero freed from an enchantment and now serves her in hopes of someday winning his freedom. Then there is Caliban, played by Djimon Hounsou, a monster in roughly human form that Prospero has raised along with Miranda. At least until he tried to rape Miranda, now he lives in a hole in the rocks and is treated as a slave.
Prospero commands Ariel to ensure that the travelers all come to shore safely, but separately. Ferdinand is the first to wash up and quickly comes upon Miranda and Prospero. From first sight he is taken with Miranda and being the first non monstrous male she has seen in twelve years Miranda is rather taken with him. Which is of course what Prospero has planned all along. Seeing how quickly the two youngster’s affections grow Prospero starts to worry that a love that grows too easily may prove brittle so she sets Ferdinand to menial tasks such as gathering driftwood with the idea of keeping the two somewhat separated. The other gentleman, the King, Sebastian, Antonio and Gonzalo come ashore on a different part of the island. The King is distraught that his son may be dead so the four set about searching the island for any sight of him. Seemingly forgotten Stephano and Trinculo eventually wash up as well and chance upon Caliban. With a little help from a surviving jug of wine the two befriend Caliban who convinces them to help him overthrow Prospero and take over the island. So the board is set and the pieces set in motion.
Well that’s the tale. How well is it told? For the most part very well. Most of the dialog is delivered convincingly, the few times it falters is noticeable for the most part because the rest comes off so well. Some of the monologs drag a bit but Taymor is usually able to weave visuals and the score with the words with skill. All of the acting is superb. The entire cast turn in great performances. While the media of film perhaps doesn’t suit the monologs that well, it is perfect for the portrayal of Ariel. Taymor uses effects shots to make his magical nature shine. The direction is solid only faltering in a few of the scenes with Stephano and Trincilo. The scenes in question are meant to be comic, but they end up just being ridiculous. Which again is disappointing mainly because Molina and Brand are so much fun in their earlier scenes. I never thought of Russell Brand as Shakespearean but he pulls it off quite well. The score is ambitious. There are the renaissance strains you might expect, but the are also some Morricone and jazz influences thrown in that fit surprisingly well but for a few instances that are a little overwrought, but it works more often than not. In a way the film is its own worst enemy. Most of it works so well that the few clunky bits really jar.
The film is presented in 1080p with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The color is great with natural skin tones and deep but detailed blacks. There is plenty of detail with light grain visible in some of the darker scenes. I never noticed any aliasing, moire, or other digital artifacts. In short the video looks great.
The audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound in English and Spanish. There are English and Spanish subtitles. The sound overwhelms the dialog in the early storm scenes but everywhere else the mix is superb. I never expected such a strong score in an adaptation of a play, but besides a few missteps it really adds a striking dimension to the production.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The Blu Ray disc comes in a standard blue tinted transparent Blu Ray case with a cardboard slipcase. There are a fair amount of bonus material. Their is a live rehearsal with Taymor, Hounsou, Molina and Brand and a making of featurette. Two audio commentaries, a music video and rehearsal footage of Brand.
This is a rather bold but at the same time traditional adaptation of the play. Taymor makes a great effort to leverage the power of film to tell an old story and she succeeds more often than she fails.
Overall (not an average)
The Movie 7/10
The Video 9/10
The Audio 8/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10
Accredited online colleges have film production and entertainment field classes for people who would like to learn more about the behind-the-scenes production of films like these.