on 4 December 2012
I bought this DVD because I had to study the play for part of my OU Shakespeare module and, not having seen the play before, was unsure what to expect. I was entranced and have watched it several times. Helen Mirren as Prospera and Ben Wishaw as Ariel are both superb and the CGI use for Ariel adds another dimension to the play. I was unsure of seeing Russel Brand in Shakespeare but he is also wonderful. For anyone wanting to see a fresh rendering of The Tempest I urge you to buy this DVD.
Internet Rule #63: For every male character there is a female version. No exceptions.
Technically, Shakespeare predates the Internet. But in the case of Julie Taymor's dark, swirling adaptation of "The Tempest," this rule applies -- the legendary wizard Prospero becomes Prospera, played by the peerless Helen Mirren. The gender-flip does give the character a subtle feminist quality, but the story actually remains mostly unchanged -- and definitely supported by a solid cast, a bleak island, and some lovely special effects.
Many years ago, the Duchess of Milan Prospera (Mirren) was left the care of the city by her late husband. But her treacherous brother Antonio (Chris Cooper) accuses her of witchcraft, and exiles her and her daughter Miranda to sea.
Now Prospera dwells on a remote island with the teenaged Miranda (Felicity Jones), as well as the rebellious slave Caliban (Djimon Hounsou) and the ethereal Ariel (Ben Whishaw). When she discovers that Antonio and his similarly treacherous friends are nearby on a sailing ship, Prospera summons a storm that causes the ship to crash on the island, and has Ariel guide them all there.
Like a puppet-master, Prospera arranges events as she wants -- she sends Ariel to haunt the men who betrayed her, allows Caliban to get up to wacky hijinks with a pair of drunken idiots (Alfred Molina, Russell Brand), and even pretends to treat the young prince Ferdinand (Reeve Carney) badly while secretly matchmaking him with Miranda. In the end, everything will be as she desired.
Gender-flipping Prospero apparently wasn't for some kind of feminist point -- it was simply that director Julie Taymor couldn't think of a male actor she wanted in the role. The only Prospero she could think of was Helen Mirren. And it actually works pretty well -- consider as the explanation for Prospera's banishment being accusations of witchcraft, a claim often made against women of power and intelligence. And her return to Milan is symbolized by her abandoning her flowing sorceress' robes in favor of a tight, rigid corset.
Furthermore, it doesn't change the character much -- the fierce cold intelligence, the manipulations, and the fierce love for Miranda are intact. Helen Mirren doesn't soften up her acting or play into any sexist stereotypes -- her Prospera is all swirling power, anger and determination, able to threaten Ariel with imprisonment in a tree in one scene, and tenderly say that she loves him "dearly" in another.
And the rest of the cast is pretty awesome as well -- Hounsou, David Strathairn, Alan Cumming, Cooper and the rest give solid smaller performances, and Brand and Molina are excellent as the idiotic comic relief ("Oh, defend me!"). Carney doesn't work as Ferdinand, though -- he's such a wispy, feminine presence that it's hard to see him as Miranda's knight in shining armor.
But the greatest supporting role is Ben Whishaw as the androgynous Ariel -- his passionate acting and the special effects turn Ariel into a wispy, darting creature of moonlight transparency. Whishaw especially seems to be having fun when Ariel torments the ship with fire and wind, or transforms into a black-feathered harpy jeering at the stranded men.
The entire movie takes place on a dusty, stony island that looks like it recently popped up from a volcanic eruption -- in other words, a perfect blank canvas. While Taymor gives suitable attention to the comedy, she's most at home with the dark, swirling magic around Prospera -- spinning magical symbols, the shape-shifting Ariel (costumes and CGI), and a kaleidoscopic spell of dancing air sprites and whispered Shakespearean text. It's mesmerizing.
"The Tempest" has a few weak spots, but mostly it's a darkly enchanting story of magic, love and manipulation -- and the changing of the lead character's gender doesn't change it at all. A fascinating Shakespeare adaptation.
on 18 August 2011
Let me say right off: I am a total Bardolator. I teach Shakespeare, I am obsessed with Shakespeare, I have read and seen all the plays, and my love affair with the Bard began with seeing a live performance of The Tempest in 1975. It was pure magic. I also love movies, and I believe that in the 21st century, filmed versions of Shakespeare's plays are probably the best way to reach the widest audience. The sneers and sniffs of snobs aside, I am convinved that if Will were alive today, he'd be writing movie screenplays (or even television), NOT stage plays, which today tend to be aimed at a narrow, elite, theatre-going audience.
As a literature professor who has been teaching The Tempest for a decade now, I have always been singularly bemused by the lack of a filmed version that really captures the magical spirit of the play. The old TV Richard Burton show is well-acted but silly, the BBC version has great actors but terrible, flat production values, Prospero's Books is brilliant but incomprehensible to all but those who know the play intimately, Derek Jarman's version is terribly dated and, despite being a good "film," just doesn't work as The Tempest, in my opinion. The other, "scholastic" releases are plagued by poor production and/or undistinguished acting. And I won't even bother with "adaptations" of the plot, such as Forbidden Planet or Cassavettes's Tempest.
Until this version, the only truly excellent version of The Tempest was the HBO animated one, but at 25 minutes, not much of Shakespeare's story remained intact.
This past spring I had the great pleasure of seeing Julie Taymor's The Tempest in London. It was absolutely amazing. The magic was there! The acting, for the most part, was brilliant. The script contained enough of the actual play's language that the minor tweakings to make it easier for contemporary audiences did not bother me a bit. The visuals were absolutely stunning. The movie was a joy from start to finish. I can't wait to see it again--repeatedly--to savor all the special moments over and again. My only regret is that my students will be unable to see it this year due to the late release date.
If you love Shakespeare, and if you enjoy movie adaptations of the plays, DO NOT MISS THIS ONE!
on 4 March 2013
This is a fantastic version of the Tempest. The whole cast are excellent (yes you doubters, even Russell Brand!) and it looks amazing. Helen Mirren is perfect as Prospera, and the switching of that character's gender to female does give an interesting new twist on the relationship with Miranda. I very much enjoyed both the audio commentaries as well - one by the director for those that are interested in the film making process and one with a couple of Shakespeare buffs for those that are interested in the play.
on 30 June 2011
Oooops ...... looks like we are going to get very diverse views here, take your pick I guess. Do understand the previous review to a degree, I'm not usually taken with Shakespeare being mucked around with too much and The Tempest is my favourite Shakespeare, but found this production both refreshing and entertaining - even with Russell Brand in it - well done Julie Taymor. Found Helen Mirren cast as Prospera (Prospero) a very clever move, nice take, got my attention anyway - honestly was a bit sceptical about this but it really worked well, she was magnificent. Loved the CGI effects for Ariel, liked Caliban lots, great setting.Well worth a watch if you can just accept something a bit different, a nice entertaining interpretation on Shakespeare's lovely fantasy! I keep coming back here waiting for the dvd as I really want to see it again.
In today's feature films, we have technology and special effects that Shakespeare could never have dreamed of ever existing four hundred years ago. And yet, out of all the Shakespeare adaptations for film that I've seen, only two filmmakers have ever really caused the camera to almost go into meltdown: Baz Luhrmann with "Romeo and Juliet", and Julie Taymor with "The Tempest." If you love the former, you will probably love the latter.
At first, it almost looks like an ordinary costume drama version of Shakespeare. Prospero has become Prospera (brilliantly played by Helen Mirren - could she do a Lady Merlin next?), but otherwise it's the familiar story, in a pseudo-Jacobean style. Miranda is a sort of lovely wild child instead of the usual innocent maiden, and the back story is illustrated of Prospera escaping her dukedom with her little daughter, and winding up in exile on a remote island.
Then the magical powers and supernatural spirits start. And the thumping rock soundtrack. And bucketloads of CGI soaking the screen. And closer inspection of those dark Jacobean clothes show that they are made from vinyl and rather kinky-looking rows of zippers. Oh, it's brilliant. The scenes with the clowns cause it to sag a little (no disrespect, Russell Brand), and I agree it is lacking in philosophical power compared to, say, Peter Greenaway's "Prospero's Books", but overall, you cannot beat this for sheer imagination, creativity, colour, and fun.
I especially liked how the two spirits of Ariel and Caliban are handled. The visuals are twisted to imbue Ariel with air and water, and Caliban with wood and earth. Both actors are excellent in their roles as well (though Caliban, like the rest of the cast, is ridiculously good-looking - which does look a little strange for a monster.)
on 19 May 2014
Julie Taymor is undoubtedly a talented director with a skill for interpreting the texts of Shakespeare. 'The Tempest' is a feast for the eyes and the ears by all accounts. From the performance of Helen Mirren to the tremendous musical score, this film does not disappoint.
Although in the original text Propsero was the male protagonist, this adaptation chooses to recreate the character in the form of Helen Mirren's portrayal of Prospera. This creates a struggle between genders while accentuating the fact that Miranda is unfamiliar with men, thus giving further credence to her reaction to Ferdinand in the first act. A daring and interesting reinvention which overall, I felt complemented the narrative of the film. Mirren's performance is unyielding in its steely resolve and hidden compassion.
The cast is splendid and each role is filled superbly, from Russell Brand's Trinculo, to Alfred Molina's Stephano and Djimon Hounsou's Caliban, each actor gives a worthy performance, however the performance of Ben Whishaw as Ariel stands apart in its singularity and elegance. It is often difficult to convey a spectrum of emotion in a supernatural manner, however Whishaw does so with an eerie ease. A young thespian with a glowing future ahead of him.
Although the performances are undoubtedly striking, so too is the musical score and lyrical melodies of the songs within the text are masterfully re-imagined in this highly original adaptation. The songs and poems which Shakespeare wove into the text of 'The Tempest' are brought to life in a contemporary yet fitting way, so much so that I saw it fit to hunt down the soundtrack by Elliot Goldenthal.
The directing, acting and scoring are all superb, however I could not help but compare the film to Taymor's paramount, 'Titus'. While 'The Tempest' is an intriguing tale, I feel that it lacks some of the depth and substance which is brought to full and gritty realisation in 'Titus'. There are themes and subplots which are touched upon but left at somewhat of a loose end, and while there is resolution, it lacks the definition which Shakespeare's greatest tales possess. While being a master of his craft, his scripts are open to interpretation and adaptation and where in some instances in 'The Tempest', Taymor vividly adapts and adds flesh to bone, I feel that it is not done to the extent as it could have been in this particular film.
While not the best film I have seen from this splendid director, it is still one which i would highly recommend to film and Shakespeare enthusiast alike.
You'd need to know the play to comment in depth on this adaptation, but it certainly makes you want to explore it further. The lines - many of which have been taken on as figures of speech - are superbly recited, the switch from male to female of the main character seems wonderfully justified by Helen Mirren. Every actor brings his particular note and expertise, so that, through the visuals, it still comes across as a text first and foremost. The images, having said that, are out of this world, the island setting being as volcanic and wild as you could wish for. Ariel and Caliban share the honours for the most mercurial performances, the former (Ben Whishaw) benefiting from some extraordinary CGI which made it seem like a meaningful opening out of what the play is. Caliban (Djimon Hounsou), meanwhile, has the most fantastic presentation, with two-tone skin, and some scaly aspect - strange, and beautiful as a Michelangelo sculpture! The version seems to take strangeness and beauty of language as the twin starting points, leading a continuous dance through air, fire and water.
on 17 February 2012
What a splendid rendition of the tempest with such a wild and wondeful cast. As with so many Shakespeare plays that have no place or time this one goes all the way for modern visual effects and there are plenty. I wasnt at all bothered by the transition from Prospero to Prospera which Mirren played. She did her best to make it cold but sadly missed a lot of the calculating although I quite looked the outside looking in approach.She had the material magic but didnt quite frighten her prey as much as I would have liked but the diction and enunciation were impecable. All of the rest of the cast did an excellent job also but the main star was the location. It really was a mythical dessert island like you had never seen or known. The atmosphere was very much Lord of the Rings style adding to the pace. All the comic and clown parts were top grade too. A particular hats off to Russell Brand. He really gave it all he'd got. I believe it was Shakespeare's last play and I think he, like many great artists, was trying to break new, other worldly ground. I always like to think of Prospero/as' setting free of Ariel rather like the Bard saying goodbye to his life long muse.This is a must for any avid Shakespeare collector.
Admittedly I have trouble with Shakespeare. When I read his works, I have trouble understanding the scene. When I see it in a film, I have trouble understanding the language. I was able to watch this version with the subtitles and thoroughly enjoyed the genius of The Bard. The language is old, but the musical background has been updated. Great performances. I would love to see a series of Shakespeare done this way, although let's keep the genders intact next time. Mirren was fantastic as were the CG effects.
2 f-bombs (Hey I had the subtitles on!) no sex, brief Ariel nudity?