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 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
It's the same old story: A young mother with the unusual name of Prospera who has a four-year-old child is cheated of her inheritance when her husband dies and her greedy brother forces her to leave, penniless, into the rough world. She grows strong, self-reliant and determined. As she thinks about her fate, sulphurous resentment bubbles even as she bends her new life to her will. Yet she raises her daughter gently and with love. Then after 12 years, Prospera learns that those responsible for her disinheritance unknowingly have wandered close.
Will Prospera find only stale and bitter crackers upon which to munch as the days pass and she considers a hearty broth of vengeance...or will she learn...hmmm, what exactly?
Will her daughter, Miranda, all of 16, beautiful and innocent and who has never seen a man, become pregnant by the handsome young fellow she soon will meet?
And will this story, like many a well-known Hollywood potboiler starring the likes of Claudette Colbert and Lana Turner, end with self-sacrifice, with murder, or with...?
Folks, this isn't Fanny Hurst. It's William Shakespeare. In Shakespeare's words The Tempest isn't just a tale of vengeful comeuppance. It's a marvelously written story of humanity and the gaining of wisdom. It is one of Shakespeare's greatest plays. In my much younger days I loved Richard III and Henry V. Then I fell for Macbeth, Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream. In my increasingly feeble old age, it's The Tempest for me. Can any grownup not hear or read "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep" and sigh?
In Julie Taymor's hands The Tempest becomes spectacle, and about as shallow as a plate. There's little quiet time or reflection when it comes to Taymor. Her movie of Titus was great fun because of her excesses and originality of vision. Titus the play is grotesque with all those beheadings, betrayals, rapes and bombast. The meals alone will make you regurgitate. Taymor's film matched the play with its bedeviling, wonderful visuals and clever updating.
Here with The Tempest we have some fine actors who know how to speak the speech. Helen Mirren as Prospera dominates the movie just as Prospero does. She can hate and roar and fulminate powerfully. She can also be tender, introspective and tentative. She is utterly believable. Just as importantly, Mirren is understandable. She makes Shakespeare's verse clear. She is, unfortunately, enclouded in Traymore's vision and effects. (If you'd like to see a very young Mirren deal with Shakespeare, try to find a copy of Peter Hall's version of A Midsummer Night's Dream (1968). Mirren at 23 plays Hermia. She's lithe, sexy and could speak Shakespeare clearly even then.)
Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books was a moving set of lush, eccentric dreams, all floating on John Gielgud's mellow voice. We could understand him, too. Greenaway wanted dreams and he succeeded in blending together his vision with Shakespeare's play. Greenaway and Gielgud place us in a lush, odd world, but regret, humanity and wisdom is there.
Taymor's Tempest, in my view, lacks a soul. At least she has Mirren. As A. O. Scott wrote in the New York Times, "Messing around with Shakespeare is the bedeviling vice of directors. Saving him from their excesses is the great and noble duty of actors."
on 20 December 2012
A different take on this play with the superb Helen Mirren as Prospera (a female Prospero). Startling special effects do not distract from the play, and even Russell Brand (of whom I am usually no fan at all !!) turns in a good comic performance teamed with Alfred Molina.
on 18 June 2011
Like everyone else at present, I haven't (end of November 2011) seen the DVD yet, so my impression is of the film in a cinema, and I was blown away. Yes, there are some things that are a bit louche, but the film is held together by the magnificent performance that Helen Mirren achieves as Prospera, a brilliant recasting of the Duke of Milan. She combines humanity and magic, you see the torment, and the generosity. I'm not a great fan of Russell Brand (that's putting it mildly), but he does act the part that Shakespeare wrote. And the nobles, coming into Prospera's presence after their shipwreck, do play their respective parts well. The young duke, courting Miranda, often a rather unconvincing part, is just right, and Felicity Jones, as Miranda, delivers her lines with heartbreaking sensitivity. When she says during the chess game scene, "My Lord, you play me false" we understand the meaning that often eludes a Miranda on the stage, and those wonderful words when she sees the nobles for the first time "What noble folk are these, Oh brave new world that hath such people in't" are delivered with a joyousness that reminds us that the only people that she has seen on the island, have been a spirit, a monster and her father/mother, and that she has recognised the new world she has entered.
Please don't be put off by any negative reviews of this film. It's magical, and that's what Shakespeare intended.
Note added later: I have now watched the DVD, and it is completely satisfactory, and, of course, I noticed things I hadn't in the cinema. This is a DVD I shall watch again and again.