Ok, I admit it; I’ve not read a lot of Shakespeare. But I’ve enjoyed all of what I’ve seen adapted to film. Ha – spoken like a true MTV generation kid (ok, a little pre-MTV generation). And I have also enjoyed much of Julie Taymor’s directing. I loved the passion and creativity of her film Titus based on yet another Shakespearean work.
Ok, I admit it; I’ve not read a lot of Shakespeare. But I’ve enjoyed all of what I’ve seen adapted to film. Ha – spoken like a true MTV generation kid (ok, a little pre-MTV generation). And I have also enjoyed much of Julie Taymor’s directing. I loved the passion and creativity of her film Titus based on yet another Shakespearean work. But with her telling of The Tempest, I can’t help but feel as if she left much of the passion and creativity out this time.
In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the character Prospero is a man, but Taymor as decided to change him to a her, and cast Helen Mirren in the role. Prospera is usurped by her scheming, ambitious brother, Antonio (Chris Cooper) and has been sent away at sea with her daughter, Miranda. For the past 12 years, Prospera and Miranda have been residing on an island, and one day, Prospera, a powerful sorceress, conjures a great storm that crashes a ship carrying her enemies, Antonio, Alonso, King of Naples (David Strathairn), and his brother Sebastian (Alan Cumming), and an old friend, Gonzalo (Tom Conti), and forces them onto the island.
Prospero plans to expose the treachery of her brother, Antonio, and get Miranda and Alonso’s noble son, Ferdinand (Reeve Carney), to marry, therefore placing herself and her daughter in their rightful place as noble people of Milan.
As with most of Julie Taymor’s films, The Tempest looks beautiful. The costumes are wonderful, though some may be too stylish and obvious for a film version of a play. That stands out too much. And there are other elements like that. Some things seem better suited for a theatrical performance rather than a film production, such as Prospera’s sparse, fly-wall looking castle. But in contrast, there are some wonderful visual effects, especially the elemental sprite Ariel that does Prospera’s bidding with the promise of freedom. As he travels through the landscape, he leaves wispy trails of afterimages, and in a particularly effective scene, he transforms himself into the terrifying harpy sent to torment the foolish nobles with fear and confusion. That scene is pretty amazing.
Also a particularly cool part are the scenes with Alonzos boozing butler, Stephano (Alfred Molina) and the jester, Trinculo, played surprisingly well by a Russell Brand, and the character Caliban. There is some fun humor in these scenes and they possess most of the livliest scenes of dialogue and action in the film. And frankly, Russell Brand can be too much…Russell Brand, you know? But he seems rather well-suited to this character and I dug him here.
Most of the actors are fine and are quite competent in their delivery of Shakepeare’s words. But too often I couldn’t help but feel llike there wasn’t much passion behind them. Titus had me riveted – hanging on every word and its’ meaning. Here, I felt like most people weren’t putting their all into them. Even with Helen Mirren, who is usually pretty wonderful, didn’t seem to have much expression throughout.
And as beautiful as much of this film was, it lacked the usual ground-breaking creativity we saw in Titus, such as the mixing of costume styles. I guess you could say this was a much more traditional production of Shakespeare than Taymor has previously given us. That certainly won’t disappoint many fans of the Bard, but it certainly isn’t as interesting or visually arresting, either.
I didn’t dislike this film. But I most definitely didn’t get as much out of it as I had hoped. I’m going with three of out five kittenhands.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, hoping for fewer strange bedfellows.