Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review: The Tempest

Non Spoiler Review:
My first introduction to Julie Taymor was her stunning Titus, one of my favorite movies of all time. Ever since I've been comparing her other works to that and they've come up short—Across the Universe was a hodge-podge of randomly great songs with nothing to tie it together. So I was looking forward to a return to Shakespeare, and the trailer appeared promising. But the film never seemed to get any play anywhere, and I've only since managed to track it down.

The Tempest, of course, deals with the sorcerer Prospero, who is banished to an island after having his dukedom usurped by his brother. Raising his daughter Miranda along with the beast Caliban and the captive spirit Ariel, Prospero creates an elaborate plan to bring together the malefactors who wronged him, while his daughter falls in love with the duke's son.

In this case, Helen Mirren is cast as female protagonist, Prospera, and delivers her usual high calibre performance. As does Felicity Jones as Miranda. The rest of the cast is all capable and no one struggles with the material. Russell Brand and Alfred Molina appear as the comedic duo Trinculo and Stephano, accompanied by Djimon Hounsou as Caliban. But there are no memorable performances like that of Jessica Lange and Anthony Hopkins in Titus

Visually the island is a mish-mash of beautiful and barren locales, and Prospera's sorcery is given life with an assortment of CGI spectacle that tends to stand out (in a bad way) when it appears. The manifestations of the spirit Ariel are kind of okay, but again, nothing truly unique.

It all fell flat for me, and I'm not sure if it's simply because the play itself does have its slower bits—long talks about taking over Milan, and stretches of Caliban interacting with Trinculo and Stephano. I wanted something a bit more engaging, and really only found that when Mirren was on the screen. I also wondered by Taymor wouldn't continue her gender-bending route and go with a male version of Miranda? Why go only half way, except to be able to cast Mirren, it seems.

I'll damn The Tempest with faint praise by calling it a nice movie, which is really all I can say about it. It didn't raise any emotions in me one way or the other, or the need to replay and listen to some well-delivered scenes, despite being a big fan of Helen Mirren. So I'm disappointed that this wasn't the stellar rendition of The Tempest I'd hoped for from viewing the trailer.

If you're a fan of Shakespeare (or Taymor), then check it out to tick it off your list. But so far nothing she's done has compared to Titus in my books. Taymor works well with violent material, so she should tackle MacBeth, which really hasn't been given a fair rendition since Polanski's version.

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