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The Tempest (DVD)

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Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy - Fantasy / Suitable for 12 years and over / Director: Julie Taymor / Actors: Helen Mirren, Felicity Jones, Russell Brand ... / DVD released 2011-12-26 at Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment / Features of the DVD: PAL

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      28.01.2013 16:36
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      A good adaptation of a Shakespeare play which marries together drama, romance and comedy

      When The Tempest was originally shown at the Venice Film Festival in 2010, the director, Julie Taymor's take on Shakespeare's fantasy island adventure polarised the opinions of the critics and following its release, of audiences as well: the purists hated it with the rest finding at least something in it to be praiseworthy. The root of the problem for the Shakespeare purists is the fact that Julie Taymor cast Helen Mirran in the hitherto male role of Prospero, giving the part a sex change and a renaming the character Prospera. Although I wouldn't exactly call myself a total traditionalist, I don't like my Shakespeare set in weird times or locations such as the version of 'As You Like It' set in Japan or 'Richard III' in Nazi Germany, but I don't mind a little bit of tinkering and knowing this particular version of The Tempest had that major role change with the male Prospero being transformed into the female Prospera, it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch this movie.

      The plot:

      Prospera, a magician and former Duchess of Milan who inherited the Dukedom when her husband died, has been exiled to a small island by her brother who has usurped the dukedom, something which was condoned by the King of Naples. She has lived on the island for many years with her daughter, Miranda, and two servants Ariel, the sprite and Caliban, a grotesque creature who Prospera has enslaved.

      Prospera now has an opportunity to exact her revenge upon her brother and the king when their boat sails close by the island so she summons up a storm (the tempest of the title) which causes a shipwreck. Among the survivors are the King of Naples, his son Ferdinand, as well as Prospera's scheming brother, Antonio, and various other members of the king's entourage, all of whom are washed up in various parts of Prospera's island. Prospera hopes to bring about her end game but her efforts are hampered by the innocent Miranda falling in love with Ferdinand.


      My opinion:

      I came to this cinematic version of this play with a more or less open mind. The school I attended studied a Shakespeare play each term and The Tempest was the first one I ever studied when I was eleven, so my memories of it were pretty vague. This version doesn't follow the play word for word as there is some judicious cutting of the script by Julie Taymor, who also wrote the screenplay. Whether this was because of time constraints or to make it more easily understandable, I don't know, but it still follows the story of the original more or less.

      The external setting of a barren, volcanic island is just right. It was filmed on Hawaii which looks dramatically beautiful. Some of the studio shots don't look quite as good as the real thing but as these mainly involve the magical elements of the play, this could be a deliberate ploy to make it look more fantastical than real.

      The costumes are worth a mention. They're sixteenth century conquistador meets castaway chic with a few twenty-first century additions - I spotted quite a few zips and denim - but they fit the play perfectly. The make-up, too, is well done, especially that for Caliban who is given a scabby and pied appearance making him look unattractive without being too hideous to look upon.

      The gender reassignment of Prospero didn't jar at all and neither did it strike me as being totally inappropriate. Without wishing to diss my 'sisters', women have been known to hang onto a grudge far longer than men and the Bard himself came up with the line about 'hell hath no fury...' As one would expect of such a consummate actress as Helen Mirren, she made the part her own, adding authenticity and gravitas to this slightly amended role.

      As for the rest of the cast, to my mind, it's good though not always inspired. There are quite a few well known stalwarts of stage and screen such as Tom Conti and Alfred Molina but these are offset by a couple of duds.

      As Ariel, the sprite, all of Ben Whishaw's appearances are enhanced by CGI and as he's portrayed as an almost ghostly and ethereal figure flitting between the elements of air, land and water, this treatment comes off well. Ben Whishaw is an excellent actor and he turns in a more than competent performance which manages to convey both the mischieviousness and vulnerability of Ariel.

      The lovers, Miranda (Felicity Jones) and Ferdinand (Reeve Carney) are suitably young and pretty and Felicity Jones in particular portrays the innocence of Miranda superbly with just the right amount of ingenuousness.

      The part of Antonio is taken by Chris Cooper and is delivered competently but it has to be said, is rather overshadowed by Alan Cumming as Sebastian, the king's brother who comes across as far more sinister than Antonio. He has just the right aura of sly and malicious cynicism to make an excellent baddie.

      The comedy is provided by Trinculo (Russell Brand) and Stefano (Alfred Molina). Comedy has undergone quite a sea change since Shakespeare's day and doesn't even raise a titter in the twenty-first century, especially when one of the parts is taken by Russell Brand who certainly represents one of the weaker elements of the movie. He's really just playing himself and roughly copies the playing style of Ben Elton in 'Much Ado About Nothing'. As most of his scenes are alongside Alfred Molina and Djimon Hounsou (Caliban), both of whom are superb, his acting limitations are made all the more obvious. He gets second billing in the credits which is incomprehensible given that he's out-acted by practically every other member of the cast.

      The standout performance, I felt, came from Djimon Hounsou as Caliban. Caliban is a hideous creature, enslaved by Prospera; he's a vengeful and tormented soul. I think Shakespeare's intention was that Caliban was wholly repugnant but personally I found him to be a creature of great pathos, almost akin to the monster in Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein'. Djimon Hounsou expertly conveys the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Caliban with all his hidden anguish and torment coupled with cunning and connivance. It was a masterly performance.

      I can't really say the same about the music, composed by Elliot Goldenthal. One good thing is that there isn't much in the way of background music and what there is tends to be soft and subtle. The set piece songs as per the play are another matterl however. I don't think the original music is known so these songs are modern compositions and I found them all to be pretty tuneless and unmemorable.

      Where the film version really scores over a stage play is with the visual effects and some of the CGI imagery is wonderful and completely enhances the action taking place. It also improves the story because it's used to add imagery to passages of the play which on stage were merely recapping of past events. I'm sure Shakespeare would have approved and embraced CGI had he been around today.


      Extras:

      An audio commentary.

      A brief documentary about the making of the film which is quite interesting, especially the bits about how the special effects were done.

      Russell Brand talking about his part is just him talking twaddle! You may have gathered I'm not a fan.

      The music video of Oh Mistress Mine performed by Reeve Carney.


      To sum it all up:

      I can't say this is among my favourites Shakespeare plays, nor is it the best film adaptation I've ever seen. That honour still remains with Kenneth Brannagh's 'Much Ado About Nothing' but this is well worth a look. The performances of Helen Mirren, Ben Whishaw and Djimon Hounsou are excellent and the clever use of CGI makes this an enjoyable viewing experience.

      Even if you aren't a fan of Shakespeare, you'll understand the story because the language, though Shakespearean, is totally comprehensible as it's delivered in a conversational way rather than the stylized delivery used by Laurence Olivier and co.

      This DVD is currently available for around £5

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