Over the years, there have been plenty of film adaptations based on the works of William Shakespeare. This also applies to The Tempest, said to be the Bard’s last work, the first being done in 1905. This latest version, directed by Julie Taymor (who also wrote the screenplay) is one that has a rather radical change to the plot: the main character, Prospero, is a woman named Prospera, played by veteran actress Helen Mirren.
Other than that, the film follows the same plot as the original play. Prospera, the rightful Duchess of Milan, and her daughter, Miranda (Felicity Jones), have been stranded on an island after her brother, Antonio (Chris Cooper), usurped her with help from Alonzo (David Strathairn), the King of Naples. Over their twelve year exile, Prospera has studied magic through books from her library, secretly supplied to her by Gonzalo (Tom Conti), the King’s counsellor, and planning her revenge. She finally gets her chance when she divines Antonio’s presence traveling on a ship, which also contains King Alonzo, his brother Sebastian (Alan Cumming), son Ferdinand (Reeve Carney), and Gonzalo, returning from the wedding of Alonso’s daughter Claribel to the King of Tunis. Using her powers, Prospera summons a tempest that runs the ship aground on the island, and, with the reluctant help of the spirit Ariel (Ben Whishaw), and the shape-shifting Caliban (Djimon Hounsou), splits the shipwreck survivors up to take her revenge and give Miranda her rightful title. Meanwhile, Caliban falls in with Stephano (Alfred Molina) and Trinculo (Russell Brand), Alonzo’s butler and jester, respectively, in an attempt to get revenge on Prospera for taking over “his” island, and Miranda and Ferdinand meet and fall in love.
Admittedly, the casting of Helen Mirren in the main role does make for an interesting change. It certainly helps add some punch to the story and character, making one wonder why Shakespeare didn’t do that from the start when he original wrote the play (course, that may have just been the times, but that’s beside the point). They say “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, and that certainly applies here. Mirren plays the character well, not only as a vengeful woman out to take down those who wronged her, but as a mother wanting to help her daughter. Not only does it work, it just plain makes sense.
There are some other interesting cast choices, but sadly not very good ones. While Russell Brand might seem as a good choice to play a court jester, it’s hard to see him doing Shakespeare, saying those lines in his, shall we say, animated style. Trying to understand Shakespeare is hard enough, and while Brand does do some entertaining work, he just makes the Bard’s work sound goofy, the classic “Strange Bedfellows” scene being a good example of this. Some of the other actors do fit their roles, such as Alfred Molina as Stephano and Djimon Hounsou as Caliban, but that’s about it, and it does hurt the movie as a whole.
The film does sport some good special effects, which does help move the story along in ways that a stage performance can’t do. Obviously, there’s Prospera’s magic, Caliban’s shape-shifting, Ariel’s spiritual presence (he actually does look like a spirit, looking very transparent and airy) and, of course, the title storm, which does look impressive. The effects also help a lot with visualization; in many cases, the lines the characters speak are literally brought to life, much in the same way as one would imagine when reading the original play. Sadly, even good effects aren’t enough to help the movie, given all the downsides against it.
The video quality for this film is really superb, if only the movie were as good as the video quality. However, to each their own. Plenty of great cgi scenes and outside environment scenes make this film look really good in blu-ray. If you are interested in this film, then the video quality won’t be a deal breaker as this movie looks and sounds great.
Overall I felt this flick had a great audio quality transfer. Mostly dialogue driven, but none the less it was crisp, sharp, and showed great vocal clarity when it rang through the front speakers. Musical scores sounded great with this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track. The center channel gets plenty of play as well. I think the only negative was that the rears I felt could have been utilized better. I felt during some scenes it could have been much more engulfing.
Director’s Audio Commentary: Writer/director Julie Taymor
Shakespeare Experts (Virginia Mason Vaughan and Jonathan Bate ) Audio Commentary
Raising the Tempest
Julie & Cast: Inside the L.A. Rehearsals
Russell Brand Rehearsal Riff
Trailers: African Cats, John Carter, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Music Video “Mistress Mine”
The movie’s at least worth a look, whether you’re a fan of Shakespeare or wanting to try a chance on something with a new take. But probably not something you’d want to add to your movie collection. While the video and audio quality are top notch, the film is definitely not for everyone! Probably the most special features you’ll ever see on a Shakespeare film help add to the credit of this film. Watch a trailer before renting/purchasing.