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The Tempest (2010) *

December 10, 2010


Written by: Julie Taymor

Produced by: Robert Chartoff, Lynn Hendee, Jason K. Lau, Julia Taylor-Stanley, and Julie Taymor

Directed by: Julie Taymor

Rated PG-13 for some nudity, suggestive content and scary images

110 min.

U.S. Release Date: December 10, 2010


Since the dawn of cinema, Shakespeare adaptations have been a go-to for a stream of movie ideas and reinvention possibilities.  Whether the adaptations have been mostly subtextual (see 1999’s 10 Things I Hate About You) or more literal (Romeo + Juliet of 1996), Hollywood has repeatedly bludgeoned Shakespeare’s dead horses over the head.  Those dead horses being the usual suspects, such as Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, or Othello, while The Tempest is one story that is not as “adaptation-friendly”.  That doesn’t stop Julie Taymor, director of Across the Universe and Frida, who shoots for the obnoxiously literal approach to Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  Can Taymor ride the “Billy Shakespeare train” to financial success, or will The Tempest attract only literature dorks and English majors?

 

 

 

 

In Julie Taymor’s The Tempest, the film focuses on a woman named Prospera (Helen Mirren).  In a time when women who practiced magic were often put to death on the grounds of witchcraft, rather than facing death, Prospera is seized by her brother after practicing magic and is sent off with her four-year daughter Miranda (Felicity Jones) on a ship headed nowhere.  She and her young daughter crash on a deserted island, and the two create their own minimalist society together.  In the span of time between their crash and the “present day”, Prospera gains a manservant named Caliban (Djimon Hounsou), who is a loyal servant but feels hopelessly oppressed and yearns to be free.  One day, a group of men come upon the deserted island and begin to explore it.  In attempts to preserve her island utopia, Prospera casts spell upon the men to separate them and weaken them.   When he discovers the explorers, Caliban runs away from Prospera and joins forces with some of them in attempts to overthrow her from the island to have it for his own.  This leads to the power struggle between Caliban and Prospera where the two square off in a classic battle of brains versus brawn.

 

 

As I alluded to earlier, the cinematography in this film is very well done when it comes to the natural outdoor photography.  Set in a beautiful tropical island, the film features a variety of lovely locations and uses the light during “the magic hour” (a phrase used to describe the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset – a time when the sun casts nice-looking shadows within the camera’s frame) to display the great natural landscapes.  When the shots are solely live-action, the art design is also well paired with the landscape, as the film’s color palette, costumes, and make up work together to create a strong aesthetic achievement.

 

…HOWEVER, that is about where the good aspects of the film stop.  The decisions made in pre-production result in a terribly boring moviegoing experience and an experience that would be better suited for the live stage.  Taymor opted to write the script in Shakespearean English, which takes a fair amount of dissecting to unpack the humor and subtext in the dialogue.  In a setting where an immediate grasp of the words being spoken on the screen is necessary, wrapping one’s brain around the rhythmic babble being spoken by the characters is a chore, and watching films should be a joy, not a chore.  This dialogue choice results in poor acting performances from most all the cast, as they all come across like they’re auditioning for a high school play, flaunting their awful accents and pronunciations.

 

 

Poor choices were also made in the area of special effects.  In the shots where CGI is used, the “green screen effect” is alive and well on the screen, as the poor directing makes the actors look lost and confused in relation to their make believe props.  Even Helen Mirren falls victim to many of the film’s poorly executed CGI scenes and, despite her obviously amazing acting chops, can’t manage to hold those rough scenes on her back.  Speaking on almost the entire cast, I do not blame their acting skills in this debacle, but Julie Taymor’s bad taste in almost all her choices in steering the direction of this film.

 

 

Despite a few short moments of great visuals, The Tempest is rough time at the movies.  The film is just under two hours and easily felt like one of the longest films I have ever seen.  Directed like a live stage play, there are many scenes that don’t do much to move the film’s plot along, and the bubbly Shakespearean speak doesn’t make the viewing experience any easier.  Unless you are in the world’s top one percent of Shakespeare mega fans, I would steer hard away from The Tempest.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. mATtHEw gRAmItH permalink
    December 11, 2010 12:40 am

    Too bad. I was very much moved by Julie Taymor’s other Shakespeare adaptation, TITUS.

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