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"The Tempest" - {Blu-ray}
Daniel Ruwe
Studio: Touchstone
Release Date:
September 13, 2011
Special Features:

See Below


Julie Taymor is good at adapting Shakespeare—if given the right play. Her movie Titus, an adaptation of Titus Andronicus, was a good if uneven movie, much like the play itself. The play is really over the top, and the movie doubles down on that. In that play, you have rape and mutilation and murder, and Taymor indulges herself in emphasizing that aspect to the hilt. ***

The problem is, The Tempest isn’t that sort of play at all. It’s a comedy, for one thing, so there has to be someone left alive at the end. And The Tempest is much more focused on dialogue and character than Titus is, meaning that sheer bloody over-the-top spectacle doesn’t work when adapting this play. ***

Taymor’s first directorial choice was brilliant—she recast the sorcerer Prospero as a woman. Helen Mirren is great is as Prospera, and the gender switch adds a new facet to the role. ***

Prospero’s goal was to return to his prior station in life and to find a husband for his daughter. Prospera’s primary goal is to give her daughter a better life. Mirren as Prospera puts a much more feminine spin on the role, making the character softer and more sympathetic than in the original play.***

Unfortunately, that’s about the only thing Taymor does that works. She tries to do the same thing with Tempest that she did with Titus, throwing everything she has at the screen. There is little room left for nuance, and the dialogue is often overwhelmed by the special effects. ***

Often, the play feels like it is being overrun by the spirit of Michael Bay, as Taymor tries to use special effects to hammer home points that the dialogue makes perfectly well on its own. Taymor is an interesting if eccentric director, but one wishes when watching Tempest that she trusted the source material more. ***

One thing that can be said for the movie is the wonderful set design. The interiors look amazing—Prospera’s workshop is truly impressive, and stark cliffs that often show up in the exterior scenes are wonderful. Costume designer Sandy Powell got an Academy Award nomination for her work on the movie, which was well deserved. ***

Image and Sound:

The DVD transfer of the movie looks good, emphasizing the excellent set and costume design. The sound is good too, which unfortunately serves to direct attention to the film’s over the top sound effects.

Special Features:

As far as special features go, Russell Brand shows up a lot. There is some raw Brand rehearsal footage, and he gives an interview as Shakespeare with Taymor. There is also a short feature examining Taymor’s interpretation of the play, a directors audio commentary, and a commentary with Shakespeare experts Virginia Vaughan and Jonathon Bate.

Final Words:

Tempest is ambitious, but ultimately fails in most of its goals.


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