Blu-ray Review: The Tempest (2010)

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Prospero’s past is prologue for plot and point-of-view as he becomes a she in visionary filmmaker Julie Taymor’s feminist, female-centric Tempest.

As Prospera, Helen Mirren cuts right to the core of the banished Italian single mother’s rage by unspooling her plan for wrath and revenge on the men who'd done her wrong.

With a conjured storm of comeuppance in the present for sins of the past that will impact the future of Shakespeare’s entire cast of characters, Prospera proves that Hell hath no fury like a sorceress scorned, shipwrecking the guilty victims shortly into Taymor’s audaciously avant garde cinematic interpretation of the Bard’s final opus.

Though it’s amusing to note that Taymor’s adaptation allows Mirren to reunite with her recent 2011 Arthur costar Russell Brand in a new and completely different play on previously produced material, the actress is in exceptionally fine form, commanding and earning our attention to the exclusion of all else every single time she appears onscreen from start to finish.

And as it turns out, the Mirren distraction is a welcome one indeed as even Taymor’s trademark stunning visuals – whether sparse and severe or vibrantly eye-popping – fail to keep us as engaged as we should be and have been in other Taymor titles and Bard-on-the-big-screen endeavors.

Though given an impressively crisp and technically dazzling Blu-ray high definition transfer, overall The Tempest suffers from an excess of cinematographic style over simple storytelling substance – screaming for our consideration audibly and visually, when a simple stage whisper would’ve not just sufficed but seduced us in Shakespearean grandeur.

Despite a genuinely gripping introduction and some shivery Shakespearean soliloquies spoken by the likes of David Strathairn, Chris Cooper, Alan Cumming, Djimon Hounsou and Alfred Molina, 2010’s Tempest quickly grows wacky, wild and just plain weird as it continues, trying our patience and testing our mettle following a catastrophic loss of momentum in the second half.

Wandering around aimlessly in search of some way to bring all of the elements together cohesively and – when failing to do so – using every opportunity to call attention to itself superficially rather than genuinely engaging us in the tale, this time around Prospera’s sorcery inspires more of a mess than the stuff of which dreams are made.

Of course, given the number of overlapping subplots, themes and literary devices apparent in Tempest, which he’d brilliantly recycled and repurposed for comedy and tragedy alike throughout his oeuvre, the play itself at times feels like a filmed feat of Cliff’s Notes or a musical interpretation of the Bard’s greatest hits collection.

Yet flaws aside, Taymor’s Tempest is perhaps best appreciated as a companion piece to the director’s previous pictures from Frida to Titus to her pop art rock opera masterpiece Across the Universe.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.