The impeccable cast alone makes this version of The Tempest a pleasure well worth watching.
A Tempest Missed
Almost nobody saw The Tempest when it hit movie theatres in December 2010. Then again, with a release that maxed out at 21 theatres domestically, most people didn’t even get a chance. Things were even worse overseas. All told, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, the movie earned less than $350,000 worldwide, a pittance compared to its still relatively small $20 million production budget.
Julie Taymor’s version of Shakespeare’s capstone class deserves a much wider audience. Taymor always packs her artist’s aesthetic into her productions and this is certainly no exception. And she doesn’t settle for easy projects that can be phoned in; she deserves a special thanks for that.
In this case, she’s filled Shakespeare’s final masterpiece with a terrific cast of reliables including Helen Mirren (The Debt), Alan Cumming (Titus), David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck), and Alfred Molina (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time). There are also some highly unlikely Shakespeare first-timers who prove their worth, those being Chris Cooper (Syriana), Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator), and Reeve Carney (Peter Parker in Taymor’s controversial - and expensive - Broadway production of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark). Lovely up-and-comer Felicity Jones (Page Eight) co-stars as Miranda. Oh. And Russell Brand (Get Him to the Greek and real-life’s Mr. Katy Perry) is in it too, playing, appropriately enough, Trinculo, the jester.
The Tempest is a collection of intertwined stories, one described in the commentary tracks as Shakespeare’s greatest hits, given it is thought to be the last play to exit his quill. There’s a broad, youthful tale of love at first sight, a carnival of dunces, and a political conspiracy, all wrapped up in the orchestrations of a sorceress named Prospera (Mirren).
Prospera (originally written as a male named Prospero, the Duke of Milan) is exiled, along with her daughter, on a deserted island. In an act of vengeance, Prospera conjures up a tempest to strand her enemies, the King of Naples (Strathairn) and her own brother, Antonio (Cooper). While she’s at it, she might as well summon true, pure, virginal love for her daughter, Miranda (Jones) and the king’s son, Ferdinand (Carney), in order to move her lineage back to its rightful station.
The stories of the different cliques making their way through this strange new world where they’ve been shipwrecked affords Shakespeare the opportunity to play with familiar themes of love and betrayal, along with a hearty dose of 17th century humor. It’s an old-school world of mysticism, sprites, magic, and romance that in turn provides Taymor with the opportunity to work her cinematic sorcery with new-school artistry.
There’s one Blu-ray exclusive, a 13-minute segment of footage from rehearsals in Los Angeles. This one’s primarily for the thespians out there, but it is interesting to watch Taymor work with her cast and observe the differences in styles and personalities between Brand, Molina, and Hounsou.
Given the movie’s botched theatrical release, this Blu-ray comes as a pleasant surprise. It’s got a healthy amount of solid supplemental features.
Raising The Tempest is an excellent 66-minute documentary. On display is an enthusiasm for Shakespeare’s play and a definite experimental approach. It’s exciting to hear crew members, including Taymor, discuss plans without knowing if things will work as hoped. Much like Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, there’s a push to do something different here, albeit with much more limited means. And Taymor demonstrates a healthy appreciation for her limited resources, pointing out that’s where true creativity resides. It’s also interesting to learn the movie was filmed on the island of Lanai, Hawaii, a privately-owned island, but one owned by a Shakespeare fan, as it happens. Additionally, there’s a nice explanation of the lead character’s sex change, going from Prospero (male) to Prospera (female). Also included is footage from a Taymor stage version of The Tempest performed 24 years ago.
The audio commentary by Shakespeare experts Virginia Mason-Vaughan (Professor of English at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts) and Jonathan Bale (Shakespeare professor at the University of Warwick, England) is a little awkward; it’s not really a conversation between the two profs, but rather a splicing together of two disparate experts and their comments. The track features some nice historical observations regarding the time period in which Shakespeare wrote The Tempest, including references to the New World and Shakespeare’s repeated use of Italy as a location.
Director Julie Taymor provides her own commentary track as well. It’s briskly-paced and packed with good information, including insights into staging, costuming, acting, special effects, the whole works. It would’ve been nice to take advantage of Blu-ray technology and incorporate a picture-in-picture track of costume and production art, but given the production’s modest heritage, the absence cannot be deemed a surprise.
There’s also a four-minute clip of Russell Brand ad-libbing during the first day of rehearsals, in which he gives an in-depth back story for his character. This one’s for Brand fans.
Rounding out the package is the O Mistress Mine music video, which is a nice little piece showcasing Reeve Carney’s musical talents as he sings lyrics supplied by none other than William Shakespeare.
Picture and Sound
Never mind the jacket, the disc’s the thing. The jacket erroneously indicates audio is available only in English and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Thankfully, the English track is 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio. Also available are 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in Spanish and Portuguese.
In regard to the DTS track, it’s a great showcase for Elliot Goldenthal’s unique score and, more importantly, all that Shakespearean dialogue is crisp and sharp, delivered with precision by the cast and easily understood thanks to the magic of DTS surround.
Subtitles are available in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The picture quality (presented in 2.35:1) is terrific, fully-realizing the details of Taymor’s artful, extravagant production. With all of Sandy Powell’s detailed costumes and Stuart Dryburgh’s luscious cinematography, featuring the gorgeous scenery of Lanai, The Tempest is best seen in high-definition if not the big screen.
How to Use This Disc
Enjoy the movie’s artful presentation and gallery of fine performances. Those curious about the making of the movie are encouraged to check out Raising The Tempest and Taymor’s audio commentary. For those inclined to know more about Shakespeare, the track by the Shakespearean experts is recommended.