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In Julie Taymor's version of 'The Tempest,' the main character is now a woman named Prospera. Going back to the 16th or 17th century, women practicing the magical arts of alchemy were often convicted of witchcraft. In Taymor's version, Prospera is usurped by her brother and sent off with her four-year daughter on a ship. She ends up on an island; it's a tabula rasa: no society, so the mother figure becomes a father figure to Miranda. This leads to the power struggle and balance between Caliban and Prospera; a struggle not about brawn, but about intellect. Written by
Julie Taymor (Frida, Titus) sets her sights on the Bard's final masterpiece, recasting Prospero as Prospera (Hellen Mirren) and letting the magic and romance loose in this very different take on The Tempest.
First, what works? Hellen Mirren does, rather unsurprisingly, and the art direction of photography are consistent with the vision of the woman who gave us Titus back in 1999. Kudos as well to the ever-watchable David Strathairn and Djimon Hounsou.
What annoys? Now we enter very subjective ground. This beautiful, deceptively simple play is turned into an amped up to the max, loud and frantic film. The electric guitar whines are painfully out of place, and Russell Brand, never guilty of subtlety on a good day, will make you claw your own eardrums out. It's almost as if Taymor had forgotten we were right there with her cast, right behind the camera, instead of sitting 50ft back in a packed theater.
This has proved an incredibly divisive film, and I feel split right down the middle on it. I admire Titus, in my mind one of the best Shakespeare adaptations in history, but whereas Taymor's turbocharged visuals and loud, often trashy use of sound and effects served as a perfect illustration for Shakesepare's bonkers gore-fest, it diminishes the more mature, heartfelt qualities of this play. The Tempest is a great playwright's swan song, the work of an aging, mature artist. Why would you give us an overly loud, ADD-afflicted MTV version?
Ultimately, this frustrating missed opportunity makes you wonder, did Taymor have her Shakespeare mixed up all along. Rather than give us "the stuff that dreams are made of", she serves us "a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".
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