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
The metal-thread piping on the outfits of Antonio and several others are actually zippers. This is clear in the close-ups for the spell circle scene where a zipper on his sleeve is open and the slider is visible as Prospera talks to him. The zipper sliders on the top of the outfit that Prospera wears after this scene are still attached (they look like points, or ends of laces). See more »
The Tempest is not the most riveting drama, the larger realization is after all a certain weariness with it. This is given to us as a magician who halfway through the story abandons his powers of illusion, who after conjuring to him the characters and plotting the story of revenge pauses to reflect on the emptiness of the endeavor. It's still powerful then, because we are all Prosperos alone in our island with the thoughts we conjure up to inhabit.
In Shakespeare's time, the inspiration for Prospero must have likely come from the scandalous topic of John Dee, the communion with spirits and visions through crystals certainly point at that as well as more broadly the notion of a benign magic. Magic since well before Dee and up to Crowley has tried its best to mask in so much hoopla what other spiritual traditions make clear from the start: that man is an embodied consciousness with the ability to direct that consciousness to vision. Shakespeare no doubt understood this was exactly his own art, a rich and complicated magic of conjured vision in peoples' minds.
So if this is to be powerful, you have to adopt a very intricate stance. Show both the power of illusion as vision and, contradictory, the emptiness of it, the fact it is underpinned by an illusory nature of reality. Greenaway masterfully did this in his Prospero film by having Prospero's creation of the play as vision, the vision lush and wonderful, and yet at every turn shown to exist on a stage.
Taymor is too earnest to strike this stance, in fact judging by the cinematic fabrics here she seems unsure of what direction to follow. She is an earthy woman so intuitively builds on landscape, volcanic rock under our feet. Pasolini could soar in this approach judging from his mythic films, her approach is too usual and without awe. The magic is also too ordinary. A few movie effects cobbled together in earnest as something to woo simple souls like Trinculo. Compared to the novel richness of Greenaway this feels like discarded Harry Potter work. And the cinematic navigation is without any adventure, as if Taymor didn't believe there was anything for her to discover outside the play, to conjure up in the landscape itself by wandering to it, so she never strays in visual reflection.
Mirren conveys the reflection as best she can, but that is all here, too little.
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