The Tempest


Shakespeare The Tempest motion picture from Miramax. Juli Taymor wrote the screen play, produced, and directed this film seen in theaters in 2010. Stars Helen Mirren (Prospera), Russell Brand (Trinculo), Reeve Carney (Ferdinand), Tom Conti (Gonzalo), Chris Cooper (Antonio), Alan Cumming (Sebastian), Djimon Hounsou (Caliban), Felicity Jones (Miranda), Alfred Molina (Stephano), David Strathairn (Alonso), and Ben Whishaw (Ariel). Music by Elliot Goldenthal; costumes by Sandy Powell; cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh; editing by Françoise Bonnot. As is often the case with movie discs, this title includes interesting extras about the making of the film. Released 2011, disc has 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.  Grade: B+

William Shakespeare and Harry Potter spent a night in a tavern drinking mead. They decided to change the Prospero in The Tempest to Prospera. To help modern viewers with shrink-wrapped imaginations, they added lots of computer-generated special effects. The result is a beautiful film with excellent acting and impressive productions values shot in a striking Hawaiian landscape. The sex-change operation isn't as significant as you might think. In addition to the changes, about 20% of Shakespeare's text is cut to get rid of obscure passages and tighten up the movie. People who don't know the play can probably follow this version quite well and find it entertaining. True, the result shows how hard it is even with clever, modern resources to render in high-definition images the power of suggestion of poetry. But on the other hand, we have no confirmed intelligence that any viewer (snob or not) has been harmed by this movie.

In my 3000-page complete Shakespeare Plays, annotator A.L. Rowse states in his critical introduction to The Tempest, "To do [many scenes in the play] justice---perhaps to realize the play as a whole---one needs the resources of film." The introduction of Prospera shows just what cinema can do compared to a stage play:

Wild angle shots aren't all cinema can do though; close ups are used as well:

Below is an example of visual effects used in the film with Ariel attacking the ship:

And next below is we see Alonso and his cohort emerge from the water---hard to put an ocean on a stage:

More visual trickery as Prospera interacts with an ethereal Ariel:

Prospera and Miranda above, Caliban below:

Next are two shots of the comedy trio of Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban:

Rich warm brown tones and lush greens show the variety of scenery the film uses:

More visual effects with both the shimmering meal and the harpy attack:


Film allows for depth-of-field effects as well:

The Tempest usually takes about 135 minutes to play on stage without cuts. Taymor's film runs 110 minutes, so it appears about 15% of the text is cut to tighten up the drama and allow for more visual storytelling. If this movie had the full text of the play, I would probably give it an A. But I think of this movie as an example of Shakespeare "light." so I trim the grade back to B+ (which is a good grade on this website).

In addition to Taymor's film, we now also have an HDVD of The Tempest in traditional stage performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company. While the RSC production is very much a stage play, it does have state-of-the-art live special effects that rival computer-generated images and trick photography. So at this time (October 2017) you have two good choices (both modern and updated, but in different ways) to see The Tempest in your home theater.