Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Julie Taymor's The Tempest

I’m kind of a Shakespeare nerd, and a huge Julie Taymor fangirl, so I of course expected to love The Tempest, but sadly that just wasn’t the case.  The biggest change Taymor made was to change the main character from a man to a woman, which obviously totally works—because, duh. Helen Mirren is AMAZING.

Anyway, Prospera (previously Prospero) is a powerful witch who gets kicked out of her castle after her husband, The Duke, dies, and her snake of a brother spreads the word that she’s working with the black magics. Instead of being executed, Prospera and her young daughter are set off in a boat with tons of supplies and end up living on an island. Twelve years later, she notices a boat containing all her mortal enemies is close, and decides to shipwreck it to enact her revenge.

To help her do this, she has a spirit named Ariel, who flies around looking all androgynous and conjuring hellish imagery while he does Prospera’s bidding. The only hitch in their plan is a half man/half monster named Caliban (Djimon Hounsou), who hates her guts because he’s bound to her as a slave.

Sounds promising, right? Only one of the strange things about The Tempest is that the revenge part isn’t all that revengeful. In fact, outside of a few illusions involving a giant bird-beast and some dogs that shoot fire out of their mouths (not bees, just fire), it’s kinda, well, lame. And it also all seems horrendously easy for her to do exactly what she was planning the whole time.

At least being a Julie Taymor film, you know the visuals are going to be awesome. Which they are—most of the time. The costumes were rad, and the scenery was sufficiently bleak but magical. BUT: a lot of the fantasy sequences ended up looking pretty cheesy, like something my 15-year-old-magic-obessed-Goth-girl self would dream up, with sparkly lights and slow-motion constellation thingys and singing woodland fairies summoned from a tar-like lake.

The only thing I can’t fault  (too much) are the performances. Although with a cast rounded out by David Strathairn, Alan Cumming, Alfred Molina and Chris Cooper, I suppose that’s to be expected. Almost everyone was cast perfectly, with the exception of Russell Brand, who I honestly thought could not hold his own against someone as good as Molina—even when he’s basically playing himself.

So what does all this mean? Taymor’s previous Shakespeare adaptation, Titus, is one of the best things I’ve ever seen on film. The sets, costumes, and performances all merged perfectly to bring it to life on screen. But there’s something about The Tempest that just didn’t work for me. When I see Taymor’s name on a film I’m expecting something grand and beautifully fantastic, and this just fell a little flat.