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 Julie Taymor's postmodernist version of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” is, like all of her pictures, a bold and innovative but largely unsuccessful attempt to give the classic play a new spin and relevant meaning.

The problem of this “Tempest” is not the gender-shifting of the protagonist: The great and versatile Helen Mirren plays Prospera, and her commanding performance is one of the film’s best elements.  But the movie is marked by an incongruent narrative strategy and visual conception, further marred by disruptive and uneven visual effects, which can only be described as kitsch (Taymor would probably favor the term “postmodern” to describe her enterprise).
 
Shakespeare’s work is so dense, rich, and relevant has lent itself to different versions and interpretations and to different time periods in which his sagas are placed. There have been at least three other experimental adaptations of “The Tempest.” There was Derek Jarman's 1979 iconoclastic adaptation, which concluded with a jazz rendition of "Stormy Weather."
 
“The Tempest” world-premiered to mixed critical reaction at the Venice Film Festival (out of competition as closing night) and then played as the center piece of the New York Film Festival. Shakespeare lovers and film critics will be divided about Taymor's flashy adaptation of Shakespeare’s last comedy.
 
The context, which is established effectively, shows that back then, women who practiced the arts of alchemy were often convicted of witchcraft. For those who need a reminder of the plot: Prospera is sent into exile 12, when her ambitious brother Antonio (Chris Cooper) usurps her kingdom to become the Duke of Milan. Prospera and her daughter Miranda (Felicity Jones) live on an enchanted island, served by two slaves: the brutish Caliban (Djimon Hounsou) and his opposite, the romantic Ariel (Ben Whishaw).

As a powerful sorceress, Prospera can bring a raging storm at sea with a flick of her magical wand. But the storm and a shipwreck bring to the island her old enemies, including her brother Antonio, Alonso the King of Naples (David Strathairn) and his brother Sebastian (Alan Cumming.) They make fun of Prospera's old friend, the good Gonzalo (Tom Conti), as they explore the island.

Propsera realizes that she lives in a normless community, in which there are no firm rules and no clear family structure. Taking her fate and her daughter’s into her hands, she assumes the roles of a mother and a father to Miranda. This leads to a power conflict between Caliban and Prospera, a conflict that is both real and symbolic about intellect. [

 
Taymor is known for her inventive staging of the Broadway musical "The Lion King" and her tribute to the Beatles, "Across the Universe." Less daring and less irritating than her 1999 "Titus," which also took a stylized approach to Shakespeare play, albeit a lesser-known play, "The Tempest" is easier to absorb. But it is disappointingly incoherent, variegating between different modes of presentation; the visual style and pacing often change from sequence to sequence, but with no apparent logic or reason.
 
The shift from a male to a female protag is made smoother, or less troublesome, due to Mirren’s commanding performance. In cropped blond-gray hair, and weathered face, Mirren plays Prospera as an asexual sorceress, determined to exercise her rights and duties) in a patriarchal social order, truly a man's world. Delivering her lines (including some lengthy monologues) with authority and power, she never neglects the more humanistic elements of her part and her relationships with the men who surround her.
 
As Ariel, Ben Whishaw, handsome, pale and slender, brings a light, androgynous touch. In contrast, Djimon Hounsou, handsome, big and strong, plays Caliban as a tough, angry man.
 
Other actors, who are usually reliable, feature less prominently under Taymor’s helm. Rusell Brand is too eccentric (borderline crazy) as Trinculo, and Sandy Powell’s costumes for him make him even less convincing.
 
Four great character actors, Chris Cooper, Tom Conti, David Strathairn and Alfred Molina, add immeasurable color to the proceedings.
 
While most of special effects are carefully planned and meticulously executed, they are not well integrated into the text. The music from Elliot Goldenthal (Taymor’s reliable collaborator and personal companion) is often overwhelming, and cinematography of the brilliant Stuart Dryburgh is uneven, properly a result of Taymor’s instructions.
 
Overall, this “Tempest” lacks the kind of magic that transports a classic work to a modernist work that’s relevant to contemporary viewers.
 
Cast
 
Prospera – Helen Mirren
Miranda – Felicity Jones
Caliban – Djimon Hounsou
Ariel – Ben Wishaw
Miranda – Felicity Jones
Ferdinand – Reeve Carney
Alonso – David Strathairn
Sebastian – Alan Cumming
Antonio – Chris Cooper
Gonzalo – Tom Conti
Stephano – Alfred Molina
Trinculo – Russell Brand

Credits
 
A Touchstone Pictures release of a Chartoff-Hendee and TalkStory production.
Produced by Julie Taymor, Robert Chartoff, Lynn Hendee, Julia Taylor-Stanley, Jason K. Lau. Executive producers, John C. Ching, Deborah Lau, Ron Bozman, Tino Puri, Rohit Khattar, Stewart Till, Anthony Buckner, Greg Strasburg.
Co-producer, Nalini Lalvani.
Co-Executive producer, Beaux Carson.
Directed, written by Julie Taymor, based on the play by William Shakespeare.
Camera, Stuart Dryburgh.
Editor, Francoise Bonnot.
Music, Elliot Goldenthal.
Production designer, Mark Friedberg.
Art directors, Alex DiGerlando, Kim Jennings.
Set decorator, Alyssa Winter.
Costume designer, Sandy Powell.
Sound, Drew Kunin.
Sound designer, supervising sound editor, Blake Leyh; re-recording mixers, Lee Dichter, Andy Kris.
Special effects supervisor, Steve Kirshoff.
Visual effects supervisor, Kyle Cooper; visual effects, Prologue Films.
Stunt coordinators, Charlie Croughwell, Stephen Pope.
Associate producer, Phyllis LaVoie.
Assistant director, Sean Cameron Guest.
Second unit camera, Dana W. Gonzales.
Casting, Gillian Hawser.
 
MPAA: R
Running time: 110 Minutes.