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Saturday, February 11, 2012


Julie Taymor was in the middle of her noisy, not to say calamitous, stewardship of SPIDER MAN: The Musical when this Shakespeare adaptation quietly sank. (With domestic grosses topping at $250,000 against a 20 mill budget, only her on-going B’way fiasco kept this release from gaining HEAVEN’S GATE/’80 notoriety.) Whatever attention it did get came from altering the gender of Shakespeare’s alter-ego character, Prospero, to ‘Prospera’ for Helen Mirren; a swap that makes surprisingly little difference. Taymor had done the play before, there was even a PBS showing of her minimalist take on it. Now, with a decent budget & a starry cast, but unbound by the commercial straitjacket of Disney’s THE LION KING, Taymor risks turning into an over-enthusiastic bore, piling up concepts & ideas like a first-time shopper of canned goods @ COSTCO. Happily, THE TEMPEST is unexpectedly resilient, sloughing off all sorts of bad ideas while retaining its core of power & decency. Oddly, this tale of a wronged exile who reigns on an enchanted isle and learns to soften his/her revenge with acceptance for the limitations of life has never been filmed ‘straight.’ Previous attempts have been as varied in texture, intent, tone & authenticity as Greenaway’s PROSPERO’S BOOKS/’91; Jarman’s TEMPEST/’79 & Mazursky’s in ‘82; even FORBIDDEN PLANET/’56 with Robbie the Robot as Ariel. Taymor holds reasonably close to the original text, but only makes real contact when she calms down enough to let us see how Shakespeare repurposed past efforts for this last fully-rigged work before retiring to Stratford. And if the acting, like the over-used special effects, are all over the place, Mirren makes it worth seeing. Not that anyone bothered to look.

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