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The Tempest (Blu-ray Review)

Writer/Director Julie Taymor has returned to cinema with her latest visual feast for the eyes and the soul in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. If you’re not familiar with Ms. Taymor then let me reacquaint you with her style.  She had previously written and directed Titus, Frida, and Across the Universe.  The Tempest marks her fourth film, and her second feature film based on a William Shakespeare play.  For those that are not familiar with her past feature works she was also responsible for the Lion King musical and the director of Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark.  She left Spiderman due to creative differences, though.  Let’s find out how The Tempest on Blu-ray scored, shall we. 

The Film 

The Tempest tells the story of Prospera (Helen Mirren), the duchess of Milan who is supplanted by her scheming brother Antonio (Chris Cooper) and sent off in a raft where they happen to land on a deserted island with her daughter Miranda (Felicity Jones) in tow.  Calling this island home Prospera quickly becomes its unofficial “queen” or claimer.  She makes short work of Caliban (Djimon Hounsu) and enslaves him.  Twelve years later, Alonzo (David Strathairn),  the king of Naples is sailing back home after attending one of his daughter’s marriages when fate steps in and Prospera seizes the moment to act.  Alonzo’s son, Ferdinand (Reeve Carney) was also on the ship when it was crashed on shore by the storm.

That’s the main gist of the story in this feature film retelling of, what is to be believed, one of Shakespeare’s last plays.  Along for the ride are Alonzo’s brother Antonio (Alan Cumming), Alonzo’s butler Stephano (Alfred Molina), Alonzo’s jester Trinculo (Russell Brand), Alonzo’s counselor Gonzalo (Tom Conti), and a really cool spirit being by the name of Ariel (Ben Wishaw).

I just want to get this out of the way first…I love Julie Taymor’s work.  I was captivated and enthralled by her adaptation of Titus way back in 1999.  I can’t believe it’s been that long!  She later kicked my butt with the amazing Frida film in 2002, and made a Beatles fan out of me with her film Across the Universe. In fact, Across the Universe was the very first Blu-ray I ever bought.  True story!  I guess you can say that it would be a no-brainer for me to actually like her latest film in The Tempest. She’s back adapting Shakespeare plays for the modern world.  What is surprising and cool at the same time is her choice in making Prosepero a woman.  What’s even more surprising and quite hot is that she went ahead and cast Helen Mirren in the lead.  Have mercy!  I don’t care what anyone says, but Helen Mirren is a BABE!

Prospera is a strong female former duchess who was stripped of the throne when her husband died by her brother Antonio.  Prospera wasn’t just some helpless trophy duchess.  What I really enjoyed about this tale is that Prospera was hot and strong, kind of like my coffee.  She is book smart, a scientist, and an alchemist, and now a sorceress who can summon spirits.  She’s also extremely disciplined and dedicates parts of her days on the island to working on her studies for further enlightenment.  As you can see, Antonio would have many reasons to try and get rid of her.  She doesn’t take crap from no man!

I enjoyed all aspects of The Tempest’s production which feature great costumes, make-up, and visual effects that make watching the film a pleasure.  Yes, the film is in the Shakespeare language, so for those that can’t take the speak this may not be the movie for you.  My favorite characters were Prospera and Ariel.  Ariel is an awesome spirit being who is loyal to Prospera, because she freed him from a prison of sorts.  He is bound to her until she decides to release him.  Caliban is bitter, because he went from being her companion to being her slave, so he ends up teaming up with the latest group of schemers in Stephano and Trinculo.  They become the “three drunks” which is ironic, because Stephano and Trinculo were already drunk to begin with.

The romance between Miranda and Ferdinand is a sweet one, and never feels forced or contrived.  The Tempest is also broken down in a three character-arc-structure, if that makes sense.  At any given time the main focus of the story is on Prospera and Miranda (and Ariel zig-zags between all of them), then shifts to Alonzo, Antonio and crew, and then shifts again to Caliban and the drunkards.  It’s very simple and easy to follow without being a pain.

The Tempest is like a painting that has been brought to life and once again Julie Taymor has proven herself (not that she ever had to) a visual force to be reckoned with.  I put her on par with visual directors like Tarsem in terms of style and substance.  She does it all from the heart and it shows.  The Tempest was originally filmed in 2008, but due to the sale of Miramax it took a while for it to hit theaters.  It was released at the end of 2010 and into early 2011.  It is now here in all its grand Blu-ray splendor for people to see.

Video 

The Tempest is presented in 1080p, 2.35:1, widescreen.  The Tempest is a painting come to life and the Blu-ray handles it all without problems.  Colors are bold, lush, vivid, and free of banding.  Black levels are deep, inky, and never crush.  Contrast never runs hot, and edge enhancement is absent.  The Tempest on Blu-ray would almost be a reference disc if it weren’t for the few instances of subtle DNR that I noticed.  Keep in mind that I’ve only seen the film once, so what I may have perceived as DNR could very well be artistic merit or license.  We’ll take another look in the near future, but for now, The Tempest gets a near perfect score in the video department.  

Audio 

The Tempest is presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1.  Who would’ve ever thought that Shakespeare could literally rock the house on Blu-ray?!  Well, The Tempest rocks hard!  Dialogue is of the up most importance when it comes to a Shakespeare pay being translated into a film and this Blu-ray does it justice.  Considering that all of the characters speak in the “Shakespeare” dialect I never once found myself asking what was that or what did they say?  It was a great sonic experience to listen to the fine cast get their Shakespeare on.  The film takes place on a deserted island, features tons of supernatural situations, and the lossless soundtrack handles all of these things without skipping a beat.  Waves crash onto the rocks with great depth, Ariel teleports throughout the film in various forms; the surround channels capture these magical and creepy moments with ease.  The audio for The Tempest on Blu-ray is a winner. 

Special Features 

The Tempest has a modest amount of special features which include an awesome audio commentary by writer/director Julie Taymor, rehearsal footage, a making-of documentary, music video, and a second audio commentary by some Shakespeare experts.  This extras package is most definitely all killer and no filler.

  • Los Angeles Rehearsal – Features Julie Taymor, Djimon Hounsou, Russell Brand & Alfred Molina
  • Raising The Tempest – Julie Taymor documentary about the making of the movie
  • Julie Taymor Audio Commentary
  • Annotated Shakespeare – View The Tempest with audio commentary by renowned Shakespeare experts Virginia Vaughan & Jonathan Bate
  • “O Mistress Mine” Music Video
  • Russell Brand Rehearsal Riff

Final Thoughts 

I loved The Tempest and look forward to Julie Taymor’s next film project.  The Blu-ray has great picture and sound with a nice supplemental package.  It will give the ‘ol home theater system a nice workout.  If you’re a novice Shakespeare reader (or viewer in this case) and are curious in exploring some of the re-telling of his works on film I would highly suggest starting out with The Tempest. The visuals will take the edge off of the words, if you’re a novice.  I would see about checking out the rest of the Julie Taymore filmography.  I’m positive you will like it.

 

Order The Tempest on Blu-ray!

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Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

2 Responses to “The Tempest (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    I’m sure it looks pretty…

  2. Sean Ferguson

    While I didn’t care for the film, I will agree that this Blu-ray looks and sounds great! Thanks Gerard!