The Tempest (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 18, 2011 by  

As far as Shakespeare film adaptations go, “The Tempest” is viscerally entertaining and features beautiful costume design and make-up.  But it’s pacing seems quite a bit disjointed and doesn’t pull you in but pushes you away.  But “The Tempest” is one beautiful experimental film that looks and sounds fantastic on Blu-ray!

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Images courtesy of © 2011 Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Inc. and Spyglass Entertainment Group, LP. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Tempest


DURATION: 110 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (widescreen 2:35:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English & Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish

RATED: PG-13 (For Some Nudity, Suggestive Content and Scary Images)

COMPANY: Miramax Films/Touchstone Home Entertainment

RELEASE DATE: September 13, 2011

Directed by  Julie Taymor

Based on the play by William Shakespeare

Screenplay by Julie Taymor

Produced by Robert Chartoff, Jason K. Lau, Julia Taylor-Stanley, Julie Taymor

Executive Producer: Ronald M. Bozman, Anthony Buckner, John C. Ching, Rohit Khattar, Deborah Y. Lau, Tino Puri, Greg Strasburg, Stewart Til

Co-Executive Producer: Beaux Carson

Associate Producer: Phyllis LaVoie

Music by Elliot Goldenthal

Cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh

Edited by Francoise Bonnot

Production Design by Mark Friedberg

Art Direction by Alex DiGerlando, Kim Jennings

Set Decoration by Alyssa Winter

Costume Design by Sandy Powell


Helen Mirren as Prospera

Felicity Jones as Miranda

Jude Akuwudike as Boatswain

Reeve Carney as Prince Ferdinand

David Strathairn as King Alonso

Tom Conti as Gonzalo

Alan Cumming as Sebastian

Chris Cooper as Antonio

Ben Whishaw as Ariel

Djimon Hounsou as Caliban

Russell Brand as Trinculo

Alfred Molina as Stephano

This modern retelling of William Shakespeare’s final masterpiece is an exciting, mystical and magical fantasy with Academy Award®-winner Helen Mirren (Best Actress, The Queen, 2006) leading a star-studded cast including Russell Brand (Get Him To The Greek) and Alfred Molina (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice). Exiled to a magical island, the sorceress Prospera (Mirren) conjures up a storm that shipwrecks her enemies, and then unleashes her powers for revenge. Directed by Julie Taymor (Frida) — and complete with exclusive bonus features — The Tempest, with its innovative twist, is a supernatural dramedy filled with Shakespearean villains, lovers and fools that will leave you spellbound.

When it comes to plays and theater, Julie Taymor is well-known in the circle.  Having earned two Tony Awards for directing the stage musical of “The Lion King” and well-known for her costume design and puppetry for plays such as “The Tempest”, “Oedipus Rex”, “The Magic Flute” and was also the production consultant and designer for Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” concert show.

But when it comes to directing films, Taymor is best known for directing the 1999 film “Titus” and the 2007 film “Across the Universe”.

But in 2010, Taymor returned to her roots, her passion for Shakespeare and to create the film adaptation of the William Shakespeare play “The Tempest”, considered to be the last play that Shakespeare had written alone.  And many consider it to be a play that would incorporate themes from other Shakespearean plays such as romance, comedy, drama and other sources.

The 2010 film is loosely based on “The Tempest” as the lead character Prospera (played by Helen Mirren, “Queen”, “Excalibur”, “Calendar Girls”, “National Treasure”) is played by a woman and not a man (who goes by the name of Prospero). And in the play, Prospero is the Duke of Milan but for this film, Prospera is the wife of the Duke.

“The Tempest” revolves around Prospera, the Duchess of Milan and also a sorceress who is accused by her brother Antonio of killing her husband, the Duke with witchcraft.

Antonio had wanted power and control and thus, fearful of a woman taking the leadership of the country, he casts Prospera and her four-year-old daughter Miranda to the open seas.

The two end up on an island where they take up residence and the only person that lives on the island is a monster/human named Caliban.

With her power, Prospera makes Caliban (played by Djimon Hounsou, “Blood Diamond”, “The Gladiator”, “The Island”) her slave and claims the island for her and her daughter.  Caliban has a deep hatred towards Prospera for making him a slave.  But using her magical powers and to call upon the spirit Ariel (played by Ben Whishaw, “Layer Cake”, “Bright Star”) to help her, both make sure that no one sets foot on the island.

But with Prospera now older and Miranda (played by Felicity Jones, “Chalet Girl”, “Like Crazy”) now a young woman, one day, Miranda spots a ship in trouble in the sea.

Alonzo, the King of Naples (played by David Strathairn, “The Bourne Ultimatum, “L.A. Confidential”, “Fracture”) is sailing back to his kingdom after his daughter’s wedding to the prince of Tunisia and accompanying him is his son Ferdinand (played by Reeve Carney. “Snow Falling on Ceders”, “Spread”), his brother Sebastian (played by Alan Cumming, “X2”, “The Anniversary Party”, “Spy Kids”)  and Antonio (played by Chris Cooper, “Adaptation”, “American Beauty”, “The Bourne Identity”).  Feeling that she can get her revenge, she unleashes her power, a tempest which wrecks the ship.  But with Miranda preventing her mother from causing much harm, she stops complete destruction in which King Alonzo and a few are able to make it onto the island.

As King Alonzo tries to find help in order to get back home, the conniving Antonio tries to convince Sebastian to kill his brother in order to be the next King of Naples.

Meanwhile, Ferdinand is separated from everyone else and encounters Miranda…and both fall in love with each other at first sight.  But concerned and protective of her daughter, Prospera tries to make Ferdinand her slave.

Also, finding the island are Stephano, Alonzo’s butler (played by Alfred Molina, “Spider-Man 2”, “Chocolat”, “Magnolia”) and Trinculo (played by Russell Brand, “Get Him to the Greek”, “Arthur”, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) and because Stephano has liquor, they manage to get Caliban drunk and together they try to find a way to go against Prospera.

But with her daughter falling in love with Ferdinand and the fact that her brother is on the island and feeling that they are going after her, will Prospera unleash her power to destroy them, or will she forgive them and let them live?


“The Tempest” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1).  And  the film looks absolutely beautiful.  This film also reinforces my belief that nearly every film shot in Hawaii and released on Blu-ray looks magnificent in HD.  The film and the lighting are fantastic.  There is plenty of detail, colors are vibrant and dark when they need to be.

But the cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh (“Bridget Jone’s Diary”, “The Piano”, “Analyze This”), visual effects, costume and makeup design for the film is fantastic. In fact, possibly the most impressive part of the film is when Prospera calls upon Ariel in his darkest form.  Excellent scene!  Dryburgh has a lot to work with in terms of capturing the look and feel of the island on camera and there are plenty of breathtaking scenes.

I detected no banding, no edge enhancement, no softness.  Picture quality is fantastic!


“The Tempest” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA.  The back cover mentions English and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, but it appears to be an error possibly meant for the DVD version.  But audio-wise, the lossless audio is fantastic.  There is quite a bit of action throughout the film from various weather elements, the opening scene alone with the chaos in the seas definitely utilizes the center, front, surround channels and LFE.  The overall ambiance is also well captured in the film and if anything, the lossless audio is nothing short of spectacular.

The dialogue is crystal clear and for the most part, audiophiles will find the lossless soundtrack to be quite immersive.

Subtitles are in English SDH and Spanish.


“The Tempest” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary  – Featuring in-depth commentary by Julie Taymor. Julie is very passionate about Shakespeare and she goes into details of the location, the cast and various scenes.
  • Shakespeare Experts Audio Commentary – I found this audio commentary to be a welcome addition to the Blu-ray release as experts Virginia Mason Vaughan (a Professor of English at Clark University) and Jonathan Bate (A Shakespeare Professor at England’s University of Warwick)  discuss the differences between the play and the film adaptation.  The two do not engage in any lambasting towards the film but for those that want to know about the key differences, will surely enjoy this commentary.
  • Raising the Tempest – (1:06:06) A making-of “The Tempest” but also gives you an idea of the location of the film, the cast’s state of mind while working on the film and also comparisons of the play and film and more.
  • Julie & Cast: Inside the L.A. Rehearsals – (13:34) A featurette in which Julie Taymore along with Russell Brand, Alfred Molina and Djimon Hounsou at a stage rehearsal from back in 2008.
  • Russel Brand Rehearsal Riff – (4:32) Julie Taymor interview Trinculo (Brand).
  • Music Video – (3:22) Featuring a the music video for “Mistress Mine” by actor Reeve Carney.


“The Tempest” comes with a slipcover case.

I really wanted to love”The Tempest” and I know how passionate filmmaker Julie Taymor was when she created it.  And to reaffirm that passion, I listened to the audio commentary, the featurette on the making of this film.  And how she wanted to bring technology and theater together as one.

But the problem is, while visually the film was visceral and gorgeous, the story was not.

And the biggest culprit was the pacing of the film.  The film starts off rather dark, we learn what sacrifices Prospera had gone through to keep she and her daughter safe from intruders.  How she took control of the island and made Caliban, a slave.  And the dynamic between mother and daughter, Prospera and Ariel, Miranda and Ferdinand, I did like.

But the pacing takes a 90 degree turn as the film’s comedy diverts you from a more serious/darker tone to ridiculousness as the film begins to focus on Trinculo and Stephano with Caliban.  To put it bluntly, when you start watching Russell Brand trounce into the film, in modern day garb and discovering Calaban, “The Tempest” resembles less of a Shakespearan film and almost becomes more of something we would see from Happy Madison or Judd Apatow-produced films.

Is it funny, yes…but it is so out of place and in many ways, it became more of an experimental, jarring part of the film that really takes you out of the actual story.  Yes, we know that Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban would be plotting against Prospera but perhaps the three were focused on too much.

The other story featured Kin Alonzo, Antonio, Sebastian and I felt that while the play shows the conflict between Antonio and Prospero quite well, I felt the necessary bridge to show Antonio’s betrayal of Prospera was not well tied together in the film.

But what I did enjoy about the film was relationship between Prospera and Miranda and you have to give credit to the performance of Helen Mirren who did a wonderful job.  Julie Taymor was correct in the fact that a woman can play the role of the lead protagonist and the casting of Mirren was terrific.

As mentioned earlier, the visual effects, cinematography, costume design and makeup were fantastic in this film and to incorporate an experimental and artistic direction for the film can be applauded, it’s just that I felt there were scenes, moments that were missing or just out of place.

While the Blu-ray release of “The Tempest” will surely be enjoyed by fans, there is no doubt that this film looks and sounds fantastic on Blu-ray and the special features are also lengthy, enlightening and entertaining.  But as far as the film itself, for a visceral film that screams beauty and darkness, unfortunately its disjointed storyline doesn’t match the vibrancy of the film’s beautiful aesthetics.

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