Julie Taymor has brought The Tempest to the big screen with varying degrees of success.
It is set on the currently active volcano island of Hawaii (the biggest of the islands in the archipelago). The backdrop of black, hardened lava flows and barren brown earth gives the film an air of bleak despair right from the start.
The most drastic change that Taymor wrought was to make the lead, Prospero, a woman, played superbly by Helen Mirren (let's be honest when does she not play a role superbly?). The switch was easily facilitated by using the word 'mother' instead of 'father' as and when required. After I'd had a few minutes to get used to it, I thought the change was quite effective. Making the character female seemed to emphasise the gentleness in Propsero's character which is often forgotten by some actors who concentrate instead on his bitterness, lust for revenge, and dark magical powers. Helen Mirren gave a stand-out performance, manipulating the old English script beautifully, making it very easy to understand.
Other than that the film was believable, easy to understand, and yet also uncomfortable viewing.
Alfred Molina and Russell Brand came across as cruel and sinister, not the comedic light relief of the play.
Djimon Hounsou as Caliban was disturbing to watch. Hounsou (in marvellous charred, body make-up) has such charisma and force as an actor, he pulled off the resentful savagery of the part perfectly, but the sight of him being scared of Russell Brand and kowtowing to Alfred Molina had an air of fakeness to it, as if they were embarrassed filming. I appreciated though that Taymor gave time in the final scene for a tacit exchange between Hounsou's character and Mirren's. Too often the end of this love-hate relationship is ignored.
The asexual Ariel character (Ben Whishaw)irritated me at the start for being too pantomime like, however by the end Wishaw had come into his own, and became a more sympathetic and endearing character.
The actress playing Miranda handled the lines well; her wide-eyed, breathy innocence was a little grating but it suited the persona of a girl who would fall in love with the wishy-washy Ferdinand (although not that of a girl who merrily skipped and hopped barefoot over volcanic rock). I could not help but think that once she was back in the populated world she'd take one look at what else was on offer and leave the sappy Ferdie choking on her dust.
On the plus side, the script was interpreted smoothly as melted choclate, great closing credits and some wonderful special effects such as the dogs made of fire.