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'The Tempest' succeeds as accessible adaptation

By Aaron Calvin

Shakespeare, traditionally, tends to get lost in translation when moved to the big screen. The Tempest, the latest of the famous playwright's works to be transmitted as a film, remains fairly eloquent.

    This production sidesteps many of the foils that plagued such adaptations as Romeo + Juliet or other like attempts to modernize Shakespearean tales. By and large, the movie sticks to the story laid out in the play: A vengeful magician, ousted from power, conjures a storm to wreck those who exiled the magician on an island. There, the magician's daughter and the enemy prince fall in love, the enemies' treachery is revealed, and the magician moves from vengeance to forgiveness.

    The changes made from play to film are mostly successful ones. The most obvious change is the gender switch in the main role, from the original sorcerer Prospero in the play to the sorceress Prospera in the film, played by Helen Mirren. Mirren plays the role with cunning and intelligence while adding in touches of her feminine wile to the plot. The supporting members of the cast handle the Shakespearean language well, delivering it with nuance. Occasionally, there were a few slips into melodrama, but it was generally well done. Russell Brand and Alfred Molina provide the appropriate comic relief while Chris Cooper carefully plays himself out as the classical villain.

    Despite full incorporation of Shakespearian language, the film is largely accessible, incorporating images and well executed scenes that fully communicate the plot. If anything, it sometimes tries too hard to make itself fully accessible.

The costume work is also admirable, although somewhat anachronistic at times. Most impressive is the makeup work on Prospera's slave, Caliban, turning him into a monstrous tropical creature.

    The two large problems of the film were its soundtrack and the special effects. The soundtrack moves without transition from light orchestral music to rock opera-esque guitar riffs, creating awkward transitions that leave the viewer cringing. A similar effect is produced by the special effects, which often seem hollow, if not down right campy. This leaves the movie seeming like an odd mash-up of a PBS Masterpiece Theater and a Sci-Fi original movie.

    All in all, the film largely succeeds as far as acting and accessibility. But depending on the viewer, the odd conglomeration of music on the soundtrack and cheesy special effects could potentially put a damper on their enjoyment of The Tempest.

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