Over the last few months I’ve been reading a bit of science fiction. With the notable exception of the Glory Lane by Alan Dean Foster, I didn’t read much sci-fi growing up (As an aside, having re-read this book recently, I think it holds up remarkably well. If you enjoy lighter sci-fi with a nod to pop-culture, American subcultures, and general weirdness, give it a go!). I suppose I’m making up for lost time getting into a lot of stuff that is considered either New Weird or Sci-Fi. I’m quite taken with much of it. Earlier this summer, however, I found myself revisiting the (possible) origins of the genre.
When I was an English major back in college I remember a very excited Shakespeare professor saying that The Tempest was the first sci-fi work of Western Literature. At the time I seem to remember being entertained by the idea but not giving it much thought. I’m also not sure how true it is! I suppose a lot depends on this particular professor’s definition of science fiction! (Also, as an aside, if you want a great book on Shakespeare, check out Bill Bryson’s book on the bard. It’s well worth reading!) Years later, when post-colonial readings of the classics occurred more widely, I noted that The Tempest was getting more and more life breathed into it and was being staged everywhere from London to Pittsburgh.
So, earlier this summer when I was reading more sci-fi, I thought back to that Shakespeare professor and the idea that The Tempest was the first (or, maybe more accurately, ONE of the first) sci-fi work(s) in Western Literature. I decided to watch the 2010 film adaptation of The Tempest starring Helen Mirren as Prospera, Felicity Jones as Miranda, Reeve Carney as Price Ferdinand, Djimon Hounsou as Caliban and Russell Brand as Trinculo.
This more recent film adaptation by Julie Taymor is worth watching, if for nothing else the amazing performances of Housou, Mirren and Brand (yes, Russell Brand is excellent). The story, in case you aren’t familiar, consists of a user of the magical arts being cast away from civilization (usurped by a brother) supposedly for practicing said arts, with their child. Living on an island inhabited only by Caliban, the magician and daughter live for years, until the magician’s arts finally shipwreck the usurping brother and his companions. A story of revenge, difference, the “other”, and love comes to the surface.
This particular adaptation isn’t without difficulties. The character of Ariel (who is an other-worldly spirit daemon called into service, and forced to work for Prospera) is a fascinating character that opens the reader (or viewer in this case!) to a whole world of possible interactions and interplay between characters. Especially when one banks this relationship off of the relationship that Prospera has with Caliban, the whole production is ripe for some serious analysis and question asking! What I found a bit underwhelming were some of the special effects that the film-makers used with the Ariel character. Sure, Ariel is a sprite or spirit or demon or whatever, but at times the scenes featuring this other-worldly creation seemed more like a cruddy new-metal music video than a production by the Immortal Bard.
Aside from those scenes, the film is really worth seeing. Maybe it’s just my tastes in visual effects! You might think it looks pretty cool. Either way, I recommend the film highly. Get into some really classic sci-fi.
– Eric (who is reading and watching the New Weird, Old Weird and All Around Weird as fall descends on us here in Pittsburgh, AND who carefully LEFT OUT the part about how seeing this film had a lot to do with his wife demanding to see it because Russell Brand is in it and she has a major thing for Russell Brand)