This review contains spoilers…
The beauty of cinema is that it’s able to take on new forms, regardless of what its previous form was, and sometimes in spite of it. Sir Kenneth Branagh’s (director of Thor) The Magic Flute is the English adaptation of Mozart’s opera by the same name. The movie almost manages to make itself into its own beast, creating a charming, if faintly overwrought, viewing experience (it is an opera after all).
The plot of The Magic Flute focuses upon Pamina, Tamino, and Sarastro. Damsel in distress Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night, has been captured by Sarastro. The soldier Tamino is sent to rescue her. You would expect a step-by-step romantic plot-line, but as the story is also set in the middle of the first world war. There is an inexplicable line of muted, and occasionally not so muted, violence in the background that gives what would be a rather droll plot a pleasant twist.
The enjoyable elements of the movie are the parts you both expect and don’t expect. This is Mozart’s music, so the score can only be described as glorious, and the use of it is steady, with nary a misplaced note. Also, because it is Mozart, the singers are exceptional, so much so as to make the acting surrounding it pale in comparison. This is more a quirk of musicals in general. The uneven keel of balancing bursts of song with spoken dialogue is simply part of the package and does not detract from the musical in itself.
What I didn’t expect was the unique use of colors and the CGI quality of this movie. Musicals, again, are known for the strength of their musical numbers, the blending of non-song and song. But The Magic Flute had some of the most beautiful cinematography I’ve ever seen. The use of dreamy yellows and greens were a surprisingly lovely match for the stronger, austere blues and reds. The use of CGI is subtle for the most part but wonderfully executed all the same, managing to maintain the timeless feel of the film without making it feel overtly modernized as computer effects tend to do.
If there is a weak link in the movie, it is the story of Tamino and Pamina. As love at first sight stories go, they are charming if somewhat unfulfilling. There is an emptiness there that even the actors – as well-paired and lovely as they are – can’t quite cover. However, this may actually be because of the underlying dark thread that is Sarastro’s and the Queen of the Night’s tortured story. We don’t get much save for flickering flashbacks but when we get to see them together, the way Sarastro openly longs for her and her devastated stare manages to steal the spotlight every time. Around all of this is the war, which serves more as an introduction to the musicality and choreography of the movie. Fighting, like romance, is a dance, if with far worse consequences than a broken heart.
All put together, The Magic Flute is a visual delight with only minimal hiccups in what is otherwise a solid and beautifully executed musical. It exceeds the often crushing microscopic pressure of an adaptation from one media to another and will entertain everyone who steps into it’s bold, bright path.
The Magic Flute is directed by Sir Kenneth Branagh with a newly adapted libretto by Stephen Fry and will be released on 200 screens across the US on June 9 before being released on DVD and VOD on June 11. Get The Magic Flute at Amazon here.
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