Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Magic Flute (2006)

Now I have another film adaption of The Magic Flute to love, and I've loved Bergman's 1975 version since its first release in the US. (How can you not love a movie originally titled as Trollflöjten?)

Branagh's version is set in an alternate universe Great War. The overture shows us a meticulously recreation of a trench system, but the blue uniforms worn by the soldiers were worn by no European army in our timeline.

An attack is launched, and biplanes fly overhead. The blazing blue stars on their fuselage were worn by no air force in our reality. It is, we will deduce later if we are paying attention, the insignia of the Empire of the Night.

At this point, we are barely 2/3 of our way through the overture.

Shortly afterwards, plucky officer and gentleman Tamino is rescued from certain death by three ladies who serve the Queen of the Night, kitted out as magical sexy steampunk nurses, descending from the sky, magically.

The Magic Flute is about magic. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.

Branagh took liberties with the original libretto, written not by Mozart but by Emanuel Schikaneder, who history records as an impresario, dramatist, actor, singer and composer and librettist for The Magic Flute. In that order.

That's OK. The original libretto was not particularly awesome.

Branagh dials up the magic. Good choice. "Queen of the Night" is not a mundane job description. Likewise her ladies.

Also, the three child-spirits seem unconstrained by mortal laws. If they need to advise, they'll be there, regardless.

Apparently, the uniform of Papegeno's unit of the Nightian Chemical Warfare Branch, Bird Division, required wearing a stuffed bird on top of your helmet.

Branagh's version does a better job than Bergman's of showing rather than telling of Sarastro's charity and forgiveness, and presenting the sexual advances of Monastos to Pamina as a real threat that shocks even his servants.

The Masonic symbolism of the original libretto becomes masonic in Branagh's production. Sarastro's fortress, scarred by war when we first see it, is rebuilt as gleaming architectural expression of reason, wisdom and measure.

Branagh's Queen of the Night is a bit more human and tragic than Bergman's, majestic and imperious, but still a crazed and deeply damaged psychomom.

In the end, Sarastro, Tamino and Pamina win, but:

...only because of the magic flute and bells, gifts of the Queen of the Night's realm of moonlight and meteors and magic, and:

...enlightenment also has false servants like Monastos, and: the end, the Queen of the Night and her three ladies fall into the outer darkness, although they sang so sweetly, but:

...we never see them hit the ground, and, in Branagh's telling:

...they can fly.

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