NEW YORK — Peter Brook has been called the world's greatest stage director, and his filmmaking has been widely praised. Yet he has never played it safe by adhering to one particular approach, and his directorial style has undergone large changes over the course of his career. In the 1960s, he was known to theatergoers as an extravagant showperson. His production of ``A Midsummer Night's Dream'' had Shakespeare's characters flying on trapezes and performing vaudeville stunts, even as they spoke the comedy's poetry with uncommon skill and eloquence. His staging of ``Marat/Sade'' was regarded as an ingenious conquest of a singularly challenging play. His films of the period included a dramatic 1963 version of ``Lord of the Flies,'' which far outshines the recent modernized remake, and a movie adaptation of ``Marat/Sade'' that impressively recaptured the drama's furious complexity.
During the 1970s Brook's style evolved in the direction of a radical simplicity, even though the works he chose often embodied rich and timeless philosophical ideas. Such stage productions as ``The Ik,'' about an African tribe, and ``Conference of the Birds,'' an Asian fable, were surprisingly spare, as was his only film of the late '70s, the poetic ``Meetings With Remarkable Men,'' about the mystic G.I. Gurdjieff. Brook's production of ``Carmen'' continued this trend, giving Bizet's opera an unaccustomed intimacy.
``The Mahabharata,'' his first movie in seven years, has a large number of characters, settings, costumes, and other trappings. Brook's approach meets the lavish needs of the project but was shot in a studio rather than actual locations. Although maximal in scope, it is minimal in large-scale production values - and thus remains true to Brook's aesthetic and longtime fascination with Eastern religion.