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February 15, 2014

Movie Review: TITUS (1999, Twilight Time)

Movie Review By Greg Goodsell

Directed by Julie Taymor

Where to begin …? Titus Andronicus (Anthony Hopkins), next in line as the Emperor of Rome returns from a 10-year campaign against the Goths. Dragging along the Queen of the Goths Tamora (Jessica Lange) and her three sons, Alarbus (Raz Degan) Demetrius (Matthew Rhys) and Chiron (Jonathon Rhys Meyers), Titus wastes no time in executing Alarbus in revenge for the death of his own sons in the battle. Titus then declines becoming the leader of Rome, and gives the title to Saturninus (Alan Cumming, looking for the entire world like Pee Wee Herman). The still very much alive Tamora and her sons are hatching a mad scheme of revenge, and shocks polite society by marrying Saturnnius. Meanwhile, Titus’ daughter, Lavinia (Laura Fraser) and her husband Bassianus (James Frane) are set upon by Demetrius and Chiron. Bassianus is thrown down a pit and Demetrius and Chiron slice out Lavinia’s tongue and chop off her hands after raping her(!). There are more double crosses and gory deaths – this film adaptation of the William Shakespeare play is nearly THREE HOURS LONG, people … Titus and his henchman kill Demetrius and Chiron, bake them into meat pies and feed them to his adversaries and most everyone dies a slow, agonizing death.

Williams Shakespeare’s first – and by popular consensus, worst play is chiefly an exhibit piece. Defenders of graphic violence in entertainment point out all the atrocious things going on in Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus” as proof positive that gore and mayhem in the arts didn’t begin with Freddie and Jason. The Bard could crank out some grisly scenes to shock the groundlings in his day. There’s a lot of horrifying violence in “Julius Caesar” that takes place offstage and any classical staging of “Hamlet” ends with dead bodies strewn all over the stage. Academics have sought to disqualify “Titus Andronicus” as lacing in any literary worth because, 1. “Titus Andronicus” is completely fictional and 2. Shakespeare wrote it for a quick buck.

In either case, this cinematic rendering of the play is quite a sight to see! It’s even more remarkable that the film’s director, Julie Taymor had only stepped before the camera twice before. Drafted as she was from the hit Broadway adaptation of Walt Disney’s “The Lion King,” Taymor would make a Shakespearean film for the MTV generation, and the result, was, uh – interesting.

Set in an alternate universe that conjures up equal measures of “fascist Italy, 1950s America and punk rock Britain,” Titus is garishly appointed and art decorated. Sensing that audiences would be bored with the play at hand – and it IS boring, as a bad play remains a bad play no matter what you do, Taymor has her characters attired in trendy ensembles set against wild settings. When Tamora approaches Titus, attired as the “spirit of revenge,” Jessica Lange’s get-up includes a Batman cape and a helmet made out of butcher knives! Sounds hilarious? It is …

In short, Taymor set out to make a “Titus Andronicus” for the 1990s and wound up with something that was instantly dated upon release. One wonders what the late Ken Russell would have done with the material: He probably would have made the film sorter, for far, far less money and with a sense of humor – something this overblown monstrosity is in noticeable short supply.

The Twilight Time Blu-Ray is heavy with extras. Here is an isolated score track, audio commentary with director Taymor, audio commentary with composer Elliot Goldenthal, AND audio commentary with actors Hopkins and Harry Lennix; a making of documentary, a question and answer session with Taymor; “Penny Arcade Nightmares” about the film’s special effects and trailers. All in all, Titus is good for laughs, but nowhere near as affecting as the BBC TV Production of 1985.

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