Discs Are Rated
Titus: Special Edition
review by Wayne A.
Running Time: 162 Minutes
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Alan Cumming,
Colm Freore, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, James Frain, Harry J.
Written by Julie Taymor
Based on the play by William Shakespeare
Directed by by Julie Taymor
Retail Price: $34.98
Features: Disc one - Commentaries by Julie Taymor and
Elliot Goldenthal, Anthony Hopkins and Harry J. Lennix. Disc
two - Documentary, questions and answers with Julie Taymor,
costume gallery, magazine articles on the cinematography of
Titus and bringing Titus from the stage to screen, the
making of the penny arcade nightmares, trailers and TV
Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital
English, English Dolby Surround, English Captions, Spanish
Captions, Two Disc Set
Revenge and violence are the stuff, usually, of mob
movies and bad Steven Seagal movies. But Julie Taymor, Tony
award-winner for her direction of the Broadway production of
"The Lion King", proves Shakespeare can be more than fun,
but the art house answer to predictable action films and
now-tired mob cliches. The movie, for all intents and
purposes, is Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, considered by
many to be one of the bard's most bloody works. This updated
version includes, as is the rage in Hollywood in remaking
Shakespearean works, hints of a world that is archaic and
modern at the same time. In the hands of a lesser director,
it could have easily been translated into a film long on
squibs and bad English accents and short on characters and
motivation. Taymor, instead, weaves a complicated and tragic
story. The special effects never take center stage over the
film, but do what they should do -- enhance and add depth to
the subtleties of the story. This is an amazing feat,
considering this is Taymor's film directorial debut (she
did, however, direct an off-Broadway production of Titus,
which served as her outline for the film).
One of the advantages that film has over theatre is the
use of special effects to help explain psychological
motivations that are difficult to convey on stage. Taymor
uses what she calls Penny Arcade Nightmares, abstract and
surreal glimpses into the minds of the characters.
But the film and stage depend on performances, not
special effects, to tell the tale. Anthony Hopkins once
again proves that he is one the best actors today by his
portrayal of Titus, a Roman general who sees himself as a
faithful servant of the empire. His loyalty and duty to his
empire is called to question, and ultimately betrayed by the
designs of Tamora (Jessica Lange) and Aaron (Harry J.
Lennix), former prisoners captured by Titus, and the
emperor, Saturninus (Alan Cumming). In the end, Hopkins
proves revenge is a dish sometimes best served warm.
Fox must be lauded for their recent releases -- The Alien
series, Fight Club and now Titus. Though Titus does not
carry the THX mastering Alien and Fight Club does, you'll
never know it. The colors and the sense of light and dark
that Taymor uses in the film to convey atmosphere and mood
is never lost or muddied.
Like the video, the audio is just as breathtaking. The
sound is just as clear, with the sound effects and music
never overpowering or taking importance over the dialogue.
Like the visuals, the soundtrack is an interesting mix of
the staid, classical music one would expect in a movie based
on one of Shakespeare's plays, but also an aggressive and
modern (and even industrial, in one scene) in others --
surprisingly, it works without seeming forced or contrived.
If anything, there's too many features on this film.
Taymor appears in a running commentary throughout the film,
a taped question and answer session at Columbia University's
film school, a magazine article on how she brought her stage
production of Titus to the big screen, and the documentary
of the making of the film. Some of the information becomes
redundant at times, but the information she gives,
especially on choosing locations and why they chose them, is
However, if Taymor has too much supplemental time, the
opposite can be said of the actors' commentaries. It's a
shame is the fact that Harry J. Lennix and Anthony Hopkins
are the only actors given a chance to speak; all in all the
cast is brilliant, and deserves to be heard. None the less,
Hopkins and Lennix give a perspective different than that of
commentary is notable in the fact that he is the only
member of the off-Broadway production of Titus to be cast in
the film, and offers his insight in that perspective. Also
included is an isolated soundtrack and commentary by the
film's composer, Elliot Goldenthal. His explanations for the
scoring of the music in the movie offers a different point
of view that one does not normally see, and is as
informative as Taymor's thoughts.
A short feature on the making of the penny arcade
nightmares shows the blending of computer-generated images
and live-action shots to achieve what Taymor wanted on
screen. However, some of this information is covered in
Taymor's commentary and in the documentary of the film.
Sketches of the costumes for each character are included,
but they are all final versions of the sketches. A series of
drawing showing how each costume progressed from their
initial concepts to the final product would have been a more
informative and interesting feature. The two included
magazine articles, one on the cinematography of Titus and
the story of Taymor translating and bringing her stage
production to film, seems at times very technical and
weighty for the layviewer. I've also never been that
comfortable with reprints of articles on DVDs, because the
static nature of the articles seem like a waste with the
multimedia capabilities of DVD.
Finally, the set also includes the requisite trailers and
TV spots. They are interesting, but more in fact of how they
show an effort to market an art film to a mass audience. If
taken just by the trailers and TV spots, one might think he
was watching something for Gladiator.
All in all, more information one would ever need on a
film, and at times redundant. None the less, it's nice to
see a quality film being given the attention and treatment
it deserves. The fact that forgettable movies like Blade
receive the treatment other, more deserved movies do not
seems like an insult to fans of film who do enjoy something
beyond the formulaic. Again, Fox must be commended on its
effort to provide additional material for films that deserve
such additions to quality movies -- I would rather deal with
too much information than not enough on films that I will
I buy movies for the movie, not supplementary material.
But, because of the capabilities of DVD, I have become
spoiled on commentaries and "making-of" documentaries. These
are all wonderful tools because they help the layman
understand the art of cinema. In this case, the film and its
presentation are excellent, but features, especially the
ones featuring Taymor, are sometimes a bit much. However,
this is still a work that deserves to be seen, and Fox gives
the film its due.
(4/5, NOT included in
NOT an average)