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Titus: Special Edition

review by Wayne A.



Rated R

Running Time: 162 Minutes

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Alan Cumming, Colm Freore, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, James Frain, Harry J. Lennix

Studio: Fox

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 spots.

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 very interesting.

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 Taymor's. Lennix's

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 remember.

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 final score)




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