TITUS, based on William Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus" (arguably
Shakespeare's least popular and most violent play), is brought to the
screen by Broadway director Julie Taymor ("The Lion King").
The movie is an audacious spectacle that blends a wide variety of
timeframes from ancient Rome to the modern day. Other directors have
shown in the last few years that more modern adaptations of Shakespeare
can work marvelously well. Richard Loncraine's RICHARD III and Baz
Luhrmann's ROMEO + JULIET were lucid and involving tales based on the
Taymor's bold picture outdoes the others in production design and
choreography. What it lacks is a cohesive structure and perspicuous
storytelling. Her vision is as murky as the others were
straightforwardly appealing. To be fair, "Titus Andronicus" isn't
exactly a play in which any of the lines are familiar. One could argue
that the play's obscurity is well deserved. Some have even argued that
Shakespeare wasn't the author anyway.
The film's casting is superb, even if the acting isn't at the level that
you would expect from such a talented group of actors. Anthony Hopkins
rants and raves his way through the lead role as Titus Andronicus.
Titus is a pretty vicious guy, a part that is a natural for Anthony
'Hannibal Lecter' Hopkins. Titus happily and gorily has his hand
chopped off so that he can swap it for the heads of the two young lads
who abused his daughter, Lavinia (Laura Fraser). Lavinia has had both
of her hands chopped off and tree branches planted in their place. She
also lost her tongue to the knife.
Jessica Lange plays the evil Queen Tamora. Having the most fun of all,
Alan Cumming preens on the stage as the Emperor Saturninus.
The wonderfully inventive and massive architecture looks as if it were
designed by Nazi architect Albert Speer. The costumes are to die for.
Queen Tamora gets gold body armor with a large push 'em up bra. It
looks so heavy that it's amazing that she can stand up without falling
Among the story's many in-jokes is the radio station that covers the
Emperor's broadcasts -- SPQR News. If you don't know what SPQR stands
for, you should have paid more attention to history when you were in
One of my favorite episodes is the one that starts the film. In it is
planted the hint that what might have saved Rome from its infamous fall
was better toy action figures.
Trying to describe my feelings about the film, I kept thinking of how my
son describes such situations: "It was -- well -- innnnnnnnnteresting."
Although I personally found much to admire in TITUS's sets, music and
costumes, I can't bring myself recommend the film itself. My suspicion
is that the average moviegoer will hate the picture. Shakespeare buffs,
on the other hand, will certainly want to give the picture a try and
judge for themselves whether Taymor's effort is worthwhile.
TITUS runs a long 2:42. It is rated R for strong violent and sexual
images and would be acceptable for older teenagers.
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes