“Titus” (1999), directed by Julie Taymor, receives a stunning Blu-ray treatment in this release.
The high-definition transfer beautifully showcases Taymor’s visually captivating adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus.”
With crisp detail and vibrant colors, the Blu-ray brings the film’s lavish sets and costumes to life.
Additionally, the disc includes insightful bonus features that delve into the production process, making it a must-have for fans of Shakespearean cinema and visually striking storytelling.
Blu-ray Review: “Titus” (1999)
The opening sequence of Julie Taymor’s “Titus” (1999) perfectly captures the essence of the film itself.
It features a young boy seated at a kitchen table, engrossed in playing with toy soldiers and action figures, aggressively colliding with one another.
Eventually, he splatters ketchup and milk across the table, creating a chaotic scene of intertwined bodies amidst apparent disorder.
If there’s ever a scene that mirrors Taymor’s artistic persona, this would be it.
Throughout her films, but particularly in her debut as a director, she revels in the chaos of bodies, objects, and cinematic shots.
Her editing style doesn’t smoothly piece together like a puzzle; instead, it clashes like misfitting toy bricks, brought into alignment through sheer force.
Taymor’s approach thrives on maximalism, where she throws everything at the screen to see what sticks, unlike directors like Ken Russell, who tend to go over the top in service of a central theme.
These characteristics make her a suitable choice to direct the film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus,” a gory spectacle often regarded as one of the Bard’s lesser works, bordering on hysterical self-parody.
While Shakespeare’s play may not be hailed as a masterpiece, Taymor’s film adaptation is far from dull. She injects enough variety into her visual style to prevent the film from becoming monotonous in its excess.
Taymor consistently blends the modern with the ancient in her anachronistic vision.
This fusion begins immediately as the boy playing with soldiers in the opening scene (portrayed by Osheen Jones) is transported back to the waning days of the Roman Empire, where he transforms into the grandson of Titus Andronicus (played by Anthony Hopkins).
Titus returns triumphant from the battle against the Goths, bringing their queen, Tamora (portrayed by Jessica Lange), back as a captive.
Titus may display a penchant for violence—within the first 20 minutes of the film, he has already killed one of Tamora’s sons and one of his own—but a thirst for power does not drive him.
He declines an offer to ascend to the throne and nominates Saturninus, who eagerly accepts the position.
Saturninus, in turn, desires Titus’s daughter, Lavinia, to be his queen, but she rejects him.
In defiance, Saturninus chooses Tamora as his queen, sparking a chain of events that places Sebastian Titus and his family in danger. Despite this, Titus possesses a formidable capacity for revenge.
The film’s adherence to the source material helps maintain a semblance of coherence in the narrative.
While it boasts stylistic embellishments, it relies not solely on style but also on a coherent storyline.
Taymor’s visual imagery is occasionally striking; for instance, the early depiction of Titus’s war-weary army, caked in clay and marching in an eerie synchronization, sets a foreboding tone for the ensuing events.
However, her attempts to blend traditional imagery with a punk-rock aesthetic sometimes need to be revised, appearing as uninspired imitations of Derek Jarman or Alex Cox.
Some moments capture a raw, vulgar energy akin to Pasolini’s style, particularly in a scene where a sudden bow-and-arrow attack disrupts a tranquil orgy.
Nevertheless, this energy occasionally leads to absurdly humorous scenes, such as when Lavinia identifies her attackers amidst a surreal, blue-tinged acid trip accompanied by leaping tigers.
Hopkins possesses enough on-screen presence to maintain his composure amidst the visual chaos surrounding him.
However, some critics suggest he may have approached the role too seriously, only embracing a more campy tone in the film’s later scenes.
Particularly memorable is when he devises a grotesque, cannibalistic trick and revels in it, reminiscent of his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter.
The standout performance in the film belongs to Harry Lennix, reprising his role as Tamora’s Moor lover, Aaron.
Lennix convincingly embodies the character’s casual yet chilling cruelty, effectively capturing the essence of the adaptation—both fun and horrifying.
“Titus” is a significant addition to the cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare’s works, especially considering its unique take on the less frequently adapted play.
Despite ongoing skepticism surrounding Taymor’s subsequent works, this debut film showcases her ability to deliver a captivatingly demented vision.
Twilight Time presents “Titus” on Blu-ray in a limited edition, featuring a 1080p resolution and a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
While the studio can only work with the transfers provided, this release leaves much to be desired. The transfer appears to be sourced from a dated master, evident from the slightly washed-out Fox Searchlight intro.
Issues such as speckling, dirt, and overall smearing contribute to a lack of fine detail and inconsistent clarity.
Overall, the image quality falls short of expectations, resembling an upgraded DVD rather than a pristine Blu-ray transfer.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack offers a noticeable improvement over the DVD version, delivering Elliot Goldenthal’s score with clarity and precision while effectively distributing the film’s action sequences across the surround sound channels.
Although the track may seem slightly quieter during dialogue-heavy scenes, it provides a well-balanced mix overall. Additionally, a 2.0 DTS-HD track is available as an alternative option.
The disc contains several bonus features transferred from Fox’s DVD release, including:
Three audio commentaries: one featuring Taymor, another with composer Goldenthal, and a third with Hopkins and Lennix.
An approximately hour-long making-of documentary that includes interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.
A question-and-answer session with Taymor was conducted after a Columbia University film screening. A short feature film focusing on the film’s nightmare sequences.
A compilation of theatrical trailers and TV spots. An isolated score track. A booklet containing an essay written by Julie Kirgo.