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Review by Blake Kunisch | posted March 12, 2001 | E-mail the Author

The Movie: "Titus Andronicus" was one of Shakespeare's first plays, and widely considered to be one of his worst - so why would it get the grand treatment to be put on film? Simple - the transition is simply stunning. Some critics of the play might dismiss it as nothing more than a parody of his contemporary Marlowe and while researching the play itself, I found that it is generally believed that the characters are 2-dimensional and have no real depth to them in his early plays, luckily Taymore is able to take such a critically "dry" play and spice it up and add character and vigor to the participants.

Throughout Titus we watch as the characters progress and grow, as they come to realize more about the world around them and reflect on who they really are. Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange turn in brilliant performances along with the supporting cast as one of Shakespeare's earliest plays comes to life with a vigor and boldness lacking from most movies today.

The Picture: The picture is absolutely amazing on this DVD. Presented in an Anamorphic Widescreen ratio of 2.35:1, the colors are vivid, but dark when needed and the skin tones are superb. I didn't notice any artifacting, pixelation, or any other blemishes. Fox did a great job with the picture and sound transfer for this DVD (see sound comments below).

The Sound: The sound for Titus is spectacular. While it is a Shakespearean play per se, it does feature its fair share of action. The 5.1 Dolby surround is utilized well with a fair amount of bass. The score is fantastic (I even went out and bought the CD) and is presented perfectly. The blending of the score and dialogue is seamless, whereas you usually have to try and hear the dialogues over the score, you can easily make out what the characters say - provided you are in tune with Shakespeare. A flawless sound transfer that will put your home theater to the test!

The Extras: The extras on this disc are amazing as well. The second 'extras' disc contains unique and wholly interesting views on the film. Here are the extras in depth:

Julie Taymor at Columbia University: This segment contains an appearance of Taymor at Columbia University. Taymor answers questions about the film-making process, the adaptation of Shakespeare to the film, along with various other topics. This interview is quite fascinating as it gives you a look inside what Taymor was thinking as she adapted Titus Andromicus to the screen. Unfortunately this extra only features certain parts of the interview and it would have been nice to see the whole thing as Taymor is very captivating and interesting to listen to.

The Making of Titus: This featurette features 11 chapter stops starting with why Anthony Hopkins decided to play Titus. The featurette has a lot of behind-the-scenes footage including interviews with the actors - Jessica Lange, Anthony Hopkins, and more. It seems as if a camera followed everyone around all the time and this featurette is by far the most interesting "making of" that I've ever seen.

Penny Arcade Nightmares: The 'Penny Arcade Nightmares' are sequences throughout the film that appeared throughout the film that are part of nightmares and other interesting montages. It features a commentary by Kyle Cooper of Imaginary Forces, the person who had the hard task of interpreting Taymor's requests and putting them onto film. This featurette features raw footage of the process used to create these segments which are interesting as you see how they made these segments piece by piece.

Costume Gallery: The costume gallery features rough sketches and color drawings of what Julie Taymor had envisioned for the costume designer.

American Cinematographer Articles: This segment features two articles titled, "A Timeless Tale of Revenge" and "From Stage to Screen" which are navigated by using the left and right arrows on your remote. It's rare to see articles on DVDs pertaining to the film, and even rarer to find articles that are genuinely interesting and a good read as these are.

Trailer and TV Spots: This section obviously features trailers and TV spots, but not just one or two, but 6. 2 Trailers and 4 TV spots - from PBS, along with certain commercials for certain shows. It's interesting to see how they cut the film for these commercials for each separate show it'd be airing with. Whereas the PBS film appeals to an intellectual crowd by mentioning Tony Award winning director Julie Taymor along with the actors in the movie, the commercial airing during the now cancelled Millenium is a fast cut montage of pieces of the film designed to make it look more like an action film than a Shakespearean play.

Commentaries: There are 3 separate commentaries on disc one of the DVD. The first is by director Julie Taymor, which is very interesting throughout. As I mentioned before regarding her discussion at Columbia, she is very interesting to listen to and her comments give you a great insight into the film. She discusses the use of locations, costumes, and the combination of time periods as they relate to the film. It's interesting to hear how they used different locations in different countries and melded them all together and the way that she used different costumes throughout the film to represent the changes that the characters go through. Be warned though, the film is 3 1/2 hours long and you are listening to one person throughout. Taymor is interesting, but those not interested in the time period or Shakespeare may get bored with this commentary.

Isolated Score with commentary by Elliot Goldenthal: I can just turn this on and listen to it over and over again. Elliot mainly talks about the composition process and the score when there is a lull in the music. It would have been nice to have two separate tracks however, one with just the score, and one with the score and the commentary, as the score is simply stunning and a treat to listen to in isolation. It's especially interesting to listen to how the score plays such a big role in the film - for example, where you don't really realize the score exists, but it actually helps set the tone of the whole scene. Aside from audio commentaries by directors/cast, the isolated score is my second favorite addition to any DVD and I especially loved listening to this one.

Scene-Specific Commentary by Anthony Hopkins and Harry Lennix: These commentaries can be watched one by one or as an audio track throughout the whole film. I would suggest listening to them all as a part of the film as it gives a greater understanding of the film. Hopkins and Lennix both recorded these commentaries by themselves, but they are intertwined throughout this commentary almost as if they were both together. They both comment about the same things at times, and their comments really help further your understanding of the film and it's subtleties (make no mistake, Titus is a very complex film with many symbolic references and deep meanings that cannot be fully understood with just one viewing). These commentaries, in addition to the commentary by Taymore give great insight and are a great help to those who love this movie. As nice as it would have been to listen to Taymor, Hopkins and Lennix together in one commentary, the way that this DVD is assembled is no less perfect, and no less stunning.

Conclusion: As it says on the back of the DVD, Titus is "as entertaining as it is visually stunning." The DVD preserves the entertainment and stunning visuals perfectly as it features top-notch video and audio transfers for this amazing movie. This special 2-disc edition is a special treat, as the second disc is packed with extras that you usually don't see on discs, and if you've seen an extra before - such as the "making of" - you've never seen it quite like this. The commentaries are easily the most interesting part of this disc as they give true insight into the filmmaking process along with the drive behind Shakespeare's characters. Even if you didn't like the film, which would be a rarity in itself, the extras on the DVD are enough to justify a purchase.

Apart from being an amazing adaptation of Shakespeare's first real tradgedy, Titus is captivating and fascinating as Taymor has made the transition from play to stage and subsequently from stage to film. Acting throughout is superb and combined with the superior art direction and costumes, this film dazzles from start to finish. Titus is a worthy addition to any DVD collection as you can watch this film over and over again and never bore of the superb acting and direction.

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