"Titus Andronicus" is objectively a terrible mess of a play, and it's a good reminder to anyone that Shakespeare was not all great, nor was he always well-received. It's his first major tragedy, and it shows; it's a disaster, with little to redeem or recommend it. Similarly, this film is a disaster, with little to redeem or recommend it.
Taymor is an unquestionably talented and skilled artist, but she had not come fully enough into her own style and ability while doing this film. Excellent actors like Jessica Lange and Anthony Hopkins are wasted in directionless roles that are clumsily moved from one point to another, and very little connects anything into coherency of any kind. The movie comes off mainly as extremely self-indulgent, full of things that only Taymor wanted to see, and nothing much else. It smacks of a vanity project, making it all the easier to resent due to the waste of great actors. At its best, it comes off as clunky, aping Peter Greenaway's vastly superior work on his adaptation Prospero's Books.
The thing about Greenaway is that even in an adaptation of a simple enough play of Shakespeare's, he managed to bring a different perspective and vast sensory engagement. Taymor, here, shuffles through an intolerably bad play and brings nothing at all novel to the table, but every part of the production acts like it's something never before seen. Even Reign: The Conqueror was a far better production along these same fundamental storytelling lines, bringing so much new and engaging even if elements of its story were not particularly good. Closer to the material, Derek Jarman's take on "The Tempest" also brought modern elements and accessibility to an aged work and proved that Shakespeare could still be daring and even avant-garde, hundreds of years later.
It's unimaginable that anyone could really enjoy this, especially as it vastly overstays its welcome at an over-two-hours running time. None of the characters are sympathetic, and the only slightest charm brought to any of the proceedings comes from the actors...neither direction nor script contribute much of anything to the proceedings. Frankly, starting off with an obnoxious modern child and clashing with the pseudo-historical setting of the story was a massive mistake. Don't cultivate resistance from your audience straight off the bat, not in "Titus Andronicus" -- they're going to hate the characters and the story anyway, and irritating them from minute one is a poor choice.
It's admirable to have the ambition that this adaptation takes. It's just that Taymor is only ambitious enough to tackle the project, not enough to actually do anything with it. Her anachronistic touches are lazy and don't work most of the time, as well as taking away what little meaning the play originally had with its specific context. She's simultaneously too married to the play and not attached enough to it, in favor of what she imagines is a dazzling artistic message. The problem here is that most people never experience "Titus Andronicus", and that's because it's one of Shakespeare's absolute worst: cartoonish, clumsy, laughable, and a base attempt to crowd-please. But she never manages to bother making the story accessible to an audience likely to be unfamiliar with it, made even more difficult by literally none of the characters being written sympathetically or even interestingly. It's every bit as poor in her presentation, because even the best actors can't pull something out of so much nothing. It's still hilariously bad, even in its most dramatic, tragic moments, and it's not a joke people are missing the humor of or a tremendous wit: it's just a poorly-written play that fails in everything it sets out to do.
The production overall suffers, as no version of this I could find had any decent sound to it. Lines are mumbled and drowned out in parts, blathered incomprehensibly in others. The soundtrack dwarfs everything else sometimes, and at other times it barely registers. Whoever was responsible for sound, I hope they've learned how to do actual sound production since 1999. Likewise, costumes are as easy to criticize as any of Taymor's well-known work: they're either lazy and boring or ridiculous and impractical, but not in an engaging enough manner to forgive them. They all also scream "costume", no matter what the scene or character.
If you want to watch a good Shakespeare-inspired film, watch Prospero's Books. If you want to watch Taymor do Shakespeare well, watch her version of The Tempest. If you want to watch a good, straightforward adaptation of Shakespeare, watch the Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet. But under no circumstances should you watch Titus. It will cure you of your delusions about Shakespeare's greatness and, if you have any affection for the actors involved, depress or anger you with the resentment of someone doing nothing so much as wasting their time. It's a waste of these actors' time, and it's a waste of the viewers' time. And that, especially in art or entertainment, is unforgivable.
Action / Drama / History / Thriller
Action / Drama / History / Thriller
War begets revenge. Victorious general, Titus Andronicus, returns to Rome with hostages: Tamora queen of the Goths and her sons. He orders the eldest hewn to appease the Roman dead. He declines the proffered emperor's crown, nominating Saturninus, the last ruler's venal elder son. Saturninus, to spite his brother Bassianus, demands the hand of Lavinia, Titus's daughter. When Bassianus, Lavinia, and Titus's sons flee in protest, Titus stands against them and slays one of his own. Saturninus marries the honey-tongued Tamora, who vows vengeance against Titus. The ensuing maelstrom serves up tongues, hands, rape, adultery, racism, and Goth-meat pie. There's irony in which two sons survive.
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June 16, 2016 at 06:23 AM