And yet more Shakespearean tragedy pertaining to a high-status Roman. Actually, if you think about it, maybe Shakespeare wasn't so much big into tragedies, as much as he was just big into Italy, so I suppose the real tragedy is that he reportedly never made it to his dream vacation spot. Well, he boasts a legacy as one of the most influential writers in history, so I suppose his is a tragedy that ends better sweetly, and is certainly more hopeful than Julie Taymor's tragic Shakesperean tale. I'd imagine that poor girl was really riding on the hopes of being "the" female Shakespeare filmmaker, but then she just ends up making a mixed-reviewed $20 million flop that barely made $2 million back. Eh, well, plenty of people still dig this film anyways, and plus, she got to hang out with Anthony Hopkins, and that would be just dandy with me, just as long as he didn't start eating me, seeing as how, well, you, he chews up so much scenery. Oh no, don't get me wrong, it's a good kind of scenery-chewing that's not really overacting, but it's scenery-chewing, nevertheless, so much so that this film's poster features Hopkins looking as though he ate his way into a wall of clay, or stone, or whatever that is around his face. In that poster, he really does look pretty sad and stuck in something, probably because, by this time in the '90s, he was still trying to recover from the financial flop that was "Nixon" and critical underwhelmer that was "Meet Joe Black" (I and plenty of other people still liked it, but it did get pretty cornball after a while, and that film runs way more than a while), he seriously needed this film to be the hit that it wasn't, which is a shame, because I still like it just fine, though I certainly didn't miss some of the things that I could see keeping audience attendance slowed down a bit, because most moviegoers aren't quite as weird as Julie Taymor appears to be
The film opens up with a modern-day young boy with a paper bag over his head playing a messy game of war with food and toys until a bomb blows in the window next to him and a strange man comes to his rescue, rushing him out the door into an old Roman colosseum and presenting him to a roaring, invisible crowd, before the credits begin to role to a synchronized march by an enterting Terracotta-esque army that precedes a victory speech by Anthony Hopkin's Titus Andronicus character, and at that point, you should know what to expect: anything, and for it to not always work. Okay, now, the film's strange moves are commendably unique and, much more often than not, not all that trippy, yet when things do get especially trippy, they don't fit, feeling forced into the film to where substance dilutes, style takes over and you're momentary taken out of the film, based on style-over-substance alone, let alone based on the simple fact that the trippier moments of this film are just plain too trippy. Still, it's hard to fully connect with this film consistently, as Julie Taymor, as director, makes the common mistake of celebrating Shakespearean dialect and histrionics much to much, to where it doesn't always organically bond with the substance as relatively down-to-earth, but instead feels almost arrogantly overemphasized and isolated from the substance, thus creating a sense of disconnect that expels the audience's investment. This disconnect leaves the film to lose quite a bit of steam and even dull down a smidge, which of course makes what handful of actually slow spots there are all the more dull, for although there aren't nearly as many actual slow spots as I expected, when this film slows down, it all but falls to a crawl. All of these missteps deliver some hefty blows to the film's intrigue, yet what might very well be the straw that breaks the camel's back is simply the film's rarely picking up, and with the film being as considerably lengthy as it is, it can only lose steam as it progresses. For every major turn down a dark path of steam loss, there is a compensation that keeps the film from collapsing too deep into blandness, yet that just means that the film often keeps a consistent level of intrigue, which really isn't all that high, due to the disengaging overstylizing and dull disconnects, made worse by slow occasions, and after a while of this, the film fully secures its position as both an underwhelming Shakespeare film and underwhelming film debut for Julie Taymor. Still, as I said, for every fault, there is a strength, and just enough for this film to stand firm as, maybe not much more than decent, but enjoyable nonetheless, particularly as a style piece.
The film is, if nothing else, extremely stylish, and in many various fashions that are both detrimental and commendable, with one of your more commendable style pieces being Luciano Tovoli's photography, which really isn't all that special, but has its moments of slickly nifty lighting, coloring and, especially, staging that catch your eye. More consistent in being attractive are, of course, the production designs, which still don't grace every nook and cranny of this world, considering the film's time setting - whatever in the world it is -, but stand out in every scene they're prominently featured in, being cleverly intricate and dazzlingly unique, while playing a large part in bringing to life Julie Taymor's strange world, which is, in and of itself, a stylistic choice, and one that decidedly stands out the most, both for the wrong reasons and right reasons. We've seen Shakespeare adapted in various timelines, whether they be the time implied in Shakespeare's original writings or anywhere from the 18th century to, well, pretty much last week, but I don't know if there's ever been a Shakespearean world this all over the place, to where ancient Rome goes married with modern day and many other notable eras in between, and while such stylistic choices as those don't always work, especially when even trippier aspects come into play, they often do work, or if nothing else, consistently breathe uniqueness into this film so intense that, with all of the moments where things get so weird that it knocks you out of the film, you're typically pulled into Julie Taymor's bizarre Shakespeare world even more. Taymor crafts a film that ranges from strangely unique to just plain strange, but is rather interesting either way, and Taymor makes it all the more so with what she does do right as director, for although her visions go tainted by overambition and some botched approaches, she ultimately keeps things together in a generally tight manner, and when she couples that with moments in which she finds a firm grip on atmosphere, the film becomes fairly entertaining, if not rather engrossing, particularly during the actually pretty strong and, well, pretty messed up final act (Capped off with one of the most graceful and longest walk-into-the-sunrise shots I've seen in a while). Sadly, these moments are too few and far between, yet between these moments rest a consistent degree of inspiration in Taymor's flawed direction that keeps the film reasonably well-done, from a story standpoint, while the people who keep the film reasonably well-done from a character standpoint are, well, the people behind the characters, even if they have little to do. There are plenty of workmanlike performances and a fair couple of genuinely good performances, with Anthony Hopkins standing out the most, yet there is no performance that stands out terribly far on a general level, though everyone has some degree of distinct charm that defines his or her character as distinctive and memorably colorful, thus leaving the film to succeed on an aspect that has always been crucial in Shakespeare's plays and their adaptations: the character aspect, which is handled well enough by the performers and by director Julie Taymor for you to find yourself further invested in the story, though perhaps not quite to where the film transcends merely decent. The film is a mess, and I was hoping for better, yet what I ended up finding was a nevertheless enjoyable film - flawed though it may be - that may not sustain your investment, or even your full attention, but keeps you going just enough for you to ultimately find yourself enjoying yourself more often than not.
In conclusion, Julie Taymor's vision is a bizarre one, with over-the-top stylistic choices that often go too far over the top, to the point of repelling your investment, a situation exacerbated by an overwhelming overemphasis on Shakespeare's text that often leaves dialogue and certain action to disconnect from the substance, and therefore disconnect the audience all but throughout the lengthy runtime, while slowing down the film considerably until, after a while, the film finds itself limping along the simple straight line of underwhelmingness, though nevertheless decent, as the film goes supported by a reasonably attractive visual style, often attractive production designs and a consistently, if nothing else, rather interestingly bizarre and unique story style that creates a moderate degree of intrigue, intensified by inspired moments in Julie Taymor's direction and a reasonably memorable cast of colorfuls, thus leaving "Titus" to stand as an, albeit off-puttingly strange, but generally enjoyably unique take on a Shakespeare classic.
2.5/5 - Fair