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on 10 November 2003
TITUS ANDRONICUS is perhaps the least regarded of Shakespeare's plays, and there are several reasons. Written early in his career, it shows little of the brilliant language we associate with Shakespeare's work; moreover, the plot is extremely derivative and so extravagant as to be virtually unbelievable, owing a great deal to both Roman "closet drama" and the "revenge tragedy" popular at the start of Shakespeare's career. At best, most critics regard it as developmental; at worst, a virtually unperformable mishmash of spurting blood and grotesque comedy.
The plot is notoriously bloody. Titus Andronicus has returned to Rome after successfully subduing the Goths, and he brings with him Tamora, Queen of the Goths, and her three sons as prisoners. Upon his arrival, and in spite of Tamora's pleas for mercy, he sacrifices Tamora's oldest son--but when Tamora's charms cause the newly crowned emperor Saturnius to crown her as empress, Tamora and her Moorish lover Aaron plot to destroy Andronicus for his refusal to show mercy to her oldest son. And the revenge they wreck is horrific indeed, as is the revenge Andronicus seeks against them in return. Before the story ends, we've seen rape, limbs lopped off, tongues plucked out, and two heads baked in a pie.
Given the outrageous nature of the story and the very loosely constructed plot and script, it shouldn't be a surprise that director Julie Taymor's film is not entirely successful. What IS surprising is that TITUS is as successful as it is. Coming from a remarkably strong theatrical background, Taymor follows suit with the script, giving it the most extravagant visual and highly theatrical style her limited budget will allow. When it works, it works extremely well; when it fails, which is fairly often, it is at least visually interesting.
Although I found that Anthony Hopkins' performance in the title role left something to be desired, he is at worst rock solid; this aside, the overall cast is amazingly good, with the major laurels going to Jessica Lange as the evil Tamora and Harry J. Lennix as her doubly evil lover-slave Aaron; Alan Cumming also makes a vivid impression as the weak-minded and ineffectual Emperor Saturnius, as does Laura Fraser as Titus' hapless daughter Lavinia.
But as previously noted, the great attraction here is the look of the thing. In terms of the script itself, Taymor is very faithful to the original--but in order to bolster its weaknesses she transposes the story to a collage-like never-never land that includes elements of ancient Rome, the roaring 20s, set pieces that would seem lifted from the notorious film CALIGULA, and fascist Italy. There are moments when the effect is flatly awkward--the first few opening minutes of the film being a case in point. But for the most part, Taymor's stylistic vision is quite remarkable, and while you may not care for the basic vision it remarkably done nonetheless.
For myself, I did not particularly expect to enjoy this film, but even though I was extremely critical of some of Taymor's ideas I found myself watching it straight through from beginning to end. Although the DVD version does not seem to be widely available in the UK, it is worth noting that the DVD edition contains a number of excellent bonuses that will help the uninitiated grasp Taymor's intent more fully.
Those most likely to enjoy the film are people with a strong interest in theatre, design, and art films with an extreme edge; for them it will probably be a "must own." At the same time, however, I do not put it entirely out of bounds for more casual viewers, for there is much to recommend it--but I would also suggest they watch it before making a purchase.
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on 20 February 2006
Despite taking all the liberties you can imagine with Shakespeares text this is an eye popping extravaganza of a movie.Mixing ancient and modern settings it coveys decadence and bleakness with real panache.It is violent and gory and somehow conveys the essence of the play .Hopkins is exellent...totally at home with the role.Lange and Cummings are miscast but it doesnt really matter.This is for fans of bloody revenge tragedy who dont mind it full on.
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on 24 March 2002
There are two ways of dealing with "Lesser Shakespeare". That is to say, there are two ways of dealing with the less famous, arguably less good, Shakespeare plays.
One is to produce it apologetically. To essentially say "Hi. Yeah. This is a Shakespeare play. It's not very good, but it's Shakespeare, so it must have *some* value, right? Sorry if you don't like it. We don't much, either".
The other is to embrace the play for all it's worth and try to squeeze every last drop out of what it has to offer. And such, it would seem, is the ethic of Julie Taymor.
Visually, "Titus" is superb and the casting is practically perfect. To rattle off a whole host of celebrities: Anthony Hopkins gives a world-weary battle-hardened eloquence to the title role, Jessica Lange is energetic and wonderfully evil as Tamora, Lennix plays Aaron with vigour and enthusiasm, Angus MacFadyen portrays Lucius superbly as the noble young soldier, Alan Cumming plays Saturninus with all the camp insanity befitting the part, Laura Fraser plays the part of Lavinia with exact distress and emotion the part needs and, in doing so, proves that she can actually act (which came as something of a surprise), James Frain does well as Bassianus, and Colm Feore, frequently overlooked in reviews, is superb as the noble brother of Titus, Marcus.
Sadly, Demetrius and particularly Chiron, played by Matthew Rhys and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers respectively, are less good. Rhys-Meyers seems to have only a vague impression of what his lines actually mean, and thus his interpretation of the part is not great.
The text is fairly heavily abridged, but so few people are familiar with the original text that Taymor easily gets away with it.
On the whole though, this is a really quite spectacular movie. The interpretation, an abstract merging of modern day objects (motorbikes, guns et cetera) with Roman objects (swords, temples et cetera) works very well. Taymor's choice to embrace the weirdness rather than tone it down to make it more realistic is what makes this movie so brilliant.
I look forward to seeing how the Royal Shakespeare Company handles the play.
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on 17 April 2013
A different take on one of Shakespeare's lesser known tragic characters. Great performances all round from Anthony Hopkins to Jessica Lange. Beaufifully shot and directored. Like all Shakespeare plays the story is good but for the audience that doesn't either understand his languge or doesn't like the language it would have been interesting if the language was translated to a modern audience. This might have given the film more of an audience and profile because unlike some of Shakespeare's more notable plays there is no 'quotable' dialogue. We must face the facts that some people enjoy Shakespeare stories but struggle to keep up with the language. Just a thought. As for me it was visually superb and enjoyable to watch.
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Titus is a strong, bloody, murderous play and who better to cast as the lead in a movie production than Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins brings the right amount of high drama, machismo and madness to the character of Titus. He's the right age for the part, he looks the part and, obviously, has the theatrical experience to lend a good deal of credibility to a hugely complicated character.

Jessica Lang, Queen Goth Tamora, gives a good performance and finds the right balance of warrior, seductress, lover and grieving mother in her war of hate against Titus.

This is a story of retribution, family loyalty and wicked deception featuring war weary Roman army officers, Roman and Goth nobility and those hostages, slaves, taken during battle. They're involved in scenes of human sacrifice and driven by a need for revenge so dreadful it leads to the assault and torture of a young woman. Those scenes are brutal but pivotal. It's here we're asked to decide whether or not Titus loses his mind to grief or; is he such a brilliant military strategist it's all part of a bigger plan?. Who will win this ultimate battle?. The Romans or the Goths?. Or is it that revenge so powerful will consume itself and everone in it's path?. The film concludes with a good deal of blood and a high body count.

My negatives; I would have preferred a little more clarity into character motivation. Had I not read the play I wouldn't have understood much of Titus from the film. Queen Tamora is better presented. Her reasoning and need for blood are better shown but; what I really didn't care for were the opening scenes. They're set in current times and are just too random. Once they're done with and the 'real' Titus begins it's actually a decent performance.

The film runs for 156 minutes, has English subtitles and an 18 certificate due to "..strong sex and violence and sexual violence theme..".
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on 19 October 2015
When describing the film 'Titus', I refer back to Roger Eberts review, that it's admittedly over-the-top, but so is the original play. It's Shakespeare's first tragedy as well as his one of his bloodiest. Some reckon it's a parody of the popular violent plays of the time. It's not one of the Bard's greatest works, but it's still an interesting read, as this film is still compelling to watch. It's intense, violent, graphic, overdone, and yet still tragic as we watch the collapse of a family, left with only a few survivors and the hope that Rome is now in a steady hand. There's enough tragedy to haunt us to the end of the film - especially in what happens to Lavinia - but there's just enough hope for the characters left to stop us viewers from completely despairing. I find it hard to dislike this film despite it's graphicness, so I still recommend it to any fan of Shakespeare.
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HALL OF FAMEon 16 August 2007
This isn't a great movie, but it certainly is a unique and gorgeous one. Titus is Julie Taymore's version of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, a tragedy with no heroes, no lessons, no values, but with great style, and with more than enough blood, murder, revenge, rapes, beheadings and mutilations. Taymore, who was the talent behind the style of The Lion King on Broadway, has set the story in a strange intersection of ancient Rome and fascist Italy, where spears and helmets coexist with motorcycles and armored cars, where there are newspapers, radio, aqueducts, marching legions and Thirties' debauchery.

Titus Andronicus (Anthony Hopkins) has returned to Rome after great victories against the Goths. He has lost many sons in the battles but brings back treasure and his captives, Tamora, Queen of the Goths (Jessica Lange), and her three sons. He has the eldest slain, dismembered and burnt as an offering to the gods. Tamora, implacable, swears her vengeance on Titus. Saturninus (Alan Cumming), who has claimed the imperial throne, sees Titus as a threat. Saturninus is self-indulgent, cruel and sly. He takes Tamora as his queen and sets in motion his own betrayals. Off to the side is Aaron the Moor (Harry Lennix), a man with his own need to bring down everyone and who, for his own purposes, allies himself for a time with Tamora. And there is Titus himself, full of pride and righteousness, who endures tragedy that leads to the death of most of his remaining sons, the rape and mutilation of his daughter and his disgrace. He achieves a terrible vengeance on them all.

The movie is hugely melodramatic and overstated, and that adds to its fascination. Taymore has given it a wild, odd, lush, eccentric look that carries it over the top and back again. It's a wonderful movie to see just for the visual production. Fortunately, its an excellent movie to hear, too. Hopkins, Lange and Cumming do a first-rate job of speaking Shakespeare's verse. You have to let yourself get into the rhythm and style of the words, but that's not hard to do.
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on 2 June 2005
So bizzare it makes Luhrman's R+J look tame, this is a fantastic adaptation of one of the bards lesser known plays. The most striking thing is the presentation, with dramatic (and utterly unbelievable) melding of old and new high-lighting the barbarity and decadence of the Roman setting. None of the famous gore is done away with, and the lines remain absolutely killer. Hopkins plays to type, but thats no bad thing. Often overlooked by critics, 'Titus Andronicus' translates as well here as any other Shakespeare adaptation.
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on 22 November 2004
Having studied Shakespeare for as long as I remember, and having read through the entire corpus, give or take one or two of the comedies, I find it hard to understand why so many people unquestioningly judge this to be the worst of Shakespeare's plays. The rhetoric is fascinating - Tamora's manipulation of natural imagery for her own lustful purposes in Act II.iii, sits alongside Titus' ethereal joy in the forest as a life-giving force in one of the most subtle and satisfying inversions in drama. The disintegration of Roman civilisation is allied to the descent of one man into madness with devastating effect. The rape of Lavinia is painfully - but hopefully - depicted. All this in the original. This stunning adaptation is one of the finest that I have seen. The Dionysian vitality of its cast - without exception - is fascinating alongside the dry, rather embarassed RSC productions of recent years, in which the sole purpose seems to be a race to see who can get through their quota of lines fastest. I loved this adaptation, and rate it as one of the most fascinating and original that I have seen. It has the ability to shock. Seeing Lavinia with twigs for arms and blood pouring from her mouth made my heart skip. This is not Shakespeare's worst play, and nobody need be embarassed by it. Indeed, it is one of the finest examples of Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy, portrayed here with vigour and enthusiasm, not to mention a sense of originality that puts my faith back into modern film-making.
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on 2 May 2001
It's a mystery to me why this film hasn't got a better reputation - in fact, some reviewers seem barely able to look past the bloodshed to the brilliant cinematography underneath. From the opening, very theatrical scene of the soldiers marching like automatons in to the arena to the scenes in a Roman senate, more reminiscent of a nightmare vision of 1930s fascism than I Claudius - the film tantalises your senses. And Sir Anthony Hopkins really conveys the pain and encroaching insanity experienced by the disgraced Titus. The only reason I can think this film hasn't got a better reputation is that US audiences are so use to a mean gruel of sentimental, unchallenging movies that Titus scared the pants off them. But don't let that put you off.
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