9 April 2000 | JMartin-2
What the @#%! is this?...
OK, let's get something out of the way: this is a very faithful adaptation of Shakespeare's play. The only problem is, that's not a good thing. "Titus Andronicus" is, to my mind, Shakespeare's second-worst play, surpassed in awfulness only by "King John." The plot is ludicrous, the characters almost completely two-dimensional (especially the Moor Aaron, who is far more troubling from a racial standpoint than Shylock ever was), the dialogue perfunctory and awkward.
To be sure, Shakespeare on his worst day is better than the very best work of most other writers, but with so many superior Shakespeare plays to pick from, anyone who chooses to do an adaptation of "Titus" had better bring something interesting to the table. Julie Taymor's more widely-seen adaptation followed in the footsteps of Ingmar Bergman's stage production of "Hamlet" with its fusion of different time periods, in this case ancient Rome and contemporary Western civilization, to make a point about the anesthetization of violence in modern society.
But because this version is far more faithful to the text, it doesn't have any such aspirations; Shakespeare wrote the play simply because it was what the public wanted. Thus, this "Titus" is completely shallow, and to top it off, it's not even good from an aesthetic viewpoint. The film was obviously made on a limited budget, which shows in practically every frame: the costumes and sets are some of the worst I've seen since "Man of La Mancha," the acting is terrible (the dialogue would be better served by street mimes), and the gore effects -- which, if done right, could've made this at least mildly amusing -- Low-budget Bard isn't automatically bad -- see Welles' daring interpretation of "Othello" -- but the filmmakers here blow it at every opportunity. Naturally, this movie is destined to become a cult favorite, but definitely not for its quality.