on December 25, 1999 by Tim Cogshell
   "Titus Andronicus" was William Shakespeare's first play. It is the work of a very young man, full of anger, lust and a dark wit. A tale of war, murderous design and revenge, it's the Bard raw. In adapting it, writer/director Julie Taymor (Broadway's "The Lion King"), maintains that sense of emotional entropy. Human sacrifice, mutilation, rape and cannibalism are all reasonable responses in the world of "Titus."
   Taymor takes advantage of the lack of stage direction in the play and allows her mind to roam, finding metaphors to visually represent mood, but never shying away from literal interpretations when necessary. She sets the rape and mutilation of Lavinia--Titus' beloved daughter (Laura Fraser of "Cousin Bette")--in a surreal swamp to represent her ravishment, thus avoiding an utterly realistic display of the attack. However, to accompany the line "...what stern ungentle hands have lopped and hew'd and made thy body bare of her two branches...," Taymor literally replaces Lavinia's arms with twigs, for a striking literal representation. Production designer Dante Ferretti ("Kundun," "Baron Munchausen") draws from a myriad of periods--Ancient and modern Rome locations, Elizabethan and modern wardrobe, Art Deco set pieces and technology from the '30s and the future--for a stunning vision.
   At over three hours long, "Titus" represents one of the most ambitious cinematic undertakings of Shakespeare, rivaling Branaugh's unabridged "Hamlet." Taymor's break from tradition combines the visual sense of Baz Lurhman's "Romeo and Juliet" with the stark sensibility of Zeffirelli's "Hamlet," to exquisite and compelling effect.    Starring Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Alan Cumming, Harry Lennix, Colm Feore, Angus Mcfadyen, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Mathew Rhys and Laura Fraser. Directed and written by Julie Taymor. Produced by Jody Patton, Conchita Airoldi and Julie Taymor. A Fox Searchlight release. Rated R for violence and sexual images. Running time: 140 min.
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