A Farewell To Twilight Time: Titus

We've known it was coming since 2019, but Twilight Time has officially announced that they're closing down for good.  Their policy of releasing strictly limited, and generally pricier, editions of all their films has rather famously rubbed some collectors the wrong way.  But in these days of dissolving physical media, nobody likes to see another label go.  Especially since they've released quite a number of first class DVDs and blus, some of which are still the going definitive editions for some of the best movies to this day.  So I thought I'd see them off with a look at one final must-have Twilight Time title from their extensive collection.
Julie Taymor is a name that inspires remarks of admiration and derision in almost equal strength.  She's either a visionary director who you hold in extreme regard for bringing her unique and celebrated Lion King to Broadway, or she's the awful woman who ruined SpiderMan, turning his Broadway debut into an infamous fiasco that will live on as a cautionary tale for decades to come.  Say what you want, Taymor is an artist who swings big and makes bold choices.  When she hits a home-run, it's a triumph, but unlike the real masters of cinema (a la Tarkovsky, Kurosawa, etc) she doesn't have the consistent sensibilities to make even her missed ambitions commanding works.  You never know what you're going to get, which at least keeps things interesting.  Her upcoming biopic, The Glorias, has been getting some discouraging reviews, and it may well turn out to be a dud; but I'm still looking forward to seeing it and finding out for myself.
Because Taymor proved she had masterpiece material right from her first feature (though you should also look into her award winning TV films she made earlier in her career), Titus.  I've heard this film described as confusing, but that's really only if you don't know what you're getting into.  This is no Mulholland Drive head scratcher; it's a straight-forward, faithful adaptation of one of Shakespeare's earliest works, Titus Andronicus, based on the staged production she'd been running of it for years in NYC.  What I suppose throws people off is that her idea that the powerful temptations and destructive powers of violence that Shakepseare has written about are so timeless and universal, she places it in an out-of-time sort of universe where soldiers will carry lances on horseback in one scene and ride tanks in another.  But if you just jump into the movie blind, the opening scene starts with a young child in a 1950's style kitchen being grabbed by a soldier and carried out into an ancient Roman coliseum.  So if nobody told you, "hey, we're just watching Titus Andronicus here," it can feel like a scene out of Time Bandits and you'll spend a while wondering what kind of artsy fantasy story is unfolding here.  But once you accept that this kid isn't from another time or dimension, and he's just one of Titus's sons who's been waiting for his father to return home from battle, you'll see that, even for a Shakespeare play, this plot is surprisingly simple and direct.
It's a singular, gritty tale of revenge and murder.  Titus is played to delicious excess by Anthony Hopkins, and I'm sure his notoriety for his role of Hannibal Lector was no coincidence to his casting here.  In fact, certainly Taymor excels in her creative production design and costuming (for which it received an Academy Award nomination) as you'd expect from her.  But the performances are stunning.  Alan Cumming and Jessica Lange are perfectly cast villains, with Velvet Goldmine's Jonathan Rhys Meyers as an unforgettable murderous prince.  Harry Lennix is the only carry over from the original stage production, but thank god for him, because he's really the (bleak) heart and soul of the piece. Taymor's Titus is one of those rare, essentially definitive adaptations that really closes the book on future versions, like Andrew Davies' Pride & Prejudice.  They nailed it.
Fox released Titus as a new release on DVD in 2000.  It was a pretty impressive 2-disc set, which is good, because it was pretty much our only option.  It didn't hit blu-ray until 2014, when Twilight Time finally issued it in the HD format.  Limited to 3000 copies, and now out of print and hard to find, it's still the only blu-ray option out there anywhere in the world.  So you can see at once both why people are fans of Twilight Time getting releases like this out there, and annoyed by the strict availability.
2000 Fox DVD top; 2014 Twilight Time BD bottom.
Interestingly, the aspect ratio shifts slightly from 2.36:1 to 2.31, with the blu shaving a slim slice of information along the top and left edges.  I actually would've guessed the opposite, since the DVD has a slight pillar-boxing effect going on in the left-hand side overscan area.  Anyway, it's all just slivers you'd never notice outside of a direct comparison like this.  What you will notice is the fresh sharpness of the HD transfer.  The DVD is unattractively soft along all its edges, smoothing away grain and fine detail alike.  And more offensively, it's guilty of unwanted haloing by way of edge enhancement.  The blu is free of most of that and much clearer, though admittedly there is a bit of a digital look to the film grain when you get in close, betraying an older master.  But it's still leagues ahead of the DVD and overall rather good even by BD standards.  It's just not a fresh 2 or 4k.  Otherwise, you can tell this is from the same source, with identical color timing and even the same film damage (note the white speck that occurs in the exact same spot in both of the upper frames).

Both discs gave us the choice of a stereo or 5.1 mix with optional English subtitles.  But the DVD also included Spanish subtitles, and the blu, of course, bumps both audio options up to lossless DTS-HD.
We got a lot to work with, extras-wise.  Like I said, Fox had given us a 2-disc set.  And even before you got to the second disc, you had three audio commentaries on the first disc.  There's a really good one with Taymor, a fun one with Hopkins and Lennix, although that one is plagued with a lot of silent stretches and awkward editing, and a music one, which is partially an interview with the composer, and partially an isolated music track.  Then, probably the best extra is the 49 minute behind-the-scenes documentary.  That's supplemented by a brief addendum featurette that talks specifically about the "penny arcade nightmares," the colorful phrase Taymor uses for the handful of dreamlike sequences that occur in the film.  There's also a Q&A session with Taymor, though that mostly repeats what we've heard in the previous extras, plus six trailers and TV spots, a couple stills galleries and a six-page booklet.

Happily, Twilight Time carries all of the Fox extras onto their blu.  They also include their own isolated score track, in addition to the one from the DVD, that plays the score without the composer commentary and plays in DTS-HD.  They've also replaced the booklet with their own, featuring notes by Julie Kirgo.
So yeah, it is annoying that it's now out of print and hard to find.  It was already an expensive release when Twilight Time put it out at the time, and it's only gonna cost you more now.  That's always been the downside of Twilight Time.  But it's a fantastic film you should definitely have on your shelf, and it's thanks to Twilight Time that we got it on blu.  They did a first class job of it as always, and my collection's definitely better off thanks to them.  So Twilight Time, I'll miss ya!

1 comment:

  1. Truly sad news to hear,for hopefully their film titles will eventually find a new home at other companies(with the likes of Kino Lorber,Criterion,Shout! Factory,and Arrow coming to mind).