William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet; Titus; A Midsummer Night's Dream
Just in time for Shakespeare’s 442nd birthday comes a boxed set of three films that update the Bard for greater accessibility. If you like your verse with helicopters and muscle cars, try Baz Luhrmann’s garish Romeo + Juliet, which transplants the star-cross’d lovers to a California beach town. The visuals, exploding like fireworks, can be distracting. Although Leonardo DiCaprio seems merely to recite rather than actually feel the words, Claire Danes is a good Juliet.
For the glam-gorefest Titus (from Titus Andronicus), director Julie Taymor (The Lion King) imagines a world that encompasses chariots and videogames yet almost always enhances the words. Anthony Hopkins, as the Roman general, magnificently squares off against Jessica Lange’s vengeful Goth ruler Tamora. (Look for Match Point‘s Jonathan Rhys Meyers as one of her sociopathic sons.)
Michael Hoffman’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is both more respectful and more tepid. The faeries and lovers come off well in this update set in 1900, but the working-class Bottom is misconceived as a dapper layabout, and Kevin Kline isn’t very funny in the role.
EXTRAS None on Dream, but Titus is loaded: a fine making-of doc, two kinds of commentary, and design sketches. On Romeo + Juliet, Luhrmann’s commentary is rambling but sometimes informative: Because the filmmakers didn’t get permission to use a helipad for a scene between Paul Sorvino and Paul Rudd, they shot it in a sauna instead. R+J: B Titus: A- Dream: B-