This fantastically modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is guaranteed to keep students enraptured, enthralled and engaged in an amazing feat of filming where fast cars, guns and special affects manage to tie in the dramatic, yet tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet. As teachers, you all know the struggle of getting rowdy teenagers to settle down to what must seem like an impossible task of toiling their way through an entire wordy Shakespeare play.
However the amazing film techniques, the heartthrob teen actors and modern setting of ‘Verona Beach’ help to keep your class spellbound. The most illiterate of teenagers cannot fail to comprehend the love story between Leonardo Dicaprio and Claire Danes and the struggles they undergo in, what becomes, a timeless love story for all teenagers of every capability, and helps improve students skills, linguistically and creatively. Baz Luhrman manages to think ‘outside the box’ and succeeds delightfully with one of the most successful film adaptations of all time.Order now
The prologue is yet another of Baz Luhrman’s delightful creations, which really help students to begin to identify with the film. A newsreader on a television set briefly depicts what has been happening in Verona beach. Especially with the scene behind her of helicopters, sirens and the New York skyline, it gives a very modern way for teenagers to first begin to understand the enormity and disastrous direction of the play. Teenagers can identify with a news report; they are on their televisions at home all the time.
It is an easy, clear and modern way of presenting the prologue. Almost as soon as the real acting begins there is an instant magnetism to the story: the actors. Baz Luhrman has recruited modern actors to play the parts of Romeo and Juliet. Claire Danes and Leonardo Dicaprio provide brilliant attraction for teenagers, their acting skills may be doubtable but with a flick of his hair, Dicaprio can have the most distracted student totally immersed in the film. One of the most important factors in the film is the soundtrack.
No matter what classical music was used in Zefferellie’s production of Romeo and Juliet, it was not going to grab the attention of teenagers. Baz Luhrman mixes modern pop music with the soulful sounds of Des Ree and manages to create an amazing blend of music and culture, which really helps to portray the mood right across the film. The sudden change from opera to rock signify changing feelings in the play, or bursts of pop music from silence. The music is integral to the play. He uses music to help teenagers be swept along emotionally in the film.
Although this is partly due to the fact that music always touches people where words cannot: one language can only be understood by its users yet music can be understood by everybody, everywhere, the main reason for the largely musical overture is that this generation are largely interested in music. All teenagers follow music, be it on the radio, television or by making their own. It’s a large part of a teenager’s life. Friends may be chosen by which music they listen to, hair and clothes are largely influenced by music, and music plays a huge role in a teenager’s life.
How can they fail to be impressed with the range of music Luhrman has used to accentuate the mood of the film? Just to prove this point further how many teenage bedrooms can you enter without being accosted by posters, photos and trinkets of or imitating pop stars or music legends? How many times have you, as a teacher, had to confiscate personal stereos and CD players because a student was too busy listening to the words of Eminem to pay attention to your lesson? The setting of Verona Beach could easily confuse you to thinking you were looking at a replica of Venice beach in America.
This modern setting is easily identifiable to teenagers, the large majority live in towns and cities, not in rolling countryside, where Zefferelli set his production. This helps to make them concentrate on Romeo and Juliet as a story, not list the comparisons between Romeo and Juliet’s lives to theirs. It helps them to contemplate the actual content of what is supposed to be a very dramatic love story. The drama of the story is highlighted by the bustling city surroundings; it is hard to put into context against quiet valleys and peaceful mountains.
The hectic city backdrop and fast car chases provide excitement, to keep teens engrossed in the film, and a quick pace to portray the catastrophic events of the story. Another large aid in helping to understand the actual story of Romeo and Juliet comes in the form of religious symbols. In the actual play religion plays a big part in the story: Juliet will not remarry Paris because she is already, ‘in the eyes of God’ married to Romeo and many of the mannerisms and curses come from catholic upbringing, for example the way they use, ‘Mary’ as a curse referring to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
In Shakespearian times, when Romeo and Juliet was written religion played a huge influence in people’s lives. This is why the imagery Luhrman uses helps to make teenagers understand the factors, which led up to the lover’s deaths. He subtly includes pictures of the Virgin Mary on handguns, and as a decorative ornament in the Capulet’s car. These images help students to understand the importance of religion in the story, especially as they appear around violent scenes, which really show how, although religion is important to the characters, the families’ feud runs very deep and would be hard for Romeo and Juliet to overcome.
It also shows that the characters in the play and film commit these murders and crimes but they do not really see it as wrong, it is part of their culture, they have been brought up to hate each other, just as they have been brought up religiously. Clothes really help to determine the two families throughout the film; the Montagues are dressed in lurid colours and Hawaiian shirts where as the Capulets are dressed all in black, suave suits. This combined with the fact that the Capulets are all Hispanic-looking means that students can easily follow the film and not have to worry about confusing the characters.
Although some speeches are missed out or cut down the camera plays a very important role in showing the actors emotions and getting the story across to teenagers. Facial expressions and camera cuts are all it takes to get across the message of the story. One of the main disappointments of the film was that American actors took the main roles and the whole play was performed in America, in American accents. The play however was set in Elizabethan times, in Italy, written in old English.
This displeasured me because I thought that it took away some of the charm of the play and the old English did not sound authentic, being spoken by Americans. However the majority of films, nowadays, are produced in America as they have the money and means to produce high quality films and so teenagers may be able to relate to the film as a modern interpretation of the story. Although the camera techniques are amazingly helpful to understand the story, some of the speeches lost are invaluable to the play. They help to build suspense and some of the monologue is essential to the story.
It helps to build up the characters in the eyes of the audience but without it we concentrate less on the characters and more on the surroundings and excitement of the film. However amazingly creative the film may be some issues are unforgivable on Baz Luhrman’s part. He called the Prince, ‘Dave’. By giving the Prince a first name, he took away some of his authority and presence in front of the other characters. Also, ‘Dave’, is hardly an Elizabethan name and so it does not really link back to Shakespearian times and makes the whole film less English and more and more American and modern.
This may make it hard for students to comprehend. It is important that they do not take the film at face value. Guns were not used in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; it is Baz Luhrman’s way of portraying the film. The film is somebody’s interpretation of the play, not an improved version and this may easily be mistaken by students who prefer the film to the play. Overall the biggest risk is that students may get caught up in the excitement, violence and overall glamour surrounding the film.
The moral of the tragedy may not reach them through the fast cars and blazing gang fights. One of the interesting factors of Baz Luhrman’s ingenious adaptation to the play is his use of races when recruiting actors for different characters. Mercutio, a kinsman of the Prince, and the Prince himself are both played by African-American actors. This, not only helps your class to see the difference between the houses and understand that Mercutio is not involved in the feuding, but also to see that an innocent bystander, caught up in the feuding was killed.
The fact that he’s black really makes him stand out as an individual character and this further emphasises Mercutio’s own character: he is supposed to be wild, unruly and fun and from this I think students will get the gist of his personality. Taking all this into consideration any teacher should now stifle the teenage moans and groans that come with Shakespeare and jump at the chance to provide an easy and fun way of learning for all children. It could prove to be an invaluable tool against the boredom that comes, unquestionable, with Shakespeare.