Show how Baz Luhrman’s film opening attempts to the link the language of the original play to modern themes. How does it appeal to a modern audience?
Romeo and Juliet is a famous play written by William Shakespeare. The play is a tragedy based on an allegedly true story. The play itself was written for the theatre. The story is set in Verona in Italy. The story is about two lovers who come from rich families, the Capulets and Montagues. Both of the families are sworn enemies. Their love brings tragic consequences. The play is known throughout the world.Order now
The two main themes in the play are love and conflict. The play is dominated by these themes. Themes include romantic love and passion between Romeo and Juliet and gang warfare between the Montagues and Capulets, family arguments and conflict between generation gaps. These themes are universal. These themes are common today just as they were four hundred years ago. However, there are differences between today and Shakespeare’s times. One example of the differences is entertainment. In Shakespeare’s time the only entertainment they had was live plays where as nowadays we still have live entertainment but most of our entertainment comes from television and c.d.’s, which is not live. Today technology and media can bring entertainment into every home in England. Baz Luhrmann has used the skills and inventions of today to present Shakespeare’s play to a wide, new and modern audience.
Baz Luhrmann uses modern themes combined with cinematic techniques and features to appeal to a modern audience. Themes like violence, conflict, romance and backed up by a powerful soundtrack. These are the sort of themes that attract a young and modern audience. I like watching films that have a lot of action with fast changes of scenes. Baz Luhrmann has used the theme action, this is one of the themes that the modern audience enjoy. In the rest of my essay I am going to discuss whether or not Baz Luhrmann has succeeded with his aim to attract a young audience, to a Shakespeare’s play.
The film opens with a shot of a small television in the centre of the blank screen. The television gets bigger and bigger gradually filling the screen. The audience immediately realises that the film is set in modern times because in Shakespeare’s time they were no televisions. In the small screen there is a reporter reading the prologue. The reporter does not show any emotions whilst reading the original Shakespeare prologue. In the screen behind the reporter there is a picture of a broken ring and underneath the ring it says ‘star cross’d lovers’. From this picture the audience can find out that the film is about tragic love. As the television fades out the mood changes rapidly after the opening prologue. The prologue is now repeated but this time with emotion and vivid imagery accompanied by a range of cinematic features such as 200m lens, panoramic shots, rapid shots of different scenes. At the same time as the prologue is being read the camera zooms through the city blocks of Verona. This gives a sense of excitement and tension.
When the camera shows the streets of Verona it is shown as a violent city but at the top of the city there are religious symbols representing peace e.g. statues of Christ and crosses on top of churches. The importance of both the Montagues and Capulets is shown with images in the opening. In a way this echoes Shakespeare use of the word ‘civil’ in the prologue, representing the city and citizens of Verona. One key image that shows the power and importance of both families is the two tower blocks on either sides of a street. On top of the towers the name of the families are boldly displayed. This indicates that both families have equal power and status. I think this image also shows the split between the city, suggesting both families have control over parts of the city. These images show the power and importance that the families have. I think other important images, which show the power of the families, are of the newspaper headlines saying ‘from ancient grudge’ and ‘leads to new mutiny’. With all of these images I think the powerful religious music in the background adds to the excitement and tension. The main characters are then shown with still images and captions next to the photo suggesting they have a star status. I think Lord Capulet and Lord Montague are given a bit of the ‘godfather’ image. Again a criminal and violent idea is suggested.
The still images and clips introduce those in the audience unfamiliar with the story to the family characters, these help them to quickly identify them in the following scenes. Interestingly Baz Luhrmann gives them modern names e.g. ‘Ted Montague’ The director has shown the personality of the Capulets and Montagues by there clothing. The Capulets are shown as smart, sophisticated and sleek in their well-cut suits. On the other hand the Montagues dress casual with their Hawaiian shirts and funky haircuts. This suggests they like to chill out and are more relaxed. The image of the Capulets supports Shakespeare view of hard Capulet being a powerful but violent man. Tybalt the cousin of Juliet is shown as the most violent character in the film. I think he is shown more as a hero than a villain in the opening. When Tybalt first enters the scene in the garage his metal shoes are shown as he walks across the garage forecourt. The camera gradually moves up from his shoes to his face. He has a picture of a big cat on his shirt. He is known as the ‘prince of cats’. Baz Luhrmans aim of the opening is to attract the young and modern audience. Not only does he attract their attention but he also tries to retain they interest.
To do this he uses a lot of fast action because today’s audiences like films that have a lot of fast action. For example just after the fight between the Capulets and Montagues there are helicopters flying to the scene and fire shown everywhere. Another example of fast action is the car chase between the Capulets and Montagues. Modern audiences also enjoy watching car chases. The director uses action to get the interest of the viewers. In the opening the violence comes straight in. for example the gunfight between the Capulets and Montagues. Although this is serious Baz Luhrmann uses humour to add to the entertainment. One example of violence and humour combined is when a lady is hitting a Montague in the head with a bag during a gunfight. Baz Luhrmann overcomes the problem of the word sword in his film by writing sword on the guns and calling them swords. Baz Luhrmann has to do this because he is using Shakespeare language and in Shakespeare days they didn’t have guns. Modern audiences would not like to watch a film with sword fights because swords are old and guns are a new thing.
In the opening sequence other comic touches are used including the garage sign which say’s ‘add more fuel to your fire’ as guns are drawn. The original text of the opening scene is used as the youth taunt and annoy each other, it reminded me of the ‘The outsiders.’ By Susan Hinta Action and gestures accompany Shakespeare’s language. However, I feel that visual images are more powerful at this stage. Its only when Benvolio says, “Put up thy swords” and wants peace that the words become more important. When Tybalt replies “Peace? I hate the word as I hate all Montages.” At this point all the action on screen stops and it is still. The audience has to listen to the words it is still and the meaning of the words is crucial to the play and future action. The director uses a modern futuristic looking city to set the film. The film isn’t really in Verona, Italy because Verona is a romantic old peaceful city. Baz Luhmann used a modern city throbbing with violence and crime as the main concept. One modern image is of the boys fighting on the garage forecourt, a place easily identified by a modern audience. The setting is important for an audience brought up on NYPD Blue.
Baz Luhrmann has used the car as an icon in the opening sequence, of scene 1. Nowadays people like to show their car as a part of themselves. Baz Luhrmann shows this by putting the name of the family, the boys belong to on the number plate. Again, this glamorous image appeals to the personality cult age and is a key ingredient of modern film culture On reflection I think that Baz Luhrmann has succeeded in making Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet for a modern audience. I believe that Baz Luhrmann has put a lot of modern themes backed up by visual images to support Shakespeare language. All the themes are related to love and conflict. These are theme that a modern audience likes to watch. I think that Baz Luhrmann could have put the film into Modern English because a modern audience would really get into it because they would understand more. But then it would not have been Shakespeare play, so I think the film gives us the best of both worlds.