In the year 1996 Baz Luhrmann, a famous film director, adapted Shakespeare’s classic play, “Romeo and Juliet”. He directed the newer version with the intention of making the film more enjoyable for a wider range of people, bringing different aspects of play into different perspectives. In this essay I will be looking at how Baz Luhrmann directed the play, use of more genres and other various themes and characteristics of the play.
In the play Luhrmann set the play in a modern American style city to give you the impression that the play was going to be modern and set in an up to date kind of setting. We know this from the opening montage which includes various shots of the city from both a birds eye view (taken from a helicopter) and a point of view shot, I think Luhrmann did this to show you how the city looks from different peoples viewpoints. I also think that he chose the modern city landscape because many people could relate to the setting of the film. Skyscrapers dominate the city skyline showing that the city is a city over-ran with business. Two of the skyscrapers have a both the Montague and Capulet’s families signs on, an interesting observation of this is that the skyscrapers are opposite each other, giving the impression that they are enemies in both business terms and in friendship.
In the opening scene Luhrmann has used a petrol station for the first fight scene because people usually associate petrol stations as being a high-risk place with the possibility of a big explosion with the petrol and fire. This, in opinion is an excellent place to set the first fight in that it shows that both sides of the family are prepared to risk anything to show their feelings and to get their own way. Another advantage of setting the fight at the petrol station is to get the audience excited and on the edge of their seats within the first 10 minutes of the play. In doing this he has set the tone of the play and grabbed the attention of the audience.
I think Shakespeare would have opened the play like this to give the audience a flavour of what was to come later on in the play. He uses crude humour to show that the play is for more than one kind of audience, but Luhrmann has taken that one step further to make it more enjoyable for a wider range of people by mixing in different styles of comedy. He has used a kind of sketch comedy in the first petrol scene with one of the Montague boys taunting the Capulet boys with a bite of the thumb, which was in their days considered as swearing. When he bit his thumb he made a stupid face as well, to taunt Abra (a Capulet) but it also makes the audience laugh as well, again, a reference to the Shakespearean text, “Act 1, scene 1, line 40-45”.
The main similarities between the two openings of the plays are that in both plays they both start with a fighting scene, Luhrmann has kept this in to familiarise the older play (and older people) with the newer one. One of the biggest similarities between the two plays is that it uses old English language.
Differences between the two plays are that in the modern film version of the play at the beginning, a newsreader on television reads the prologue. Whereas in the stage show, a person comes on and physically reads it on stage, Luhrmann has done this to relate an old play to newer times with new technology. Finally, another difference between the two versions is that Shakespeare’s play is a lot more serious and ‘proper’ than Baz Luhrmann’s version, which is more laid back. Luhrmann has again, done this to relate it to modern times.
In the film Tybalt and Benvolio play key roles in the play, Tybalt, firstly, is described as ‘the Prince of Cats in the play, Luhrmann has done this to show that he can be gentlemanly at times, and right beast at other times, a bit like a cat, hence the name. When Tybalt is at the petrol station it introduces him, first, by him squashing a cigarette end with his boots, it then tracks up his body and stops at his head, where it stops and shows his face. I feel Luhrmann has done this tracking up the body thing to show he is powerful and to give you a good look at his clothes and the build of his body. Luhrmann has almost made Tybalt seems an act of the devil, with his piercing eyes and strong, stocky build, usually associated with the devil.
Benvolio however is introduced driving his “gang’s” car to the petrol station, showing that he is a kind of leader and role model to the rest of the group. When at the petrol station Benvolio is the main person doing all the shooting for the Montague side and is directing various people what to do. Benvolio is the one who stops the fight by running off, meanwhile the rest of his gang speed away in their car. Benvolio is made to seem like a hero, with is Hawaiian shirt, blond hair and blue eyes, he wears this to relate to today’s fashions.
‘Mise en scene’ (what’s in the frame and why) is used differently in the film for different scenes. For example, in the opening montage a view from a police helicopter gives a ‘birds eye view’ of the city, it also gives an effect of looking down on disorder in the metropolis below. A different example of mise en scene is when at the petrol station a mid shot is used to show there is no specific focus and the camera has nothing for the camera to be particularly interested in. Finally in the opening montage there is a long shot of the city to the set the scene and to show the rough skyline of the city.
The soundtrack plays a big part in the film, the very beginning part of the movie uses a very fast, dramatic piece of classical music. I think Luhrmann used the hard-hitting music to show it was a rough, tough film from the very beginning to the end. The music used in the opening is something you would associate with a fight scene. Despite this, in the petrol station scene a kind of rock music is used with the Montague boys, to show that they are a ‘cool’ group of lads. Whereas with the Capulet boys, nothing is played to let the audience hear the speech and sound effects to see what they are plotting next.
The camera focuses on different characters in different ways. Luhrmann uses a tilting camera movement on Tybalt to give him a sense on mystery until you see his face, when it got to Tybalt’s face it froze. Whn it froze Tybalt had a mischievous look on his face, making you think he was plotting something. Benvolio, however is frozen on straight away at the petrol station, he is posed pointing a gun at Tybalt, who is out of shot. This straight away portrays Benvolio as a hero, because he is the ‘good guy’ who is shooting the ‘bad guy’, a bit like a ‘spaghetti western’.
The other characters are introduced with freeze frame but for a shorter period of time and with no particular pose, showing that they are not as significant.
An interesting close-up was of Abra’s teeth, cased by a silver jaw with the word SIN ‘engraved’ into it, showing that he is part of Tybalt’s gang, with the devil-like reference.