Baz Luhrmann and Franco Zeffirelli portrayed the film ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in very different ways. Most of the scenes in the film are portrayed in different ways although there are some similarities. There are some very obvious differences including the intended audience, the setting, the place and the timing of the play. There are some smaller differences as well such as the use of music, camera angles, lighting, the way different people are introduced and many more.
I think that in Luhrmann’s version of the film the intended audience is a much younger audience, from teenagers to people in their mid 20’s. I believe this because his version has much more action in it and is more modern which is more appealing to the younger generations than to the older generations. The audience intended for Zeffirelli’s version, however, is most likely the older generation than the younger generations as it is quite slow moving and focuses only on the essentials of the story than to make the audience interested with the lack of action. The fact that the film was made in the 1960’s makes it even more appealing to the older generations as it was made when they were young and so it is familiar as well as the fact that it is set in the times of when it was written. The settings in the two versions show the most difference and in Luhrmann’s version it is more modern and so reflects life as we know it today.
It includes modern cars, buildings, guns, drugs and many more things instead of swords or old houses, which show just how modern it is. In Zeffirelli’s version, however, it is set in the Shakespearean period, which can be seen by the way that they dress, the way the buildings are made and that they use swords and so already we can see a major difference between the two films. These two examples show how without even considering the storyline we can see differences which separate the two films and while there are still a couple of big differences left there are also a few smaller changes which make a big difference.
In the modern version by Luhrmann the way the prologue is introduced is very strangely appealing to the audience and draws them into the film. The film starts by showing a woman on television, on the news, explaining the story to us as it is written in the book. With the television slowly coming closer and closer towards us and finally stops before it merges with the television we are watching it on. This was then followed straight after by loud opera type music showing the city in flashes from high up with the action and the drama of helicopters flying around to get you interested. Each of the important characters in the film was then introduced to us by showing them with their name appearing next to them in bold. While all of this is going on a man with a deep voice repeats everything the woman on the TV screen had just said, as it gets to the end of what he is saying the flashing of the city of Verona and the writing gets faster with the music getting more and more dramatic until finally they both stop and it goes straight to the Montagues in a car with loud obnoxious music. While they are on screen it shows ‘THE MONTAGUE BOYS’ next to them to introduce them to us and referring to them as the boys adds the badness to them as if they are in a gang. The way all of that is put together is very clever as it immediately gets the audience interested in the film and want to watch the rest of it. The way it all goes by so fast as well adds to the action which appeals to the younger generation.
In the older version by Zeffirelli the way it is shown to us is very different to the one I just described. Zeffirelli prefers the softer approach to the film trying to draw you into it which almost immediately would make the younger generation bored but interesting for the older generations. Zeffirelli shows Verona from high up in the air in soft focus to add the touch of innocence to the place with very soft music playing and a man with a very calm voice reading the introduction to us. When the man has finished it goes straight to the part where the Montagues see the Capulets and try to start trouble between them. He doesn’t want to add any drama or action to the play and would rather get straight into the action of the play, which is good in some ways but not in others. It’s good for people that want to know the story of Romeo and Juliet and are not so concerned with any of the drama and action or the way certain things are portrayed, however, it is also bad as it can lose the audience’s interest in the film. There is a difference in music as well, which plays a major part in the introduction of the film. In Luhrmann’s version the loud music makes the audience interested while also showing the kind of atmosphere that there is in Verona. Zeffirelli’s way of using soft music, however, shows the innocence of the setting and starts the film calmly without knowing what to expect unlike Luhrmann’s version where you know you will expect drama.
In the modern film the director has made the Montagues drive into a gas station with the camera on the floor and the car coming straight to it as if it is going to run it over but stops just before it can. It then shows the Montagues talking to each other but doing it in a very loud and menacing way and as Benvolio walks off screen the other two carry on causing trouble. Subsequently the Capulets arrive in their car with the design very much the same as the Montagues car but in a different colour. The car drives towards the camera again and stops just before it can run it over which is then followed straight after by a door opening. All we can see at first are the person’s shoes and then when we see him dropping a cigar to the floor and stepping on it immediately shows the slickness of the person. As they are showing this mystery man cowboy music is played but then stops as the camera doesn’t show the person but shows a nun and a schoolgirl going in the opposite direction with the camera following them instead.
The Montagues car is right next to a van but on the other side of the van is the Capulets so at the moment they cannot see each other. The Montagues then start harassing the nun and school girls with the camera showing the girls screaming and then driving off leaving the Capulets and Montagues right next to each other surprising them both. We can now see what the Capulets are wearing and we can see how slick they are and they get a certain respect for them straight away, which makes us feel scared of them. It is this introduction to the two families starting a fight that shows the problems already between them which will continue during the rest of the film. This is done very well with all the different types of music that are played and the way the camera moves quickly between showing each person and their reaction to the situation. The way that the camera zooms in on particular parts of people such as people’s faces and feet is also a good technique as it gets a certain effect about the person which the director is trying to achieve.
In the older film the director goes straight to the Montagues who are causing trouble but not in as much detail as the other film. In this version the Montagues also see the Capulets, which is seen from their point of view from afar showing an interesting use of the camera angle, and actually go to them looking for a fight. The Montagues are much braver in this version compared to Luhrmann’s version where they were cowards in the other film and the Capulets aren’t as sinister as in Luhrmann’s due to the fact they are walking around with an old man which adds a gentleness to them. Zeffirelli doesn’t really want music in this part of the film with just the use of background noise, which makes it easier for us to hear what is going on and what is being said in the film. It also allows us to pay more attention to their facial expressions rather than assume what they are like from the music being played. The camera isn’t used to its full potential in this part though as it just follows around whoever is talking at the timing and doesn’t zoom in or out and is just normal.
It is this part of the play where the fight scene takes place and I think Luhrmann’s way of showing this is much better than Zeffirelli’s. Luhrmann starts off by showing the Montagues as cowards and then one of the Capulets showing his teeth which say ‘sin’ on it as the camera at this point is zoomed in onto the teeth and this scares them straight away. The Capulets make the most of this chance to make fun of them and the Montagues do not like being made fun of so they purposely bite their thumb at the Capulets knowing it will end in a fight. The Capulets do not like this at all and drive their car closer to the Montagues then get out and start arguing with the Montagues. At this point while they are all arguing the camera zooms around all over the place from one Montague to another, then to a Capulet, then to their guns and then to their expressions.
The Montagues see that Benvolio is coming out of the toilet and purposely end it knowing they would get shot at and then go hide. Benvolio sees this and draws his own gun out which is where we are now introduced to him by his name appearing on the screen. Straight after this happens we get introduced to Tybalt, the camera moves very slowly at this point showing him step on his cigar and emphasize the grinding of his heel on it, then the camera goes to his face and this is when his name appears. The camera switches to Benvolio holding the gun and it switches between the two characters as they speak. Between each time the camera switches it gets closer and closer to Benvolio and Tybalt until finally showing only their eyes and as all of this is going on cowboy music is being played again and it carries on throughout the shooting part.
The two families are diving all over the place to get cover and while they are shooting the camera sometimes goes very slowly to dramatize what is happening or it speeds it up. We know that an explosion is going to happen at this point as it is in a gas station and they are shooting each other which seem very reckless. The Montagues drive away leaving Benvolio behind to run after them and meanwhile Tybalt dramatically takes off his coat and takes out an attachment to his gun and we see down the aim of his gun as he shoots one of the Montagues in the car from afar. The next thing we see is a lot of helicopters coming to the scene and the Prince who in this is a police officer shouts at them from a loudspeaker in the helicopter and tells them to drop their guns. There is a lot of noise at this point and they both manage to drop their guns at the same time and the camera slows this bit down and then stops straight away to when they are in the Prince’s office. He then explains to each of the two heads of the families the consequences if it happens again and this is the dramatic end to the fight.
In the older version by Zeffirelli, however, it is much different because as the fight between the two families begins it is all because of a Montague tripping an old man that the Capulets were with and they start fighting with swords. This is then followed by a lot of people fighting instead of just a couple of people. There is still no music at this time and we can only hear the background noise and all of the shouting. They carry on fighting for a while with their swords and then we see Benvolio enter trying to stop the fight. The Montagues in this are being portrayed as cowardly in this as well, but when Tybalt enters he questions what Benvolio is doing which makes Benvolio scared to a certain point.
We can tell how sinister Tybalt is straight away by the way he is talking, acting and the amount of respect he gets as soon as he enters the scene. As the fight begins again we see even more people join in at this time and it gets more and more serious as lots of people are dying. There is still no music but the camera angle is far back and high up to show the amount of people that are getting involved in this. As the prince enters fanfare music is played which immediately lets everyone know the prince is coming and they all stop fighting. The prince enters from afar allowing the audience to see the effect that he makes on the crowd of people fighting. He tells off the two families for what they are doing and has to shout so that everyone can hear and it is clear to see just how angry he is about the situation. At this point of the scene, the camera here is switching between the prince and the reactions of the families listening to him in order to increase the drama.
Both Zeffirelli and Luhrmann make the introduction of Romeo in a similar way as they both start off by showing him from afar and with soft music playing showing his romantic and soft side. The only differences are the equipment used such as the presence of cars, beaches, bridges and a sunrise. Both versions show the gentleness of Romeo and how he is different compared to the Montagues that we see before with the use of soft focus when first seeing Romeo. In Luhrmann’s version we see him on the beach before a sunrise and in Zeffirelli’s version we see him walking under a bridge and the soft music and the way the camera introduces him from afar creates a similar effect in both. The camera switches from far away to close up and so on until he reaches Benvolio and they then talk. The music has finally stopped at this point but soon starts again and gets louder as Romeo finds out about the fight increasing the drama. Interestingly, Romeo’s introduction is the only part in the first scene where both directors have shown something the same.
In my opinion, I think that both films have been successful in their own way but overall from my point of view and perhaps as a younger audience, I preferred Luhrmann’s version. Zeffirelli has made a good version of the play with the way it is directed but I feel he was focusing more on telling the story of Romeo and Juliet rather than trying to get the audience interested into actually watching it and showing the range of emotions as to me it seemed quite dull and lifeless. Luhrmann’s version attempted to make it exciting to the audience while still telling the story in a more interesting way. As I said earlier, Luhrmann’s film is meant for the younger generations because of the action in it which would interest them, and Zeffirelli’s version is meant for the older generations because of the way he has just focused on the story itself without adding action. Overall, both are very good and are alike in some ways but very different in other ways, so the favourite would depend on your personal taste.