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    A Comparison of Two Film Versions of Romeo and Juliet Essay

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    There are four main themes in the play of Romeo and Juliet. These are love, hate, violence and death. The love occurs between Romeo and Juliet, the children of the two families who have an “ancient grudge”. Whenever the kinsmen of the two families meet, they always seem to fight, verbally and physically. They tease each other and mock the other family. This causes reactions from the families and the violence begins. Death plays a major part in the play, because various characters’ decisions are based on some dying or committing suicide. For example, when Romeo thinks that Juliet is dead, he rushes to her tomb to commit suicide so that he will be with her forever. After he has poisoned himself, Juliet awakes and, seeing that Romeo is dead, stabs herself.

    The first main thing that happens in the play is the meeting of Romeo and Juliet and when Romeo goes to find her after the party. They then get married, but on the same day, Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, kills Mercutio. Romeo avenges his death by murdering Tybalt. In the end, both lovers die for love.

    Act three, scene one, is a very dramatic scene. Just before this scene, some of the Montagues had arrived at the Capulets’ party and, because of this Tybalt goes in search of Romeo to show him that he has not got away with it. He finds Mercutio and Benvolio after they have been talking about hot weather and hot tempers (“For now these hot days, is the mad blood stirring”, act three, scene one). Mercutio starts to tease and wind up Tybalt, but Romeo turns up just before Tybalt draws his sword. When Romeo refuses Tybalt’s challenge of a fight, (“I never injured thee, but love thee” act three, scene one), Mercutio takes it up instead so as not to lose his honour, (“O…vile submission” act three, scene one). While they are fighting, Romeo tries to stop them, but Tybalt stabs Mercutio under Romeo’s arm. Horrified, Tybalt flees. Romeo soon realises what has happened and goes in search of Tybalt. When he finds him, they fight and Romeo slays Tybalt. Prince turns up and banishes Romeo from Verona. This scene is very angry from the beginning through to the end, where Prince Escales and the two families become enraged at what has happened. Some of the characters act impulsively, for example, when Romeo decides to go after Tybalt, but some act their usual selves, for example, Tybalt. He has always been fiery and hot tempered, although he didn’t mean to kill Mercutio. This was an accident and, therefore, he is not impulsive.

    In the Zeffereli’s version of Romeo and Juliet, filmed in the 1970’s, the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt started off jokey. There was a large crowd watching who were all laughing and cheering. When Tybalt put his sword to Mercutio’s throat, there was silence. Mercutio looked stunned for a few seconds, but then he started to whistle and everyone laughed again. When Romeo stepped in and Mercutio got stabbed, Tybalt looked horrified. As Mercutio staggered around, the crowd of Montagues were all laughing, thinking that he is messing about and pretending to be wounded. He fell to the ground, and the crowd continued to find it amusing. After Mercutio died, music was played in the minor key. Violins were played and the music was deep, gloomy and deathly. The pace quickened and gradually became louder as Romeo ran off in search of Tybalt. The crowd of Capulets and Montagues started off by watching the fight between Romeo and Tybalt, but they ended up fighting each other. This was effective and I think it was a good idea because it added anger to the scene.

    When Tybalt was stabbed, he looked in real pain and the shock was clearly visible on his face. Romeo’s expression was also effective as he also looked in shock, but because he had just stabbed someone, rather than been stabbed. He looked in complete disbelief at what he had done. After this bit, it cuts to act 3, scene two, where Juliet finds out about the murder of Tybalt. It cuts back to the end of act three, scene one, where the Capulets are carrying Tybalt’s corpse to Prince Escales.

    In Luhrman’s version, made in the 1990’s, the Capulets turned angry and aggressive. Mercutio started off slightly light-hearted, but he soon became angry, too. When Romeo turned up, Tybalt immediately started to fight him. He punched, kicked and pushed him until Mercutio stepped in to defend his friend. Tybalt then started on him. In this version, Mercutio was slashed across the stomach with a piece of broken glass, which Tybalt had picked up. The fight was over within 30 seconds. As Mercutio staggered across the beach, a storm arose to show the anger of the characters. Tybalt watched from where he had stabbed Mercutio and he looked horror-struck. He looked as though he couldn’t believe what he had just done. There was no laughing at this point, as everyone knew that the wound was fatal. While Mercutio died in Romeo’s arms, Tybalt and his kinsmen drove off.

    Romeo was very distressed, and was shouting and crying. The film cut to Juliet, talking about how wonderful Romeo is. It was then night and Romeo was in a car, in a storm, searching for Tybalt. He was crying and his eyes were enraged and focused only on finding Tybalt. He crashed into Tybalt’s car, which overturned, and Tybalt’s gun was flung out of his hand. Romeo started to scream and shout hysterically. His face was full of pure hate and anger. He shot Tybalt in the heart, who fell into a swimming pool. There was silence, which was broken only by Romeo shouting, “O I am fortune’s fool”. Romeo then looked as though he had realised what he had done, and could not believe it. When Prince Escales arrived there was a lot of shouting, but he could still be heard.

    The atmosphere when Tybalt arrived was very different in each film. I think that the jokey approach to the fight, in the old film helped the viewer to understand that Tybalt did not mean to murder Mercutio and he was only fighting to preserve his honour and dignity. However, it didn’t portray Tybalt’s character as well as it could have been because Tybalt is supposed to be hot tempered and he was jokey in this fight, even when he didn’t understand the joke made by Mercutio. When Tybalt realised that he had stabbed Mercutio, his expression of shock was well formed and accurate for the way he behaved. The new version was more realistic, with regards to emotions in this part of the scene and, although Tybalt’s character was acted exceptionally well, it did seem that he intended to kill someone from the moment he turned up. When he had killed Mercutio, he looked stunned and I think that this made Tybalt’s character a little difficult to understand and it could have confused the viewer.

    When he was stabbed, in the old version, Mercutio didn’t look in as much pain as would be expected when you have just been stabbed. His expression was inaccurate and needed more emotion. I think that by having the crowd laughing so much, the atmosphere and seriousness of the matter was spoilt and it was an unrealistic reaction. In the new film, Mercutio started off by pretending the wound was just a scratch, but he then became angry and serious. This was good because it was realistic and the acting of such high quality that it was easy to understand exactly what was happening. Quite a few of Mercutio’s lines were cut out, but, because of the way it was acted, had they not been, the acting and emotion would not have fitted the script.

    When Romeo realised Mercutio was dead, the 1970’s actor did not look angry enough and showed lack of emotion. When he went searching for Tybalt, his anxiousness was well shown by the face and suddenness of his actions and movements. He just ran to avenge his friend’s death and this showed Romeo’s character well, in that it proves how impulsive and headstrong he is. In the 1990’s film, Romeo’s anger is easy to see and relate to because it is shown so accurately. He cried when Mercutio died in his arms and his feelings were clearly visible on his face when he went looking for Tybalt. His eyes were focused and gave the viewer all the information needed about how he was feeling.

    Both films cut to a scene with Juliet in, in the middle of act three, scene one. In the old film, it showed Juliet finding out about Tybalt’s death. This was effective because it cut a long scene down and the audience will have started watching again if they had lost interest in all the fighting. In the newer version, Juliet is shown talking about how wonderful Romeo is. This, again, shows that Romeo acts without thinking because he is usually so kind and generous and wouldn’t even think about murder.

    The Prince Escales, in Zeffereli’s film, had much more authority than the one in Luhrman’s version. He is portrayed well as the character was accurate to that in the play. He is always in control and, although there was a great deal of people, whenever he talked he was listened to. In the new film he had authority, but not as much as he should have had. Not everybody listened to what he had to say, although the characters to which it mattered did.

    In both films Lady Capulet is drowned out by other people when she says that she wants Romeo to be executed, although she was more heard in the older version. In the new film, the sirens of the police cars dampened her voice and so her part did not seem that important. In the play she was not drowned out and was listened to because what the Prince said next related to what she had just said.

    In the old film, I think that having the crowd of Capulets and Montagues witnessing the fighting was a good idea because when they started to fight within the crowd, the atmosphere was made more angry and energetic. I think that not having a crowd in the new version was also effective because the characters were aggressive and powerful enough and a crowd would have cluttered the screen.

    The old film was set in Italy, and the fight scene was set in the market square. This was effective because it was set where the play is. The costumes were that of what would have been worn in the 16th century, when the play was set. This helped the film fit the script and was appropriate. The new film was set in America, and the fight scene on Verona Beach. This was clever because the play is supposed to be in Verona. The costumes, along with the set and props, were modern and, therefore, helped the understanding of the play because it is easy to relate to things you see everyday, rather than things you don’t. However, the modern setting did not fit the script because it is written in old English.

    My overall opinion of Zeffereli’s film is that the acting could be improved and more emotion could be introduced. The setting was accurate and overall, the quality of the film was good. I think that Luhrman’s film was better as the acting was accurate and the characters, overall, were portrayed well. The emotion was realistic and the atmospheres created were very dramatic. However, I think that the script should have been made more modern to fit the setting and costumes. Apart from that, it was well presented and enjoyable to watch.

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