Еhe film “Romeo and Juliet” was produced by Baz Lurhmann in 1997. It was a box office hit and much to many people’s surprise, had young people queuing to see a Shakespeare production. This was so unusual because generally children expect little in the way of entertainment from Shakespeare due to the huge language barrier. They also find his plays difficult to watch because they say that trying to work out what is happening is impossible.
However, Luhrmann’s production achieved success whilst keeping the language exactly as Shakespeare wrote it. He did this so that he might change young people’s opinions on the playwright and make them see that his plays are relevant. To help them understand the play, he made the language more visual so that one could see what certain words meant. For instance, by the end of the opening scene one would be in no doubt as to whether biting one’s thumb at someone is an insult; this is due to the exaggerated movements when a Montague bites his thumb. Other ways he increased the clarity were the use of camera angles, costumes, music and props. Cleverly, he has altered the style of the opening scene by modernising it without affecting the language, Romeo Juliet opening.
The younger audience enjoy the Western-style environment because it is what they are used to and it is relevant. Fighting with swords in streets lined with castles is far more distant to them than fighting with guns in streets lined with skyscrapers. Young people would not appreciate the film in its original environment, regardless of how many clever techniques were incorporated into it – they simply want to be entertained and one way to entertain them is to make it more relevant to them.
The reasons this type of environment appeals is that the style is more modern and violent than the dated environment of 16th century Verona. The fact that Western-style is associated with violence means that at the beginning of the scene, the audience are being tantalised with the idea of a big showdown with lots of guns and special effects, which is what all younger people enjoy.
The props used in this scene are similar to those of a Western; for instance, the guns. Guns are seen as “cooler” than swords because they can do more damage and they are used in warfare. Many younger children are into guns and weapons, which is why they are used. If Luhrmann had altered the Capulets and Montagues so that they were courteous and discerning then the appeal would be reduced. These guns are frequently the subject of the camera and extreme close-ups on them, especially on the Capulets’ guns, are common.
Although this was never Shakespeare’s intention, the Capulets are more skilled than the Montagues: originally, the Montagues were the more skilled ones. The Capulets’ skill is indicated through the camera angles, clothing and vehicles. The Capulets get the best of all three. Their cars and smarter and more sophisticated in both their colour and style; a darker shade of blue is more sophisticated than a bright and cheerful shade of yellow that the Montagues’ car is coloured. Also, the Capulets’ clothing consists of smart, black leather jackets with black trousers whilst the Montagues have bright Hawaiian shirts, with few of the buttons done up. Therefore, it can be assumed that this reflects in their personalities: the Montagues do not take life very seriously and childlike in the sense that they are unaware of the consequences of their actions; the Capulets are smart and sophisticated.
During the fighting, the camera only allows the audience to see the Montagues showing cowardice and running away from the Capulets, whom show courage. There is a POV shot from inside one of the Capulets’ gun. The shot is in slow motion and the gun moves from left to right; this displays the Capulet’s skill by his ability to judge accurately even when under pressure.
Despite these two family groups having contrasting personalities, they are both from families of an equal status and wealth. The zoom-in on the both of the families’ cars reveals the number-plates “MON5” and “CAP5” shows their financial and social equality. To an extent it identifies which car belongs to which family so it tells the audience who is who.
All of this lets the audience clearly distinguish between the two characters and allows them to foresee their personalities without having heard them speak or seen their responses to certain situations. The Capulets are clearly portrayed as the skilled ones and the Montagues are the contrary. The bright colours and loosely-worn clothes of the suggest that Montagues always look positively on all situations and are unaware of evils. In essence they are like immature children – always testing the boundaries. The habit of testing the boundaries provokes the 3rd Civil Brawl with the Capulets, which is preceded by a massive build-up, enhanced by cleverly chosen camera angles.
The brawl starts because a Montague bites his thumb at a Capulet. After that a Capulet drops his cigarette into a small pool of inflammable petroleum, during which, the “slow-motion” camera effect is applied; this means that the camera shows that happens at a speed less than that of real-time. The slow-motion builds up the tension because the audience are being forced to wait to see an inevitably disastrous event. As effective as it is, this is a common technique employed by directors so it will be less effective on people whom have seen a lot films (ie older people).
Luhrmann has also added humour, diegetic sounds and non-diegetic music. These are mainly for effect and entertainment purposes, although they do add some clarity.
An example of humour that was put in for both clarity and for entertainment is when a Montague suggestively shapes his nipple to look like a woman’s breast at some nuns. This bawdy humour was put in to make the film more funny; funny actions are often a good way to make young people want to watch something because most of them like to be happy and to laugh. This was also added for clarity because it clearly shows how immature and disreputable Montagues are. For further clarity and entertainment, at the time that that bit of mischief was being conducted, some non-diegetic music had just finished playing.
Non-diegetic music, music played for effect and played outside of the world of the characters, has been added at the very beginning of Act 1 Scene 1, just after the prologue. The music playing is popular music and the singer sings “The Boys, The Boys”, which the audience assumes reflects in the Montagues’ personality, which of course it does.
Furthermore, the music is also very lively and upbeat. As such, it appeals to most young people because they like upbeat music. For those people whom it does not appeal to, they could probably bear it at the least, seeing as the music only lasts for more than a few seconds.
Interestingly, Luhrmann adds operatic music to the film, which is usually thought not to be what younger people, whom are generally professed only to like popular music. However the opera used creates such a powerful effect that it does not bother what genre the music is.
Diegetic sounds, which are sounds played for the effect inside the world of the characters; these sounds are often exaggerated or loudened to highlight the effects that they aim to create. An example of where Luhrmann does this is when the sign that says “Add more fuel to your fire” squeaks more loudly than it should. The sign acts as a prescience, allowing the audience to predict a future event, namely a big Western-style showdown between the two rival families. Again, this tantalises the audience; ergo, this appeals to them.
With cleverly chosen camera angles, clothing, humour, music, props and scenery, which all help to break the language barrier created by time, Luhrmann has created a film that young people can understand easily. He has made most of the language presented to the viewer visually rather than audibly, whilst keeping Shakespeare’s original language in tact.