How does the director, Baz Luhrmann, excite the interest of the viewer in the opening scenes of the film ‘Romeo and Juliet’? Baz Luhrmann directed ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in 1997. This was not the first film based on William Shakespeare’s play, but it is the first version of the play set in modern times. Because of this, the film would appeal to younger viewers, teens-late twenties, as they could easily understand what was happening and they could relate to it, unlike other versions of the play which people found hard to understand.
The opening to a film is extremely important because it is used to excite the viewer’s interests and to give a first impression. Many people decide whether or not to watch a film by it’s trailer or opening sequence. The opening scenes are also used to introduce the setting and some of the characters, just like a book would in the first chapter. One of the main aims of the opening scene is to give the viewer a basic idea of the film and its genre, all of these things encourage the viewer to watch on by exciting there interests. Luhrmann’s aim is to encourage a wide audience to watch the film and he achieves this by using a range of cinematic techniques in the opening sequence.
One important technique is the use of the camera. Baz Luhrmann uses a range of angles in the opening scenes to excite the interests of the viewer. At the very start of the opening sequence Baz Luhrmann has the camera focused on a television screen in a black room with nothing else, this is to engage the viewer’s attention. He uses the camera as the viewer’s eyes as they begin to watch the news on a television channel. The news begins with a newsreader reciting the prologue from the actual play as if it were the real news, this emphasises the fact that the film is set in modern times and that it could be happening now.
The director then pans in on the screen as if to draw the attention of the viewer to the play. Then once the prologue has finished the camera begins to rush into the centre of the city, just like a bird would, drawing the viewer deeper into the film and drops them right in the city centre to allow them to watch everything happening around them. Baz Luhrmann uses a bird’s eye view and long shots of the city to show its scale and the power of the two families within it. He also uses close-ups to emphasise the importance of certain people and places within the play. The director uses the camera to zoom in and out on certain places, such as the two towers, to show that they are both equal to each other in power and size.
As the camera zooms out it shows how the towers are in proportion with each other but not with the rest of the city which links with the equal power that the two families have. When Baz Luhrmann focuses on the two towers he is trying to encourage the viewer to understand how powerful the families are and how strong their hatred is. He is also trying to emphasise the aspect that they are both ‘alike in dignity’ and stance in the city. This interests the viewer because they want to learn more about the two families and the constant zooming in and out creates speed which keeps the viewer’s mind and eyes occupied and excited.
Location and setting is also critical in a film. Luhrmann uses Mexico as his location for the opening sequence and the rest of the film because it is parallel to the life in Verona. Almost everyone owns a gun or weapon and violence is common. This helps the viewer to relate to the film, as it is real life and happening in present times. Baz Luhrmann does not use a real location for the television sequence because he does not want to draw the attention away from the main point of the introduction, the prologue.
The atmosphere created from the location that Baz Luhrmann has chosen is one of tension. This is because during the day it is very hot and humid, tempers flare and violence is common, while during the night there is an essence of mystery and anticipation. The location used excites the interests of the viewer because it is an actual lace where real people live and where the play is almost real life.
Editing is used very effectively in the opening sequence of the film ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Baz Luhrmann has been extremely clever and precise in the editing of this film. He has very little time to get the viewer’s attention and to keep it, so he only selects the scenes that are the most relevant and intriguing to the viewer. Luhrmann’s opening sequence is quite unusual as he has a montage of scenes from the rest of the film flashed across the screen in less than twenty seconds.
Each scene is different and the constant change in colour, light, sound and movement allows the viewer to remain interested and to give them a taste of the rest of the film. He also uses many scenes of violence in the montage to continually emphasise the violence that is happening through out the film. Baz Luhrmann uses the prologue as a sort of montage, he takes key phrases from the prologue and uses them as newspaper headlines, alongside moving pictures and he flashes the whole prologue up on the screen in black and white writing, with changing fonts and sizes to keep the viewer’s attention. This type of editing creates speed and a rush of adrenaline, which draws the viewer deeper into the plot, and the speed makes the viewer want to watch more.
Music and sound is an important tool in exciting the interests of the audience. Baz Luhrmann uses non-diegetic sound such as the opera music to add tension and he alters the music with certain scenes to help the viewer understand the length of the feud and the hatred between the two families as it becomes very dramatic. The director allows some diegetic sound, such as the police helicopter, to come through the opera to show the violence and the constant police watch.
When Friar Lawrence begins to recite the prologue the opera music and background sounds stop and the newspapers, with the prologues key phrases as headlines, are flashed on the screen as the Friar says them. Baz Luhrmann creates anticipation by speeding the music up during the faster pieces of the opening. During the montage, the opera music is very fast which increases the tension and brings the opening sequence to a high, dramatic end.
The type of costume used in a film is very important because it can help the viewers to understand the film and it’s meaning or it can work against that purpose. The costumes, which Baz Luhrmann uses, are modern; he does this to imply that the plot and theme are relevant to today’s audience. Baz Luhrmann was trying to attract a wide audience, mostly between fifteen and thirty, and he is successful in doing this because of the type of opening he developed.
The mise en scene is a French term, which refers to the arrangement of actors, props and action on a film set. It is used to describe everything that can be seen in a frame. During the opening sequence there is a frame in which a police helicopter is hovering over the city with armed police looking out over it with their guns ready to fire if necessary. Baz Luhrmann has created this frame because he is trying to make the viewer aware of the amount of violence in the city and to what limits the police are being pushed to, to control it. He wants to create an image of the amount of authority the police has over the two families as this would excite the viewer’s interests because they would be interested in seeing how the police are forced to control the violence and what restrictions they are going to put in place.
Baz Luhmann does achieve his aim of exciting the interest of the viewer. He does this by using affective cinematic techniques to his advantage. The director has made Shakespeare accessible to a wider audience by setting the play in modern times and after watching the opening sequence to the film I, as a viewer, would want to continue watching the film because all the techniques combined create anticipation that makes you want to watch more.