and Juliet Sex, drugs, and violence are usually a potent combination, and only WilliamShakespeare could develop them into a masterful, poetic, and elegant story. In the play,”The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet,” all these aspects of teenage life absorb the reader orwatcher. It is understood that Hollywood would try to imitate this masterpiece on screen,and it has done so in two films: Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 “Romeo and Juliet” and BazLuhrmann’s 1996 “William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
” The updated Luhrmannpicture best captures the essence of Shakespeare for the present-day viewer. Through theingenious use of modernization and location, while preserving Shakespearean language,the spirit of Shakespeare emerges to captivate a large audience. Shakespeare’s plays were designed to adapt to any audience: with this in mind, BazLuhrmann created a film that applies to the modern audience through this updating. Luhrmann modernizes “Romeo and Juliet,” through constant alterations of the props,which entice the audience into genuinely feeling the spirit of Shakespeare. First, the moviestarts with an prologue masked as a news broadcast on television. This sets the scene ofthe play by illustrating the violence occurring between the two wealthy families, theMontagues and the Capulets.Order now
In Zeffirelli’s film of “Romeo and Juliet,” the prologue takesthe form of a dry narrator relating the story of the Montagues and Capulets over abackdrop of an Italian city. For most modern viewers (especially teenagers), theLuhrmann picture is fast-paced, keeping the spectator intrigued, while the Zeffirelli pictureis dreary and dull, an endless maze of long and boring conversations, foreshadowed by theprologue. In Luhrmann’s film, the actors, instead of carrying swords with them, hide gunsin their shirts and wield them expertly. The death of Romeo and Juliet is (as always)blamed on the post office, for not delivering the letter properly. And, to be politicallycorrect, Mercutio appears at the Capulets’ ball dressed as a large woman. The actors inZeffirelli’s version of Shakespeare wear colored tights and bulging blouses; thus theyappear more comical because they are outdated.
By modernizing these aspects of theplay, and reconstructing the prologue, Luhrmann creates a movie that is more interestingto the modern viewer, and captures the essence of Shakespeare’s writings. Evidencing thisviewer-friendliness, the 1996 “William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet” made almosttwelve million dollars in the month of November alone due to its clever alterations. As well as updating Shakespeare’s play to the present decade through props, BazLuhrmann’s film is more enjoyable because of the vibrant settings. The Zeffirelli’s “Romeoand Juliet” occurs in an ancient Italian city, with cobblestone streets and Roman mansions. Although the original play was meant to be performed in this setting, the modern viewercannot relate to the environment, and thus has a hard time understanding the plot. In Luhrmann’s version of the play, the Capulets and Montagues first meet in a gasstation, where they exchange insults.
In the older version of “Romeo and Juliet,” theMontagues and Capulets meet in the narrow streets of their city. For a modern teenager,a gas station is a more believable location for a fight, for many gang wars (in life and in thetheater) actually take place in this sort of turf. This location helps to describe the extremesituation of the fighting families. Also, the masquerade ball of the Capulets occurs in abelievable location: a giant dance hall, reminiscent of many New York night clubs anddiscos.
With a soaring ceiling and a wall-long tropical fish tank, Romeo and Juliet meet,as if attending a fantastic high school dance. In Zeffirelli’s version of Shakespeare,however, the two lovers meet in a dismal costume ball, while watching a minstrel sing adoleful acappella tune. This 1968 version of the great celebration seems to have no style,action, or romance. The 1996 version, however, has wild yet graceful camera angles andloud music, to keep the average teenager from leaving the theater.
The last setting change that creates a radical experience is the most famousbalcony scene. In the latest rendition of the play, though, the balcony is skillfullyinterchanged with a pool. This produces an intense scene (in which the actors are fullyclothed) that is more interesting than the traditional balcony scene of the Zeffirelli filmbecause it is more extravagant and revolutionary. The setting change and the constant updating in Luhrmann’s film is only enhancedby the use of the original Shakespearean language to create the ultimate “Romeo andJuliet.
” For example, in order to preserve the Elizabethan language, the guns of the rivalfactions are labeled “Rapier,” or “Dagger. ” Thus, when a character asks for his longsword or knife, he is not being anachronistic. Also, to avoid changing the Shakespeareanlanguage, Tybalt wears a jacket with the logo “King of Cats,” which is his nickname. InZeffirelli’s version of the story, however, the audience must know the origin of this nameto be able to understand its connection to Tybalt. The actors do not wear any identifyingmarks (such as the mark on Tybalt’s jacket) to help the observer understand the play. Baz Luhrmann’s “William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet” is a film thattransforms Shakespeare’s writings into a contemporary location, with modern concepts,yet keeps the language of Shakespeare alive.
Compared to Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo andJuliet,” Luhrmann’s picture is easier to understand for a modern audience, and morerelevant to a modern viewer. The 1996 version of the play consequently captures thespirit of Shakespeare’s writing: to entertain any audience. Said the director, BazLuhrmann of the film:The idea behind the ‘created world’ was that it’s a made up world composed of 20thcentury icons, and these images are there to clarify what’s being said, because once theviewer understands it, the power and the beauty of the language work its magic.Category: Shakespeare