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A story as well-known as Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet demands adaptations. Each version receiving its own starstruck fanbase, each generation receiving its own dreamy Romeo and Juliet.
Set in modern times, Luhrmann’s 1996 reinterpretation of Romeo + Juliet still captures the same timeless story of the star-crossed lovers through the use of many visual techniques.
Director, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet is a stylish, yet empty assault on the senses which, in the end, is more intrigued with chaos than with the doomed relationship of its name. What light through yonder movie room window breaks? It is Romeo and Juliet. And it is trouble.
The Australian filmmaker, Luhrmann, is known for his over-the-top techniques and emphasis on heightened reality. These methods can be seen in the film, Romeo and Juliet specifically in the use of drugs in the party scene. Fireworks and bright lights explode signifying the workings of the drugs inside Romeos head. The climax of Mercutio’s speech before the party brings the audience to a peak of tension, unsure where the wild ride will take them next.
The editing used throughout the film is fast-paced and hard to follow. Within minutes, the opening prologue hurls us into the intensity of the feuding families, bombarding the audience with chaotic action scenes and romance. The edgy and dynamic environment, fast cuts and zooming creates the effect of disorder constantly. Though somewhat effective, the acrobatic movement of the camera becomes confusing and takes the attention away from the dialogue being spoken. Despite Luhrmann’s copy-cat start, he soon differentiates the film from the original play in the first scene. The use of Shakespearean English is the same, but the delivery could not be more different if they tried. By manipulating camera angles, they can tell us a lot about the characters and the power they hold; such as when Mercutio falls to the ground suggesting Tybalt is the superior of the two. The close-up shots of Romeo and Juliet at the masked ball easily show the sentiments passing between them and make the focus not on the surrounding mess of the ball. Young audiences might appreciate the action and violence however the rest of the film is extremely hard to follow.
Much of the dialogue is shouted inaudible, which the rest is said submissively. The emotion is killed in this update; the world of Verona Beach is conveyed in derisive terms, while the lovers’ passion burns bright.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes excel in portraying their take on modern day Romeo and Juliet. DiCaprio brought his usually grace and emotion to Romeo, while anyone who recognises Danes knew of the special talent she represents. Her Juliet is young, naïve and genuinely touching. Thankfully the ill-fated aquarium meeting doesn’t dull the undeniable attraction between Romeo and Juliet.
While Romeo and Juliet can act, the rest of the cast seem clueless about effectively conveying Shakespeare’s lines with the intended meaning. The Montague and Capulet families are represented as feuding gangs and they deliver their lines aggressively. While it may make sense for people to yell while fighting, Shakespeare’s writing is hard to understand on a good day. The complex script takes away from the modernisation of Luhrmann’s interpretation.
Turning Romeo’s ally, Mercutio, into a flamboyant drag queen, whilst also casting him as a black American is a strong depiction of the modern-day world where blurred lines are raised and are less stereotypical. Other modern adaptations have been included such as the use of drugs, ‘rapiers’ are guns unlike Shakespeare’s swords and the setting of Verona is situated as a beach rather than in Italy. These transformations make the film slightly less painful to watch.
Luhrmann has definitely stripped the roots away from this classic story. Shakespeare’s death scene in the tomb lacked a dramatic payoff for Luhrmann, who has Juliet regain consciousness just as Romeo poisons himself, so that the audience cringes in despair and silently weeps. A montage of the happy Romeo and Juliet continues after the death scene, giving the movie a unique touch. By returning to the same TV from the prologue Luhrmanns’ vision of finishing the same as Shakespeare’s play is conveyed but doesn’t replace the fact that multiple modifications were made to shorten the well-known ending of Romeo + Juliet.
Luhrmann’s productions always involve excessive techniques and bright, colourful party scenes. It’s a shame that the blame for this Romeo + Juliet focussed solely on Luhrmann, but who else would we blame this atrocious tragedy on? Although this is still a classic tale, the interesting take of film has too many negatives to become anything more than that. This is a tragedy, all right- it’s ours. – Ellie Broadhead
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