The purpose of the opening scene in many of Shakespeare’s plays was to settle and involve the audience. The audience would be standing and would need a good opening scene to keep their attention from straying. For example in Shakespeare’s Macbeth the opening scene is three witches which would almost certainly grab and involve the audience as witches were very controversial and feared of in the 17th century. The prologue is another way in which Shakespeare attracted the audiences attention. The prologue which summarizes the play makes the audience want to see more.
In both film versions of Romeo and Juliet the prologues adapt to their audience. In the Zeffereli version the prologue is a slow rendition. It is read like a fairytale and lulls the audience in to a full sense of security. This would settle the audience. In the Luhrmann version the prologue is interpreted in three different ways. The first is a news broadcast which shows the importance of the feud. The second is a priest reading the prologue whilst newspaper style text is on the screen with clips of the film. The third prologue is interpreted with text and edited very quickly. The three different types of prologue attract each group of the modern audience, this works because the introduction is visual and factual.
There are many challenges in staging and screening Shakespeare for a modern audience. Modern audiences may not be used to or understand Shakespearian language. They are used to and generally prefer fast paced film and television, with upbeat music, quick edits and special effects, so the slow pace of Shakespeare’s work may not interest them. For a modern audience Shakespeare’s opening scenes may be less gripping because social issues have changed. For example the three witches that are used in the opening of Macbeth would be very exciting and gripping in its time, but to a modern audience it would seem normal and not so gripping.
Both the Zeffereli and Luhrmann version of Romeo and Juliet are successful, as they relate to their target audience. The Zeffereli version is medieval and related to the 1968 audience, as the Luhrmann version relates to the modern audience of 1997. I personally prefer the modern version because for me, stereotypically I like the fast pace and upbeat music as it drips and engages me to the story line.
Luhrmanns version of Romeo and Juliet is set in a modern petrol station near Verona Beach, USA, whereas Zefferelis adaptation takes place in Verona, Italy in a 17th century market place, where Shakespeare’s original play was set. Luhrmanns setting is in contemporary USA with large skyscrapers, a modern petrol station with electrical pumps is in direct contrast to Zefferelis production. His setting is in an old realistic, Mediterranean market with a large ornate church with traditional yellow and brown brick painted buildings with small windows. Zeffereli chose this setting to make the film historically authentic, while Luhrmann used a modern setting to underline the relevance of the story to contemporary times. He uses modern style signs with obvious connotations. ‘Add more fuel to your fire’ representing the tension between the families and ‘end civil brawl’ as a newspaper headline symbolizing their feud. The petrol station is called ‘phoenix gas’ a mythical creature with an infinite life, it rises from the ashes which symbolizes the unity that rises from Romeo and Juliet’s deaths.
Religion plays a part in both versions. In Zefferelis version the church bells chime is played during the fight and symbolizes the part religion plays in the Capulet and Montegues lives. The fight scene is centered around the church reinforcing its importance. In Luhrmanns version there is a large statue of Jesus in the middle of the two main buildings which is contradictory to the violence between the families.
When the fight begins in the Zeffereli version the camera switches to a birds eye view angle that shows the bright white town square, which illuminates the brightly dressed fighters creating a lot of chaos. While in Luhrmanns scene the camera moves dramatically between fighters, not showing all the fighting at once but close up on each character individually, their faces, guns or reactions.
Zefferelis fight scene is more like an enormous brawl, lots of people join in as the scene develops, involving a longer build up and the arena for the fight is vast. When the fight starts the camera stays as a long shot. The fighting is very fast with little groups of Capulets fighting little groups of Montegues spread across the town square. Only one person is killed in this version. There is less dramatic tension in Zefferelis version because the fight is a shorter traditional fight. The fight with swords is close, hectic and skilful, the clashing of the swords add to the dramatic affect. There are twenty or more people involved in the close physical combat of sword fight.
In contrast Luhrmanns account of the fighting is choreographed intensely to make it fast, which is emphasized by the operatic music and the quick editing. There are lots of almost dance like movements; it imitates the swords in Zefferelis version the word sword is even written on the guns. The superficial shooting also imitates the sword fight, not every shot hits the target just as not every stab made with the sword connects. In Luhrmanns gunfight only six people are involved and none are actually ki9lled. The fight seems a lot more personal even though they are fighting from a greater distance. The helicopters add suspense to the fighting. The camera shots are much more vigorous in Luhrmanns version, like a spaghetti western where the camera darts in between each pair of eyes.
Tybalt is a key character in both films but the way in which Luhrmann and Zeffereli interpret him is quite different; he is serious and macho in Luhrmanns and playful and refined in Zefferelis. Tybalt is a very influential character, even though he only speaks five lines, but these lines start the fight. In both films he incites his friends to fight by saying ‘I laugh in the face of fear’ and is shown to be very aggressive and violent. In Zefferelis version he looks much younger and delivers his lines leisurely and with confidence. He has a bigger and a grander entrance in Luhrmanns opening scene – a caption says that he is ‘the prince of cats’ showing how important he is. When he delivers his lines he sounds violent and unstable. Tybalts movements are much more stylized and dramatic in Luhrmanns version, he drops to his knees to get out his gun, he also kisses his gun. In this version he is evil, a macho thug reflecting modern disaffected youth and gang violence. In Zefferelis version he is more self assured but still ruthless reflecting the historical image of a disreputable nobleman.
The costumes, like the setting have the biggest difference; Luhrmann has his Montague characters in bright Hawaiian shirts which reflect their laid back attitude. He has the Capulet characters in ‘gangster style’ suits. In contrast Zefferelis Montague’s wear green medieval costumes and his Capulets wear half red and half yellow tights and jackets. Zeffereli has women in large traditional dresses while Luhrmanns wear more casual clothes. In Zefferelis film hats have a big significance- the most important people, like the Prince and the heads of the Montegue and Capulet houses, have large hats to show their superiority. Less important people like servants wear smaller hats. The characters in Luhrmanns version don’t wear hats but the fighters have a lot of religious tattoo- this is a reference to the original play where everyone was religious. In both films each side looks different, one in bright the other in dull clothes.
The soundtrack in the Zeffereli version is slow and traditional at the start of the film, which creates a fairytale atmosphere which misguides you8, the music then dies down. After that there is no more music but there are lots of loud voices and animals to show the busy market place. Loud bell chimes create chaos during the fight. I don’t think the music is successfully used in this film; it doesn’t give it an edge like Luhrmanns version. At the start and during the prologue the music is operatic with voices over the orchestra that seems old fashioned yet modern. The music tells the viewer that something dramatic is going to happen and when the music crescendos the fight starts. The gunshots are synthesised and loud for dramatic effect. The music is loud and stops abruptly as the fight stops.
Zefferelis version is successful because it’s a good historical film, as it was set in Verona in the 17th century- when Shakespeare set the original play, but I don’t think the opening scene served the purpose Shakespeare’s play would have- it wasn’t very gripping for me. So I think Luhrmanns version is more successful. It appealed to me because it has a contemporary setting which makes it easier to relate to. I think Luhrmanns version is more successful because it’s aimed at a modern audience and portrays the universal themes of love and violence in current culture rather than in a historical setting.