etFranco Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and JulietSex, drugs, and violence are usually a potent combination, and onlyWilliam Shakespeare could develop them into a masterful, poetic, and elegantstory. In the play, “The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet,” all these aspects ofteenage life absorb the reader or watcher. It is understood that Hollywoodwould try to imitate this masterpiece on screen, and it has done so in twofilms: Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 “Romeo and Juliet” and Baz Luhrmann’s 1996″William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
” The updated Luhrmann picture bestcaptures the essence of Shakespeare for the present-day viewer. Through theingenious use of modernization and location, while preserving Shakespeareanlanguage, the spirit of Shakespeare emerges to captivate a large audience. Shakespeare’s plays were designed to adapt to any audience: with this inmind, Baz Luhrmann created a film that applies to the modern audience throughthis updating. Luhrmann modernizes “Romeo and Juliet,” through constantalterations of the props, which entice the audience into genuinely feeling thespirit of Shakespeare. First, the movie starts with an prologue masked as anews broadcast on television. This sets the scene of the play by illustratingthe violence occurring between the two wealthy families, the Montagues and theCapulets.
In Zeffirelli’s film of “Romeo and Juliet,” the prologue takes theform of a dry narrator relating the story of the Montagues and Capulets over abackdrop of an Italian city. For most modern viewers (especially teenagers),the Luhrmann picture is fast-paced, keeping the spectator intrigued, while theZeffirelli picture is dreary and dull, an endless maze of long and boringconversations, foreshadowed by the prologue. In Luhrmann’s film, the actors,instead of carrying swords with them, hide guns in their shirts and wield themexpertly. The death of Romeo and Juliet is (as always) blamed on the postoffice, for not delivering the letter properly. And, to be politically correct,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version of Shakespeare wear colored tights and bulging blouses;thus they appear more comical because they are outdated.
By modernizing theseaspects of the play, and reconstructing the prologue, Luhrmann creates a moviethat is more interesting to the modern viewer, and captures the essence ofShakespeare’s writings. Evidencing this viewer-friendliness, the 1996 “WilliamShakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet” made almost twelve million dollars in the monthof November alone due to its clever alterations. As well as updating Shakespeare’s play to the present decade throughprops, Baz Luhrmann’s film is more enjoyable because of the vibrant settings. The Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” occurs in an ancient Italian city, withcobblestone streets and Roman mansions. Although the original play was meant tobe performed in this setting, the modern viewer cannot 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 meetin a gas station, where they exchange insults.
In the older version of “Romeoand Juliet,” the Montagues 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 the theater) actually take place in this sortof turf. This location helps to describe the extreme situation of the fightingfamilies. Also, the masquerade ball of the Capulets occurs in a believablelocation: a giant dance hall, reminiscent of many New York night clubs anddiscos.
With a soaring ceiling and a wall-long tropical fish tank, Romeo andJuliet meet, as if attending a fantastic high school dance. In Zeffirelli’sversion of Shakespeare, however, the two lovers meet in a dismal costume ball,while watching a minstrel sing a doleful acappella tune. This 1968 version ofthe great celebration seems to have no style, action, or romance. The 1996version, however, has wild yet graceful camera angles and loud music, to keepthe average teenager from leaving the theater.
The last setting change that creates a radical experience is the mostfamous balcony scene. In the latest rendition of the play, though, the balconyis skillfully interchanged with a pool. This produces an intense scene (inwhich the actors are fully clothed) that is more interesting than thetraditional balcony scene of the Zeffirelli film because it is more extravagantand revolutionary. The setting change and the constant updating in Luhrmann’s film is onlyenhanced by the use of the original Shakespearean language to create theultimate “Romeo and Juliet. ” For example, in order to preserve the Elizabethanlanguage, the guns of the rival factions are labeled “Rapier,” or “Dagger. “Thus, when a character asks for his long sword or knife, he is not beinganachronistic.
Also, to avoid changing the Shakespearean language, Tybalt wearsa jacket with the logo “King of Cats,” which is his nickname. In Zeffirelli’sversion of the story, however, the audience must know the origin of this name tobe able to understand its connection to Tybalt. The actors do not wear anyidentifying marks (such as the mark on Tybalt’s jacket) to help the observerunderstand the play. Baz Luhrmann’s “William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet” is a film thattransforms Shakespeare’s writings into a contemporary location, with modernconcepts, yet keeps the language of Shakespeare alive.
Compared to FrancoZeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Luhrmann’s picture is easier to understand fora modern audience, and more relevant to a modern viewer. The 1996 version ofthe play consequently captures the spirit of Shakespeare’s writing: to entertainany audience. Said the director, Baz Luhrmann of the film:The idea behind the ‘created world’ was that it’s a made up world composed of20th century icons, and these images are there to clarify what’s being said,because once the viewer understands it, the power and the beauty of thelanguage work its magic.