I will first introduce the two different films:
1. Baz Luhrman version – this version is set in modern times, in a large city, Verona. The language is Shakespearian but everything else has been converted to modern style.
2. Franco Zefferreli – This is set in medieval times. Most things are as the original text. It seems like a Greek or Italian city, however it is still Verona.
At the start of the films, there are prologues that attempt to tell you what is happening.
In the modern, Luhrman version, a news reporter on a television against a black background does this, however in the Zefferelli version, the prologue is told as the credits and title is shown. The speaker is not seen, and the voice is coming from the background, the speech is in an old style. In addition, the Luhrman version has a series of scenes that explain and show to the viewers who the different characters in the film are, also in these scenes it repeats a section of the prologue in text and speech accompanied by fast paced, classical music. In the original text, there are 14 lines of text in the prologue, however, in the films prologue, the Luhrman version cuts down the lines to only 12 when the TV reporter is speaking it, and then cuts it down to 9 during the action scenes in the civil brawls, so it ends at “A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life”. The Zefferelli version, during its prologue stops at line 8 which is, “doth with their death bury parents’ strife”, therefore it may be that in this film, the emphasis on whose fault it was that Romeo and Juliet died is on the parents.
After the prologue, the two films move onto Act 1 Scene 1. In the Luhrman version, the scene is started when it shows the Montague “boys” in a car going down a road. The speech is cut and it starts the scene at line 7. However, in this version, it is the Montagues that are shown first, whereas in the original text it is the Capulet. Therefore, instead of the men saying, “A dog of the house of Montagues moves me”, they say, “A dog of the house of Capulet moves me”. The Zefferelli version follows the text more closely. The scene is set in a market place with the Capulets walking along and the speech starts from the original starting point.
I think that the Luhrman version has a much better introduction to the film than the Zefferelli. The mix of the TV reporter, the flashing text along with the speech and the racing classical music during the action scenes is very eye catching and makes you want to see the rest of the film.
In the original text, the production is set in fair Verona, an old style Italian setting, which means white houses, vines etc. The Luhrman production sets the scene in fair Verona. However, this setting is very different from the original text. There are tall rectangular buildings and skyscrapers, mainly metallic colours around. The actual scene begins in a petrol station as opposed to a market place in the original text. There aren’t many people visible, most of the people that are shown are the characters for that scene. However, there are quite a few cars. The section is mainly set in the petrol station, therefore there are many petrol pumps and light colours.
The Zefferelli version follows the text much more closely. The setting and scene are set in an old style Italian or Greek market place with lots of people around. There are many bright colours and many different objects. There are food stalls with multicoloured foods, and merchants and people walking around.
The emphasis in this scene from the original ext is that it’s a busy marketplace with many people. The Zefferelli version shows that clearly to the viewer, however the Luhrman version has completely changed it. There are only a few people, most of whom are the main characters and it is set in a completely different location.
The very first line in the prologue says “two households, both alike in dignity”. He is trying to tell us that these two are the same in nearly all respects and that they hold a grudge. Like fighting fire with fire, two equal sides fighting. However, the films are different in some respects.
The Luhrman represents the Montagues first as a group of unlawful and trouble causing. This is shown with them driving down the road in a relaxed kind of fashion and screaming out of the car, also in their clothing. They are wearing colourfull hawaian clothes. In addition, in the petrol station they show immature symbolism. However, the immaturity turns to fear and anxiety when they see the Capulets. The Capulets in this film are portrayed as smart dressing, tough and strong people but who also have a taste for violence and are quite religious (this is seen when Tybalt takes off his coat and an image of Christ is on his shirt). The Capulets are acting as though the own the place. They walk around without a care. This can be shown when Tybalt drops his cigar in the petrol station, even though everyone knows that it can cause an explosion.
The Zefferelli version however is the exact opposite. The Capulets in this are very childish like, think very highly of themselves and are very offensive to the mantagues and it is they who start the fight. The Montagues are very mature like and ignore the threats from the Capulets to a certain point. The Capulets are dressed in jester type clothes of red and yellow, whereas the Montagues are in a green and blue type of clothing. This is a point where we can see that the Capulets are portrayed as jesters.
Also the household heads are dressed very differently. Whereas lord Capulet is dressed in a kind of mayors outfit, Lord Montague is dressed in an old Greek holy man outfit. Again, this shows that the Capulets think very highly of themselves.
In the original text it seems to be that the Capulets are the troublemakers and the Montagues the victims of the trouble. That means that the Zefferelli version has followed the text closely once again.
My favourite version here is the Zefferelli since it has a much larger scaled fighting scene and the build up is more like the original text.
Benvolio and Tybalt are each other counterparts in each family. They are both the cousins of the important characters in each family; Benvolio is Romeos cousin and Tybalt is Juliet’s cousin. In the Luhrman version, Benvolio is seen trying to keep the peace when their servicemen are about to fight, with the line “part fools! Put up your swords, you know not what you do!” This shows us he does not want to fight and wants to obey the prince’s laws. However, at the same time as he is trying to control everything, Tybalt walks in, at this point we see that Benvolio seems scared of Tybalt. Tybalt seems like he is looking for a fight, this can be seen when he says, “Turn thee, Benvolio, look upon thy death”. He acts all big and strong and expresses his hate and signals his intents when he says, “What draw and talk of peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee”. Also he speaks clearly and with a slight accent. In addition he does not seem to be very clever or have any care. We see this when he drops his cigar into the petrol on the ground.
In the Zefferelli version Benvolio is again the same, as in the Luhrman version, and tries to separate the two sides. But he will fight if he has to. Tybalt again is like the Luhrman version. He is a very snug character and thinks he is the best there is. Both films seem to emphasise that Tybalt is a very dark, tough and evil type of character. The text also seems to want to show this. The same is true with Benvolio. They both follow the text at this point. In the text he also seems confident when he is trying to break the fight up, but when Tybalt appears he seems to loose this confidence. Also the prologue is cut slightly, to keep viewer interest. And the text and voice prologue during the introduction is cut when it says, “take their life”. I think this is so interest is kept and the audience know something is going to happen.
The conversation between Romeo and Benvolio is cut in the Luhrman version. They seem to walk into a hall then skip to the beginning of Act 1 scene 2, but then it goes back to the rest of the conversation from Act 1 scene 1. This may be so that the audience knows what’s going to happen, because they mention the Capulet feast and also this could have been because the lines missed out are not of any use to the viewer.
Also, this version changes the beginning so that the Montagues are shown first instead of the Capulets. This may be so the producers could introduce the Capulets later in the petrol station, because they are the ones who cause the trouble. Another change is the prince’s speech. Luhrman cut out some lines of the Prince’s speech. This may have been because it was not very important and it would add more effect if he ended it with “If ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace”
The Zefferelli version however has very little cut. Some of the speech between Romeo and Benvolio is cut, but I think that may be to keep it short and to move onto the next section. I think that the Zefferelli version is better because it lets the audience pick up on all aspects of the actual text and film.
In the Luhrman version the Montague’s are dressed in Hawaiian shirts and shorts. Their clothes are very bright and colourful. This can express their attitude towards life and everything around them. Their body language is very relaxed and their body movements suggest that they believe they can get away with anything. There speech is spoken as id. The initial impression the viewer gets of the Montague boys is that they are quite immature and childish.
The Capulet’s on the other hand are the complete opposite to the Montague’s.
They wear dark black suits with silver heeled boot that show just how classy they are.
Their body language suggests that they are very smug and think highly of themselves. Their speech is much more serious than the Montague’s and is spoken as though they are trying to scare them and make their intentions clear to them. The initial impression the viewer gets is that the Capulet’s are very full of themselves and because of this, they are always trying to act like they are the best there is.
In the Zefferelli version the Montague’s are wearing dark grey and black clothing. Their dress looks as though it comes from the Elizabethan period. Their body language suggests that they are upper class people and are very mature and sensible. They are clearly very proud to be Montague’s and will allow nobody to disgrace their name. They can be seen in the film to be talking and laughing with the town’s people in the market, and the town’s people also seem friendly towards them. The initial impression the viewers get of the Montague’s is that they are mature and want to stay out of trouble, but if and when the Capulet’s provoke them, they will defend their honour.
The Capulet’s however, are wearing red and yellow clothes. Their clothes almost look like a jesters costume, which represents their foolish and childish attitudes. Their body language is very relaxed and they are always playing practical jokes on other people. The initial impression the viewer gets of the Capulet’s is that they are very immature and think that life is a big joke. This is shown when the people around them move away, and they seem to get a lot of angry faces. They don’t talk to the town’s people either, but only among themselves. They are always mocking the Montagues, but when they are told to draw their swords, they are very reluctant to fight and would rather run away. I think that Luhrman represents the characters the best because of the way he really brings out the personality of each character. He shows the different aspects and qualities of each character. He fully shows that which people are parts of which families. A good effect is when they have the family crests on the bottom of the guns.
In the Luhrman version the Prince is portrayed as a Police Chief. He is seen in a helicopter above Benvolio and Tybalt, forcing them to put their weapons to the ground. The Prince is using lots of modern vehicles and weapons to make them drop their guns; this helps to state his importance in the city to the viewer. It shows that he has a very large arsenal at his command and that many people support him. The Montague family look quite shocked that their sons have started another fight. It seems like they want to go and sort it out and make sure that there is nothing said about their household. The Capulet’s react in the same way, by wanting to sort it out. The head of the Capulet even reaches for his gun in order to sort it out. When the two families are being talked to by the Prince they both seem to be trying to blame the other household.
In the Zefferelli version the Prince of the City represents the Prince. You see him ride into view, riding a horse, at the same time royal type of music is played. This portrays his importance. The prince has several soldiers around him suggesting that he is a very powerful person in the city.
He speaks with a loud and angry voice and combined with his position in the city, makes them listen. In the Zefferelli version both the leaders of the two sides start fighting along with their household servants, this is the opposite to the Luhrman version where it rally only seems like Benvolio and Tybalt are fighting
I think that the Luhrman version represents the Prince better. This is because he sounds very forceful, and in the text his speech makes the image that he is a very harsh type of character. This is clearly shown when he is seen shouting from the helicopter. He shouts very loudly and says, “That quench the fire of your pernicious rage, with purple fountains issuing from your veins: On pain of torture, from those bloody hands, throw your mistempered weapons to the ground.”
In the Luhrman version Romeo is quite an innocent character. He is dressed in smart but casual clothes, which shows his attitude towards life and his surroundings. The first time that we see him there is soft and slow music playing, suggesting to us that he is friendly. The viewer then sees a scene of him sitting by the sea and writing poetry. This helps to emphasize his non-violent nature. Romeos demeanour tells us that he is the kind of person that has no troubles in the world, he is an easygoing sort of person who likes relaxing. He has a very calm and noble personality. He seems to like being alone and is the kind of person that everyone is a friend with. His relationship with Benvolio is quite strong as they are cousins. You can clearly see that Romeo is not happy with all the Fights Benvolio gets involved in, this can be shown when he says “o me! What fray was here?” after he sees his cousin on TV with his weapon raised.
In the Zefferelli version Romeo is again quite an innocent character. He is wearing different clothes to the other Montagues; his clothes are less classy in comparison to theirs. He is also holding a flower, which shows his good nature and intentions. The way in which he enters the film gives the viewer the impression that he is feeling depressed. His demeanour is that he is a person with little on his mind. His relationship with Benvolio is not as strong as it is in the Luhrman version. This is possibly because he doesn’t like violence and therefore tries to limit his time with Benvolio, who seems to be a slightly more violent character. We can see how upset he gets when he sees the injured citizen.
I think that the Zefferelli version is the best at representing Romeo as a character. This is because he makes him much more innocent and seem more affected by his life so far, than in the Luhrman version.
I think that overall, the Zefferelli version has followed the text more closely during Act 1 Scene 1, and in doing so has emphasized the points that Shakespeare wanted emphasized. However, the Luhrman version is aimed at the modern young teenager, and is set to suit their tastes. It has been completely re-structured in regards to setting and costumes.