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In 1594 William Shakespeare wrote the play Romeo and Juliet, probably one of his most famous plays. This play was directed at an Elizabethan audience. Since then it has been shown at most theatres and cinemas for the middle-aged, educated people, a good example of this was Franco Zefferellis film in 1968. This version was a tradition Shakespeare format, it was filmed in an Italian city, Verona, in the 16th century with all the traditional clothing and language. However, Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 movie ‘William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet’ is a very accessible version of the play.
His adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic story has been mixed with a modern day society with guns and drugs but still using the Elizabethan English. He updated almost everything in his film to attract the younger audience. He was trying to achieve a box-office success and in my opinion, and many others he did succeed in his attempt in many ways. In the opening sequence the audience would immediately know that the film was directed at the younger audience and had been updated to the 21st century, as it starts off with a blank television, this immediately shows the audience it is an updated version as the television is a 20th century invention.
The camera zooms towards the TV and as it does a female news reader gives a vivid account of what is happening and what to expect in the plot, yet to unfold. She is a middle aged woman of Caribbean culture and has the ability to present her narrative in a clear diction. This also shows the audience the film has been updated because up until 25 years ago the black race were a 2nd class race across countries and in Shakespeare’s time the black race would not have been in one of his plays. The soundtrack starts to play, and as it does it tells the audience that the film is action packed.
It starts to play after the prologue has finished being read by the news reader and whilst it is playing the camera zooms into the TV it becomes distorted. There are then quick flashes of the scenes to come in the film, flashes of police helicopters, police, high rised buildings for the modern audience, they would immediately be familiar with the city and shows an older audience it not their type of film. The music becomes louder to give the film a dramatic effect, this makes the film intense.
The audience is then shown skyscrapers that are topped by the trade names, Capulet and Montague, this reinforces the conflict between the two families. The audiences now know that this not fair Verona in Italy but fictionalised Verona Beach in America. The camera then pans out on the city. Pete Postlewaite, an English Shakespearian actor starts to read the prologue this shows that Baz Lurhanne chose his cast very carefully, he chose Pete Postlewaite to give the film more of a ‘Shakespeare’ effect, as he does there’s flashes of newspaper articles, intersperse of pictures and newspaper headlines of families’ arguments.
He then introduces the families as they would in an American ‘cop’ series, it shows a family member with their names below their picture, this shows the audience that the families aren’t noblemen from the 16th century but 21st century business/gangster/mafia men. Some characters had been updated as well as their names, for example, the Prince is now Captain Prince of Verona Beach police department. The cast were chosen to attract younger audiences; Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes play the “star-crossed lovers” Romeo and Juliet, the rest of the players consist of an all star cast.
Then the audience are introduced to the Montague boys as they are driving in a top muscle American car down a typical American highway. They have modern haircuts and tattoos; this also shows the audiences this is a more modernised film. The audience then see them go into a gas station; the audience is then introduced to the Capulets as they pull into the gas station also, the whole scene is turned into a spaghetti western spoof; this gives the film a comedy effect.
As the Capulets get out from their car there are close ups of the Cuban heeled boots and when the fight starts between the Montague’s and Capulets this is when the western effect starts. The close ups of one of the Capulets golden teeth, this is also typical Clint Eastwood effect. The slow motion dives and even the swinging sign at the gas station is also the spaghetti western effect. However the film has more updates through out the play such as the party that the Capulets have, the drug taking, car chases, alcohol and the famous balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet is moved to a swimming pool.
These are all modernised updates and would not have been in a Shakespeare play. In my opinion Baz Luhrmann shows a good adaptation of William Shakespeare’s well-known love story. He successfully keeps the impact and the meaning of the plot while still portraying the traditional and original style. Despite Romeo and Juliet being a traditional play, Luhrmann makes his version stylised to attract younger audiences, making Shakespeare appeal to a wider range of people.
It is clear that Baz Luhrmann’s intentions were to make the film as if Shakespeare was directing and focusing it on people in the 20th century. By using modern music and sound effects as well as incorporating young modern actors, Baz Luhrmann portrays this in the film very well. Luhrmann set out to achieve a successful block-buster and I personally think he did achieve this and in many other peoples opinion also. However many people may diagree because it is not traditonal enough for a Shakespeare play.