Baz Luhrmann produced a version of Shakespeare’s famous play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in 1996. The play has been brought into the modern day and is set in a fictional American city called ‘Verona Beach’ linking back to the original setting of Verona in Italy. Baz Luhrmann brings Shakespeare’s play into the modern day by using a variety of camera techniques, sound and colour. He also modernised the characters, costumes and props. The only thing remaining in the past is the traditional Shakespearean language.
The film starts with the famous prologue of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with a newsreader saying the famous lines “a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life” the camera zooms in closer and closer to the TV screen until it fills the whole screen. The words from Shakespeare’s famous prologue flash dramatically across the screen giving the viewers a sense of urgency as they struggle to read the words in time. Images of conflict in the city also flash fleetingly onto the screen.
This reflects what is happening in the film as the prologue speaks of the tragedy of the lovers’ death and the violent feud between the Capulets and Montagues. The camera zooms in closer and closer to the only object on the screen, which focuses the audiences attention on what is happening on the news programme. The newsreader acts as a modern day chorus, as in the present day, stories of what is happening in the world is shown on TVs. Using a television programme to introduce the film makes sure the audience immediately know the play has been modernised.
Read about az Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet film techniques
The characters of Shakespeare’s play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ are introduced into Baz Luhrmann’s film version in a way that captures the viewer’s attention. Each character’s face is zoomed in on and then the camera freezes for a few seconds as their name appears on screen. This allows the audience to focus on each character for a few seconds. This technique modernises the film because this is a technique of introducing characters mainly used in popular soap operas so will remind the audience of modern television shows. In between the characters face being froze on the screen, there were images of the city brawl from the view of a helicopter, which shows violence and fires and this helps to bring Shakespeare’s play into the modern day by showing a typical present day setting of a city with tall skyscrapers and main roads filled with traffic. It also helps to convey the drama of the opening scene.
Baz Luhrmann adjusts Shakespeare’s original characters to modernise ‘Romeo and Juliet’ He changed the original character of the Price into Captain Prince, Chief of the Police. This modernises the film because a prince would not fit into the setting of a modern day American city.
The characters costumes are changed to modernise the play. Both houses have a contrasting style which has been modernised greatly from their original Elizabethan dress style. Seeing the characters in modern clothes helps the play be brought into modern day.The Montagues dress very casually in the typical style of young people living in American Beach Towns. They wear bright shirts and shorts which clashes with their bright ginger hair. The Caplulets wear all black in the style of typical Mafia characters. The imagery of the Capulets being like the modern day Mafia helps to modernise ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as they are seen as part of popular modern day culture. A lot of religious symbols, for example crosses, are incorporated into the Capulets costume. Baz Luhrman modernizes the character by dressing them in typical outfits of modern day American gangs so they fit in with their Verona Beach setting and present fashion.
Props are a very useful technique Baz Luhrmann uses to bring ‘Romeo and Juliet’ into the modern day. In Shakespeare’s original play the two houses fight with swords, however, fighting with swords would seem out of place and old fashioned compared to modern day gunfights. To modernise the scene the director changes the swords into guns but retains the link to the original play by focusing the camera on the gun make ‘sword’ on the side of the gun. The guns are a particularly good example of how Baz Luhrmann modernises the film. In the introductory scene, the two families are portrayed as being corporate rivals. This makes the film seem more realistic to modern times, as family feuds leading to killings are unlikely to happen in modern times whereas there is a lot of corporate rivalry problems in cities. Baz Luhrmann portrays this by showing skyscrapers featuring the two families from the view from a helicopter. This modernizes the film as both skyscrapers and helicopters have only recently been invented and are part of modern life.
The Capulets and Montagues both drive around in flash modern cars. The Montagues travel in a bright yellow convertible with music blaring. This continues their bright and colourful image. Baz Luhrmann uses the imagery of the Montagues being like the typical gangs of youths in America today with loud speakers attracting attention to them as they drive. This link to modern young people of today helps modernise the characters. The Capulets travel in expensive looking black cars with blacked out windows. This continues their Mafia like image and makes the audience link the family to modern day wealthy businesses. Attention is drawn to the modern props, by the camera zooming in on the number plates, catching the audience’s attention and bringing Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ into the modern day.
Baz Luhrmann uses colour as a technique to bring Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ into the modern day. The colours in the film are bright and bold, emphasising modern day life as the camera focuses on bright road signs and traffic lights. This makes the film setting ‘Verona Beach’ appear modern to the audience.
Sound is a very important effect in the film. A striking effect is used at the very beginning of the movie. As the newsreader says the prologue it is absolutely silent so the audience’s full attention is on the newsreader’s voice. The news programme sounds typical of everyday news shows, so the events being reported sound realistic to modern times. Traditional western music is used to give the impression of the calm before the storm. It is used as back-ground to build-up to the fight. The Montagues blare modern rap music out of their car stereos, giving the image of cool youths from modern society. This effect helps modernise the characters and bring everything smoothly into modern times.
Baz Luhrmann uses silence very effectively so the modern film adaptation does not loose the drama of Shakespeare’s play. Silence focuses the audience’s attention and makes them feel like something dramatic is about to occur. During the petrol station scene the contrast between the nuns’ screaming and the sudden silence when Tybalt arrives attracts the viewers’ attention. The sounds of gunshots and cars are all modern sounds that would not have existed in the past. These help ‘Romeo and Juliet’ into the present day as the audience relates these to things they hear about in the actual news stations they watch everyday.
In ‘Romeo and Juliet’ many interesting camera effects are used. The camera also pauses and focuses on certain objects e.g. car number plates. It tracks Tybalt’s shoes when he gets out the car at the petrol station, making his footsteps seem very dramatic, for example when he stamps out the match and crunches it against the ground. The effect of the camera focusing on Tybalt’s shoes also causes the audience to be intrigued about the character because they don’t get to see his face for several seconds. Outside the petrol station the camera zooms in on a sign saying “GET MORE FUEL FOR YOUR FIRE” which is ironic as a huge fire takes place in the scene. The camera shows the view of the city from the Captain Prince’s helicopter. This brings the play forward into modern times by using a modern form of transportation. The camera shows a large modern city obviously from our time period.
The language in the film version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is kept the same as the original Shakespearean play. Without the original language the characters would not seem realistic to Shakespeare’s original version. The original language does not stop the play being brought into the present as he uses other effects to transform ‘Romeo and Juliet’ setting.
Baz Luhrmann does a very successful job of modernizing ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by altering the setting and characters. His use of sound, colour and camera effects makes the movie appear much more modern.
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